K. W. “Hutch” Hutchinson, CPA, CFP®

Providing solutions to your taxing problems

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Business taxpayers should take another look at their estimated tax payments

Taxpayers who pay quarterly estimated tax payments may want to revisit the amount they pay. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed the way most taxpayers calculate their tax. These taxpayers include those with substantial income not subject to withholding, such as small business owners and self-employed individuals. The tax reform changes include:

  • Revised tax rates and brackets
  • New and revised business deductions
  • Limiting or discontinuing deductions
  • Increasing the standard deduction
  • Removing personal exemptions
  • Increasing the child tax credit


As a result of these changes, many taxpayers may need to raise or lower the amount of tax they pay each quarter through estimated taxes.

Alternatively, many taxpayers who receive income not subject to withholding, but who also receive income as an employee, may be able to avoid the requirement to make estimated tax payments by having more tax taken out of their pay. These taxpayers can use the Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov to perform a Paycheck Checkup. Doing so now will help avoid an unexpected year-end tax bill and possibly a penalty in the future. 

Taxpayers with more complex situations might need to use Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, instead.  This includes people who owe self-employment tax, the alternative minimum tax, or tax on unearned income from dependents, and people with capital gains or dividends.

Form 1040-ES can also help taxpayers figure these payments simply and accurately. The estimated tax package includes a quick rundown of key tax changes, income tax rate schedules for 2019 and a useful worksheet for figuring the right amount of tax to pay.

Estimated tax penalty relief
The IRS is waiving the estimated tax penalty for many taxpayers whose 2018 federal income tax withholding and estimated tax payments fell short of their total tax liability for the year. This relief is designed to help taxpayers who were unable to properly adjust their withholding and estimated tax payments to reflect an array of changes under TCJA.

The IRS will generally waive the penalty for any taxpayer who paid at least 85 percent of their total tax liability during the year through federal income tax withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments or a combination of the two. The usual percentage threshold is 90 percent to avoid a penalty. For more information about the penalty and requesting the waiver, see Form 2210 and its instructions.

Separately, farmers and fishermen qualify for a waiver if they file their 2018 tax return and pay all taxes due by April 15, 2019; April 17 for residents of Maine and Massachusetts. The usual deadline is March 1.

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There are six new schedules some taxpayers will file with the new Form 1040

The 2018 Form 1040 replaces prior year Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ. The 2018 Form 1040 uses a building-block approach that allows individuals to file only the schedules they need with their federal tax return. Many people will only need to file Form 1040 and no schedules.

Electronic filers may not notice these changes as the tax software will automatically use their responses to complete the Form 1040 and any needed schedules. For taxpayers who filed paper returns in the past and are concerned about the 2018 changes, this may be the year to consider the benefits of filing electronically.

While commonly used lines on the prior year form are still on the 2018 Form 1040, other lines are now Schedules 1 through 6 and organized by category. The six new numbered schedules are in addition to the existing schedules, such as Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, or Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business.

Here’s a guide to help taxpayers determine what schedules they may need to file with the 2018 Form 1040:

Schedule 1Additional Taxes and Adjustments to Income

  • Taxpayers use this schedule to report income or adjustments to income that can’t be entered directly on Form 1040. This includes capital gains, unemployment pay, prize money, and gambling winnings. This also includes the student loan interest deduction, self-employment tax, or educator expenses.

Schedule 2Additional Tax

  • This scheduled is used by taxpayers in specific situations. Those who owe alternative minimum tax or need to make an excess advance premium tax credit repayment will file this schedule.

Schedule 3Nonrefundable Credits

  • Taxpayers use this schedule to report nonrefundable credits other than the child tax credit or the credit for other dependents. These include the foreign tax credit, education credits, and general business credit.

Schedule 4Other Taxes

  • Taxpayers use this schedule to report certain taxes. These include self-employment tax, household employment taxes, tax-favored accounts, and additional tax on IRAs and other retirement plans.

Schedule 5Other Payments and Refundable Credits

  • Taxpayers who claim specific refundable credits or have other payments withheld will file this schedule. These other payments include:
    • Payment made when the taxpayer requests an extension.
    • Payment of excess social security.

Schedule 6Foreign Address and Third-Party Designee

  • Taxpayers use this schedule to enter a foreign address. Anyone who wants to allow someone other than their paid preparer to discuss their tax return with the IRS will also file Schedule 6.

