Archive for the ‘refunds’ Tag

IRS Affected by Government Shutdown

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

October 4, 2013

Due to the inability of Congress to come to terms regarding the government shutdown (or just about anything for that matter), I have a pretty good chance that this article will still be worth reading by the time it is published in the newspaper on Friday!

Everyone is aware by now that over 800,000 federal employees are on furlough. I read that this is more than all the employees of Target, General Motors, Exxon, and Google combined.  That is a lot of people!  Included in these 800,000 are most of the Internal Revenue Service employees.

Many of you may be cheering right now, but certainly not anyone that is waiting on a refund or currently trying to work out any problems with the IRS.  Prior to the furlough, telephone wait times to speak with an IRS agent have been 15 – 45 minutes, or sometimes you would get the message that they were too busy to even put you on hold, and then hang up on you.  Right now you will have an indefinite wait since the call centers are completely closed.  All local IRS offices are also closed to the public as well.  The shutdown will of course put even more pressure on wait times when funding is restored, and there is a backlog of problems to resolve.

This is an interesting time to be shutdown considering that extended personal tax returns are due on October 15.  The IRS still expects individuals and businesses to file all tax returns on time, keep making income and payroll tax payments, etc.  Presumably, they have some essential employees still on-the-clock to let the mailman in and to make deposits!  They are encouraging electronic filing since those returns are processed automatically by computers.  Paper returns will not be processed, however any payments enclosed will still be processed!  All tax refunds are suspended until normal operations resume.

Computer generated IRS notices will continue to be mailed out, but all audits, appeals, and taxpayer advocate cases are suspended.  If you had meetings scheduled they will be rescheduled.

The IRS website will still be up and running, but certain services may be unavailable.  The IRS automated telephone system will also still be working (800) 829-1040.

I can only assume that penalties and interest will still accrue even if you are waiting on the IRS to resolve an issue.

I called the IRS employee emergency hotline for kicks.  They are informing employees that they cannot perform any work, even if they want to volunteer their time to keep certain cases moving, and they cannot use any government computers, equipment, or other resources.  If they were en route traveling when the furlough began, they were to immediately return home.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Where is My Refund?

Originally Published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

April 20, 2011

 

So you filed your returns on time and you are now waiting for your refund to arrive – but when?  Hopefully you have taken advantage of modern technology by e-filing your tax returns and requesting direct deposit – not only does this ensure your information is communicated faster and more accurately to the taxing authorities, but it also puts money in your pocket in less time.

Federal

The IRS has an e-file refund cycle chart available online that will tell you the day your check will be deposited or mailed depending on when the return is electronically transmitted and accepted.  Generally, it will take one to two weeks for direct deposit or two to three weeks for a paper check.  If you mailed your returns, it could take up to six weeks before you hear the jingle in your pocket.  If you go to www.irs.gov and click on “Where’s My Refund,”( on the right-hand side of the page) you can enter in your social security number, filing status, and refund amount to determine the exact status of your refund.

California

California refunds are typically paid out within seven to 10 days if you e-filed, or eight weeks if filed by paper!  Like the IRS, the FTB has a similar online tool to check the status of your refund.  This tool is available at www.ftb.ca.gov/online/refund/index.asp.

What about same-day or next-day refunds?

You have probably heard radio or television ads advertising tax preparation services that can get you a refund almost immediately.  This is not what is really happening.  No tax preparer or discount chain has a special connection with the IRS or the FTB.  The preparer typically teams up with a bank to loan you the money in anticipation of your refund.  These are almost always high-interest and high-fee short-term loans and are rarely in your best interest.  The tax preparers and the banks funding your “refund” are the ones who usually benefit.

There has been a lot of scrutiny and lawsuits regarding these loans over the past several years.  One major chain in California settled a lawsuit in 2009 for nearly $5 million due to the deceptive and pricey structure of these products it was offering to taxpayers.    These refund anticipation loans are often likened to pay-day loans and generally should only be used as a last resort in an emergency.

The best way to avoid the need for one of these loans is to ensure you are e-filing with direct deposit and to do better planning during the year by adjusting your withholdings or estimates if there are changes to your tax situation.  If you are unsure how to handle this on your own, you may wish to consult with a tax professional.  The other option is to just be patient and wait for the refund to come for free!

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA.  Travis can be reached at 831-333-1041

 

 

Lost in Transition

Originally Published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

March 16, 2011

 

In my experience in the tax profession and from my vantage point as a Certified Public Accountant, I can tell you stories that will make your heart sing.  I can also tell you stories that will make you shudder like you just heard a bad contestant on American Idol.  The stories that make you cringe are usually caused by moments of stupidity by other tax preparers, or sadly, by people losing at a game of Tax Return Russian Roulette1.  I like to think the stories of hearts singing involve me riding in on a metaphorical white horse to save the day, heralding a banner “To correct stupidity and promote safety locks on roulette guns…”  I grant you, it is an unusual banner.

If I may spare you some pain, dear reader, I would say be mindful of transitions between tax preparers (including yourself) – particularly if you are “downgrading” the type of preparer you use.  Over the years I have seen countless returns where valuable tax attributes from prior returns were not carried forward to the next year’s returns by a new preparer (effects ranging from hundreds to several hundred thousand dollars in tax).  Some of you may be under the impression that your tax returns each year are distinct; this is rarely true.

Let us look at a simple example and suppose that you bought or inherited some mutual funds in 2007 worth $11,000; you sold them in 2009 for $6,000 resulting in a $5,000 loss.  There is a good chance you would have been limited to using $3,000 of this loss in 2009 and the other $2,000 would have been a capital loss carryover to your 2010 returns that could save you $500 or more in tax.  Of course, if you switch preparers and the new preparer does not have the training or presence of mind to find the Schedule D from 2009 and look for any unused capital losses, the cost of your new tax preparer just went up by $500.  Sadly, you probably would never know a costly mistake was made.

There are many areas similar to the above item including: carryovers of net operating losses, basis in retirement contributions and depreciable assets, state tax payments or refunds, office-in-home expenses, charitable contributions, rental property expenses (passive activity losses), alternative minimum tax (AMT) credits, foreign tax credits, general business credits, etc.  Often there are different amounts for the federal and state returns, and perhaps even AMT amounts for each of those if you are or may become subject to AMT.  Unfortunately these are scattered throughout forms in the return, and just because your new preparers show you comparative figures in a tax summary when you pick up your returns, does not mean they entered any of the carryovers in their software.

You do not have to be rich or have a complicated return to be affected by a number of these.  However, it does generally hold true, that the more money you make and the more types of activities you are involved with (rental properties, investments, etc.) the more heavily you are affected.

If you are doing the returns yourself with tax software for the first time, look carefully through the returns for hints of the above mentioned items, and be very diligent in answering the tax software questions.  Also, be wary of deleting items you think you no longer have, as they may have carryover or suspended items attached to them.  One of your big challenges is to know what the returns are supposed to look like when you are through.  If you are switching preparers, make sure the new preparer is qualified.  You may want to ask what specific carryover information was picked up from the old returns.

Let it be said of you, “You have chosen…wisely.”  I hope I do not have to saddle up my white horse on your behalf, as I still prefer a regular appointment.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950.  He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

 

Tax Return Russian Roulette – noun – a form of legalized gambling with generally poor odds whereby untrained participants willingly subject themselves to cruel and unusual punishment in the form of self-tax preparation, risking thousands of dollars in order to save hundreds.