Renting out a spare room and taxes – everything you need to know.

Tax Tips For Landlords

If you have decided to join the sharing society and rent out a room or part of your home, either through a service like AirBnB or independently, you should inform yourself about the implications of renting out a room and taxes.

Renting a room requires some work up-front, and ongoing management. You have several tasks ahead of you. You will most likely want to spruce up the place with comfy furnishings and linens, and maybe a fresh coat of paint. Check the legal regulations for renting in your local area, you may discover there are limitation on the type of rentals you can offer, be they short-term or long term.

And then, there’s landlord tax. Running afoul of the IRS can potentially wipe out any financial gains you may reap from opening your home to complete strangers – be sure to abide by the laws of landlord tax. Fortunately, you can reduce your potential tax bite with diligent record keeping. Here is everything you need to know about renting out a room and taxes.

Do I have to pay taxes if I rent out a room in my house? – The 14 Day Rule

The most convenient and potentially lucrative scenario would be to completely avoid reporting or paying income taxes on the income you earn from renting out your couch or your spare room. Well, you can, if you meet two relatively easy requirements set by the IRS.

First, you must use the residence as a home at least 14 days out of each calendar year. Second, you must limit the time that you rent any part of the residence that you use as a home to 14 days or less each tax year. That’s it.

So if you have a primary residence plus a vacation home where you spend at least two weeks of the same year, you could rent out rooms in both and collect rental revenue for 28 days (14 days for each residence) completely tax free. It gets better: the IRS places no upper limit on how much income you earn as long as you don’t exceed 14 total days of rental per property. (IRS.gov)

If you live near the town where the All-Star game for a major sport is being played that year, you could rent out one room or the entire place for the week, rake in major cash and never report a dime on your tax return. Pretty sweet. But if a renter burns a hole in your floor, you are stuck paying for the repairs.

What happens if I use my rental property more than 14 days?

Should you exceed the 14-day threshold, matters become somewhat more complex. First, you must determine whether you or one or more family members resides in the residence or uses it for personal purposes for at least 10 percent of the time that you rent at fair rental price. You don’t have to be there at the same time you’re renting, but your time in the residence must equal at least 10 percent of the total rental time. So if you rent out your vacation home for 300 days each year, you or another qualifying person will need to live there for at least 30 days during the same year for the IRS to qualify the residence as a home. For the purposes of this article, the assumption will be that the residence qualifies as a home for IRS purposes. (IRS.gov)

The rules differ for rental properties that are used for what the IRS calls “personal purposes” rather than as residences. There are also different regulations that apply if you use the rental property as a residence, but don’t live there enough of the time for the residence to qualify as a home. To sort out those types of issues, consult with a professional such as an attorney with Optima Tax Relief.

What IRS forms are needed for rental property?

As a contractor with AirBnB living within the United States, you would complete Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification. You would also receive Form 1099, Miscellaneous Income before you file your federal income tax return for the following year. (International contractors complete different forms.) If you operate as an independent, you will need to maintain your own records for rental income and expenses, preferably separate from your personal household expenses.

If you provide sleeping space, but no frills, report income and losses on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss, attached to Form 1040, Form 1040NR or Form 1041. If you splash out on fluffy towels, turn-down service, and catered breakfast in bed for your guests, report income and expenses through Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, also filed with Form 1040, Form 1040NR or Form 1041.

In either case, you are also allowed to deduct the costs of repairs, depreciation (by filing Form 4562, Depreciation and Amortization), uncollected rents and actual operating expenses. But if a renter trashes the place and you file Schedule E, you will also need to complete Form 6198, At-Risk Limitations or Form 8582, Passive Activity Loss Limitations. If you’re not sure which form you should complete, consulting a tax professional is your best strategy.

What is considered fair rental price and how is it calculated?

If you live in the heart of Manhattan or in a condo overlooking Lake Michigan in Chicago, you might think that setting your rents at bargain basement levels would help you beat the competition. If you set your prices too low, you may well attract the unfavorable attention of the IRS.

That doesn’t mean that you must charge exactly what every other landlord or private renter in your area charges for rent. It does mean that you must set prices for your rental that are comparable to the going rent for similar properties in your area – what the IRS calls “fair rental price.”

If you fail to charge fair rental prices or if you never report a profit from your rental, the IRS may decide that you’re not serious about making money. You don’t have to show a profit every year, but he IRS assumes that you have a genuine profit-making motive if you show gains during at least 3 of the most recent 5 years, including the current year. (IRS.gov)

The Hobby Loss Rule

If you fail to show profit you could you could be hit by the so-called “hobby loss rule,” which prevents you from using losses related from your venture to offset other income on your federal tax return. Instead, you use must losses related to your rental activities as itemized deduction on Schedule A. Deductions would be limited to the following strict limitations.

  • Deductions such as mortgage interest and taxes are allowed in full
  • Deductions like advertising, insurance and premiums are allowed only to the extent that gross income exceeds deductions from the first category
  • Deductions such as depreciation and amortization are allowed only to the extent that gross income exceeds the amount of deductions taken for both of the prior two categories.

Participating in the Sharing Economy

Knowing the ins and outs of renting out a room and taxes can be tricky. However, this article is not intended to discourage you from renting out a room in your home, being a live-in landlord, or otherwise participating in the sharing economy. It’s a potentially exciting way to meet interesting people from all over the country or even other parts of the world.

