Hobby or Business? Why It Matters

Millions of Americans have hobbies such as sewing, woodworking, fishing, gardening, stamp and coin collecting, but when that hobby starts to turn a profit, it might just be considered a business by the IRS.

Definition of a Hobby vs. a Business

The IRS defines a hobby as an activity that is not pursued for profit. A business, on the other hand, is an activity that is carried out with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.

The tax considerations are different for each activity, so it’s important for taxpayers to determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit as a business or is just a hobby for personal enjoyment.

Of course, you must report and pay tax on income from almost all sources, including hobbies. But when it comes to deductions such as expenses and losses, the two activities differ in their tax implications. Continue reading

Minimizing Tax on Mutual Fund Activities

Tax law generally treats mutual fund shareholders as if they directly owned a proportionate share of the fund’s portfolio of securities and you must report as income any mutual fund distributions, whether or not they are reinvested. Thus, all dividends and interest from securities in the portfolio, as well as any capital gains from the sales of securities, are taxed to the shareholders.

Whether you’re new to mutual funds or a seasoned investor who wants to learn more, these tips will help you avoid the tax bite on mutual fund investments. Continue reading

Tax Implications of Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and Lending Club have become increasingly popular for both individual fundraising and small business owners looking for start-up capital or funding for creative ventures. The upside is that it’s often possible to raise the cash you need, but the downside is that the IRS might consider that money taxable income. Here’s what you need to know.

Continue reading

Tax Breaks for Hiring New Employees

If you’re thinking about hiring new employees this year, you won’t want to miss out on these tax breaks.

1. Work Opportunity Credit

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit for employers that hire employees from the following targeted groups of individuals:

  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Food Stamp Recipient
  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Recipient
  • Qualified Veterans
  • Qualified Ex-Felons, Pardoned, Paroled or Work Release Individuals
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Referrals
  • Qualified Summer Youths
  • Qualified Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Recipients
  • Qualified Individuals living within an Empowerment Zone or Rural Renewal Community
  • Long Term Family Assistance Recipient (TANF) (formerly known as Welfare to Work)

The tax credit (a maximum of $9,600) is taken as a general business credit on Form 3800 and is applied against tax liability on business income. It is limited to the amount of the business income tax liability or social security tax owed. Normal carry-back and carry-forward rules apply.

For qualified tax-exempt organizations, the credit is limited to the amount of employer social security tax owed on wages paid to all employees for the period the credit is claimed.

Also, an employer must obtain certification that an individual is a member of the targeted group before the employer may claim the credit. Continue reading

Defer Capital Gains using Like-Kind Exchanges

If you’re a savvy investor, you probably know that you must generally report as income any mutual fund distributions whether you reinvest them or exchange shares in one fund for shares of another. In other words, you must report and pay any capital gains tax owed.

But if real estate’s your game, did you know that it’s possible to defer capital gains by taking advantage of a tax break that allows you to swap investment property on a tax-deferred basis? Continue reading

IRS Impersonation Scam Updates

Taxpayers should be aware of the most recent scam linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), where fraudsters call to demand an immediate tax payment through a prepaid debit card.

In the latest twist, the scammer claims to be from the IRS and tells the victim about two certified letters purportedly sent to the taxpayer in the mail but returned as undeliverable. The scam artist then threatens arrest if a payment is not made through a prepaid debit card. The scammer also tells the victim that the card is linked to the EFTPS system when, in fact, it is entirely controlled by the scammer. The victim is also warned not to contact their tax preparer, an attorney or their local IRS office until after the tax payment is made.

EFTPS is an automated system for paying federal taxes electronically using the Internet or by phone using the EFTPS Voice Response System. EFTPS is offered free by the U.S. Department of Treasury and does not require the purchase of a prepaid debit card. Since EFTPS is an automated system, taxpayers won’t receive a call from the IRS. In addition, taxpayers have several options for paying a real tax bill and are not required to use a specific one.

The IRS does not use email, text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds. If you receive such as phone call, do not give out any information. Hang up immediately and contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page. Alternatively, call 800-366-4484. You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Tell Tale Signs of a Scam:

The IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments.
  • Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

For more information about scams, visit the “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” page on IRS.gov. If you believe you’ve been a victim of a phone scam, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Injured or Innocent Spouse Tax Relief: The Facts

You may be an injured spouse if you file a joint tax return and all or part of your portion of a refund was, or is expected to be, applied to your spouse’s legally enforceable past-due financial obligations. Here are seven facts about claiming injured spouse relief.

1. To be considered an injured spouse; you must have paid federal income tax or claimed a refundable tax credit, such as the Earned Income Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit on the joint return, and not be legally obligated to pay the past-due debt.

2. Special rules apply in community property states. For more information about the factors used to determine whether you are subject to community property laws, please call.

3. If you filed a joint return and you’re not responsible for the debt, but you are entitled to a portion of the refund, you may request your portion of the refund by filing Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. If you need assistance filling this out, please contact the office.

4. You may file form 8379 along with your original tax return, or you may file it by itself after you receive an IRS notice about the offset.

5. You can file Form 8379 electronically. If you file a paper tax return you can include Form 8379 with your return, write “INJURED SPOUSE” at the top left of the Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ. IRS will process your allocation request before an offset occurs.

6. If you are filing Form 8379 by itself, it must show both spouses’ Social Security numbers in the same order as they appeared on your income tax return. You, the “injured” spouse, must sign the form.

7. Do not use Form 8379 if you are claiming innocent spouse relief. Instead, file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. This relief from a joint liability applies only in certain limited circumstances. However, in 2011 the IRS eliminated the two-year time limit that applies to certain relief requests. IRS Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, explains who may qualify, and how to request this relief.

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