There will not be many tax surprises this year due to to laws like the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 that keeps the laws the same as well as previous extensions and policies. Even without surprises their are still a few traps that you will need to watch out for this year.
Below are the top 10 tax traps you might come across this year:
1. Get ready to wait early in the year. The federal government shut down for 16 days last October, but taxpayers are still paying for it. The IRS says Jan. 31, 2014, is the earliest it will be ready to process individual tax returns. You can go ahead and submit your return electronically as soon as you're ready; your e-filer will hold it until the IRS is ready to accept returns.
2. Get ready to wait later in the year. Every year or so, some temporary tax provisions are renewed by Congress. In recent years, however, lawmakers have let the laws expire and then renewed them retroactively, most recently in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, also known as the “fiscal cliff” tax bill. Expect a replay in 2014. Fifty-five tax provisions expired on Dec. 31, 2013. This doesn't affect your 2013 tax return, but tax planning for 2014 will be a different story.
3. Watch for added taxes if you're wealthy. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 was not kind to wealthier taxpayers, and they will find out the extent of the damage when they file their 2013 returns.
4. Sign up for medical insurance. The Affordable Care Act will continue to roll out in 2014, meaning that uninsured individuals have some choices to make that could have tax implications. Enrollment for health insurance under Obamacare, as the health reform act is popularly known, goes through March 31, 2014. If you don't buy an insurance plan, you could face a penalty. The charge for 2014 is either 1 percent of your yearly household income or $95 per uninsured adult and $47.50 per child, up to $285 for a family. You pay whichever amount is higher. If you get insurance for part of the year, your penalty will be prorated. You'll pay the penalty when you file your 2014 tax return in 2015.
5. File jointly if you're a same-sex married couple. Married same-sex couples now have the same federal tax filing responsibilities as heterosexual couples. Following the Supreme Court invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS instructed same-sex married couples to file jointly or as a married couple filing separately even if the state where they live does not recognize their marriage. This will simplify same-sex couples' federal filings, but if they must pay state income taxes, depending on their state's law, they could still face filing two state returns as single taxpayers.
6. Claim the simplified home office deduction. The recession has prompted many workers to start their own businesses, many of which are run from their homes. There's good filing news for these entrepreneurs. For 2013 returns filed in 2014, the IRS is now offering a simplified home office deduction. The new optional deduction is $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. That comes to a maximum $1,500 annual home office deduction.
7. Keep an eye on IRS troubles. The IRS is proposing new regulations for groups seeking 501(c)(4) nonprofit status. This designation was the focus of a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration investigation of IRS handling of Tea Party-affiliated organizations seeking the preferable tax status. During subsequent congressional hearings, it was learned that more liberal, progressive groups also were targeted by IRS reviewers.
8. Pay attention to tax preparer regulation. The IRS effort to regulate professional tax preparers will continue in 2014, both in the court system and on Capitol Hill. The agency wants to register all tax preparers who aren't already subject to certain standards (that is, attorneys, Enrolled Agents or CPAs) and require they pass competency exams and take continuing education classes. The IRS believes this will help reduce incorrectly and fraudulently filed returns.
9. Watch out for tax reform. The last overhaul of the federal tax code was in 1986. Will we finally see major changes in the Internal Revenue Code in 2014? Probably not. Will we hear a lot of talk about tax reform? Yes. It is an election year and talk of taxes makes for good campaign ads. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., are insistent that there will be some tax reform before they leave the chairmanships of, respectively, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.
10. Take advantage of inflation tax adjustments. One thing we do know for sure for 2014, inflation had a nominal effect on around 40 tax provisions. Most notable is that income brackets were widened a tad, meaning you can earn a bit more next year without being bumped into a higher tax bracket. Most people claim the standard deduction, and those amounts for each filing status in 2014 were increased slightly, as was the personal exemption amount, going from $3,900 to $3,950.
Are you ready for tax season?
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