But just as you want your house or apartment to look its best, you’ll also want your financial house to be in order, too. That way you can concentrate on being the best host you can be, without being hit with unpleasant surprises at tax time.

Need some help with landlord tax? Consult one of our tax professionals to learn more about renting out a room and taxes.

What Does IRS Code 9001 Mean?

There are still many IRS terms and codes that are a mystery to the average taxpayer. Tax terms can be confusing, whether you’re a first-time tax filer or have been filing tax returns for years. IRS Code 9001 is a common error code, but many people don’t know what it means. We’ll explore what the IRS Error Code 9001 is, and how to avoid it.

IRS Code 9001

You filed your federal income tax return a while ago and you are expecting a refund. You can check the status of your return and your refund check (for paper returns) or direct deposit (for electronic returns) at the IRS.gov website. The “Where’s My Refund?” portal also provides an estimate of when you should expect your refund.

If you receive an error code such as IRS Code 9001 when you check the status of your return, you may worry that your return has been flagged for an audit. Relax. In fact, IRS Code 9001 is one of an entire set of codes that are included within the Internal Revenue Manual, or IRM, which is the set of guidelines used by the IRS. This is not an audit flag, but rather an error code generated when taxpayers attempt to access return or refund results using the wrong Social Security number or TIN.

Where’s My Refund?

The IRS established the “Where’s My Refund?” portal to allow taxpayers to check the status of their federal income tax return and refund. To access the portal you need three pieces of information: your Social Security Number or Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), your filing status and amount of the refund that you are expecting. This refund amount should be listed in whole dollars and must match the amount listed on your tax forms exactly.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN)

Most taxpayers include a Social Security number on their tax returns. But certain taxpayers, such as resident and nonresident aliens, are not eligible to get one. The Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) is designed to allow individuals to file federal and state income tax returns, without an SSN.

How To Fix a IRS Error Code 9001

In most instances, when you check the status of your return on the “Where’s My Refund?” portal, you will receive a message stating that your return is being processed or that your refund is on its way. Occasionally, you may receive one or more error codes, including IRS Code 9001: “Taxpayer accessed Refund Status using a secondary TIN. Refund Status could not be returned. Get a Primary TIN Analyze account and follow appropriate IRM.” The fix is simple – enter the proper Social Security number or TIN into the “Where’s My Refund?” portal. If you still receive error messages, contact the IRS or an expert such as an attorney with Optima Tax Relieve for further assistance.

Wondering where your tax refund is? Read our dedicated blog to learn more. If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

California Tax Rates, Incentives & Exemptions

As the most populous state in the union, California attracts new residents from all over the country and around the world. From the glow of Tinseltown to the technological buzz of Silicon Valley, dreamers and entrepreneurs alike are drawn to the state. But California is also one of the most expensive states to call home – 3rd highest to be exact. California tax rates are some of the highest in the nation.

Businesses in California are not spared from the tax hammer. California imposes corporate income taxes on “C” corporations and limited liability companies that operate like corporations. As a result, many entrepreneurs who operate small businesses in California are subject to quadruple taxation – double taxation from Uncle Sam and double from California.

But as of 2014, California has enacted a series of tax breaks which will award millions of dollars in tax credits to qualifying businesses. These tax incentives were designed to lure businesses to re-locate or keep their base of operations within the state.

Tax Credits and Incentives for Aerospace

One business field seeing some high-profile tax breaks in California is the aerospace industry. California was at one point in time the center of the aerospace industry, before the US government was forced to make drastic cut-backs in the 1990’s, essentially reducing the workforce by more than 50% of its workers. California Governor, Jerry Brown, has been trying to put together an incentive package of sorts to entice some of the larger employers to come back to the state, which would improve employment rates, bring a huge influx of new business and cash flows, as well as help off-set the current financial problems that California is facing.

The Aerospace Tax Clarification Act, which was passed in April, cleared up some ambiguity regarding the classification of rocket propulsion systems. This new act clarifies that these rockets qualify for an existing business tax exemption, rather than being classified as a taxable business supply as the prior law read.

“The space commercialization industry is not only developing some of the most advanced space vehicles in the world,” stated Assembly member Al Muratsuchi, “but is also creating thousands of local, high-paying manufacturing jobs.” This law was a direct nod to the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, a Los Angeles based enterprise founded by Tesla billionaire, Elon Musk. The bill was also supported by Northrop Grunman, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc., a division of GenCorp Inc. and Lockheed Martin.

Governor Brown is also pushing for the aerospace bill to be expanded to cover the automotive industry. California is one of several states currently bidding for Tesla to build its proposed $6 billion factory to manufacture a new auto battery, known as the “gigafactory”, here in the state. This addition to California would mean the creation of at least 6500 new jobs as well.

Additionally, Governor Brown signed a law in July 2014 which grants a 17.5 percent tax credit on wages for workers hired to build aircraft. The bill serves as an incentive to score lucrative contracts for high-paid aerospace jobs within the state. There was also a 10-year tax exemption granted for the manufacturing of equipment used for the space travel industry.

Is there a California Tax Credit for a Small Business?

Under the California Competes program, a full 25 percent of the $29 million in tax credits will be reserved to small businesses with gross receipts of less than $2 million annually. Huge corporations are not the only beneficiaries of the new tax incentives in California. The state recently instituted the California Competes tax credit program, designed to provide financial incentives for businesses to relocate to California or for businesses within the state to remain and add jobs.

