Friday, May 29, 2009

Take It To The Limit: IRS Statute of Limitations

Nearly every day, my law firm receives calls from people who are terrified of IRS collection activities, but don’t realize that their debt has expired. On the other hand, similar calls from people who thought their tax debt expired only to find that their wages are being garnished.

As you may know, the IRS has 10 years to collect on a taxpayer’s tax liability. The clock starts running from the date of assessment, which means the date the return was processed and an amount due was calculated for the tax return. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, like most things involving the IRS there are always exceptions. The IRS calls these exceptions “special circumstances.” And there are a few special circumstances that can extend the statute of limitations on a tax liability.

Bankruptcy which is either incomplete, or if the tax liability was not discharged. While your case is pending, the statute extends accordingly. If your bankruptcy agreement does not include your tax liability, those expiration dates keep getting pushed out.

Filing an Offer in Compromise. Yes, just the act of filing an OIC will extend a tax liability’s statute of limitations during the process. Of course, an accepted and completed OIC will resolve the debt.

Signing Form 900 Waiver, allowing the government additional time to collect. Why would anyone sign this document? Well, sometimes the IRS tells taxpayers they must sign it in order to enter into an installment agreement or other negotiations. Of course, they can not actually force you to sign the document, which is why asking for professional help in IRS negotiations can be beneficial.

Important to keep in mind, the statute of limitations begins running on the tax liability’s date of assessment. Which is when an IRS official actually signs off on your return. So, if you file your 2005 tax return in 2008, the liability won’t expire until 2018. This should be an enticement to file your returns on time, even if you can not pay your full liability. The earlier taxes are assessed, the sooner they will expire.

How do you find out when your debt will expire? You need to request a Record of Accounts from the IRS for each year you owe. Of course this will be a lot of paperwork, and it will be written in the classically difficult to understand IRS language. But the inconvenience can be worth if for taxpayers with particularly old debt. If you find you only have a few months left for the IRS to collect, you can simply ride it out and hope the IRS does not take any further action against you.

Sometimes an impending debt expiration can work in your favor, enticing the IRS to accept an Offer in Compromise. They would rather get some of their money than risk collecting nothing at all.

The IRS is not under any obligation to notify taxpayers that their debt is no longer collectible. So, many taxpayers live in fear of collection activity that will never come. Sounds pretty stressful. Sometimes, the IRS forgets to release a tax lien against your property, even after the debt expires, tarnishing a taxpayer’s credit. These are all reasons to get informed and be your own advocate. If you are not comfortable contacting the IRS, find a CPA or a tax attorney with experience in IRS negotiations and let them deal with all the bureaucracy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

IRS Tax Revenue Falls Along With Taxpayers' Income

As I discussed on the FOX Business Network, the IRS recently saw it’s largest revenue drop in over 30 years. You can watch my appearance here, but USA Today also posted an interesting article on the same subject. You can find a snippet of their article below, or check out the full post here.

Federal tax revenue plunged $138 billion, or 34%, in April vs. a year ago — the biggest April drop since 1981, a study released Tuesday by the American Institute for Economic Research says.

When the economy slumps, so does tax revenue, and this recession has been no different, says Kerry Lynch, senior fellow at the AIER and author of the study. "It illustrates how severe the recession has been."

For example, 6 million people lost jobs in the 12 months ended in April — and that means far fewer dollars from income taxes. Income tax revenue dropped 44% from a year ago.

"These are staggering numbers," Lynch says.

Big revenue losses mean that the U.S. budget deficit may be larger than predicted this year and in future years

"It's one of the drivers of the ongoing expansion of the federal budget deficit," says John Lonski, chief economist for Moody's Investors Service. The Congressional Budget Office projects a $1.7 trillion budget deficit for fiscal year 2009.

The other deficit driver is government spending, which, the AIER's report says, is the main culprit for the federal budget deficit.

The White House thinks that tax revenue will increase in 2011, thanks in part to the stimulus package, says the report from AIER, an independent economic research institute. But it warns, "Even if that does happen, the administration also projects that government spending will be so much higher each year that large deficits will continue, and the national debt held by the public will double over the next 10 years."

The government may have a hard time trimming spending to reduce the deficit when the recession ends. The 77 million Baby Boomers— those born in 1946 through 1964 — will start tapping their federal retirement benefits soon, which means increased government outlays for Social Security and Medicare.

What's Coming Up For Future 'Tea Party' Protests?

From the LA

Last month's "tea party" protests have come and gone but are not forgotten. New protests are already brewing, some maybe this holiday weekend, others probably for July 4, with text messages and tweets flying back and forth.

The phenomenon in many ways is familiar in American political history -- a kind of eruption, an incoherent lashing out by people angry over taxes and spending and big government and bigger spending. And the uncertainty of their current lives.

Contrary to some cable news channels, we found "tea party" protesters often to be just as angry at Republicans in general and George W. Bush in particular as at the awe-inspiring size of the Obama Democratic administration's spending plans.

Historically, these protests have fizzled without some political personality to coalesce around -- a Gene McCarthy, a John Anderson, a George Wallace. A Ron Paul even.

Our Times colleague Richard Fausset spent a good deal of time recently with "tea party" participants. And we asked him to go through his notes and thoughts and share the experiences with us. Here's what he told us:

The people I talked with had a variety of targets. This doesn’t mean they went easy on Obama, however. One fake campaign sign showed a picture of the president and a certain hirsute German philosopher: It said: “Obama Marx ’08 – BFF.”

Another sign featured a picture of Obama in a Soviet officers’ uniform and the words: “JUST SAY NYET.”

“Hey, is that available as a T-shirt?” a guy asked the sign holder. “It will be soon,” came the reply.

It was somewhat surprising to hear from numerous folks that their beef wasn’t just with Obama’s economic policies. Time and again, people said they'd been just as upset with what they saw as profligate spending under Bush.

Tim Lee was typical. A councilman from suburban Atlanta's Cobb County. “The Republicans,” he said, “were doing just as bad for eight years.”

Lee’s home county, like many municipalities around the country, has been facing its own economic crisis, forced to cut millions from budgets to match anemic tax revenue. As for the national economy, he said the federal government should have “let it crash” instead of offering bailouts to troubled industries and a big stimulus package.

We would have picked ourselves up and moved on,” Lee added. “The pain would have been short-term. Now we’re taking the long- term pain of having to pay all that money back.”

