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How to Avoid Penalties on Your Household Helpers
If you employ someone to work for you around your house, it is important to consider the tax implications of this arrangement. While many people disregard the need to pay taxes on household employees, they do so at the risk of paying stiff tax penalties down the road.
As you will see, the rules for hiring household help are quite complex, even for a relatively minor employee, and a mistake can bring on a tax headache that most of us would prefer to avoid.
Who Is a Household Employee?
Commonly referred to as the "nanny tax", these rules apply to you only if (1) you pay someone for household work and (2) that worker is your employee.
Can Your Employee Legally Work in the United States?
It is unlawful for you to knowingly hire or continue to employ a person who cannot legally work in the United States.
When you hire a household employee to work for you on a regular basis, he or she must complete USCIS Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification. It is your responsibility to verify that the employee is either a U.S. citizen or an alien who can legally work and then complete the employer part of the form. Keep the completed form for your records. Do not return the form to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Do You Need to Pay Employment Taxes?
If you have a household employee, you may need to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, or you may need to pay federal unemployment tax, or both. Refer to this table for details:
If neither of these two contingencies applies, you do not need to pay any federal unemployment taxes. But you may still need to pay state unemployment taxes. (See below for more on this.)
You do not need to withhold federal income tax from your household employee's wages. But if your employee asks you to withhold it, you can choose to do so.
State Unemployment Taxes
You should contact your state unemployment tax agency to find out whether you need to pay state unemployment tax for your household employee. You should also find out whether you need to pay or collect other state employment taxes or carry workers' compensation insurance.
Social Security and Medicare Taxes
Social Security taxes pays for old-age, survivor, and disability benefits for workers and their families. The Medicare tax pays for hospital insurance.
Both you and your household employee may owe Social Security and Medicare taxes. Your share is 7.65% (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) of the employee's Social Security and Medicare wages. Your employee's share is 4.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax.
You are responsible for payment of your employee's share of the taxes as well as your own. You can either withhold your employee's share from the employee's wages or pay it from your own funds. Note the limits in the table above.
Wages Not Counted
Do not count wages you pay to any of the following individuals as Social Security and Medicare wages:
Also, if your employee's Social Security and Medicare wages reach $110,000 in 2012 ($106,800 in 2011), then do not count any wages you pay that employee during the rest of the year as Social Security wages to figure Social Security tax. you should however, continue to count the employee's cash wages as Medicare wages to figure Medicare tax. You figure federal income tax withholding on both cash and non-cash wages (based on their value), but do not count as wages any of the following items:
As you can see, tax considerations for household employees are complex. Therefore, we highly recommend professional tax guidance in these complicated matters. This is definitely an area where it's better to be safe than sorry.
Please contact us for further information.
What to Do If You Haven't Filed an Income Tax Return
Filing a past due return may not be as difficult as you think.
Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether full payment can be made with the return. Depending on an individual's circumstances, a taxpayer filing late may qualify for a payment plan. It is important, however, to know that full payment of taxes upfront saves you money.
Here's What to Do When Your Return Is Late
Gather Past Due Return Information
Gather return information and come see us. You should bring any and all information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed.
Payment Options - Ways to Make a Payment
There are several different ways to make a payment on your taxes. Payments can be made by credit card, electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier's check, or cash.
Payment Options - For Those Who Can't Pay in Full
Taxpayers unable to pay all taxes due on the bill are encouraged to pay as much as possible. By paying as much as possible now, the amount of interest and penalties owed will be lessened. Based on the circumstances, a taxpayer could qualify for an extension of time to pay, an installment agreement, a temporary delay, or an offer in compromise.
Taxpayers who need more time to pay can set up either a short-term payment extension or a monthly payment plan.
What Will Happen If You Don't File Your Past Due Return or Contact the IRS
It's important to understand the ramifications of not filing a past due return and the steps that the IRS will take. Taxpayers who continue to not file a required return and fail to respond to IRS requests for a return may be considered for a variety of enforcement actions.
If you haven't filed a tax return yet, please contact us. We're here to help!
Employee or Independent Contractor - Which Is It?
If you hire someone for a long-term, full-time project or a series of projects that are likely to last for an extended period, you must pay special attention to the difference between independent contractors and employees.
Why It Matters
The Internal Revenue Service and state regulators scrutinize the distinction between employees and independent contractors because many business owners try to categorize as many of their workers as possible as independent contractors rather than as employees. They do this because independent contractors are not covered by unemployment and workers' compensation, or by federal and state wage, hour, anti-discrimination, and labor laws. In addition, businesses do not have to pay federal payroll taxes on amounts paid to independent contractors.