The California Competes tax credit program replaces the former Enterprise Zone program, which was eliminated in 2013 due to it being wasteful and inefficient. Credits allocated by the program are tentatively set at $30 million for fiscal year 2013/14, $150 for fiscal year 2014/15 and $200 million for each fiscal year after that through 2018. The state’s website lists the following criteria by which California Competes tax credits will be awarded:

  • The number of jobs created or retained
  • Total compensation, including wages and fringe benefits
  • Investment in the state
  • Unemployment or poverty rates where businesses are located
  • Other state and local incentives available to the business
  • Incentives from other states
  • Duration of commitment of the business or project
  • Overall economic impact
  • Strategic importance of the business to the state, region, or locality
  • Future growth or expansion opportunities
  • Expected benefit to the state in excess of benefit to the business from the tax credit

The California Competes Tax Credit is a non-refundable tax credit, meaning that businesses cannot receive cash back even if the credit is greater than what they would otherwise owe in corporate income taxes. But excess funds from the credit can be carried forward for as long as five years, or until the excess funds are exhausted, whichever is sooner.

Other California Business Tax Incentive Programs

Other tax incentives for businesses that locate or expand within the state of California include the Manufacturing Equipment Sales Tax Exemption and the New Employment Credit program. Each program is for businesses located within designated Enterprise Zones, or areas that are struggling economically.

The sales tax exemption allows eligible businesses to exclude the State’s portion of the sales and use tax (currently 4.19%), from the first $200 million in equipment purchases made between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2022. This program will generate significant savings for eligible businesses, allowing them to pay a reduced sales and use tax rate of 3.3125% on qualifying equipment purchases.

TThe New Employment Credit program allows eligible businesses to receive a credit that may be taken against corporate income tax. This credit may be taken for all qualified employees hired on or after January 1, 2014. The amount of the tax credit equals 35% of the qualified wages paid for each new full-time employee hired, making a potential tax break of up to $56,000 or more per new employee over a five-year period.

In order for a newly hired employee to qualify the business for the New Employment Credit, they must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Unemployed for 6 months or more (excluding students and self-employed workers) either without a degree or having completed a degree more than 12 months before being hired
  • Veterans separated from active duty for less than 12 months
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) recipients during the previous year
  • Ex-offenders convicted of felonies
  • Current CalWORKS or county general assistance recipients

Trying to keep up with the competition

Many Californians approve of Governor Brown’s latest attempts to keep California in the running when it comes to attracting new businesses and keeping the existing ones from moving to another state that offers better business incentives. California is beginning to offer many appealing incentives to businesses, including State Tax credits, new employee credits, green tax incentives, as well as energy and transportation credits. When combined with available Federal tax credits and discounts, California can be a very profitable place for business owners to call home.

Below is a list of some additional tax incentives and credits currently offered in the state of California.

California Tax Programs, Credits, and Incentives Benefits to Businesses
California Competes $29 million in various tax credits to businesses who create or retain jobs within the state of California
Aerospace Tax Clarification Act Qualifies rocket propulsion systems for an existing business inventory tax exemption
California Motion Picture and Television Production Credit (AB-1839) 20% of expenditures for a qualified motion picture and 25% of production expenditures for an independent film or a TV series that relocates to California
Manufacturing Equipment Sales Tax Exemption Allows businesses to exclude the state share of sales tax (4.19%) from the first $200 million equipment purchases.
SB 1309 Tesla bill to include tax credits, workforce training grants and streamlined permitting and environmental reviews
New Employment Credit 35 percent of wages between 1.5 and 3.5 times the minimum wage for a period of five years.
California Research and Development  Tax Credit Credit for costs attributable to research activities conducted in California
California Capital Access Program Collateral Support (Cal-CAPS CS) Pledges cash (up to 40% of loan) to cover collateral shortfall of loans of $100,000 or more in Severely Affected areas
Small Business Loan Guarantee Program Enables small businesses to obtain a loan it could not otherwise obtain
Industrial Development Bond Provides manufacturing and processing companies low-cost, low-interest financing for capital expenditures
Employment Training Panel Helps assist with post-hire training reimbursement
Community Development Financial Institutions Investment Credit 20% of qualified investments made into a community development financial institution
Disabled Access for Eligible Small Businesses  (FTB-3548) $125 per eligible small business, and based on 50% of qualified expenditures that do not exceed $250
Enhanced Oil Recovery  (FTB 3546) 1/3 of the similar federal credit but limited to qualified enhanced oil recovery projects located within California
Environmental Tax (FTB 3511) $0.05/each gallon of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel produced during the year by a small refiner at a California facility
Low-Income Housing (FTB 3521) Similar to the federal credit but limited to low-income housing in California
Manufacturing Enhancement Area Hiring Hiring credit for Manufacturing Enhancement Area
Prison Inmate Labor (FTB 3507) 10% of wages paid to prison inmates
Targeted Tax Area Hiring (FTB 3809) Business incentives for trade or business activities conducted within a targeted tax area

 This article was written by staff writers Audrey Henderson and Jennifer Leonhardi. Consult with Optima’s Tax Relief  professionals to learn more.

