Treasury and IRS Recognize Same-Sex Marriages for Tax Purposes

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service have ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes.

The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage. The ruling implements the federal tax aspects of the June 26th Supreme Court decision invalidating a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and had been long-awaited by tax professionals who wanted more clarity from the IRS.

“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide,” said Secretary Jacob J. Lew in a statement Thursday. “It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve. This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.

Any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or a foreign country will be covered by the ruling. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

Legally married same-sex couples generally must file their 2013 federal income tax return using either the “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately” filing status.

Individuals who were in same-sex marriages may, but are not required to, file original or amended returns choosing to be treated as married for federal tax purposes for one or more prior tax years still open under the statute of limitations.

Generally, the statute of limitations for filing a tax refund claim is three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. As a result, refund claims can still be filed for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012. Some taxpayers may have special circumstances (such as signing an agreement with the IRS to keep the statute of limitations open) that permit them to file refund claims for tax years 2009 and earlier.

In addition, employees who purchased same-sex spouse health insurance coverage from their employers on an after-tax basis may treat the amounts paid for that coverage as pre-tax and excludable from income.

According to a senior Treasury official who spoke to reporters Thursday under conditions of anonymity, the IRS won’t be giving expedited treatment to the amended tax returns filed by same-sex married couples. Those tax returns will be handled in the normal course of business. In addition, the IRS is not expected to be setting up a dedicated unit to deal with the returns, as the number of amended returns expected to be filed are within the range typically handled by the IRS. At this point, the IRS has no plans to set up any dedicated help lines to aid same-sex couples of their accountants with the new rules, but the Treasury may decide to set up such a facility depending on the questions that come in and how they’re able to address them. Additional guidance is expected to be issued next month by the IRS.

How to File a Claim for Refund

Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for income taxes should use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for gift or estate taxes should file Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement.

For information on filing an amended return, go to Tax Topic 308, Amended Returns at http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc308.html or the Instructions to Forms 1040X and 843. Information on where to file your amended returns is available in the instructions to the form.

Future Guidance

The Treasury and the IRS said they intend to issue streamlined procedures for employers who wish to file refund claims for payroll taxes paid on previously-taxed health insurance and fringe benefits provided to same-sex spouses. Treasury and IRS also intend to issue further guidance on cafeteria plans and on how qualified retirement plans and other tax-favored arrangements should treat same-sex spouses for periods before the effective date of this Revenue Ruling.

Other agencies may provide guidance on other federal programs that they administer that are affected by the Tax Code.

Revenue Ruling 2013-17, along with updated Frequently Asked Questions for same-sex couples and updated FAQs for registered domestic partners and individuals in civil unions, are available today on IRS.gov. For registered domestic partners who live in community property states, see Publication 555, Community Property.

Treasury and the IRS will begin applying the terms of Revenue Ruling 2013-17 on September 16, 2013, but taxpayers who wish to rely on the terms of the Revenue Ruling for earlier periods may choose to do so (as long as the statute of limitations for the earlier period has not expired).

Contact our office at 800-560-4637 to set up an appointment and have us help you through the filings.

-Michael Cohn, Accounting Today

Give Withholding and Payments a Check-up to Avoid a Tax Surprise

Some people are surprised to learn they’re due a large federal income tax refund when they file their taxes. Others are surprised that they owe more taxes than they expected. When this happens, it’s a good idea to check your federal tax withholding or payments. Doing so now can help avoid a tax surprise when you file your 2013 tax return next year.

Here are some tips to help you bring the tax you pay during the year closer to what you’ll actually owe.

Wages and Income Tax Withholding

  • New Job.   Your employer will ask you to complete a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Complete it accurately to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your paychecks.
  • Life Event.  Change your Form W-4 when certain life events take place. A change in marital status, birth of a child, getting or losing a job, or purchasing a home, for example, can all change the amount of taxes you owe. You can typically submit a new Form W–4 anytime.
  • IRS Withholding Calculator.  This handy online tool will help you figure the correct amount of tax to withhold based on your situation. If a change is necessary, the tool will help you complete a new Form W-4.

Self-Employment and Other Income

  • Estimated tax.  This is how you pay tax on income that’s not subject to withholding. Examples include income from self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent and gains from the sale of assets. You also may need to pay estimated tax if the amount of income tax withheld from your wages, pension or other income is not enough. If you expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in taxes and meet other conditions, you may need to make estimated tax payments.
  • Form 1040-ES.  Use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to find out if you need to pay estimated taxes on a quarterly basis.
  • Change in Estimated Tax.  After you make an estimated tax payment, some life events or financial changes may affect your future payments. Changes in your income, adjustments, deductions, credits or exemptions may make it necessary for you to refigure your estimated tax.
  • Additional Medicare Tax.  A new Additional Medicare Tax went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. The 0.9 percent Additional Medicare Tax applies to an individual’s wages, Railroad Retirement Tax Act compensation and self-employment income that exceeds a threshold amount based on the individual’s filing status. For additional information on the Additional Medicare Tax, see our questions and answers.
  • Net Investment Income Tax.  A new Net Investment Income Tax went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. The 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax applies to individuals, estates and trusts that have certain investment income above certain threshold amounts. For additional information on the Net Investment Income Tax, see our questions and answers.

