Five Tax Tips on Making Estimated Tax Payments

Here are five tips about making estimated tax payments:

  1. When the tax applies. Taxpayers should pay estimated taxes if they expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax for 2017 after subtracting their withholding and refundable credits. Special rules apply to farmers and fishermen.
  2. How to figure the tax. Taxpayers need to estimate the amount of income they expect to receive for the year. Taxpayers also need to make sure they take into account any tax deductions and credits that they will be eligible to claim. Use Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure and pay any estimated tax.
  3. When to make payments. Taxpayers normally make estimated tax payments four times a year. The dates that apply to most people for 2017 are April 18, June 15 and Sept. 15. There is one last payment on Jan. 16, 2018.
  4. When to change tax payments or withholding. Major life changes like the birth of a child can affect taxes. When these changes happen, taxpayers should consider revising their estimated tax payments for the year. If the taxpayer is an employee, they may need to change the amount of tax withheld from their pay. If this is the case, the taxpayer should give their employer a new Form W–4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Anyone can use the IRS Withholding Calculator tool at IRS.gov to complete the form.
  5. How to pay estimated tax. Taxpayers have a variety of ways available to them to pay estimated tax. They can pay online, by phone or from their mobile device. Direct Pay is a secure online service to pay a tax bill or pay estimated tax directly from a checking or savings account at no cost. Visit IRS.gov/payments for easy and secure ways to pay taxes. Paying by mail is another option. If a taxpayer pays estimated tax through the mail, they should use the payment vouchers that come with Form 1040-ES.
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WannaCry Ransomware Attack

Seyfarth Shaw gave some sound advice for how to address this ransomeware attack. The link to this is here.  Because of the importance of this subject, I’ve taken the liberty to copy it in its entirety for you below.

WannaCry Ransomware Attack: What Happened and How to Address

By on May 15, 2017

Recently, a widespread global ransomware attack has struck hospitals, communication, and other types of companies and government offices around the world, seizing control of affected computers until the victims pay a ransom.  This widespread ransomware campaign has affected various organizations with reports of tens of thousands of infections in as many as 99 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Taiwan, France, and Japan. The software can run in as many as 27 different languages. The latest version of this ransomware variant, known as WannaCryWCry, or Wanna Decryptor, was discovered the morning of May 12, 2017, by an independent security researcher and has spread rapidly.

The risk posed by this ransomware is that it enumerates any and all of your “user data” files like Word, Excel, PDF, PowerPoint, loose email, pictures, movies, music, and other similar files.. Once it finds those files, it encrypts that data on your computer, making it impossible to recover the underlying user data without providing a decryption key. Also, the ransomeware is persistent, meaning that if you create new files on the computer while it’s infected, those will be discovered by the ransomware and encrypted immediately with an encryption key. To get the decryption key, you must pay a ransom in the form of Bitcoin, which provides the threat actors some minor level of anonymity.  In this case, the attackers are demanding roughly $300 USD. The threat actors are known to choose amounts that they feel the victim would be able to pay in order to increase their “return on investment.”

The ransomware works by exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows. The working theory right now is that this ransomware was based off of the “EternalBlue” exploit, which was developed by the U.S. National Security Agency and leaked by the Shadowbrokers on April 14, 2017. Despite the fact that this particular vulnerability had been patched since March 2017 by Microsoft, many Windows users had still not installed this security patch, and all Windows versions preceding Windows 10 are subject to infection.

The spread of the malware was stemmed on Saturday, when a “kill switch” was activated by a researcher who registered a previously unregistered domain to which the malware was making requests. However, multiple sources have reported that a new version of the malware had been deployed, with the kill switch removed. At this time, global malware analysts have not observed any evidence to substantiate those claims.

You should remain diligent and do the following:

  • Be aware and have a security-minded approach when using any computer. Never click on unsolicited links or open unsolicited attachments in emails, especially from sources you do not already know or trust.
  • Ensure that your antivirus and anti-malware are up-to-date.
  • Apply Security Updates! Enable automatic updates and reboot weekly. Systems that are receiving automatic updates should already be protected against this malware. If you aren’t sure, visit https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/3067639/how-to-get-an-update-through-windows-update.
  • Backup your data! The risk of malware is losing your data. If you perform regular backups, you won’t have to worry about ransomware. Make sure you utilize a backup system that is robust enough to have versioning so that unencrypted versions of your files are available to restore. Make sure your backup system isn’t erasing your unencrypted backups with the encrypted ones!

If your organization is the victim of a ransomware attack, please contact law enforcement immediately.