John Pettit, a 48-year-old contractor, hoisted a sign that read “Chains – we can count on.” Pettit said the nation was “headed for bondage” with its reliance on government borrowing. Pettit’s concerns about government policy didn’t start with Obama or the current Congress, he said.

It went all the way back to the New Deal. Although he said the new guys were part of that long, sorry history by spending money that they simply didn’t have. “Hey," Pettit said, "good habits are learned in bad times. And bad habits are learned in good times. Right now, Congress isn’t learning.”

The rallies typically have a temporary stage, a parade of local officials speaking, radio DJs and minor celebrities rallying the crowd.

What emerges in thought later is the lack of a unifying figure around whom the "tea party" folks can rally.

It will be interesting to see if someone emerges as organizers roll out plans for the next round of protests. If it is to be effective in the long term, it seems the movement will need a decider: not just a public figurehead, but someone who can focus and modulate the multifarious blob of themes and emotions that seem to drive this fascinating middle-class revolt.

Someone, in short, who can tap both the thoughtfulness and anger behind the movement, the patriotism and Americans’ natural skepticism of government power … plus the anti-Obamaism, the call for a fair tax, the fear of new controls on carbon emissions. All that and more.

Mortgage Delinquencies, Foreclosures, Rates Increase

Last month the number of foreclosures increased in this country, despite efforts by the Federal government to help the industry. Check out the following article on the topic thanks to

Mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures rose to records in the first quarter and home-loan rates jumped to the highest since March as the government’s effort to fix the housing slump lost momentum.

The U.S. delinquency rate jumped to a seasonally adjusted 9.12 percent from 7.88 percent, the biggest-ever increase, and the share of loans entering foreclosure rose to 1.37 percent, the Mortgage Bankers Association said today. Both figures are the highest in records going back to 1972. Fixed rates rose to 4.91 percent, Freddie Mac said, and an increase in bond yields earlier this week shows rates may continue rising.

The three-year housing decline is proving resistant to efforts by the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration to keep homeowners current on mortgages by allowing them to refinance or sell to buyers enticed by affordable terms. Prime fixed-rate home loans to the most creditworthy borrowers accounted for the biggest share of new foreclosures at 29 percent, MBA said, a sign job losses are hurting homeowners.

“If people don’t have a paycheck they can’t support a mortgage,” Jay Brinkmann, the MBA’s chief economist, said in an interview. “The longer the recession lasts the more people run through their savings reserves, leading to higher delinquencies and higher foreclosures.”

Rates Rise

One in every eight Americans is now late on a payment or already in foreclosure as mounting job losses cause more homeowners to fall behind on loans, the MBA said.

The average rate for a 30-year loan jumped from 4.82 percent a week earlier, Freddie Mac, the McLean, Virginia-based mortgage buyer, said today in a statement. The rate was 5.1 percent at the beginning of the year.

New home sales fell 34 percent in April from the year earlier period, the Commerce Department said today. The unemployment rate increased to 8.1 percent in the first quarter, the highest since the end of 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The inventory of new foreclosures and those already in the process of being foreclosed upon jumped to 3.85 percent, the MBA said. Half the loans now in foreclosure, adding the new and existing defaults, are held by prime borrowers, according to the trade group’s report. About 43 percent are subprime mortgages, and 7.1 percent are Federal Housing Administration loans. A year ago, subprime mortgages accounted for 54 percent of the U.S. foreclosure inventory. Prime fixed rate mortgages accounted for 19 percent of new foreclosures in the year earlier period.

Safest Mortgages

Prime adjustable-rate mortgages accounted for 24 percent of new foreclosures, up from 23 percent, Brinkmann said. The figures show that the mortgage crisis has shifted from subprime to borrowers holding the safest type of mortgages.

Subprime adjustable mortgages accounted for 27 percent of new foreclosure, falling from a share of 39 percent a year ago, Brinkmann said.

Delinquencies are continuing to rise even as forecasts show the economy may start improving later this year. The U.S. economic recession probably will end in the third quarter, a survey of business economists showed yesterday, even as rising joblessness indicates the recovery will be weaker than previously estimated. The world’s largest economy will begin to expand next quarter, according to 74 percent of economists in a National Association for Business Economics survey.

The Price of Recovery: Are You Inflation Ready?


In the first quarter of 2009, consumer prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, decreased by 2.4%. The Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index, the Fed's preferred inflation gauge, was down 1%. The most recent data shows there is no evidence of inflation in the U.S. economy.

The government is spending trillions of dollars using a broad swathe of initiatives to fight deflation, which is the opposite of inflation. And therein lies the rub. Should the government's efforts succeed, and there are some signs that they may, the huge new debt issuance that's supporting them could lead to a spike in inflation that we have not experienced since the 1970s.

The deftness and agility that will be required in the pivot from fighting deflation to fighting inflation is tremendous. In essence, the government has to provide enough monetary stimuli to get the economy firmly on the growth path, while standing ready to reverse course without stepping on the recovery. At USAA, our view is that the government will err on the side of letting inflation run a while, rather than risk a double-dip recession.

In response, we are acting now to build additional inflation-protection tools into our asset allocation products. In doing so, we are being driven by the following principles:

While inflation is not likely in the next few months, it is the likeliest outcome over the mid- to long-term.

U.S. Treasury-backed securities without inflation protection are probably in a bubble, and will suffer price declines amid all of the new issuance when the Treasury and the Fed take their foot off the monetary gas.

There are certain asset classes that should perform better than others in an inflationary environment, and it will be important as asset allocators to have the ability to shift assets to these vehicles across our product lines as the deflation/inflation pivot occurs.

USAA: Building an Intelligent Inflation-Fighting Toolbox

As always, we study what's happened in the past as a strong guide for how markets will behave in the future. Here's a rundown of how some important asset classes have performed.

Common stocks overall have had no correlation with inflation since 1926. We believe that our preference for active management would benefit given our sub-advisers' abilities to shift among sectors. For instance, exporters would benefit from the fall in the dollar that would accompany inflation, as would commodity-based companies in growth-driven markets.

Real estate has been positively correlated with inflation, as both rent and value tend to go up along with rising prices in other portions of the economy. The data on equity real estate investment trusts is less conclusive, and in fact these vehicles have been uncorrelated with inflation since 1972. We think recent changes in equity REIT structures should make them perform more like direct real estate in a coming inflationary period.

Gold is positively correlated with inflation, and also acts as a currency substitute that would rise in the face of a falling dollar.