A quick check on IRS Withholding Calculator tool can help but we at NFS are always just a phone call away – 800-560-4637 for assistance.

IRS Offers Tips on How to Amend Your Tax Return

If you discover an error after you file your tax return, you can correct it by amending your return.

Here are 10 tips from the Internal Revenue Service about amending your federal tax return:

  1. When to amend a return.  You should file an amended return if you need to correct your filing status, number of dependents, total income, tax deductions or tax credits. The instructions for Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, list additional reasons to amend a return.
  2. When NOT to amend a return.  In some cases, you don’t need to amend your tax return. For example, the IRS usually corrects math errors when processing your original return. If you did not include a required form or schedule, the IRS will send you a request for whatever is missing.
  3. Form to use.  Use Form 1040X to amend a previously filed Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. Make sure you check the box to show the tax year that you are amending on the Form 1040X. You cannot e-file an amended return. You must file an amended tax return on paper.
  4. Multiple amended returns.  If you’re filing an amended return for more than one year, prepare a separate 1040X for each return. Mail them in separate envelopes to the appropriate IRS processing center. (See “Where to File” in the instructions for Form 1040X.)
  5. Form 1040X.  Form 1040X has three columns. Column A shows figures from the original return. Column B shows the changes you are making. Column C shows the corrected figures. There is also an area on the back of the form where you should explain the specific changes and the reasons for the changes.
  6. Other forms or schedules.  If the changes involve other tax schedules or forms, attach them to the Form 1040X. Failure to do this will cause a delay in processing.
  7. Amending to claim an additional refund.  If you’re expecting a refund from your original tax return, don’t file your amended return until after you have received that refund. You may cash the refund check from your original return. The IRS will send you any additional refund you are owed.
  8. Amending to pay additional tax.  If you’re filing an amended tax return because you owe additional tax, you should file Form 1040X and pay the tax as soon as possible to limit any interest and penalty charges.
  9. When to file.  To claim a refund, you generally must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original tax return or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
  10. Processing time.  Normal processing time for amended returns is 8 to 12 weeks.

Call our office if you need help with amending a tax return.

Tax Aspects of Divorce and Separation

When it comes to legal separation or divorce, there are many complex situations to address. A divorcing couple faces many important decisions and issues regarding alimony, child support, and the fair division of property. While most courts and judges will not factor in the impact of taxes on a potential property settlement or cash payments, it is important to realize how the value of assets transferred can be materially affected by the tax implications.

Dependents

One of the most argued points between separating couples regarding taxes is who gets to claim the children as dependents on their tax return, since joint filing is no longer an option. The reason this part of tax law is so important to divorcing parents is that the federal and state exemptions allowed for dependents offer a significant savings to the custodial parent, and there are also substantial child and educational credits that can be taken. The right to claim a child as a dependent from birth through college can be worth over $30,000 in tax savings.

The law states that one parent must be chosen as the head of the household, and that parent may legally claim the dependents on his or her return.

Example: If a couple was divorced or legally separated by December 31 of the last tax year, the law allows the tax exemptions to go to the parent who had physical custody of the children for the greater part of the year (the custodial parent), and that parent would be considered the head of the household. However, if the separation occurs in the last six months of the year and there hasn’t yet been a legal divorce or separation by the year’s end, the exemptions will go to the parent that has been providing the most financial support to the children, regardless of which parent had custody.

A non-custodial parent can only claim the dependents if the custodial parent releases the right to the exemptions and credits. This needs to be done legally by signing tax Form 8332, Release of Claim to Exemption. However, even if the non-custodial parent is not claiming the children, he or she still has the right to deduct things like medical expenses.

Child support payments are not deductible or taxable. Merely labeling payments as child support is not enough — various requirements must be met.

Alimony

Alimony is another controversial area for separated or divorced couples, mostly because the payer of the alimony wants to deduct as much of that expense as possible, while the recipient wants to avoid paying as much tax on that income as he or she can. On a yearly tax return, the recipient of alimony is required to claim that money as taxable income, while the payer can deduct the payment, even if he or she chooses not to itemize.

Because alimony plays such a large part in a divorced couple’s taxes, the government has specifically outlined what can and can not be considered as an alimony expense. The government says that an alimony payment is one that is required by a divorce or separation decree, is paid by cash, check or money order, and is not already designated as child support. The payer and recipient must not be filing a joint return, and the spouses can not be living in the same house. And the payment cannot be part of a non-cash property settlement or be designated to keep up the payer’s property.

