The more itemized deductions you can rack up on you individual income tax return, the smaller amount of taxable income you will have which now puts more money in your pocket. Taxpayers who gave money or goods to a charity should be able to claim charitable contributions which get included as an itemized deduction on their 2017 federal tax return.
For those taxpayers looking to make charitable contributions in 2018 for their 2018 taxes, the good news is that the 2017 Tax Cuts And Jobs Act made no changes to the deductibility of charitable contributions.
So whether it is for 2017 or future years, here are some important facts you need to know about claiming charitable contributions to save on taxes and withstand an IRS audit.
- Qualified Charity. Only donations to qualified charitable organizations are deductible. Do not merely rely on the organization’s website or what the organization may state. If you are questioning whether an organization is qualified, you can check with IRS directly through the IRS website. To check the status of a charity, use the IRS Select Check tool. Keep in mind that religious institutions including churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques are considered “de facto” charitable organizations and are eligible to receive deductible donations even if they are not on the IRS’ website. However, you can never deduct donations to political organizations and candidates. Also, you cannot deduct contributions to specific individuals no matter how deserving or sympathetic to their tragic situation.
- You Must Itemize. To deduct donations, you must include these donations as Itemized Deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040. If the total amount of your Itemized Deductions does not exceed the Standard Deduction already given to you by the Federal government, you won’t get any real benefit from making these donations.
- Deductible Portion Of Donation May Be Reduced. You can only deduct the amount of your donation that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received. If you get something in return for your donation, you would have to reduce your deduction by the value you received. Examples of benefits include merchandise, meals and tickets to events.
- Property donation. If you give property instead of cash, you can normally only deduct the item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price you would get for the property item on the open market. Donating property that has appreciated in value, like stock, can result in a double benefit. Not only can you deduct the fair market value of the property (so long as you have owned it for at least one year), you will avoid paying capital gains tax.
- Donations From Your Retirement Account. Typically, if you want to make a donation from your IRA, you’d have to withdraw those funds, pay the tax and then make the donation. However, IRA owners who are age 70½ or older can transfer up to $100,000 per year to an eligible charity tax-free and the transfer counts toward your required minimum distribution (RMD) for the year. To be an eligible transfer, funds must be transferred directly by the IRA trustee to the charity. Withdrawing the monies first and then writing the check to the charity will not qualify for the non-recognition of income.
- Form to File. You would file Form 8283 for all non-cash gifts totaling more than $500 for the year. Keep an itemized list of for donations of non-cash items – do not just state you gave a bag of clothes and expect to substantiate the value of what you gave. Instead be specific, noting the description and condition of the items. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the item which is the price that a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller. If you contribute property worth more than $5,000, you must obtain a written appraisal of the property’s fair market value.
- Proof of Donation. If you donated cash or goods of $250 or more, you must have a written statement from the charity. The statement must show:
- Amount of the donation.
- Description of any property given.
- Whether the donor received any goods or services in exchange for the gift.
For cash donations under $250, you should always have substantiation of payment by a bank record such as a canceled check or credit card receipt, clearly annotated with the name of the charity or in writing from the organization. Even with a statement from the charity, it is still a good idea to retain this evidence of payment.
- You Can’t Deduct The Value Of Your Time. While your time is valuable, when you volunteer your time for charities, the IRS does not allow a charitable deduction for the time you spent. However, most out of pocket expenses relating to volunteering are should be deductible so long as they are not reimbursed to you or considered personal. Out of pocket charitable expenses which might be deductible include parking fees and tolls; other travel expenses; uniforms or other related clothing worn as part of your charitable service; and supplies used in the performance of your services. You will need to keep receipts evidencing payment in case you are questioned by the IRS.