Commodities have a relatively strong correlation to inflation, and are especially good for inflation caused by excessive demand, as opposed to inflation sparked just by increases in money supply. Commodities are also a powerful diversification tool, since they are negatively correlated with both stocks and bonds.

Bonds tend to suffer because inflation eats into the purchasing power of both income and principal repayment. Shorter-term bonds do better than longer-term issues, bonds with credit risk are less sensitive to inflation and rising rates than Treasuries, and there is a new class of inflation-linked securities and derivatives, including Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities.

The Public Pension Bomb

States all over the country are running into problems with the retirement funds setup for their employees. recently posted an inn-depth article on how this problem is playing out now in New Jersey. You can find a segment of the story below, or read the full post here.

For years, states all across the country have been starving their retirement plans. Here's a look at how the crisis is playing out in New Jersey, where the bill is coming due, and the state doesn't have the money to pay it.

Even as the nation's economy is showing some tentative signs of bottoming out, another calamity looms: the public pension bomb.

For years, states nationwide have shortchanged the retirement programs that cover teachers, police, and other public employees; now the stock market plunge has wiped out billions of dollars from already underfunded plans. California, New York and Illinois are among the states scrambling to plug multibillion-dollar holes in their pension systems. The growing obligations raise the specter of higher taxes, diminished services, or even another round of costly federal bailouts.

"States have long needed to reduce their unfunded liabilities, and widespread investment losses have made it even more necessary to put money in," says Lance Weiss, author of a 2006 Deloitte study of state pensions. "But the market crash also means there's less money available to use for contributions. Everything is coming together to create a crisis."

To better understand this ticking time bomb it helps to focus on a single state, and New Jersey makes a compelling case study. For one thing, its situation is dire. In June 2008 the state estimated that the plan - one of the nation's largest, covering teachers, state employees, firefighters, and police - had $34 billion less than it needed to meet its obligations. Since then the market value of the plan has dropped from $82 billion to $56 billion (a new estimate of underfunding is due in July).

Also, New Jersey is in some ways ahead of the pack in trying to deal with the crisis - Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, made addressing the problem a central theme of his 2005 campaign - and the obstacles it is encountering shed light on the hard choices facing other states.

"The pension obligations could spark a huge problem for New Jersey," says Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor. "They must be paid because they are absolutely an obligation of the state, but as it is, the budget is balanced with chewing gum and sealing wax."

To figure out how such a wealthy state (with a median household income of $65,933, New Jersey ranks No. 1) dug itself into this hole, set the clock back almost 20 years.

In 1990 the country was hit by a recession, and the new Democratic governor, James Florio, responded with a wildly unpopular $2.8 billion income and sales tax increase to balance the budget. Two years later, facing another budget shortfall, he turned to the state pension system for help. With almost unanimous support in the legislature, he pushed through the Pension Revaluation Act of 1992.

Millionaires Go Missing

From the Wall Street

Here's a two-minute drill in soak-the-rich economics:

Maryland couldn't balance its budget last year, so the state tried to close the shortfall by fleecing the wealthy. Politicians in Annapolis created a millionaire tax bracket, raising the top marginal income-tax rate to 6.25%. And because cities such as Baltimore and Bethesda also impose income taxes, the state-local tax rate can go as high as 9.45%. Governor Martin O'Malley, a dedicated class warrior, declared that these richest 0.3% of filers were "willing and able to pay their fair share." The Baltimore Sun predicted the rich would "grin and bear it."

One year later, nobody's grinning. One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April. This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a "substantial decline." On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates.

No doubt the majority of that loss in millionaire filings results from the recession. However, this is one reason that depending on the rich to finance government is so ill-advised: Progressive tax rates create mountains of cash during good times that vanish during recessions. For evidence, consult California, New York and New Jersey (see here).

The Maryland state revenue office says it's "way too early" to tell how many millionaires moved out of the state when the tax rates rose. But no one disputes that some rich filers did leave. It's easier than the redistributionists think. Christopher Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, notes: "Marylanders with high incomes typically own second homes in tax friendlier states like Florida, Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia. So it's easy for them to change their residency."

All of this means that the burden of paying for bloated government in Annapolis will fall on the middle class. Thanks to the futility of soaking the rich, these working families will now pay Mr. O'Malley's "fair share."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tax Advice for New Car Buyers

With all of the talk about auto industry bailouts, and bankruptcies, most consumers have become quite weary of buying a new car. However, if you were holding out, now is just as good of time as ever to get that new vehicle. In fact, there are plenty of tax benefits to encourage you. To help the readers of my blog wanting to know more about these savings, I have put together the following list of tips for new car buyers.

Local Tax Deductions

One of the biggest incentives to buy a new vehicle is the federal tax law that allows you to deduct both local and state taxes paid. However, you must make the purchase between February 16 and December 31, 2009. Although the savings begin to phase out with more expensive car purchases, this deduction can easily save you thousands of dollars come April 2010. To qualify, single taxpayers need to have an adjusted gross income of less than $125,000, and for joint taxpayers, the cap is $250,000.

Plug-In Hybrids

If you are looking to get a new fuel-efficient vehicle, then you may want to consider waiting for one of the new plug-ins due to be out later this year. There are lots of advantages to buying plug-in hybrids, especially ones that can run entirely on their batter power without using any fuel. However, there are also specific tax benefits that have become law during the Obama administration. For the first 250,000 plug-ins sold, owners will receive a tax credit ranging between $2,500 and $7,500. After those first cars are sold, the credits will still be available but in reduced amounts.

Sales Tax & Registration

When buying a car for the first time, many buyers will make the mistake of assuming that the price tag on the car is the exact amount they are going to pay. This is untrue. Although the price listed on the vehicle will be your main expense, sales tax and registration can easily increase your total costs by a few thousand dollars. When you are estimating the type of car you can afford, be sure to add in your local sales tax and registration! That way you can avoid potential surprises when you go to sign the purchase documents.

Business Expenses

If you are going to be using the car you purchase for your business or primarily as a business vehicle, then you may be able to benefit from additional tax deductions for purchasing and maintaining the vehicle. However, be sure to check with an accountant or tax professional before taking any of these deductions, as the IRS can be very strict about vehicle related expenses.