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Here’s what taxpayers should do to protect private data

Taxpayers should protect their personal and financial data from criminals who continue to steal large amounts of information. Thieves use the data to file bogus tax returns and commit crimes while impersonating the victim.

All taxpayers should follow these steps to protect themselves and their data. Keep a secure computer.

Keep a secure computer. Taxpayers should:

  • Use security software that updates automatically. Essential tools for keeping a secure computer include a firewall, virus and malware protection, and file encryption for sensitive data.
  • Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
  • Give personal information only over encrypted and trusted websites.
  • Use strong passwords and protect them.

Avoid Phishing and Malware. Taxpayers should:

  • Not respond to emails, texts or calls that appear to be from the IRS, tax companies and other well-known businesses. Instead, verify contact information about companies or agencies by going directly to their website.
  • Be cautious of email attachments. Think twice before opening them.
  • Turn off the option to automatically download attachments.
  • Download and install software only from known and trusted websites.

Protect personal information. Taxpayers should:

  • Not routinely carry a Social Security card or other documents showing a Social Security number.
  • Not overshare personal information on social media. This includes information about past addresses, a new car, a new home and children.
  • Keep old tax returns and tax records under lock and key.
  • Safeguard electronic files by encrypting and properly disposing them.
  • Shred tax documents before trashing.

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Here’s what taxpayers should know about penalty relief

Taxpayers who make an effort to comply with the law, but are unable to meet their tax obligations due to circumstances beyond their control may qualify for relief from penalties.

After receiving a notice stating the IRS assessed a penalty, taxpayers should check that the information in the notice is correct. Those who can resolve an issue in their notice may get relief from certain penalties, which include failing to:

  • File a tax return
  • Pay on time
  • Deposit certain taxes as required

The IRS offers the following types of penalty relief:

Reasonable cause
This relief is based on all the facts and circumstances in a taxpayer’s situation. The IRS will consider this relief when the taxpayer can show they tried to meet their obligations, but were unable to do so. Situations when this could happen include a house fire, natural disaster and a death in the immediate family.

Administrative Waiver and First Time Penalty Abatement 
A taxpayer may qualify for relief from certain penalties if he or she:

  • Didn’t previously have to file a return or had no penalties for the three tax years prior to the tax year in which the IRS assessed a penalty.
  • Filed all currently required returns or filed an extension of time to file.
  • Paid, or arranged to pay, any tax due.

Before asking for First Time Abatement relief, taxpayers can request that the IRS first consider the reasonable cause relief provision. This preserves access to the First Time Abatement, which taxpayers may only use every three years.

Statutory Exception
In certain situations, legislation may provide an exception to a penalty. Taxpayers who received incorrect written advice from the IRS may qualify for a statutory exception.

Taxpayers who received a notice or letter saying the IRS didn’t grant the request for penalty relief may use the Penalty Appeal Online Self-help Tool.

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Dos and Don’ts for Taxpayers Who Get a Letter from the IRS

Every year the IRS mails millions of letters to taxpayers for many reasons. Here are some tips and suggestions for taxpayers who receive one:

Don’t ignore it. Most IRS letters and notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts. Each notice deals with a specific issue and includes specific instructions on what to do.

Don’t panic. The IRS and its authorized private collection agencies do send letters by mail. Most of the time all the taxpayer needs to do is read the letter carefully and take the appropriate action.

Do take timely action. A notice may reference changes to a taxpayer’s account, taxes owed, a payment request or a specific issue on a tax return. Taking action timely could minimize additional interest and penalty charges.

Do review the information. If a letter is about a changed or corrected tax return, the taxpayer should review the information and compare it with the original return. If the taxpayer agrees, they should make notes about the corrections on their personal copy of the tax return, and keep it for their records.

Don’t reply unless instructed to do so. There is usually no need for a taxpayer to reply to a notice unless specifically instructed to do so. On the other hand, taxpayers who owe should reply with a payment. IRS.gov has information about payment options.

Do respond to a disputed notice. If a taxpayer does not agree with the IRS, they should mail a letter explaining why they dispute the notice. They should mail it to the address on the contact stub at the bottom of the notice. The taxpayer should include information and documents for the IRS to review when considering the dispute. The taxpayer should allow at least 30 days for the IRS to respond.

Do remember that there is usually no need to call the IRS. If a taxpayer must contact the IRS by phone, they should use the number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. The taxpayer should have a copy of the tax return and letter when calling.

