tax season

Should you itemize this tax season? Some important things to keep in mind for 2020.

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Should you itemize this tax season? That is a common question for many taxpayers this season. Are you holding off seeing an accountant because you aren’t sure whether or not you will need to itemize?

I’m sorry to tell you, the only way you’ll truly know whether or not you should itemize is to ask a tax professional. But since (good) accountants charge by the hour, you might want to prepare the proper documentation before you step foot into an accountant’s office.

That’s understandable. We’ll help you navigate the big questions of deductions and whether or not you should itemize your tax return for the 2019 tax season. Then we’ll instruct you as to what types of documentation you’ll need to collect if you do decide to itemize.

Should you take the standard deduction? 

For the 2019 tax season, the standard deduction is up to $12,200 for a single person. This means most taxpayers are going to take the standard deduction.

Here is a chart breaking down both the standard deduction for the 2019 tax season (the taxes you’re currently prepping) and the 2020 tax season (next year’s tax return).

Status

2019

2020

Married Filing Jointly

$24,400

$24,800

Head of Household

$18,350

$18,650

Single

$12,200

$12,400

Married Filing Separately

$12,200

$12,400

If you’re wondering what makes this number change year to year, you can blame tax changes (the 2018 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act bumped the standard single person deduction from $6,000 to $12,000) and inflation.  Congress adjusts the amount of the standard deduction to accommodate inflation.

The big boost in the standard deduction means that anywhere between 85 and 95% of taxpayers won’t need to itemize. We’ll help you determine if you’re part of that approximately 13% that the IRS estimates will itemize for the 2019 tax season.

How do you know if you should itemize? 

You’ll have to add it up.

Check your filing status (and the filing status of a spouse or any dependents). Find out what the standard deduction is for your status. Then add up all your expenses and see if you come in under, close to, or over the standard deduction.

A good accountant would help you maximize what you can write off, but you can get a gist of what you’ll need if you prepare ahead of time.

Start by finding out if you can itemize these 4 major deductions:

  • Charitable contributions

  • Medical Expenses

  • Mortgage interest

  • State and local taxes (think property and sales tax)

Medical expenses and mortgage interest alone might be high enough to put you over the threshold.  If you haven’t made it over the approximate $12k yet, continue by assessing how much you can deduct from these expenses:

  • Casualty, disaster and theft losses

  • Business expenses

  • Tax preparation fees

  • Investment interest

  • Mileage on a vehicle

  • Home office deductions

This covers a lot of areas where you might commonly receive a deduction.  The business deduction point will be a particularly tricky one if you aren’t strict about your record-keeping.

Remember, you don’ t need to get an exact count, you just need to get a rough idea of what you’ll need. That way you spend less time in the accountant’s office and more time doing what you do best.

Who might want to itemize? 

If you aren’t into adding up all the numbers, here are some categories of person who might want to itemize:

  • You run your own business – You have to spend money to make money, which means you’re making less money than it looks like on paper.

  • You have a high-interest rate on your mortgage.

  • You had a lot of medical expenses in the past year.

  • You pay for your own healthcare out of pocket.

If you’re even questioning whether or not you meet the threshold to itemize, its time to schedule a meeting with an accountant. This post helped you determine whether or not your tax situation might warrant itemizing deductions, now talk to your local tax advisor to find out for certain.

 

Ensuring Your Year-End Donations Are Tax-Deductible

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Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Many people make donations at the end of the year. To be deductible on your 2017 return, a charitable donation must be made by December 31, 2017. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean?

Is it the date you write a check or charge an online gift to your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds? In practice, the delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few common examples:

Checks. The date you mail it.

Credit cards. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone accounts. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificates. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

To be deductible, a donation must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. The IRS’s online search tool, “Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check,” can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access it at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-select-check. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2017 tax bill.

Tax bill too big to pay all at once? Sign up for an IRS payment plan

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

By Bankrate

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Do you owe the IRS money this year? You have several options for paying your tax online. But if you can’t pay it all at once, the IRS gives you payment plan choices.

Note, however, that your first step must be to file your tax return on time. Failure to do so can result in stiff penalties.

Paying with plastic

Some taxpayers find the easiest way to pay is with a credit card. The IRS has awarded contracts to three companies to accept payments by plastic: Official Payments, Link2Gov and WorldPay. They take American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa or a variety of debit cards.

Each company has its own fee schedule that will add to your bill.

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If you do pay a fee, make a note of it for next year’s filing. The IRS has ruled that this amount is deductible as a miscellaneous itemized expense.

Keep in mind that if you don’t pay off your credit card in full, you’ll start racking up interest charges on your account. In some cases, though, your credit card interest charges might fall below IRS penalties and interest you’d owe if you don’t pay on time.

A low-interest credit card may be a good option in this scenario.

Installment plans

If your tax bill is too large for a credit card, the IRS will take monthly payments.

Approval is not automatic unless:

  • You owe less than $10,000.
  • You have paid taxes in a timely way during the past five years without entering into an installment agreement.
  • You can pay the full amount within three years.

To get the program going, you can attach Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, to the front of your tax return. Or, you can request an installment agreement online at the IRS website if the total amount you owe is not more than $50,000.

Taxpayers who seek an installment plan must provide detailed financial information, including data on equity assets, that the IRS will verify.

Keep in mind that paying over time, even to Uncle Sam, will cost you more.

  • Expect to pay a one-time user fee of $225, up from $120 last year.
  • The fee drops to $107 for direct-debit agreements.
  • Some lower-income taxpayers could pay a reduced fee of $43.
  • Applying online is your best bet: You pay a $149 one-time fee, or only $31 if you agree to a direct-debit plan.

You’ll be billed for any fee when the agency sends you a notice detailing your payment terms. Plus, penalties and interest continue to accrue to your unpaid tax bill. The IRS may also file a federal tax lien against you, which will be released when you pay off your installment loan.

Another way to deal with a large tax bill is with a home equity loan. That way you won’t have to pay IRS penalties and fees.

Offer in compromise

What if you can’t pay off your tax bill, in whole or part, in three years or five years or even longer? Then it might be time to negotiate.

The IRS might be willing to accept a lump-sum payment offer of less than your total tax bill if it is realistic. In these cases, the agency hopes to get some taxpayer money sooner than it would after years of costly collection efforts.

The IRS will review your financial situation and future income potential to determine whether your offer is appropriate. Be warned, however: This program was designed only for extreme cases, and few filers will qualify for the program. If you believe your situation does indeed meet the requirements, you need to file two forms: Form 656, Offer in Compromise, and Form 433-A, Collection Information Statement.

To find out whether you qualify for an offer in compromise before filling out the paperwork, use the IRS’ online pre-qualifier tool. The questionnaire format will let you know if you’re eligible, as well as help determine an acceptable preliminary offer amount.

Options for offers in compromise include:

  • Lump sum cash offer — This must be paid in five or fewer installments within five months after the offer is accepted. You must include 20 percent of the offer amount plus a $186 application fee.
  • Periodic payment offer — This is paid in six or more monthly installments within 24 months after the offer is accepted. You must produce the first proposed installment payment plus $186.

The $186 fee is waived for qualifying low-income taxpayers.

The IRS has created a special website with “what if” scenarios regarding tax and payment issues for taxpayers who are having a hard time making their payments.

Regardless of which payment plan method you choose, make your decision now. Delay will only compound your financial and tax problems since penalties and interest charges will continue to accrue. By sending in any amount when you file your return, at least you’ll ultimately reduce your interest and penalty charges.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.