This time of year many Americans would like to take a swipe at the IRS. Some taxpayers even should, experts say — with their credit card.
Though paying a bill in full is the best way to avoid late charges and other hassles, credit card payments can help those struggling with the their bills to buy time – and even save money. “If you’re going to need a year or more to pay it out you could borrow on a low interest credit card and it could be a good deal,” says Gregg Wind, a certified public accountant in Los Angeles.
While not ideal, credit cards and lines of credit can help people pay the tax man by this year’s April 17 while avoiding potentially steep late payment penalties and interest charges. The IRS generally charges interest on any unpaid tax starting from the day the tax is due to the date it is paid. Currently at 3%, the interest rate is reset quarterly. And that doesn’t include late payment penalties, which are 0.5% of taxes owed a month. Between interest charges and late payment penalties, someone who is a year late in paying their taxes could see their bill increase by 9%, Wind estimates.
Frequent-flier miles awarded for opening new accounts sometimes come with a big catch: taxes
Thousands of Citibank customers received notices in January saying the miles they received for opening new accounts in 2011 produced taxable income. Some customers, for instance, received a 1099 with $750 of income for 30,000 miles, the Wall Street Journal reported. The IRS confirmed they are taxable. Such bonuses are often enough to book a domestic flight or they can cover an upgrade to business class from coach. But analysts say the actual trips booked with the miles can be worth less than the amount of income reported by the credit card company. And the tax bill could cost more than the flight itself, says George Hobica, president of fare-tracking site AirfareWatchdog.com. “It might be a wash, depending on your tax bracket,” says Hobica. “I certainly wouldn’t do it.”
A client of mine told me she had just finished filing her corporate tax return when an unexpected 1099-MISC—which reports miscellaneous income–arrived in her mailbox. Normally, that wouldn’t have been a problem since she meticulously records all of her income throughout the year.
The problem? The amount on the 1099-MISC was several thousand dollars more than the income she had received from the form’s issuer. Upon investigating the discrepancy, my client found the difference to be a payment the company had issued on December 31st.
Since the check was issued and mailed out on December 31st, it’s absolutely impossible for my client’s corporation to have received it in 2010, right? That’s pretty obvious to anyone.
That’s why there is something called the Doctrine of Constructive Receipt. Here’s what IRS says about it:
“Income is constructively received when an amount is credited to your account or made available to you without restriction. You need not have possession of it. If you authorize someone to be your agent and receive income for you, you are considered to have received it when your agent receives it. Income is not constructively received if your control of its receipt is subject to substantial restrictions or limitations.”
The complex tax code and eleventh-hour changes don’t mean it’s too late to get good advice – but you might have to pay up.
In some ways, filing taxes has gotten a lot easier in recent years: free electronic filing, Turbo Tax, and now, even an iPhone app from the IRS. But here’s a warning before you start that download: Washington is mucking things up.
The eleventh-hour tax bill negotiated by Congress and President Obama includes some 500 changes—no fewer than 160 pages are now devoted to the estate and gift tax. Those last-minute adjustments mean anyone planning to itemize deductions, be it mortgage interest or charitable donations, must wait until mid- to late February to file this year. And these changes come on the heels of the IRS pushing back companies’ deadline for sending out so-called 1099 forms to Feb. 15 a few years ago. That means taxpayers have already had to wait a full two weeks longer to get the details they need for income like dividends, interest and sales of real estate.
The result is as predictable as, well, death and you know what: Everybody, it seems, is running late this year. Taxpayers and preparers are trying to decide whether to complete a return early and risk having to refile, or wait even longer to make sure they have all they need.“Everything is being shoved closer and closer to April 15,” says John Ams, executive vice president of the National Society of Accountants. (Even the IRS was tripped up—the agency won’t be able to start processing returns until mid-February, delaying refunds for those lucky enough to get them.)
For all but the simplest 1040-filers, the new wrinkles could lead to fee increases, particularly for those with preparers who charge by the hour.
New cost basis rules will make tax filing season a little easier for investors next year (when filing 2011 taxes) by shifting some reporting responsibilities to financial firms and away from investors.
But, investors aren’t off the hook. To avoid a huge tax headache at the end of this year, investors will need to be proactive by coordinating with their brokers, deciding earlier how they want to report trades and keeping more precise records.
Starting this year, financial institutions and brokers are required to track their customers’ cost basis — or the price they paid when they purchased shares, including commissions — and report that information to the Internal Revenue Service. Investment companies had to start tracking and reporting stocks and some exchange-trade funds this year but reporting requirements for other investments, such as mutual funds, bonds and options are being phased in during 2012 and 2013.
With many institutions setting default methods for how they want to report cost basis, the onus is on investors to check in early if they want to use a particular method when reporting trades—such as whether the oldest shares should be sold first, if an average cost for all the shares should be used or if specific shares should be sold. The default method for reporting stock trades, for instance, is “first in first out,” where the oldest shares are reported as being sold first. That might be bad if your shares have grown substantially in price since you first purchased them.
In an earlier post, I ranted about the burdensome new Form 1099 reporting requirements for businesses. Those rules are scheduled to kick in next year, but there’s a good chance they will be repealed before then. Fingers crossed!
Meanwhile, yet another set of nasty new 1099 rules are lurking in the background. These rules affect owners of rental real estate. They were buried in last September’s generally pro-taxpayer Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. For reasons that escape me, they have not gotten much attention, and I’ve not yet heard loud demands for repeal. Here’s the story.
Property Owners Must Issue 1099s to Service Providers
For the 2011 tax year, the IRS will consider owning one or more rental real estate properties “a business” for purposes of the 1099 requirements. That means property owners must file a 1099 with the IRS for any service provider paid $600 or more this year (for services that range from yard care to accounting). Owners must provide a copy of the 1099 (a so-called payee statement) to each payee. Until now, owning rental real estate did not count as a business for 1099 purposes, so owners were blessedly exempt from having to file 1099s and issue payee statements. Not any longer.
The Tax Blog brings together a team of award-winning tax journalists from the Dow Jones network and around the web to examine the tax issues, changes and legislation that affect families, investors and small business owners. Our contributors include Tax Report columnist Laura Saunders (WSJ), Tax Guy columnist Bill Bischoff and senior reporter Jilian Mincer (SmartMoney.com), retirement-focused reporter Anne Tergesen (WSJ), wealth management writer Arden Dale (Dow Jones Newswires), TaxWatch columnist Eva Rosenberg and personal finance reporter Andrea Coombes (MarketWatch), and reporter Alyssa Abkowitz (SmartMoney). They’ll provide the latest news and insight, mine the tax code for tips and loopholes, and answer your questions about tricky tax situations. Contact the The Tax Blog with ideas, suggestions or tax questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.