Do avoid scams. The IRS will never initiate contact using social media or text message. The first contact from the IRS usually comes in the mail. Taxpayers who are unsure if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov.

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What taxpayers should know about tax return copies and transcripts

The IRS recommends that taxpayers keep a copy of tax returns for at least three years. Doing so can help taxpayers prepare future tax returns or even assist with amending a prior year’s return. If a taxpayer is unable to locate copies of previous year tax returns, they should check with their software provider or tax preparer first. Tax returns are available from IRS for a fee.

Even though taxpayers may have a copy of their tax return, some taxpayers need a transcript. These are often necessary for a mortgage or college financial aid application.

Here is some information about copies of tax returns and transcripts that can help taxpayers know when and how to get them:

Transcripts
To get a transcript, taxpayers can:

  • Order online. They can use the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov. Users must authenticate their identity with the Secure Access process.
  • Order by mail. Taxpayers can use Get Transcript by Mail or call 800-908-9946 to order a tax return transcripts and/or tax account transcripts.
  • Complete and send either Form 4506-T or Form 4506T-EZ to the IRS. They should use Form 4506-T to request other tax records, such as a tax account transcript, record of account, wage and income, and a verification of non-filing.

Transcripts are free and available for the current tax year and the past three years. A transcript usually displays most line items from the tax return. This includes marital status, the type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income. It also includes items from any related forms and schedules filed. It doesn’t reflect any changes the taxpayer or the IRS may have made to the original return.

Taxpayers needing a transcript should remember to plan ahead. Delivery times for online and phone orders typically take five to 10 days from the time the IRS receives the request. Taxpayers should allow 30 days to receive a transcript ordered by mail, and 75 days for copies of your tax return.

Copies of tax returns
Taxpayers who need an actual copy of a tax return can get one for the current tax year and as far back as six years. The fee per copy is $50. A taxpayer will complete and mail Form 4506 to request a copy of a tax return. They should mail the request to the appropriate IRS office listed on the form.

Taxpayers who live in a federally declared disaster area can get a free copy of their tax return. More disaster relief information is available on IRS.gov.

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Tips for Updating Form W-4 After Doing a Paycheck Checkup 

With recent tax law changes, the IRS urges taxpayers to look into whether they need to adjust their paycheck withholding and submit a new Form W-4 to their employer. Taxpayers can use the updated Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov to do a quick “paycheck checkup” to check that they’re not having too little or too much tax withheld at work.

Taxpayers who use the calculator and determine that they need to change their withholding must fill out a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Employees will submit the completed Form W-4 to their employers.

Here are a few things for taxpayers to remember about updating Form W-4:

  • The Withholding Calculator will help determine if they should complete a new Form W-4.
  • The calculator will provide users the information to put on a new Form W-4.
  • Taxpayers who use the calculator to check their withholding will save time because they don’t need to complete the Form W-4 worksheets. The calculator does the worksheet calculations.
  • As a general rule, the fewer withholding allowances a taxpayer enters on Form W-4, the higher their tax withholding. Entering “0” or “1” on line 5 of the W-4 instructs an employer to withhold more tax. Entering a larger number means less tax withholding, resulting in a smaller tax refund or potentially a tax bill or penalty.
  • Taxpayers who complete new Form W-4s should submit it to their employers as soon as possible. With withholding occurring throughout the year, it’s better to take this step sooner, rather than later.

People who have too much tax withheld will get less money in their regular paycheck. If those taxpayers change their withholding and enter more allowances on Form W-4, they’ll get more money in their paychecks throughout the year. Employees who have too little withheld are not paying enough taxes throughout the year, and they may face an unexpected tax bill or penalty when they file next year.

The withholding changes do not affect 2017 tax returns due this April. However, having a completed 2017 tax return can help taxpayers work with the Withholding Calculator to determine their proper withholding for 2018 and avoid issues when they file next year.

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Don’t Fall for Scam Calls and Emails Posing as IRS

Scammers and cyberthieves continue to use the IRS as bait. The most common tax scams are phone calls and emails from thieves who pretend to be from the IRS. Scammers use the IRS name, logo, fake employee names and badge numbers to try to steal money and identities from taxpayers.

Taxpayers need to be wary of phone calls or automated messages from someone who claims to be from the IRS. Often, these criminals will say taxpayers owe money and demand payment right away. Other times, scammers will lie to taxpayers and say they’re due a refund. The thieves ask for bank account information over the phone. The IRS warns taxpayers not to fall for these scams.