There are also complicated recapture rules that may need to be addressed in certain tax situations. When alimony must be recaptured, the payer must report as income part of what was deducted as alimony within the first two payment years.

Property

Many aspects of property settlements are too numerous and detailed to discuss at length, but separating couples should be aware that, when it comes to property distributions, basis should be considered very carefully when negotiating for specific assets.

Example: Let’s say you get the house and the spouse gets the stock. The actual split up and distribution is tax-free. However, let’s say the house was bought last year for $300,000 and has $100,000 of equity. The stock was bought 20 years ago, is also worth $100,000, but was bought for $10,000. Selling the house would generate no tax in this case and you would get to keep the full $100,000 equity. Selling the $100,000 of stock will generate about $25,000 to $30,000 of federal and state taxes, leaving the other spouse with a net of $70,000. While there may be no taxes to pay for several years if both parties plan to hold the assets for some time, the above example still illustrates an inequitable division of assets due to non-consideration of the underlying basis of the properties distributed.

Under a recent tax law, a spouse who acquires a partial interest in a house through a divorce settlement can move out and still exempt up to $250,000 of any taxable gain. This still holds true if he or she has not lived in the home for two of the last five years, the book states. It also applies to the spouse staying in the home. However, the divorce decree must clearly state that the home will be sold later and the proceeds will be split.

Complications and tax traps can also occur when a jointly owned business is transferred to one spouse in connection with a divorce. Professional tax assistance at the earliest stages of divorce are recommended in situations where a closely held business interest is involved.

Retirement

When a couple splits up, the courts have the authority to divide a retirement plan (whether it’s an account or an accrued benefit) between the spouses. If the retirement money is in an IRA account, the individuals need to draw up a written agreement to transfer the IRA balance from one spouse to the other. However, if one spouse is the trustee of a qualified retirement plan, he or she must comply with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to divide the accrued benefit. Each spouse will then be taxed on the money they receive from this plan, unless it is transferred directly to an IRA, in which case there will be no withholding or income tax liability until the money is withdrawn.

Extreme caution should be exercised when there are company pension and profit-sharing benefits, Keogh plan benefits, and/or IRAs to split up. Unless done appropriately, the split up of these plans will be taxable to the spouse transferring the plan to the other.

Tax Prepayment and Joint Refunds

When a couple prepays taxes by either withholding wages or paying estimated taxes throughout the year, the withholding will be credited to the spouse who earned the underlying income. In community property states, the withholding will be credited equally when spouses each report half of their income. When a joint refund is issued after a couple has separated or divorced, the couple should consult a tax advisor to determine how the refund should be divided. There is a formula that can be used to determine this amount, but it is wisest to use a qualified individual to make sure it is properly applied.

Legal and Other Expenses

To the dismay of most divorcing couples, the massive legal bills most end up paying are not deductible at tax time because they are considered personal nondeductible expenses. On the other hand, if a part of that bill was allocated to tax advice, to securing alimony, or to the protection of business income, those expenses can be deducted when itemizing. However, their total — combined with other miscellaneous itemized deductions — must be greater than 2% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income to qualify.

Divorce planning and the related tax implications can completely change the character of the divorcing couple’s negotiations. As many divorce attorneys are not always aware of these tax implications, it is always a good idea to have a qualified tax professional be involved in the dissolution process and planning from the very early stages. If you are in the process of divorce or are considering divorce or legal separation, please contact the office for a consultation and additional guidance.

Back-to-School Tax Tips for Students and Parents

Going to college can be a stressful time for students and parents. The IRS offers these tips about education
tax benefits that can help offset some college costs and maybe relieve some of that stress.

  • American Opportunity Tax Credit.  This credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student. The AOTC is available for the first four years of post secondary education. Forty percent of the credit is refundable. That means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000 of the credit as a refund, even if you don’t owe any taxes. Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment. A recent law extended the AOTC through the end of Dec. 2017.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit.   With the LLC, you may be able to claim up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses on your federal tax return. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit for an eligible student. 
    • You can claim only one type of education credit per student on your federal tax return each year. If you pay college expenses for more than one student in the same year, you can claim credits on a per-student, per-year basis. For example, you can claim the AOTC for one student and the LLC for the other student.
    • You can use the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant tool to help determine if you’re eligible for these credits. The tool is available at IRS.gov.
  • Student loan interest deduction.  Other than home mortgage interest, you generally can’t deduct the interest you pay. However, you may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction can reduce your taxable income by up to $2,500. You don’t need to itemize deductions to claim it.

These education benefits are subject to income limitations and may be reduced or eliminated depending on your income.

For more information,please contact our office.