How To File Taxes For The Unemployed : 10 tax Tips

If you lose your job unexpectedly, your first reaction may be to panic. Your second reaction may be to despair about whether you will ever work again. Unemployment brings many challenges and money considerations. What you may not consider are the implications for federal and state income taxes. But you will have to deal with your taxes sooner or later. Fortunately, the IRS provides tax breaks that may ease the blow of losing your job and make the task of seeking a new job easier. Here is everything you need to know about filing taxes unemployed.

How Do You File Taxes if You Don’t Work?

1. Don’t Forget to File Your Return

This may seem painfully obvious, but in your efforts to deal with reduced (or no) income, resumes and job interviews, tasks like filing your income tax return can be shoved to the side. You still need to be filing taxes unemployed. Depending on how long you’ve been unemployed, you may qualify for a sizeable tax refund, which would provide much needed cash. If you lose your job right before the filing deadline, and you really just can’t handle filing a return, file a request for an automatic extension to give yourself an extra six months. But don’t forget to pay at least an estimated amount of taxes that you owe to avoid underpayment penalties. If you’ve got some time to plan before you file then be sure to research the benefits and tax credits that may be available to you.

2. Utilize Free Income Tax Filing Services

If you never took advantage of free tax filing services before, now is the time to check out this benefit. The IRS allows taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes under a certain amount ($58,000 for 2013 tax returns) to file their federal returns for no charge through the Free File program. Many states also allow taxpayers to file their income taxes for free. Depending on your circumstances, you may also qualify for face-to-face assistance in filing your income tax returns from nonprofit agencies in your area.

3. Keep Track of Job Search Expenses

If you always just take the standard deduction on your return, you may wish to reconsider that position when filing taxes unemployed. That’s because job search expenses for a position in your present line of work are tax-deductible, but only if you itemize your deductions. Job search expenses must exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income to be deductible, but if you are receiving unemployment or no income at all, this hurdle is relatively easy to overcome. Expenses such as printing and mailing resumes, travel expenses for job interviews, employment agency fees and career counseling add up quickly.

4. Medical Expenses May be Tax Deductible

Clearing the hurdle of 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income necessary to deduct medical expenses is ordinarily a tall order, barring major surgery or catastrophic illness. But if your income is reduced due to job loss, clearing that hurdle may be easier. Save receipts for doctor visits, prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications just in case.

5. Take the Health Insurance Tax Credit if You Qualify

If you lost your job as a result of a foreign trade agreement, you may be able to claim the Health Insurance Tax Credit. You must be receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits to qualify. The HITC covers 80 percent of your health insurance premiums, which can free up a significant amount of cash for other areas of your budget.

6. Consider Your Retirement Plan

If you have an employer-sponsored 401(K), you will need to roll those funds into a traditional IRA or other qualified retirement funds to avoid paying taxes on the money. If you already have a traditional IRA, it may make sense to convert the account to a Roth IRA while your income is lower. You will have to pay income taxes on the funds that you convert, but you may still come out ahead financially in the long term. Consult with Optima Tax Relief to determine the best strategy for you.

7. Take Advantage of Tax Breaks for Low and Moderate Income Earners

Since you lost your job, your income has likely decreased dramatically, while many of your expenses have remained the same. Tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Child Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit and Savers Credit allow low and moderate income taxpayers to reduce the amount of income that they must declare on their federal income tax returns and in some cases, such as with the EITC, receive a tax refund, even if they don’t actually owe federal income taxes.

8. Don’t Get Blindsided by Taxes on Severance Pay or Unemployment Insurance

It is a cruel irony that unemployment insurance and severance pay are considered taxable income. As painful as it may be, plan to set aside funds from each unemployment check or your severance check to cover your estimated federal income tax liability if at all possible. The IRS receives copies of Form 1099 which reports unemployment income and Form W-2 which reports income – including severance pay – from your former job. Underreporting this income or failing to pay the taxes you owe could land you in serious trouble. The risks simply aren’t worth it. Bear this in mind when filing taxes unemployed.

9. Get to Know Schedule C

While your ultimate goal may be to find another full-time or part-time job, you may take temporary jobs or self-employment to fill gaps in your income during your search. Income and expenses from self-employment are calculated on Schedule C, which is filed along with your federal income tax return. Deductions and credits differ significantly for income from self-employed workers and small business owners than for wage earners.

Depending on how long you remain unemployed, you may be able to claim tax breaks through Schedule C that would be difficult or impossible to claim as a wage earner itemizing your deductions on Schedule A. In particular, self-employed workers can claim tax breaks on health insurance premium payments without itemizing deductions. Who knows, you may decide to ditch the job search in favor of full-time self-employment.

10. Withdraw from Your Retirement Fund Only as a Last Resort

When the balance in your bank account shrivels and your bills begin to pile up, funds that you have set aside for your kids’ education or for your retirement begin to look like a lifeline. If you are really hard up for money and you must choose between Junior’s education fund and your traditional IRA as a source of much-needed cash, deplete Junior’s college fund first. This is not to punish Junior, but because resources such as grants, scholarships, loans, and part-time work are available to help college students with financial need. If all else fails, Junior can attend a community college for a year or two before transferring to a four-year institution.

On the other hand, draining your retirement fund deprives you of funds that you may or may not be able to replenish. Even if you can replace the funds you withdraw, it is unlikely that you will ever be able to make up for the earnings that those funds would have generated had they remained in your account. Worse, you may have to pay a stiff tax penalty for early withdrawal from your traditional IRA. That said, the IRS allows unemployed taxpayers or their heirs to make hardship withdrawals from traditional IRAs before age 59 ½ without paying a tax penalty under strictly defined circumstances.