Car Pooling

If you are planning to use your new vehicle to carpool to work, make sure to check with your employer to see if they offer any incentives for doing so. Even if your employer does not participate in a program, you could still consider forming a carpool with some of your coworkers. To learn more about how you can save money by sharing a ride, check out this article about carpooling on

State and Local Incentives

If you have been eyeing a certain vehicle but are not sure it is in your budget, then make sure you to check your state and local tax laws. Although most federal hybrid credits began phasing-out already, there are still numerous states that are offering tax incentives to purchase a hybrid or eco-friendly vehicle.

The Myth of a Corporate Tax Exodus


When the Obama administration unveiled its plan to crack down on corporations using tax havens to avoid paying their full share of tax, there was a corporate outcry, especially loud in the business media. Many trumpeted the view of Americans for Tax Reform, which predicted that making companies pay their taxes would cause U.S. companies to move abroad, taking their capital and jobs with them.

That's a scary proposition, even when we're not in a recession. It's also utter nonsense. The American economic right wing often seems like a parody of the vulgar Marxist view; instead of asserting that all human behavior is based on economic decisions, the right wing asserts that all decisions are based on taxes. In reality, there are dozens of reasons why companies locate where they do: sure, taxes are one, but so are quality of infrastructure (especially communications); access to a productive and stable workforce; and the desire of employees to relocate.

And thus, not surprisingly, as multinational corporations adjust to the likelihood that their fictional headquarters in places like the Cayman Islands may have to end, the movement that we're seeing is not an exodus from the United States. Rather, as today's Wall Street Journal reports, the movement is from truly law-evading locales like the Caymans to better regulated low-tax jurisdictions like Ireland and Switzerland. Accenture (ACN) has become the latest company to approve such a move, joining Tyco (TYC), Ingersoll Rand (IR) and a host of other companies who have the option to declare their headquarters in just about any country but want to remain legitimate.

But look, if you're really still worried that Intel (INTC) or Microsoft (MSFT) are going to close up shop and move to India, there's a very simple solution. It's what the Senate version of a tax haven crackdown proposed the last time it was introduced: the government simply declares that any company doing $50 million or more inside the United States will be taxed as a U.S. corporation. That way, U.S. companies will be welcome to move abroad if they have good reasons, but avoiding taxation will not be one of them.

Once Considered Unthinkable, U.S. Sales Tax Gets Fresh Look

For the first time in history, the United States Congress is rumored to be considering a value added tax (VAT), a sort of National sales tax. Check out the article below on the topic courtesy of the Washington Post.

With budget deficits soaring and President Obama pushing a trillion-dollar-plus expansion of health coverage, some Washington policymakers are taking a fresh look at a money-making idea long considered politically taboo: a national sales tax.

Common around the world, including in Europe, such a tax -- called a value-added tax, or VAT -- has not been seriously considered in the United States. But advocates say few other options can generate the kind of money the nation will need to avert fiscal calamity.

At a White House conference earlier this year on the government's budget problems, a roomful of tax experts pleaded with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to consider a VAT. A recent flurry of books and papers on the subject is attracting genuine, if furtive, interest in Congress. And last month, after wrestling with the White House over the massive deficits projected under Obama's policies, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee declared that a VAT should be part of the debate.

"There is a growing awareness of the need for fundamental tax reform," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said in an interview. "I think a VAT and a high-end income tax have got to be on the table."

A VAT is a tax on the transfer of goods and services that ultimately is borne by the consumer. Highly visible, it would increase the cost of just about everything, from a carton of eggs to a visit with a lawyer. It is also hugely regressive, falling heavily on the poor. But VAT advocates say those negatives could be offset by using the proceeds to pay for health care for every American -- a tangible benefit that would be highly valuable to low-income families.

Liberals dispute that notion. "You could pay for it regressively and have people at the bottom come out better off -- maybe. Or you could pay for it progressively and they'd come out a lot better off," said Bob McIntyre, director of the nonprofit Citizens for Tax Justice, which has a health financing plan that targets corporations and the rich.

A White House official said a VAT is "unlikely to be in the mix" as a means to pay for health-care reform. "While we do not want to rule any credible idea in or out as we discuss the way forward with Congress, the VAT tax, in particular, is popular with academics but highly controversial with policymakers," said Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for White House Budget Director Peter Orszag.

IRS Offers Tips On Late Filing And Tax Scams

From The Sentinel:

You meant to do your taxes, but the next thing you knew the April 15 tax deadline passed. According to the Internal Revenue Service, you can still file your tax return, even if you didn't ask for an extension, and in some cases you won't even face a penalty. The IRS also offers tips on recordkeeping and how to protect against tax related scams.

What if you have not filed yet?

Electronic filing is available until Oct. 15 for extension and late filers. IRS e-file is the most efficient way to prepare your taxes, particularly taking into consideration the latest tax changes including the Recovery Rebate Credit, First-Time Homebuyers Tax Credit, Additional Standard Deduction for Real Estate Taxes and the Educators Expense Deduction. E-filing will ensure you do not miss out on any tax breaks. Also, taxpayers who earn $56,000 or less can file for free and online at the Web site using the Free File Program.

For the traditional paper filer, tax forms and instructions are available at the website.

"If you overpaid your tax by April 15 and will get a refund when you file, there's no late filing penalty," said New Jersey's IRS spokesperson Gregg Semanick. "The penalty is based on the amount not paid by April 15. But don't get too relaxed — you have only three years from the due date to file for that refund. Miss that deadline and you kiss the money goodbye."

If you have not yet filed your tax return and you owe, file immediately to minimize the late-filing penalty based on the unpaid balance. The late-filing penalty is 5 percent per month up to five months that a return is outstanding. File your return and pay as much as you can. The IRS will send you a notice for the balance due and will charge interest and penalties only on the unpaid balance. You can also request a payment plan prior to receiving the IRS notice.

You can ask to make monthly installment payments. You can apply for an IRS installment agreement using the IRS Web-based Online Payment Agreement application on This Web-based application allows eligible taxpayers or their authorized representatives to self-qualify, apply for, and receive immediate notification of approval. You can also request an installment agreement by submitting a completed Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, either when you file the return or when you later get a notice from the IRS. "Missing the tax deadline isn't the end of the world. But doing something now will be the end of your worrying about it." Semanick said.

What records should be kept?

You must keep records so that you can prepare a complete and accurate income tax return. The law does not require any special form of records. However, you should keep all receipts, canceled checks or other proof of payment, and any other records to support any deductions or credits you claim.

Normally, tax records should be kept for three years, but some documents — such as records relating to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, IRA, and business or rental property — should be kept longer.

