Taxpayers Have Extra Time to Make a Contribution to Their IRA This Year

This year, you have a few extra days to make contributions to your traditional Individual Retirement Arrangements. That’s because Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in the District of Columbia, will be observed on Friday, April 15, 2011, which moves the due date for filing your tax return and making contributions to your 2010 IRA to Monday, April 18, 2011.

Here are the top 10 things the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about setting aside retirement money in an IRA.

  1. You may be able to deduct some or all of your contributions to your IRA. You may also be eligible for the Savers Credit formally known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit.
  2. Contributions can be made to your traditional IRA at any time during the year or by the due date for filing your return for that year, not including extensions. For most people, this means contributions for 2010 must be made by April 18, 2011. Additionally, if you make a contribution between Jan. 1 and April 18, you should designate the year targeted for that contribution.
  3. The funds in your IRA are generally not taxed until you receive distributions from that IRA.
  4. Use the worksheets in the instructions for either Form 1040A or Form 1040 to figure your deduction for IRA contributions.
  5. For 2010, the most that can be contributed to your traditional IRA is generally the smaller of the following amounts: $5,000 or $6,000 for taxpayers who were 50 or older at the end of 2010 or the amount of your taxable compensation for the year.
  6. Use Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to determine whether you are also eligible for a tax credit equal to a percentage of your contribution.
  7. You must use either Form 1040A or Form 1040 to claim the Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions or if you deduct an IRA contribution.
  8. You must be under age 70 1/2 at the end of the tax year in order to contribute to a traditional IRA.
  9. You must have taxable compensation, such as wages, salaries, commissions, tips, bonuses, or net income from self-employment to contribute to an IRA. If you file a joint return, generally only one of you needs to have taxable compensation. However, see Spousal IRA Limits in IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements for additional rules.
  10. Refer to IRS Publication 590, for more information on contributing to your IRA account.

Let me know if you need help with your IRAs.

Beware of Tax Scams

The IRS wants taxpayers to be aware of tax scams. These scams are illegal and can lead to problems for taxpayers including significant penalties, interest and possible criminal prosecution. The schemes take several shapes, ranging from promises of large tax refunds to illegal ways of “untaxing” yourself.

Here are three important guidelines to keep in mind:

  • You are responsible and liable for the content of your tax return.
  • Anyone who promises you a bigger refund without knowing your tax situation could be misleading you, and
  • Never sign a tax return without looking it over to make sure it is accurate.

Beware of these common schemes:

Return Preparer Fraud:
Dishonest tax return preparers can cause many headaches for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys. Such preparers derive financial gain by skimming a portion of their clients’ refunds and charging inflated fees for return preparation services. They attract new clients by promising large refunds. Choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No matter who prepares your tax return you are ultimately responsible for its accuracy and for any tax bill that may arise due to a questionable claim.

To increase confidence in the tax system and improve compliance with the tax law, the IRS is implementing a requirement that all paid tax return preparers register with the IRS and obtain a preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Later this year, registered preparers will have to pass a competency exam and take continuing education courses.

Identity Theft:
It pays to be choosy when it comes to disclosing personal information. Identity thieves have used stolen personal data to access financial accounts, run up charges on credit cards and apply for new loans. The IRS is aware of several identity theft scams involving taxes or scammers posing as the IRS itself. The IRS does not use e-mail to contact taxpayers about issues related to their accounts. If you have any doubt whether a contact from the IRS is authentic, call 800-829-1040 to confirm it.

Frivolous Arguments:
Promoters have been known to make outlandish claims such as that the Sixteenth Amendment concerning congressional power to establish and collect income taxes was never ratified; that wages are not income; that filing a return and paying taxes are merely voluntary; and that being required to file Form 1040 violates the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Don’t believe these or other similar claims. Such arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. Taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, but no one has the right to disobey the law.

For more information about these and other tax scams visit the IRS Web site at http://www.irs.gov. Remember that for the genuine IRS Web site be sure to use .gov. Don’t be confused by internet sites that end in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. The address of the official IRS governmental Web site is http://www.irs.gov/.

Eight Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

Charitable contributions made to qualified organizations may help lower your tax bill. The IRS has put together the following eight tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.

1. If your goal is a legitimate tax deduction, then you must be giving to a qualified organization. Also, you cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for rules on what constitutes a qualified organization.

2. To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.

3. If you receive a benefit because of your contribution such as merchandise, tickets to a ball game or other goods and services, then you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.

4. Donations of stock or other non-cash property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Clothing and household items must generally be in good used condition or better to be deductible. Special rules apply to vehicle donations.

5. Fair market value is generally the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all the relevant facts.

6. Regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.

7. To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization showing the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. One document may satisfy both the written communication requirement for monetary gifts and the written acknowledgement requirement for all contributions of $250 or more. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.

8. Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which generally requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.

For more information on charitable contributions, refer to Form 8283 and its instructions, as well as Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. For information on determining value, refer to Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property.