Do You Get a Tax Break For Being Unemployed?

Yes, you can get tax breaks if you’re unemployed. Taking advantage of tax breaks designed to assist job seekers and other taxpayers with moderate or reduced incomes may help you provide your family’s basic financial necessities until you are back on the job. Losing your job and going through the grind of seeking work can wear on even the most determined job seeker. While it’s tempting to give up, you should do whatever you can to continue your search. If you’re one of many American’s who lost their jobs or were furloughed in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic you may be eligible for additional relief. See our dedicated content for additional information on Coronavirus Tax Relief and benefits.

If you need tax help, contact one of our dedicated tax experts for a free consultation.

Do You Need a Tax Relief Lawyer?

The IRS is always prepared, shouldn’t you be as well? Do you need a tax relief lawyer?

Yes, absolutely.

This is a blog for a tax relief company with a small army of tax lawyers, so that’s what we’re paid to say, right? Well, yes, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Benefits of Using a Tax Relief Lawyer: True Stories

A tax relief lawyer is a wise decision. In January, 2014, Forbes reported that Beanie Beans founder Ty Werner was convicted of evading $5.5 million dollars in taxes owed on the $27 million in interest accrued from millions of dollars stashed away in a Swiss bank account. The sentence? Two years on probation and some hefty fines, which were small change for a billionaire like Werner.

Unrelated, and a couple of months earlier, Daniel Thody, a defense contractor was found guilty to five counts of tax evasion for failing to report $15,000 and $50,000 in taxes from $1.8 million earned as a contractor for the Department of Defense. He faces up to 25 years in prison, 5 years for each count.

Which one do you think hired a tax relief lawyer and which one thought representing himself would be the smarter option? The old adage that he who represents himself has a fool for a client may be a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true either.

We’ve already shared the 10 benefits of working with a tax relief firm, but here are a few good reasons you should lawyer up when dealing with the IRS.

What Can a Tax Attorney Do For You?

A tax attorney will ensure that you are treated better. It’s unfair, even illegal, but it’s also human nature. IRS agents are flesh and blood and if they can get away with bullying someone into their interpretation of the law, they probably will. A tax lawyer can ensure the IRS is playing by the rules and treating you fairly. IRS investigators are much more careful about asking inappropriate questions or wasting your time with unnecessary requirements if they know they are dealing with a tax attorney.

That was the finding of an investigation into nine groups in Ohio and Kentucky that sought nonprofit status. Organizations that didn’t have legal representation were more likely to have their applications stalled and receive inappropriate or unnecessary questions from the IRS.

You don’t have to worry about an IRS agent getting upset with you for hiring a tax relief lawyer either. The good ones prefer dealing with tax professionals because they don’t have to waste their time and patience explaining to you the ABCs of a tax audit or the basic IRS guidelines for a criminal investigation. In fact, hiring an experienced tax relief lawyer is generally seen as a sign of good faith to resolve your tax issues.

A few bad eggs may resent you hiring a lawyer and try to dissuade from doing so, but that’s when you really need a lawyer in your corner. The IRS’s own Declaration of Taxpayer Rights clearly states that “If you are in an interview and ask to consult such a person [a lawyer, agent or accountant], then we must stop and reschedule the interview in most cases.” Be suspicious if an IRS agent prefers not to deal with a tax professional.

Can the IRS See My Foreign Bank Account?

The IRS is a behemoth of an agency, one of the most powerful organizations on the planet. From 2008 through to 2014, over 50 bankers from Switzerland, India, Israel and other countries have been indicted for helping rich Americans squirrel billions of dollars into offshore accounts.

In 2013, the IRS also cracked the code of silence of Swiss financial institutions and got UBS, the largest Swiss Bank, to divulge confidential information on American tax evaders, and pay a $780 million penalty.

Even the IRS Thinks You Need a Tax Lawyer

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS which has the job of ensuring that you are treated fairly and helping you resolve problems with the IRS. Although it’s unlikely a Taxpayer Advocate Service lawyer will protect your interests quite as aggressively as a regular tax attorney, they are better than nothing, if you can’t afford to pay one.

If money is an issue, there is another option: Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. Although these clinics are partially funded by the IRS, they are completely independent and are operated by nonprofit organizations and academic institutions.

Only a Tax Attorney Can Represent You in a Criminal Investigation

Certified Public Accountants are great. When it comes to tax planning, business budgeting and asset management, a CPA is – all things being equal – more useful than a tax attorney is. But when you have a dispute with the IRS, especially if you’re accused of tax fraud or tax evasion, a tax relief lawyer is the only intelligent choice. Tax attorneys are the only ones who can represent you in a court of law and provide you the legal advice and analysis you need.

If that is not reason enough, I have two and a half words for you: attorney-client privilege. Unlike CPAs and accountants, attorneys cannot be subpoenaed to testify against a client in a criminal procedure.

Is it Worth it to Hire a Tax Attorney?

Does this mean you need a tax lawyer every time you get a letter from the IRS? No, of course not. You can probably deal with small mistakes and omissions by yourself or by giving your tax preparer a quick call. However, if there is any chance your case could go sour, you need to call a qualified and experienced tax attorney, and pronto. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re asking yourself whether it’s serious enough to merit calling a lawyer, it probably is.