  1. Contact your FBI Field Office Cyber Task Force immediately to report a ransomware event and request assistance. These professionals work with state and local law enforcement and other federal and international partners to pursue cyber criminals globally and to assist victims of cyber-crime.
  2. Report cyber incidents to the US-CERT and  FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Business or Hobby?

Millions of people enjoy hobbies that are also a source of income. From catering to cupcake baking, crafting homemade jewelry to glass blowing — no matter what a person’s passion, the Internal Revenue Service offers some tips on hobbies.

Taxpayers must report on their tax return the income earned from hobbies. The rules for how to report the income and expenses depend on whether the activity is a hobby or a business. There are special rules and limits for deductions taxpayers can claim for hobbies. Here are five tax tips to consider:

  1. Is it a Business or a Hobby?  A key feature of a business is that people do it to make a profit. People engage in a hobby for sport or recreation, not to make a profit. Consider nine factors when determining whether an activity is a hobby. Make sure to base the determination on all the facts and circumstances. For more about ‘not-for-profit’ rules, see IRS Publication 535, Business Expenses.
  2. Allowable Hobby Deductions.  Within certain limits, taxpayers can usually deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate for the activity.
  3. Limits on Hobby Expenses.  Generally, taxpayers can only deduct hobby expenses up to the amount of hobby income. If hobby expenses are more than its income, taxpayers have a loss from the activity. However, a hobby loss can’t be deducted from other income.
  4. How to Deduct Hobby Expenses.  Taxpayers must itemize deductions on their tax return to deduct hobby expenses. Expenses may fall into three types of deductions, and special rules apply to each type. See IRS Publication 535 for the rules about how to claim them on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.
  5. Use IRS Free File.  Hobby rules can be complex and IRS Free File can make filing a tax return easier. IRS Free File is available until Oct. 16. Taxpayers earning $64,000 or less can use brand-name tax software. Those earning more can use Free File Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms. Free File is available only through the IRS.gov website.

Tips for Taxpayers Who Owe Taxes

The IRS offers a variety of payment options where taxpayers can pay immediately or arrange to pay in installments. Those who receive a bill from the IRS should not ignore it. A delay may cost more in the end. As more time passes, the more interest and penalties accumulate.

Here are some ways to make payments using IRS electronic payment options:

  • Direct Pay. Pay tax bills directly from a checking or savings account free with IRS Direct Pay. Taxpayers receive instant confirmation once they’ve made a payment. With Direct Pay, taxpayers can schedule payments up to 30 days in advance. Change or cancel a payment two business days before the scheduled payment date.
  • Credit or Debit Cards. Taxpayers can also pay their taxes by debit or credit card online, by phone or with a mobile device. A payment processor will process payments.  The IRS does not charge a fee but convenience fees apply and vary by processor.

Those wishing to use a mobile devise can access the IRS2Go app to pay with either Direct Pay or debit or credit card. IRS2Go is the official mobile app of the IRS. Download IRS2Go from Google Play, the Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store.

  • Installment Agreement. Taxpayers, who are unable to pay their tax debt immediately, may be able to make monthly payments. Before applying for any payment agreement, taxpayers must file all required tax returns. Apply for an installment agreement with the Online Payment Agreement tool.

Who’s eligible to apply for a monthly installment agreement online?

    • Individuals who owe $50,000 or less in combined  tax, penalties and interest and have filed all required returns
    • Businesses that owe $25,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest for the current year or last year’s liabilities and have filed all required returns

Those who owe taxes are reminded to pay as much as they can as soon as possible to minimize interest and penalties. Visit IRS.gov/payments for all payment options.

IRS Offers Tips for Disaster Preparedness

Not only is Hurricane Preparedness Week May 7-13, but many areas have suffered from severe flooding. The IRS has reminded taxpayers to prepare for hurricanes and other natural disasters, such as floods, now. By taking a few steps before disaster strikes, taxpayers can reduce their stress when it comes time to file claims or rebuild after the catastrophic event.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Update Emergency Plans — Because a disaster can strike any time, be sure to review emergency plans annually. Personal and business situations change over time, as do preparedness needs. Make plans ahead of time and be sure to practice them.
  • Create Electronic Copies of Documents — Taxpayers should keep a duplicate set of key documents. Keep documents including bank statements, tax returns and insurance policies in a safe place. Doing so is easier now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, available on the Internet. Even if original documents are available only on paper, scan them into an electronic format and store them on DVD, CD or cloud storage.
  • Document Valuables — It’s a good idea to photograph or videotape the contents of any home, especially items of higher value. Documenting these items ahead of time will make it easier to claim insurance and tax benefits after a disaster strikes. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584, which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings. Photographs can help prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims.
  • IRS Ready to Help — In the case of a federally declared disaster, impacted taxpayers can call 866-562-5227 to speak with an IRS specialist trained to handle disaster-related issues. Taxpayers can request copies of previously filed tax returns and attachments, including Forms W-2, by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return.  Alternatively, order transcripts showing most line items through the Get Transcript link on IRS.gov, by calling 800-908-9946 or by using Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

Knowing where you stand with Social Security

Have you ever wondered where you stand with Social Security? Recently Beth Kobliner, who is a personal finance journalist for the New York Times wrote an article to help us decipher this. Her article appeared in the March 23, 2017 NYT.