You should keep copies of tax returns you have filed and the tax forms package as part of your records. They may be helpful in amending filed returns or preparing future ones.

For more information on recordkeeping, see IRS Publication 552, Recordkeeping for Individuals.

How to recognize tax scams?

Even after tax season, there are numerous scams in which people receive unsolicited emails, phone calls or faxes that claim to come from the IRS, and which request personal and financial information that may be used to commit identity theft. Typically, identity thieves use someone's personal data to empty the victim's financial accounts, run up charges on the victim's existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim's name, file fraudulent tax returns or even commit crimes.

Anyone who receives one of these bogus emails, phone calls or faxes should avoid responding, clicking on any links or opening attachments. Recipients may forward the emails or report the calls to the IRS using the email address

Latest Good Reads

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Memorial Day: Why a Holiday From Taxes?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Helio Castroneves Cleared Of Remaining Tax Charge, Wins Indy 500

From All Headlines

Auto racing driver and former "Dancing with the Stars" champ Helio Castroneves' tax-related charges have been dropped on Friday.

The Indianapolis 500 winner was charged with conspiracy and six counts of tax evasion for allegedly failing to report to the IRS about his millions of income between 199 and 2004. His manager sister Katiucia and lawyer Alan Miller are also charged with assisting him in 2008, they were acquitted of the charges in April.

The trial for the case ended on April 10 this year, and Castroneves was acquitted of all six counts of tax evasion, but hung on one count of conspiracy.

However, on Friday, the remaining charge has been dropped.

He told, "My life is back. The only thing I can think about is to go and be in the race car again."

That was Friday.

On Sunday, the over-achieving Brazilian racing driver won his third Indianapolis 500 checkered flag.

Castroneves won the title in 2001 and 2002. He also won the fifth season of the reality competition show "Dancing with the Stars" with partner Julianne Hough.

IRS Announces Withholding Adjustment Option for Pension Plans

The IRS recently posted a press release on a new withholding adjustment option for pension plans. The release is “part of a wider outreach effort to educate taxpayers about the benefits they will receive under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

In February, the IRS issued revised withholding tables incorporating the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, one of the key provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That change resulted in more take home pay for more than 120 million American households and provided an immediate economic stimulus. The new procedure for pensions will make withholding more accurate for pension recipients.

While the newly announced procedures apply only to pension payments, the IRS is gearing up for a wider outreach campaign to educate pensioners and other taxpayers about the withholding tables and Recovery payments. The IRS will work with partner groups to provide taxpayers information to make sure they have the appropriate withholding for their situation. The IRS will also work on developing a variety of information products, including brochures, video and audio material to help educate taxpayers.

The change announced today will help some pensioners avoid a smaller refund next spring or even a balance due in limited situations. A wide variety of factors, such as outside jobs and other earned income, can affect how much, if any, withholding is needed by people receiving a pension to satisfy their annual tax liability. The optional adjustment procedure which may be used by those paying pensions is available in Notice 1036-P, Additional Withholding for Pensions for 2009. The on-line version of Publication 15-T, New Wage Withholding and Advance Earned Income Credit Payment Tables, will be updated and available next week.

More information is available on this Website. Taxpayers and payors can download forms and publications from this Website or request a free copy by calling toll free 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

U.S. Pension Insurer May Need Tax Aid

From the Journal

The rapidly deteriorating financial health of the federal agency that guarantees 44 million Americans' pensions is raising alarms in Congress.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. deficit was $33.5 billion in the red at the end of March, triple its deficit six months earlier.

The recession threatens to add to the strain on the corporation by pushing more companies into bankruptcy and leaving the struggling agency responsible for their pensions.

For example, the agency faces a potential tidal wave of claims from Chrysler and General Motors, whose pension plans are underfunded by an estimated $29 billion, the Government Accountability Office said.

If the PBGC’s condition continues to deteriorate, the government could come under pressure to shore it up with taxpayer funds, the GAO said in testimony to the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging.

“The Committee has grave concerns about the agency’s viability,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., the committee’s chairman.

The agency does not insure 401(k) plans, but its fate is important not only to the workers covered by more than 29,000 employer-sponsored benefit pension plans but to all taxpayers who could be asked to foot the bill on a bailout if the agency ever becomes insolvent.

Despite the deficit, the PBGC will be able to meet its obligations to pensioners for many years, acting PBGC director Vincent Snowbarger told the panel. That’s because the payments it owes are not due all at once; they are spread over the beneficiaries’ lifetimes, Snowbarger explained.

Finances aside, the GAO is concerned that the PBGC could have trouble simply handling the added work. The agency suffers from weaknesses in its management and governance, the GAO’s Barbara Bovbjerg, who oversees workforce and income security issues, said in a statement to the committee.

A recent report by the agency’s inspector general alleged that Charles Millard, a former PBGC director, had improper contacts with big Wall Street firms while they were bidding on contracts to help manage PBGC investments. Millard allegedly asked an executive at the financial firm BlackRock how to tailor a contract requirement to winnow the field of bidders. In addition, he allegedly received help with a job search from an executive at another bidder, Goldman Sachs.

Kohl and the agency’s acting director recommended that the contracts, worth a total of $100 million, be canceled.

Millard, who served under President George W. Bush, declined to answer questions at a hearing last week, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to give testimony that might incriminate himself.

Millard previously asserted that he complied with all legal and ethical obligations. “I acted in what I believed to be the best interests of the PBGC to implement desperately needed reforms of PBGC investment policy,” Millard said in a letter to the inspector general.

Fees, Taxes On the Rise as New York Families Struggle Thru Bad Economy

The NY Daily News posted a new story the other day on how both taxes and fees are rising as families continue to struggle during this economic crisis. You can read a snippet of their article below or check out the full text here.

Jim Feasel is a retired NYPD detective, an expert in figuring out who did it and why.

But now there’s a problem in his personal life that he can’t solve and he feels handcuffed.

“How did the city’s appraised value of my home go up $75,000 last year. . . when property values went down 10% or more?” bellowed Feasel, who owns a two-family home in Woodside, Queens.

Along with thousands of other middle-class New Yorkers, Feasel is feeling the big squeeze — what happens when taxes and fees go up while income stays flat and investments and property values fall.

Property taxes are just part of the pinch. Water and sewer charges were hiked 14.5% last July 1 and will go up another 12.9% this July 1. Fares, tolls, utilities and property assessments are all higher.