A quick consultation call with a tax lawyer can save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees you could have avoided by not procrastinating. Tax lawyers know how IRS attorney think, many tax attorneys worked as IRS attorneys before hanging their own shingle. So, they know what to say, what not to say, and what buttons to push when negotiating your case.

Hiring a lawyer sends the IRS a clear and powerful message. You’re taking the investigation seriously; you’re not going to let IRS agents push you around; and you want to work with the IRS to avoid criminal charges.

The bottom line is that the IRS is scary enough when you have a first-rate lawyer at your side. So hire one already. Need to hire a tax relief lawyer? Our tax professionals at Optima Tax Relief are here to help.

How to Find a Good Tax Lawyer

When looking for tax relief, how to find a good tax lawyer is critical.

Tax law is complicated and highly technical. In the legal world, the field of tax law is considered one of the more demanding specialties. Tax lawyers deal with a wide range of situations and the rules and laws are continually changing. Not only does a tax lawyer need to have superlative legal skills to succeed, they also need certain personality traits. Find a good tax attorney to help you with tax relief and avoid dealing with the IRS directly.

What qualities make a good attorney?

Consider these academic and professional guidelines for tax attorneys when looking for tax relief.

  • A good tax attorney has specific experience in the field of taxation. For example, are your tax issues related to a real estate transaction? Or are you running a business and need assistance with a sales tax challenge? Or with filing your income tax? A good tax lawyer will concentrate within certain fields and will be familiar with the laws and the protocols needed to address those particular areas of tax relief.
  • Being associated with an office that is exclusively focused on tax related matters is another important quality for a tax attorney.
  • Having an LLM (Masters Legal Degree in Law) in taxation is a sign that your attorney is serious about his profession and is academically qualified to work within the field of tax law.
  • A good tax lawyer has firsthand experience working with the IRS.
  • Successful tax attorneys are continually refreshing their knowledge and keeping up with the continually changing nature of tax law.
  • Tax lawyers should be in good standing with the Better Business Bureau and their local state bar.
  • Good tax attorneys keep their clients informed and up-to-date during the tax relief process.

Skills of a Good Tax Lawyer

Tax attorneys also need to have certain personal skills and abilities to succeed in the area of tax relief. Consider these skills when finding a tax lawyer.

  • A good tax lawyer has high level oral communication skills. They are the intermediary between you and the tax authorities. They need to be able to explain complicated issues and represent your case in a clear manner.
  • Above average written communication skills are another important qualification of a good tax attorney. Tax lawyers write complaints, documents and lawsuit responses.
  • Critical thinking skills are necessary when your attorney is working on a tax relief case. A good tax lawyer can take a look at a case, pick up on any weaknesses, and choose which course of action to take based on the specifics of the case.
  • Having an analytical and organized personality is highly important for a tax attorney. Tax relief cases are usually very complicated and involve numbers and specific, detailed information. A good tax attorney will be able to stay on top of all the elements of the case.
  • Good interpersonal skills are critical for a tax attorney to work effectively with a client in a tax relief case. They need to be able to communicate effectively with both the client and with the tax authorities.
  • Having a committed and persevering personality are necessary qualities for the person who will be representing your tax relief case.

Taxes are complicated and the laws are constantly changing. Your financial future is often at stake in a legal situation involving taxes. Getting appropriate representation for tax relief is very important and knowing what makes a good tax lawyer is a very important first step in getting a resolution.

Need some tax relief? Solutions start here. Learn about tax reduction strategies with Optima Tax Relief. Contact us for a tax consultation today.

What does it mean to get audited?

Back in the day, the word “audit” conjured up widespread fear and loathing. With an astonishing 5.6 percent of all Americans receiving that dreaded audit notice from the Internal Revenue Service in 1963, nearly everyone knew someone who had been subjected to a tax audit. The number of IRS audits has declined sharply since then, with a 23 percent decline in the past twenty years. Nonetheless, the IRS has not completely pulled the plug on audits, although budget cuts has precipitated a shift from all-encompassing in-person audits in favor of less cumbersome, less costly audits that focus on specific tax issues.

Five Reasons for an IRS Audit

So, why would a person or business get audited? Here are some of the reasons you may be audited by the IRS.

  1. Failing to report income
  2. Claiming too much in charitable donations
  3. Claiming too many business expenses
  4. Claiming a loss for a “hobby” activity
  5. Making errors on your return

Tax Return Errors

The vast majority of audits are related to items on tax returns that trigger red flags, such as math errors, inconsistencies between W-2 and 1099 forms.

Unusual Increases or Decreases in Income

Another common red flag is a return that shows a reported income or income far out of line with earnings from previous years.

Associated Transactions

You may also be audited if your tax return reflects transactions with another taxpayer who is being audited.

Above Average Withholding

Automatic red flags such as above average withholding for your income level may also trigger an audit.

Random Audits

A certain number of audits are the result of plain bad luck – returns chosen at random.

How Do You Know If the IRS Is Auditing You? The letter informing you that you are being audited should include a notice number in the right-hand corner. This notice number will indicate the reason for the audit. You should use this notice as a guide to determine which records you should gather. Scams are unfortunately common, so it’s important to understand the process. Learn more about the audit notification process in our blog: How to Know If The IRS Is Auditing You.

