The IRS announced it is opening the 2019 individual income tax return filing season on January 27. Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline (or you file for an extension), consider filing as soon as you can this year. The reason: You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and you may obtain other benefits, too.
In a tax identity theft scam, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund. The legitimate taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. While the taxpayer should ultimately be able to prove that his or her return is the valid one, tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay a refund. Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a would-be thief that will be rejected, rather than yours. Note: You can get your individual tax return prepared by us before January 27 if you have all the required documents. It’s just that processing of the return will begin after IRS systems open on that date.
To file your tax return, you must have received all of your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 is the deadline for employers to issue 2019 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2019 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors). If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099 by February 1, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.
Besides protecting yourself from tax identity theft, another benefit of early filing is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get it faster. The IRS expects most refunds to be issued within 21 days. The time is typically shorter if you file electronically and receive a refund by direct deposit into a bank account. Direct deposit also avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost or stolen or returned to the IRS as undeliverable. And by using direct deposit, you can split your refund into up to three financial accounts, including a bank account or IRA. Part of the refund can also be used to buy up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds.
What if you owe tax? Filing early may still be beneficial. You won’t need to pay your tax bill until April 15, but you’ll know sooner how much you owe and can plan accordingly. Be an early-bird filer If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2019 return early, please contact us. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all of the breaks available to you.
A significant law was recently passed that adds tax breaks and makes changes to employer-provided retirement plans. If your small business has a current plan for employees or if you’re thinking about adding one, you should familiarize yourself with the new rules.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) was signed into law on December 20, 2019 as part of a larger spending bill. Here are three provisions of interest to small businesses.
- Employers that are unrelated will be able to join together to create one retirement plan. Beginning in 2021, new rules will make it easier to create and maintain a multiple employer plan (MEP). A MEP is a single plan operated by two or more unrelated employers. But there were barriers that made it difficult to setting up and running these plans. Soon, there will be increased opportunities for small employers to join together to receive better investment results, while allowing for less expensive and more efficient management services.
- There’s an increased tax credit for small employer retirement plan startup costs. If you want to set up a retirement plan, but haven’t gotten around to it yet, new rules increase the tax credit for retirement plan start-up costs to make it more affordable for small businesses to set them up. Starting in 2020, the credit is increased by changing the calculation of the flat dollar amount limit to: The greater of $500, or the lesser of: a) $250 multiplied by the number of non-highly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan, or b) $5,000.
- There’s a new small employer automatic plan enrollment tax credit. Not surprisingly, when employers automatically enroll employees in retirement plans, there is more participation and higher retirement savings. Beginning in 2020, there’s a new tax credit of up to $500 per year to employers to defray start-up costs for new 401(k) plans and SIMPLE IRA plans that include automatic enrollment. This credit is on top of an existing plan start-up credit described above and is available for three years. It is also available to employers who convert an existing plan to a plan with automatic enrollment.
These are only some of the retirement plan provisions in the SECURE Act. There have also been changes to the auto enrollment safe harbor cap, nondiscrimination rules, new rules that allow certain part-timers to participate in 401(k) plans, increased penalties for failing to file retirement plan returns and more. Contact us to learn more about your situation.
Here are some key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2020. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. If you have any questions. contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
January 31: File 2019 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement”, with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees. Provide copies of 2019 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income”, to recipients of income from your business where required. File 2019 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS. File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return”, for 2019. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”, to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2019. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944, “Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return”.) File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax”, for 2019 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
February 28: File 2019 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1. They’re not required to be filed earlier and 2. You’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is March 31.)
March 16: If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2019 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2019 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans
If you’re starting to fret about your 2019 tax bill, there’s good news — you may still have time to reduce your liability. Three strategies are available that may help you cut your taxes before year-end, including:
1. Accelerate deductions/defer income. Certain tax deductions are claimed for the year of payment, such as the mortgage interest deduction. So, if you make your January 2020 payment this month, you can deduct the interest portion on your 2019 tax return (assuming you itemize). Pushing income into the new year also will reduce your taxable income. If you’re expecting a bonus at work, for example, and you don’t want the income this year, ask if your employer can hold off on paying it until January. If you’re self-employed, you can delay your invoices until late in December to divert the revenue to 2020. You shouldn’t pursue this approach if you expect to land in a higher tax bracket next year. Also, if you’re eligible for the qualified business income deduction for pass-through entities, you might reduce the amount of that deduction if you reduce your income.
2. Maximize your retirement contributions. What could be better than paying yourself instead of Uncle Sam? Federal tax law encourages individual taxpayers to make the maximum allowable
contributions for the year to their retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs and SEP plans, 401(k)s and deferred annuities. For 2019, you generally can contribute as much as $19,000 to 401(k)s and $6,000 for traditional IRAs. Self-employed individuals can contribute up to 25% of your net income (but no more than $56,000) to a SEP IRA.
3. Harvest your investment losses. Losing money on your investments has a bit of an upside — it gives you the opportunity to offset taxable gains. If you sell underperforming investments before the end of the year, you can offset gains realized this year on a dollar-for-dollar basis. If you have more losses than gains, you generally can apply up to $3,000 of the excess to reduce your ordinary income. Any remaining losses are carried forward to future tax years. We can help The strategies described above are only a sampling of strategies that may be available.
Contact us if you have questions about these or other methods for minimizing your tax liability for 2019.
Many business owners ask: How can I avoid an IRS audit? The good news is that the odds against being audited are in your favor. In fiscal year 2018, the IRS audited approximately 0.6% of individuals. Businesses, large corporations and high-income individuals are more likely to be audited but, overall, audit rates are historically low. There’s no 100% guarantee that you won’t be picked for an audit, because some tax returns are chosen randomly. However, completing your returns in a timely and accurate fashion with our firm certainly works in your favor. It also helps to know what might catch the attention of the IRS.
A variety of tax-return entries may raise red flags with the IRS and can lead to an audit. A few examples:
- Significant inconsistencies between previous years’ filings and your most current filing.
- Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry.
- Miscalculated or unusually high deductions.
Certain types of deductions may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements for them ― for example, auto and travel expense deductions. In addition, an owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.
If you are selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call. Many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the harshest version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors. (Note: Ignore unsolicited email messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner, these are SCAMS. You can visit this link to our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/KRTCPA/photos/a.311875905506380/2872721492755129/?type=3&theater for an example of scam letters.)
Keep in mind that the tax agency won’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. You’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
If the IRS chooses you for an audit:
- Ask questions so you can understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always crystal clear).
- Gather the specific documents and information needed.
- Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.
- Don’t panic if you’re contacted by the IRS. Many audits are routine. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one will happen in the first place.
As always, if you have any questions, contact us.