Add in 60 increased or new state fees and taxes — on everything from beer to hunting licenses — and its no wonder New Yorkers are wondering how they’ll make ends meet.

Own a deli or pizza parlor? Your “food licensing fee” is being jacked up from $100 to $250. Registering a car will cost $55, up from the old $44 fee. A monthly MetroCard will set back straphangers $89 instead of $81.

The increases are designed to close city and state budget gaps of more than $22 billion — but some say they’re misguided.

“It’s piling on and the middle class is getting killed,” said Controller William Thompson, who is running against Mayor Bloomberg in November. “There was no reason to raise water and sewer that much.”

Geithner Vows to Cut U.S. Deficit on Rating Concern


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner committed to cutting the budget deficit as concerns about deteriorating U.S. creditworthiness deepened, and ascribed a sell-off in Treasuries to prospects for an economic recovery.

“It’s very important that this Congress and this president put in place policies that will bring those deficits down to a sustainable level over the medium term,” Geithner said in an interview with Bloomberg Television yesterday. He added that the target is reducing the gap to about 3 percent of gross domestic product, from a projected 12.9 percent this year.

The dollar extended declines today after Treasuries and American stocks slumped on concern the U.S. government’s debt rating may at some point be lowered. Bill Gross, the co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Co., said the U.S. “eventually” will lose its AAA grade.

Geithner, 47, also said that the rise in yields on Treasury securities this year “is a sign that things are improving” and that “there is a little less acute concern about the depth of the recession.”

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield jumped 17 basis points to 3.36 percent yesterday and was unchanged as of 12:18 p.m. in London. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index fell 1.7 percent to 888.33 yesterday. The dollar tumbled 0.5 percent today to $1.3957 per euro after a 0.8 percent drop yesterday.

Gross’s Warning

Gross said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television that while a U.S. sovereign rating cut is “certainly nothing that’s going to happen overnight,” markets are “beginning to anticipate the possibility.” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, speaking in Hong Kong today, nevertheless argues it’s “hard to believe” the U.S. would ever default.

Britain’s AAA rating was endangered when Standard & Poor’s yesterday lowered its outlook on the nation’s grade to “negative” from “stable,” citing a debt level approaching 100 percent of U.K. GDP.

It’s “critically important” to bring down the American deficit, Geithner said.

In its latest budget request, the administration said it expects the deficit to drop to 8.5 percent of GDP next year, then to 6 percent in 2011. Ultimately, it forecasts deficits that fluctuate between 2.7 percent and 3.4 percent between 2012 and 2019.

Ten-year Treasury yields have climbed about 1 percentage point so far this year, in part after U.S. economic figures indicated that the worst of the deepest recession in half a century has passed. The yield on 30-year bonds has jumped to 4.31 percent, from 2.68 percent at the beginning of the year.

The Treasury chief said it’s still “possible” that the unemployment rate may reach 10 percent or higher, cautioning that the economic recovery is still in the “early stages.”

“The important thing to recognize is that growth will stabilize and start to increase first before unemployment peaks and starts to come down,” he said. While “these early signs of stability are very important” this is “still a very challenging period for businesses and families across the United States,” he said.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell by 12,000 in the week ended May 16 to 631,000, according to Labor Department statistics released yesterday. Still, the number of workers collecting unemployment checks rose to a record of more than 6.6 million in the week ended May 9.

As of April, the unemployment rate was 8.9 percent, the highest level since 1983. The economy has lost 5.7 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007.

California Cities Irked by Borrowing Plan

California cities are becoming increasingly fed-up with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget plans, according the Wall Street Journal. You can find a snippet of their story below, or check out the full text and an accompanying graph here.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his efforts to find funds to balance the state budget, has proposed borrowing $2 billion from municipal governments over the next fiscal year, a tactic that is rankling local officials up and down the state.

Mr. Schwarzenegger is invoking a 2004 law that lets the state demand loans of 8% of property-tax revenue from cities, counties and special districts. Under the law, the state must repay the municipalities with interest within three years.

Administrators of already cash-strapped cities and counties said the loans would force even deeper cuts in services. Fewer cops and fire engines would be on the streets, they said, and parks and libraries would be closed more often. And some local governments would be forced to lay off workers to keep their budgets out of the red, they said.

Mr. Schwarzenegger's proposal "suggests that financing state government and state-government services are more important than these basic community services," said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities. "I think it's something most of the public would disagree with."

The governor said California's worsening fiscal woes forced his hand. California faces a $21 billion shortfall after voters on Tuesday rejected a series of measures to help keep the state solvent. Lawmakers dictate $92 billion of the state's $131 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. "I absolutely despise taking money from local government, but as I said, this is only under the worst-case scenario," Mr. Schwarzenegger said last week.

Mr. Schwarzenegger on Thursday announced he is seeking more cuts to avoid borrowing $5.5 billion from Wall Street, as he had previously proposed. On top of the $9 billion in spending reductions he had already called for, he is considering slashing an additional $750 million from prisons and $600 million from colleges and universities, an official in his finance department said. The state is also looking at cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from various social services, as well as eliminating Cal Grants, a college financial-aid program, the official said.

The governor's proposal of borrowing from local governments must still be approved by the legislature. If it does so, municipalities are worried the state won't be able to repay the loans, given the state's fiscal plight. "They're hijacking our dollars," said Don Knabe, chairman of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. "They don't have money to pay us back. It's a joke."

Los Angeles County could lose the use of up to $500 million for the next fiscal year, Mr. Knabe said. That would add to the county's projected $300 million shortfall in its $23.5 billion budget, of which supervisors can control $3.5 billion. That could mean cuts to services like parks and libraries.

The state could borrow about $25.6 million from Contra Costa County, said Contra Costa administrator David Twa. He says the county is in no shape to cut back more after slashing $156 million from its budget and laying off 600 workers.

San Francisco would be forced to lend the state up to $90 million under the governor's proposal, said city Controller Ben Rosenfield. With the city already facing a $438 million budget gap, officials would likely borrow funds if the state takes their property-tax revenue, he said. "It costs us money to borrow," Mr. Rosenfield said. "It'll end up falling on future fiscal years."

Former All-Star Pitcher Jerry Koosman Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion


Former All-Star pitcher Jerry Koosman pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion at a Madison, Wis., hearing on Friday and could face up to a year in prison. Sentencing is set for July 21.