The Types of Audits

The audit notification letter you receive should also indicate what type of IRS audit you have been selected for. Depending on the type of audit you are facing, your tax matters could be settled in a matter of days or linger for months. For more involved audits, obtaining the services of a tax professional is highly advisable. Consider the following types of audits to better understand what it means to get audited.

Correspondence Audit

A correspondence audit is conducted by mail. Correspondence audits usually involve tax matters that are relatively easy to resolve. In most instances the IRS is seeking copies of checks, receipts and other documentation to support deductions or credits that you have claimed, or to clarify other items on your tax return.

Office Audit

An office audit is conducted in person at your local IRS office. You should be prepared to report to the office with copies of the requested documentation. You may also have a legal representative or your tax preparer present during the audit.

Field Audit

Like an office audit, a field audit is also conducted in person. Unlike an office audit, a field audit is conducted in your place of business. You should be prepared to present copies of your documentation at the audit, and your legal representative or tax professional should also be present. You are not obliged to allow IRS personnel into your home unless the agency has obtained a court order. If you claim the home office deduction, agents may request to enter your home; if you refuse the request, your deduction will almost certainly be disallowed.

Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program Audit

The IRS uses Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program (TCMP) audits to update the data it uses to write it computer scoring program. This is the most extensive type of audit, which examines every aspect of your tax return. If you receive notice of a TCMP audit, you should be prepared to present exhaustive documentation, including birth and marriage certificates.

Can You Go to Jail for an IRS Audit?

While an audit may require significant effort on your part to gather the documentation required, it should not inspire panic. The unofficial threshold set by the IRS for tax fraud is at least $70,000 in unlawfully uncollected taxes and at least three years of fraudulent conduct. Therefore, while the odds are stacked against you in terms of escaping without additional tax obligations, it is extremely unlikely that as an honest taxpayer, you will face criminal charges or jail time as a result of an audit.

Learn more about tax fraud and how it happens with Optima Tax Relief. If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

Live Here, Work There. Where do I pay state income taxes?

After weeks or months of job seeking, you land the position of your dreams–but the job is in a different state. The location of the job is close enough so that you can commute every day rather than move, but you are still faced with the dilemma of where and how to pay state income taxes. Here’s what you should know if you live in one state but work in another.

Where do I pay state income taxes?

The easy rule is that you must pay non-resident income taxes for the state in which you work and resident income taxes for the state in which you live, while filing income tax returns for both states.

However, this general rule has several exceptions. One exception occurs when one state does not impose income taxes. The other exception occurs when a reciprocal agreement exists between the two states.

States with No State Income Tax

There are currently seven states in the USA that have no state income tax:

  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Nevada
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Two more states: New Hampshire and Tennessee tax only dividend and interest income. If you work in one of these nine states but live in one of the 41 states (plus the District of Columbia) that do impose state income taxes, you will generally pay only resident state income taxes for the state where you live. Similarly, if you live in one of these nine states but work in a state that imposes state income tax, you would only pay nonresident taxes for the state where you work.

For instance, if you live in Bristol, Virginia but work in Bristol, Tennessee, you would pay Virginia resident state income taxes. Likewise, if you worked in Bristol, Virginia and lived in Bristol, Tennessee, you would pay Virginia nonresident state income taxes. Though in both cases you would only file a single state income tax return.

States with Reciprocal Tax Agreements

What if you live in Milwaukee but you commute every day by Amtrak to Chicago? It just so happens that Wisconsin and Illinois share what is known as a reciprocal tax agreement. Reciprocal agreements allow residents of one state to work in other neighboring states without having to file nonresident state tax returns in that state they work. As a result, your employer would deduct only Wisconsin state taxes from your paycheck, and none for Illinois. Likewise, if you live in Chicago but work in Wisconsin, your employer would only deduct Illinois resident state income taxes from your paycheck. In both instances, you would only be required to file one state income tax return.

States without Reciprocal Tax Agreements

If you are unlucky enough to work across state lines in a state with no reciprocal agreement with your resident state, (for instance, Illinois and Indiana), then you will need to file income tax returns for both states. However, you should also be able to claim a credit on your resident state income tax return for the state income tax that you paid for the nonresident state. The result is that you actually pay taxes for one state, even though you must deal with the hassle of filing returns in both states.

Please note that reciprocity is not automatic. You must file request with your employer to deduct income taxes based on your state of residence rather than where you work. Unless you make a formal request, with your employer, you will continue to be taxed by both states and you will continue to be obliged to file two state income tax returns.

Filing Multi-State Income Tax Returns

Many people who are faced with the dilemma of working in one state and living in another, meaning they need to file a nonresident state tax return. People living and working in two different states often delegate the task of filing state income tax returns to an accountant or to a tax attorney. Still, know that many online and home-based tax preparation software programs include state income tax forms with detailed instructions on how to fill multi-state tax returns. If your tax situation is otherwise straightforward, you can save yourself a considerable amount of money by using a software program that includes both state and federal income tax forms and filing your own income tax returns.

If your career move was international there are other tax considerations, you should be aware of. Read our article on reporting foreign income to learn about your tax obligations when working overseas.

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What is the Minimum Income to File Taxes?

More than 43% of Americans don’t have to file a federal tax return–are you one of them?

While the IRS expects to receive more than 150 million tax returns to be filed this year, it is estimated that nearly 43% of Americans don’t have to file a federal tax return according to the IRS.