The Difference Between Employees and Independent Contractors
Independent Contractors are individuals who contract with a business to perform a specific project or set of projects. You, the payer, have the right to control or direct only the result of the work done by an independent contractor, and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result.
Employees provide work in an ongoing, structured basis. In general, anyone who performs services for you is your employee if you can control what will be done and how it will be done. A worker is still considered an employee even when you give them freedom of action. What matters is that you have the right to control the details of how the services are performed.
Independent Contractor Qualification Checklist
The IRS, workers' compensation boards, unemployment compensation boards, federal agencies, and even courts all have slightly different definitions of what an independent contractor is, though their means of categorizing workers as independent contractors are similar.
One of the most prevalent approaches used to categorize a worker as either an employee or independent contractor is the analysis created by the IRS. The IRS considers the following:
Minimize the Risk of Misclassification
If you misclassify an employee as an independent contractor, you may end up before a state taxing authority or the IRS.
Sometimes the issue comes up when a terminated worker files for unemployment benefits and it's unclear whether the worker was an independent contractor or employee. The filing can trigger state or federal investigations that can cost many thousands of dollars to defend, even if you successfully fight the challenge.
There are ways to reduce the risk of an investigation or challenge by a state or federal authority. At a minimum, you should:
If you have any questions about how to classify your employees, please give us a call. We can help guide you in the right direction in the eyes of the IRS.
Turn Your Vacation Into a Tax Deduction
Tim, who owns his own business, decided he wanted to take a two-week trip around the US. So he did--and was able to legally deduct every dime that he spent on his "vacation". Here's how he did it.
1. Make all your business appointments before you leave for your trip.
You must have at least one business appointment before you leave in order to establish the "prior set business purpose" required by the IRS. Keeping this in mind, before he left for his trip, Tim set up appointments with business colleagues in the various cities that he planned to visit.
Let's say Tim is a manufacturer of green office products looking to expand his business and distribute more product. One possible way to establish business contacts--if he doesn't already have them--is to place advertisements looking for distributors in newspapers in each location he plans to visit. He could then interview those who respond when he gets to the business destination.
2. Make Sure your Trip is All "Business Travel."
3. Make sure that you deduct all of your on-the-road -expenses for each day you're away.
4. Sandwich weekends between business days.
5. Make the majority of your trip days business days.
All of them. Thursday is a business day, since it includes traveling - even if the rest of the day is spent at the beach. Friday is a business day because he had a seminar. Monday is a business day because he met with prospects and distributors in pre-arranged appointments. Saturday and Sunday are sandwiched between business days, so they count, and Tuesday is a travel day.
Since Tim accrued six business days, he could spend another five days having fun and still deduct all his transportation to San Diego. The reason is that the majority of the days were business days (six out of eleven). However, he can only deduct six days worth of lodging, dry cleaning, shoe shines, and tips. The important point is that Tim would be spending money on lodging, airfare, and food, but now most of his expenses will become deductible.
Consult us before you plan your next trip. We'll show you the right way to legally deduct your vacation when you combine it with business. Bon Voyage!
Six Tips for People Who Pay Estimated Taxes
If you have income that is not subject to withholding you may need to pay estimated taxes to the IRS during the year. Whether you need to pay estimated taxes is dependent upon your financial circumstances, what you do for a living (if you're self-employed for example), and the types of income you receive. Here are six tips from the IRS that explain estimated taxes and how to pay them.
1. If you have income from sources such as self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent, gains from the sales of assets, prizes or awards, then you may have to pay estimated tax.
2. As a general rule, you must pay estimated taxes in 2012 if both of these statements apply:
1) You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting your tax withholding (if you have any) and tax credits, and
3. Sole Proprietors, Partners, and S Corporation shareholders generally have to make estimated tax payments if they expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes when they file a return.
4. To figure estimated tax, include expected gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits for the year. You'll want to be as accurate as possible to avoid penalties and don't forget to consider changes in your situation and recent tax law changes.
5. For estimated tax purposes the year is divided into four payment periods or due dates. These dates are generally April 15, June 15, Sept. 15 and Jan. 15 of the next or following year.
6. The easiest way to pay estimated taxes is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or EFTPS, but you can also figure your tax using Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals and pay any estimated taxes by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher, or by credit or debit card.
Give us a call today if you need help making estimated payments.
Filing Amended Returns: The Facts
What if you've already filed your return, but realized that you were eligible for a deduction or credit that you didn't take, or worse--discovered an error and need to "fix it" on your return?