Koosman, who also faces $25,000 in fines, neglected to pay federal income taxes for 2002, '03 and '04, defrauding the government out of as much as $90,000, assistant U.S. attorney John Vaudreuil told The Associated Press.

According to court documents, the IRS learned in '05 that Koosman hadn't filed any returns for 2002, '03 and '04. Using his W-2 wage statements, the IRS determined Koosman earned about $754,950 over those years, including about $130,000 from his Major League Baseball pension and $25,000 in '02 alone for autographs and personal appearances. He also had a stock sale in '02 worth $551,881.

Koosman, who helped led the 1969 Mets to a World Series title, maintained that he thought federal taxes applied only to federal workers, corporate employees and District of Columbia residents, court documents said.

"I guess it's a combination of being naive and not being able to understand law as I read it or was told," Koosman told U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb during Friday's hearing.

Koosman, 66, lives in Osceola, Wis., and retired after the 1985 season. He played in the Majors for 19 seasons, including his first 12 with the Mets, and was an All-Star in '68 and '69. He retired with a career record of 222-209 and a 3.36 ERA.

Lawmakers Consider $1.50-Per-Pack Cigarette Tax Hike

California lawmakers are considering a controversial new cigarette tax increase as a solution to bring in some much-needed state revenue. Check out the following article on the debate surrounding the issue courtesy of the LA

For years tobacco companies have successfully fought off attempts by California lawmakers and health groups to increase the cigarette tax. But next month, as the state grapples with the worst financial crisis in recent history, that may change.

Lawmakers will consider a proposal to hike cigarette taxes by $1.50 per pack and raise $1.2 billion annually. During the last decade, cigarette makers have spent tens of millions of dollars to kill 14 straight attempts to make smokers pay more.

But with the state facing a staggering $21.3-billion deficit and due to run out of cash in July, the tobacco tax could have a better chance of passing the Legislature.

"Given the serious budget shortfall we face, this is the year to pass the tobacco tax," said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). "It is needed now more than ever."

Padilla wrote the current proposal with Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), but even with Steinberg's support, it faces an uphill battle. The tobacco industry sees California as a crucial market and a trendsetter for anti-tobacco ideas that can spread through the country, said Beverly May, regional director of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a Washington anti-smoking group.

"The tobacco companies view California very much as a battleground state," she said. "California is a state that they look at as important to do everything they can to have influence in any way they can."

Frank Lester, a spokesman for Reynolds American Inc., said proposals to raise tobacco taxes in California have failed in part because the state's residents are compassionate and see the tax as unfair.

"When people realize who the burden falls on -- the tax tends to be one of the more regressive taxes, meaning it falls on people of lesser means and working families -- they tend to think twice about it," Lester said.

He also said California voters are "dubious" about how past tobacco taxes have been spent. He cited media reports about the use of Proposition 10 tobacco proceeds, approved by voters in 1998 for childhood development programs, to pay for political ads promoting another ballot measure.

Forty-five states have raised tobacco taxes during the last decade, but not California.

Despite California's health-conscious image and laws that ban smoking just about everywhere, including bars and beaches, the state's cigarette tax of 87 cents per pack is lower than such taxes in other states. In Rhode Island, where tobacco taxes are highest, the levy is $3.46 a pack.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roni Deutch Makes the Coca-Cola 600

NASCAR driver David Starr will be driving a car with the Roni Deutch Tax Center logo later today, in the Coca-Cola 600! You can watch the Sprint Cup series qualifying race on the Speed Channel at 4 pm (Pacific). Tune in and cheer David on!

IRS Audits of Large Companies Decline for 3rd Year in Row

From the Wall Street

Internal Revenue Service audits of large corporations fell for the third straight year, as the tax agency focused scarce resources on the growing area of partnership returns and the very largest corporations.

According to 2008 IRS enforcement data released Monday, the IRS audited 15.3% of returns of corporations with assets of $10 million or more. That is the lowest audit coverage level since 2003 and down from a 20% coverage rate in 2005.

Audits of corporations with assets of $50 million and higher increased, however. The IRS also continued to direct examination resources towards partnerships, auditing about 1,000 more partnership returns than it did in 2007, an 8% increase. The number of partnerships filing returns has grown by about two-thirds over the last 10 years.

IRS Deputy Commissioner Linda Stiff said 2008 was "a very challenging year," where the agency saw a decline in enforcement staffing levels of about 2%.

In addition, some enforcement staff were re-directed to help field calls from taxpayers related to tax rebates that Congress ordered as part of economic stimulus legislation.

The "IRS is very proud of what we were able to accomplish. It's been a solid year in the enforcement arena, and we continued to build on the success of earlier years," Ms. Stiff said in an interview.

Overall, the IRS collected $56.4 billion from enforcement efforts in 2008, which would be a record but for 2007's high-water mark $59.2 billion in collections.

Dean Zerbe, national managing director of the alliantgroup LP, said the decline in overall large corporation audit coverage is disturbing given what he says is a shift in IRS resources towards more of a focus on small and medium-sized firms.

Audits of small and mid-sized firms don't produce as much tax revenue, and about one-third of the time produce no change in taxes assessed, according to Mr. Zerbe. "They spend a lot of time doing root canals on people who are basically compliant," he said.

Alliantgroup represents small and mid-sized firms in disputes with the IRS.

Individual audits remained about the same as in 2007, with about 1.4 million returns audited, or about 1% of total individual returns.

Taxpayers with income of $200,000 or above had about a 3% chance of being audited. Those with income of $1 million and above stood a 5.6% chance of being audited, down from 6.8% coverage in 2007.

Ms. Stiff said the IRS will continue in 2009 the same level of focus on individuals with incomes above $200,000. With respect to business returns, the agency will continue to give more scrutiny to the largest corporations, and will intensify examinations with respect to employment taxes, she said.

Federal Tax Revenue Drops

As I mentioned yesterday, I made a guest appearance on FOX Business Network’s Money for Breakfast to discuss the biggest tax revenue drop in 30 years. Check out the embedded video of my interview below.

Tax Havens Onshore

From the New York

Few here in Switzerland have been other than disgusted by the behavior of UBS and many of us have moved money away from that bank in protest. However, your editorial “The Swiss and their secrets” (May 16) supports demands that are of dubious legality.

Were the Americans to practice what they preach, the I.R.S. would investigate its own tax havens of Delaware, Wyoming and Nevada, the latter having allowed some 80,000 dummy companies to be anonymously registered in 2008 alone, presumably for U.S. tax evasion reasons.