So how are millions of Americans avoiding this annual tedious task of having to prepare and file a tax return? Is there minimum income to file taxes?

Who Doesn’t Pay Income Taxes?

The recent recession had a lot to do with the fact that nearly half the country is off the hook when it comes to filing a tax return. Many people faced a drastic reduction in their earned income, and now simply do not make enough money to meet the minimum requirements to file. Additionally, President Obama teamed up with Congress to boost existing credits and create new stimulus measures which have resulted in many people qualifying for tax benefits and credits which eliminate their tax obligation entirely.

Do I Need to File a US Tax Return?

There is a minimum income to file taxes. If you are age 64 or younger, are filing as single and earned more than $10,000.00 in 2013 ($11,500.00 if age 65 or older), then you are among those who have to file a tax return with the IRS this year. If you were married at the end of 2013 and you plan on filing separate returns, you must file if you earned more than $3,900.00 in 2013.

* Is there a minimum income to file taxes for children?

These days there are more and more children working each year, oftentimes earning enough throughout the year to require that they file a return as well. This can be a complicated matter when trying to decide if the child should file a return and how that could affect their parents claiming them as dependents on their own return. Basically, a child must file a tax return if their earned income was over $6,100, however parents are still able to claim these children as dependents on their tax return if the child lived with them.

Even if you’re not required to file…

One important thing to consider is even if you are not required to file a federal tax return for 2013, you may want to still file a return as it may result in a refund owed to you. If you had income tax withheld from your paycheck or if you qualify for the EITC, additional child tax credit, health coverage tax credit, or refundable American opportunity education credit, filing a return will most likely result in the IRS sending you a refund check.

A major tax credit that helps Americans reduce their tax liability is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC was originally approved by Congress in 1975 to help working Americans (with a low to moderate income level) keep more of what they earned. According to the TPC, about 1 in 5 tax returns (close to 28 million) that were filed in 2010 claimed the EITC, resulting in over 60 million dollars in credit to Americans. For the 2013 tax year, working families with children that have annual incomes below $37,870 to $51,567 (depending on number of children) will be eligible for the federal EITC, as well as those without children that have incomes below $14,340.

According to the IRS, about three out of four people who file a tax return this year will receive a refund. Last year taxpayers received an average refund of $2,744, and the IRS is typically able to process that refund within 3 weeks. To get your refund from the IRS the quickest, be sure to e-file your tax return and opt for direct depositing your refund into your bank account.

Filing your annual income tax return can be a complicated and tedious task, but there are many benefits and credits available now to help reduce or even eliminate your tax liability. Even if you are not required to file a return, these tax credits can result in an unexpected refund from Uncle Sam. However, you have to file the return to receive the cash, so be sure to explore all of the available credits and deductions when preparing your return this year.

Need some help filing taxes? Optima Tax Relief offers tax consultation.

The Tax Mistake That Cost Me Thousands

Via LearnVest By Cheryl Lock ~

A tax mistake could cost you thousands. When my pay was direct-deposited into my checking account every two weeks while I was working my first full-time freelance job, I’d think, “Wow, that’s a decent amount of money. I can totally live off this!”

No one ever told me (and I never bothered to ask) why my paycheck seemed so large, so I lived it up for an entire year—eating out, going to plays, buying new clothes and taking trips. Then April rolled around: tax time. In all fairness, I knew that I hadn’t been paying freelance taxes on the money I was making as a freelancer. I just had no idea how much I actually should have been setting aside from each paycheck. I now know that I should have been saving at least 33% to 35% of every paycheck to put toward taxes. Hindsight … you know what they say.

In the end, I owed a little over $3,000. My accountant practically cried when she gave me the news—and a full-blown panic attack.

Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one befuddled by taxes—especially now that the new tax rules have been put in place.

Another Tax Mistake – a $40K Tax Mistake

In 2010, Heidi Saucedo’s husband was working in Egypt for two months. While he was away, Saucedo received an envelope from the IRS, which revealed a bill for $40,000.

“After I picked myself up off the floor, I had to contact the hubby … by Facebook chat,” she says. “Can you imagine going through all the back-and-forth required for that via chat?”

The problem was that Heidi and her husband had not filed a tax return in five years since money was tight while she stayed home with their two children. “I just didn’t understand that we could possibly owe nothing—I thought we would be charged for everything we owned,” Saucedo says. “I knew this was foolish, but we were living paycheck to paycheck, and we were too proud to ask for assistance.”

Her husband was also working under a 1099—meaning that he wasn’t a full-time employee, so he was taxed at the end of the year instead of out of every paycheck. “Apparently, I had ‘known’ this (my husband says that we discussed it), but to this day, I swear I had no clue,” Saucedo says.

After using TurboTax to figure out the tax deductions that hadn’t been included in that $40,000 bill (like standard deductions and the child tax credit), it turned out that they didn’t owe anything. “At the time, I chose not to go to a professional since the gist of the letter from the IRS was that all we needed to do was file our taxes,” Saucedo says. “I was pretty overwhelmed, and I didn’t have any money to pay a CPA, so I signed up for TurboTax.”

“The good thing was that when I began the search for anything and everything that I could get my hands on to rectify the situation,” Saucedo adds, “I realized that I love doing taxes. Never again will there be an unfiled return!”

LearnVest is the leading lifestyle and personal finance website for women.

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