The article appears in its entirety here but you should check it out on the Social Security blog if you want more information.

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For most people, Social Security is a mystery. We see that 6.2 percent deduction on our pay stubs and wonder: What does it mean for my financial future? The answers: A lot. And not enough.

After tax season, take a few minutes to go online and read your Social Security statement. Even if your retirement is 30 or 40 years away, you need to know where you stand now. The Government Accountability Office tells us that nearly a third of households with members ages 55 and up have no retirement savings plan or pension in place—zip. That means Social Security is the only post-retirement pay they’ll get – and the estimated average monthly benefit for retirees (as of 2017) is just $1,360. (See what I mean by “not enough”?)

And women (lucky us!) have special reasons to worry. In a survey released in December 2016, the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reported that men claimed to have more than three times the retirement savings women have. Yes, it appears that the dreaded Pay Gap has a retired older cousin called the Retirement Gap. (Oh, and because women live longer than men, on average, you’ll probably need to save for two or three more years of retirement.)

To check up on your Social Security, log on to https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/, and follow the instructions to view your Social Security Statement. It will show you how much you’re currently eligible for, depending on when you start receiving Social Security benefits. Your monthly benefit amount increases the longer you delay your retirement, up to age 70. People get a smaller monthly benefit if they take early retirement, at age 62, than they would get at full retirement age (67 for anyone born in 1960 or later). Keep working until you turn 70, and you’ll get quite a bit more each month in retirement. Your online Statement breaks it all down.

You can also find out the monthly amount you’re eligible for if you become disabled and can’t work – and whether your family qualifies for survivor benefits in the event of your death.

Confronting your Social Security status annually will give you a much-needed reality check. Could you survive on what the government will send to you each month? (The short answer: Don’t count on it.) How much – and how quickly – do you need to start saving in a 401(k) or IRA? (Hint: the maximum – now.)

So now you know. Social Security needs to be part of your annual financial checkup. Because inspecting the old safety net might inspire you to start saving now so you will have enough to fall back on in retirement.

 

Small Business Week Reminder: Work Opportunity Tax Credit can Help Employers Hiring New Workers; Key Certification Requirement Applies

The Internal Revenue Service today reminded employers planning to hire new workers that there’s a valuable tax credit available to those who hire long-term unemployment recipients and others certified by their state workforce agency. During National Small Business Week—April 30 to May 6—the IRS is highlighting tax benefits and resources designed to help new and existing small businesses.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a long-standing income tax benefit that encourages employers to hire designated categories of workers who face significant barriers to employment. The credit, usually claimed on Form 5884, is generally based on wages paid to eligible workers during the first two years of employment.

To qualify for the credit, an employer must first request certification by filing IRS Form 8850 with the state workforce agency within 28 days after the eligible worker begins work. Other requirements and further details can be found in the instructions to Form 8850.

There are now 10 categories of WOTC-eligible workers. The newest category, added effective Jan. 1, 2016, is for long-term unemployment recipients who had been unemployed for a period of at least 27 weeks and received state or federal unemployment benefits during part or all of that time. The other categories include certain veterans and recipients of various kinds of public assistance, among others.

The 10 categories are:

  • Qualified IV-A Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients
  • Unemployed veterans, including disabled veterans
  • Ex-felons
  • Designated community residents living in Empowerment Zones or Rural Renewal Counties
  • Vocational rehabilitation referrals
  • Summer youth employees living in Empowerment Zones
  • Food stamp (SNAP) recipients
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients
  • Long-term family assistance recipients
  • Qualified long-term unemployment recipients.

Eligible businesses claim the WOTC on their income tax return. The credit is first figured on Form 5884 and then becomes a part of the general business credit claimed on Form 3800.

Though the credit is not available to tax-exempt organizations for most categories of new hires, a special rule allows them to get the WOTC for hiring qualified veterans. These organizations claim the credit on Form 5884-C. Visit the WOTC page on IRS.gov for more information.