Below are several tips that will help filers avoid becoming a scam victim.

IRS employees will not:

  • Call demanding an immediate payment. The IRS won’t call taxpayers if they owe taxes without first sending a bill in the mail.
  • Demand payment without allowing taxpayers to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Demand that taxpayers pay their taxes in a specific way, such as with a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to contact local police or similar agencies to arrest taxpayers for non-payment of taxes.
  • Threaten legal action, such as a lawsuit.

If taxpayers don’t owe or don’t think they owe any tax, and they receive an inquiry like this, they should:

  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
  • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your report.

In most cases, an IRS phishing scam is an unsolicited, fake email that claims to come from the IRS. Some emails link to sham websites that look real. The scammers’ goal is to lure victims to give up their personal and financial information. If the thieves get what they’re after, they use it to steal a victim’s money and identity.

For those taxpayers who get a phishing email, the IRS offers this advice:

  • Don’t reply to the message.
  • Don’t give out your personal or financial information.
  • Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. Then delete it.
  • Don’t open any attachments or click on any links. They may have malicious code that will infect your computer.

More information:
Report Phishing

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Taxpayers Can Explore Payment Options Any Time of the Year

The IRS understands that taxpayers who owe money need choices on how they can make payments to the agency. IRS offers three easy ways to pay taxes. Taxpayers can pay online, by phone or with their mobile device using the IRS2Go app. Any time of the year is a good time for taxpayers to explore these payment options.

Additionally, some taxpayers must make quarterly estimated tax payments throughout the year. This includes sole proprietors, partners, and S corporation shareholders who expect to owe $1,000 or more when they file. Individuals who participate in the sharing economy might also have to make estimated payments.

Here are four options for taxpayers who need to pay their taxes. They can:

  • Pay when they e-file using their bank account, at no charge from the IRS, using electronic funds withdrawal.
  • Use IRS Direct Pay to pay their taxes, including estimated taxes. Direct Pay allows taxpayers to pay electronically directly from their checking or savings account for free. Taxpayers can choose to receive email notifications about their payments. The IRS remind taxpayers to watch out for email schemes. IRS Direct Pay sends emails only to users who requested the service.
  • Pay by credit or debit card through a card processor for a fee. Taxpayers can make these payments online, by phone, or using their mobile device with the IRS2Go app.
  • Make a cash payment at a participating 7-Eleven store. Taxpayers can do this at more than 7,000 locations nationwide. To pay with cash, visit IRS.gov/paywithcash and follow the instructions.
  • Pay over time by applying for an online payment agreement. Once the IRS accepts an agreement, the taxpayers can make their payment in monthly installments.

For a full menu of payment options, taxpayers can visit IRS.gov/payments.

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Tax Benefits for Education

The beginning of the school year is a good time for a reminder of the tax benefits for education. These benefits can help offset qualifying education costs.

Here is information about two tax credits available to those who pay higher education costs for themselves, a spouse or a dependent.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is:

  • Worth a maximum benefit up to $2,500 per eligible student.
  • Only available for the first four years at an eligible educational or vocational school.
  • For students pursuing a degree or other recognized education credential.
  • Partially refundable. Eligible taxpayers can get up to $1,000 of the credit as a refund, even if they do not owe any tax.

The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is:

  • Worth up to $2,000 per tax return, per year, no matter how many students qualify.
  • Available for all years of postsecondary education and for courses to acquire or improve job skills.
  • Available for an unlimited number of tax years

Taxpayers should use Form 8863, Education Credits, to claim these education credits.

Additionally:

  • A student is required to have Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, to be eligible for an education benefit. They receive this form from the school attended.
  • Taxpayers may use only qualified expenses paid to figure a tax credit. These include tuition and fees and other related expenses for an eligible student.
  • Eligible educational schools are those that offer education beyond high school. This includes most colleges and universities.
  • Taxpayers may only claim qualified expenses in the year paid.
  • Taxpayers can’t claim either credit if someone else claims them as a dependent.
  • Income limits could reduce the amount of credits.
  • Taxpayers can’t claim either the AOTC or LLC for the same student or for the same expense in the same year.
  • The Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov can help determine eligibility for certain educational credits including the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.

See IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, for details, rules, examples and a complete explanation of benefits.