Fortunately, there's an easy answer: file an amended return. Here's what you need to know if you're considering filing an amended federal income tax return.
1. When you need to amend an income tax return, use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You can use Form 1040X to correct previously filed Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.
2. An amended return cannot be e-filed. You must file a paper return.
3. Generally, you do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors. The IRS will automatically make that correction. Also, do not file an amended return because you forgot to attach tax forms such as W-2s or schedules. The IRS normally will send a request asking for those.
4. Be sure to enter the year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original return or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
5. If you are amending more than one tax return, prepare a 1040X for each return and mail them in separate envelopes to the appropriate IRS campus. The 1040X instructions list the addresses for the campuses.
6. If the changes involve another schedule or form, you must attach that schedule or form to the amended return.
7. If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You may cash that check while waiting for any additional refund.
8. If you owe additional 2011 tax, file Form 1040X and pay the tax before the due date to limit interest and penalty charges that could accrue on your account. Interest is charged on any tax not paid by the due date of the original return, without regard to extensions.
Give us a call today if you need assistance filing an amended return.
How to Spot an IRS Impersonation Scheme
The IRS does not send taxpayers unsolicited e-mails about their tax accounts, tax situations, or personal tax issues. If you receive such an e-mail, most likely it's a scam.
IRS impersonation schemes flourish during filing season. These schemes may take place via phone, fax, Internet sites, social networking sites, and particularly e-mail.
Many impersonations are identity theft scams that try to trick victims into revealing personal and financial information that can be used to access their financial accounts. Some e-mail scams contain attachments or links that, when clicked, download malicious code (a virus) that infects your computer or directs you to a bogus form or site posing as an IRS form or Web site.
Some impersonations may be commercial Internet sites that consumers unknowingly visit, thinking they're accessing the genuine IRS Web site, IRS.gov. However, such sites have no connection to the IRS.
If you want to know whether a site is legitimate or if you think you have been the victim of identity theft or fraud, please contact us. We definitely don't want you to get scammed.
Billing for Time and Expenses: How It Works
Billing for inventory parts is easy. Pick the items from a list and specify a quantity. Poof. Done.
Billing for costs, time or mileage is a little more complex. QuickBooks has built-in tools to help you do this, but it's a bit of a process.
To simplify your workflow, do this groundwork first:
Figure 1: As you do with other QuickBooks processes, make sure that your Preferences are set correctly.
Invoicing for Services
If you're a service-oriented company, you bill for time frequently. This is easy. You're probably already familiar with the Enter Time entry in the Employees menu. Whether you make individual time entries or complete a timesheet, it's critical that you make the correct selections for each Customer: Job, Service Item and Payroll Item field, and check the Billable box.
When you create invoices, this box will open after you select a customer:
Figure 2: QuickBooks lets you know when there are time and costs to be billed for each customer.
You can let QuickBooks enter the time totals now, or add them later by clicking the Add Time/Costs button. Either way, the Choose Billable Time and Costs window opens. Add a checkmark next to each entry that should be billed, and click Options... to indicate whether you want one line for each time entry or would rather combine all similar service item types.
Figure 3: QuickBooks wants to know which entries should be invoiced.
If you're done with billable expenses for this invoice, click OK. If there are other costs that you covered, click the Expenses tab to see all transactions that you earmarked for this client on a bill, check or credit card. You have the option here to mark up the cost by a percentage or amount (even if you established this in Preferences), and to specify an account.
Do the same for Mileage, which you would have entered previously -- when it was incurred -- at Company | Enter Vehicle Mileage. Then select any Items that you purchased for the customer. Your records should be correct, assuming that you were conscientious about assigning expenses to customers and jobs.
Figure 4: It's easy to pull billable expenses into invoices if they're documented carefully.
Turning expenses into invoices and then into income can be complicated. Let us know if we can help. We are your partner in building a successful business.
QuickBooks Tip: Here's a cool little keyboard shortcut. Hit F2 while you're in QuickBooks, and you'll get the Product Information screen. It'll tell you everything you want to know about your specific copy of QuickBooks, like your release and license number, the file size, number of users logged in, audit trail status and the total number of accounts, customers, employees, etc.
QuickBooks News Update
Please note that as of May 31, 2012, Intuit is discontinuing support for QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Simple Start 2009, QuickBooks for Mac 2009 and QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions 9. You can continue to use these solutions, of course, but live technical support and add-on services like payroll, credit card processing, online banking and bill-pay will not be accessible. Talk to us about upgrading if you're using any of these products or services.
Tax Due Dates for May 2012
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