Moreover, a long overdue overhaul of tortuous U.S. tax laws might prove more productive than attacks on a foreign bank; many of the 52,000 U.S. customers of UBS whose names your editorial asks for might then be happy to head home.

Law Offers Special Tax Breaks for Small Business

According to the IRS’ newest press release, they are urging “small businesses to act now and take advantage of tax-saving opportunities included in the recovery law.”

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), enacted in February, created, extended or expanded a variety of business tax deductions and credits. Because some of these changes—the bonus depreciation and increased section 179 deduction, for example—are only available this year, eligible businesses only have a few months to take action and save on their taxes. Here is a quick rundown of some of the key provisions.

Faster Write-Offs for Certain Capital Expenditures

Many small businesses that invest in new property and equipment will be able to write off most or all of these purchases on their 2009 returns. The new law extends through 2009 the special 50 percent depreciation allowance, also known as bonus depreciation, and increased limits on the section 179 deduction, named for the relevant section of the Internal Revenue Code. Normally, businesses recover these capital investments through annual depreciation deductions spread over several years. Both of these provisions encourage these investments by enabling businesses to write them off more quickly.

The bonus depreciation provision generally enables businesses to deduct half the cost of qualifying property in the year it is placed in service.

The section 179 deduction enables small businesses to deduct up to $250,000 of the cost of machinery, equipment, vehicles, furniture and other qualifying property placed in service during 2009. Without the new law, the limit would have dropped to $133,000. The existing $25,000 limit still applies to sport utility vehicles. A special phase-out provision effectively targets the section 179 deduction to small businesses and generally eliminates it for most larger businesses.

Tax Proposals Draw Critics in Talks on Financing Health Insurance

From the New York Times:

Even as Congress weighed options to finance health insurance for tens of millions of Americans, lobbyists mobilized Wednesday to head off proposed taxes on employer-provided health benefits, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks.

Labor unions began attacking a proposal by Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Max Baucus of Montana, both Democrats, to consider changes in the tax treatment of employer-sponsored insurance, the main source of health coverage for people under 65.

Radio advertisements, run this week in Portland and Eugene, Ore., at a cost of $60,000, say: “Senator Ron Wyden would tax the health care benefits we get at work, as if they were income. Taxing health benefits? That doesn’t make sense.”

The advertisements were bought by the National Education Association, with help from the United Food and Commercial Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Health insurance and health benefits provided by employers to their employees are not counted as income and are not subject to income or payroll taxes. Mr. Baucus and many economists say the tax break is inequitable because its benefits go disproportionately to people with higher incomes.

“It’s too regressive,” said Mr. Baucus, the committee chairman. “It just skews the system.”

Mr. Baucus and Mr. Wyden have suggested that employer-provided health benefits above a certain value could be included in taxable income.

The proposed tax is among two dozen options considered Wednesday by members of the Senate Finance Committee as they looked for ways to pay for coverage of the uninsured. Almost every option faces opposition from some quarters.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Television Appearance Tomorrow Morning!

I'm going to be a guest on FOX Business News tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM PST. The topic is going to be declining federal tax revenues, so be sure to tune in!

Tax Planning for 2009 - How to Benefit from Recent Tax Law Changes

With a new president in charge, and the economy in a full recession, there are lots of changes being made to the US tax code. It can be confusing trying to deconstruct some of these changes. It is even more difficult to figure out which ones will benefit you. To help the readers of my blog plan for the 2009 tax year, I have broken down some of the recent tax law changes.

Make Work Pay

There are a lot of misconceptions going around regarding the new Making Work Pay credit. In order to benefit fully, it is important to understand how you can take advantage of the credit. The most common myth is that the credit will be delivered to qualifying taxpayers through the mail, similarly to the stimulus check last year. However, it is actually distributed through a taxpayer’s check in the form of a reduced tax rate. Because of this, it is your job to check you paychecks and make sure the amount is being added (note that you may need to adjust your withholding to reflect the change).

The First Time Homebuyer Credit

A lot of people are talking about the federal government’s credit for people to purchase a home in the 2009 tax year. However, it is important to remember that the credit is only available to first time homebuyers. To be more specific, the IRS defines a new homebuyer as a person who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. The IRS also specifies that you need to purchase the home between January 1 to December 31, 2009. For more information, check out the IRS’ press release titled “First-Time Homebuyers Have Several Options to Maximize New Tax Credit.”

Energy Conservation Credit

For those of you hoping to upgrade some of your appliances this year, the IRS is giving you even more incentive to go “green.” If you make an energy efficient upgrade to your home—such as installing double-paned windows or buying an approved washer and dryer—you can take a deduction for up to $1,500. However, you must divide the deduction between the 2009 and 2010 tax years, so you will only be able to claim $750 this year. Please note that according to, “geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, fuel cells, and small wind energy systems... are not subject to this cap.”

Automobile Breaks

Although many hybrid vehicle tax credits are beginning to expire, there are plenty of new ones being announced. The IRS just released new information on the new tax credits being made possible by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The credits apply to low speed electric vehicles, as well as cars with at least four wheels that draw propulsion using a rechargeable battery. Depending on the height and weight of the vehicle the value of the credit can range from $2,500 to $15,000.

Flood Victims

The IRS unveiled some new tax law changes to assist flood victims this year. One big win for flood victims was the removal of some loss limitations. Whereas in 2008, flood victims could only claim a certain amount of losses, now they can deduct the entire amount. However, it is important to remember that this full amount can only claimed by taxpayers who itemize their deductions. Another less popular tax law change affects individuals who helped victims displaced from their homes. According to the IRS these charitable taxpayers can claim an additional exemption of $500 for each displaced individual they help, with a maximum of $2,000.


With more and more Americans losing their jobs, changes have also been made to the way unemployment benefits are taxed. The key to benefiting from these new changes is by knowing exactly what you are entitled to. According to the newest changes to the tax law, the first $2,400 worth of unemployment benefits is income tax free. Therefore, you could expect an increase on each check you receive by around $25. Additionally, 20 more days have been added to the duration of unemployment.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit

Thousands of students have already applied for this credit, but unfortunately many taxpayers do not fully understand it. As opposed to the old Hope Credit, the new tax credit can be claimed for up to 4 years. However, in order to qualify, a student’s parents cannot make over $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers). The student must be also taking at least half a load of courses, and have no record of felony drug charges. For more information, check out this entry I posted breaking down the American Opportunity Tax Credit back in March.

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