- Timing Of Contribution. Contributions are deductible in the year the contributions are made so for the 2017 tax year that would had to been no later than December 31, 2017. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that by the 31st the cash payment had to be made out of your account. Contributions made by text message are deductible in the year you send the text message if the contribution is charged to your telephone or wireless account. Contributions made by credit card charges are deductible in the year charged so long as the charge is posted by your credit card company in that tax year. The credit charge itself does not have to be paid off by the end of the tax year it was charged. Similarly, checks which are written and mailed by the end of the year will be deductible for the year written if they are not cashed until the following year. Announcing that you intend to donate assets will not qualify for a deduction in the current tax year until the tax year you make good on the pledge.
What Should You Do?
You know that at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. we are always thinking of ways that our clients can save on taxes. If you are selected for an audit, stand up to the IRS by getting representation. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Diego County (Carlsbad) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, unreported crypto currency transactions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.
Taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets are urged to come forward before the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) closes September 28, 2018.
The IRS announced on March 13, 2018 that it will begin to ramp down the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) and close the program on September 28, 2018. In a statement made by Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter, “Taxpayers have had several years to come into compliance with U.S. tax laws under this program. All along, we have been clear that we would close the program at the appropriate time, and we have reached that point. Those who still wish to come forward have time to do so.”
OVDP enables U.S. taxpayers to voluntarily resolve past non-compliance related to unreported foreign financial assets and failure to file foreign information returns. Since OVDP’s initial launch in 2009, more than 56,000 taxpayers have come forward to avoid criminal prosecution and secure lesser penalties than what the law provides. The IRS reports that through OVDP, they have collected $11.1 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties. The number of taxpayer disclosures under the OVDP peaked in 2011, when about 18,000 people came forward. The number steadily declined through the years, falling to only 600 disclosures in 2017. This decrease is not surprising given that many people have already come forward to secure the benefits of OVDP seeing the success of the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) and the ongoing efforts of the IRS and the Department of Justice to ensure compliance by those with U.S. tax obligations with respect to undisclosed foreign financial assets and unreported foreign income.
Tax Enforcement Continues
Stopping offshore tax noncompliance remains a top priority of the IRS. Don Fort, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation stated that the IRS will continue ferreting out the identities of those with undisclosed foreign accounts with the use of information resources and increased data analytics. Since 2009, the IRS Criminal Investigation has indicted 1,545 taxpayers on criminal violations related to international activities, of which 671 taxpayers were indicted on international criminal tax violations.
Where a taxpayer does not come forward into OVDP and has now been targeted by IRS for failing to file FBAR’s, the IRS may now assert FBAR penalties that could be either non-willful or willful. Both types have varying upper limits, but no floor. The first type is the non-willful FBAR penalty. The maximum non-willful FBAR penalty is $10,000. The second type is the willful FBAR penalty. The maximum willful FBAR penalty is the greater of (a) $100,000 or (b) 50% of the total balance of the foreign account. In addition the IRS can pursue criminal charges with the willful FBAR penalty. The law defines that any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).
For the non-willful penalty, all the IRS has to show is that an FBAR was not filed. Whether the taxpayer knew or did not know about the filing of this form is irrelevant. The non-willful FBAR penalty is $10,000 per account, per year and so a taxpayer with multiple accounts over multiple years can end up with a huge penalty.
Streamlined Procedures and Other Options
A separate program, the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, for taxpayers who might not have been aware of their filing obligations, has helped about 65,000 additional taxpayers come into compliance. The Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures will remain in place and available to eligible taxpayers. Additionally, eligible taxpayers can qualify for relief under the Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures or Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures.
What Should You Do?
Don’t let another deadline slip by! If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns or even if you have already quietly disclosed you should seriously consider participating in the IRS’ 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”). Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law.
Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. resolve your IRS tax problems, get you in compliance with your FBAR filing obligations, and minimize the chance of any criminal investigation or imposition of civil penalties. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.
Taxpayers have the right to challenge the IRS’s position and be heard. This is one of ten of rights listed in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which clearly outlines the fundamental rights of every taxpayer.
The IRS Says That Taxpayers Have The Right To:
- Raise objections.
- Provide additional documentation in response to formal or proposed IRS actions.
- Expect the IRS to consider their objections timely.
- Have the IRS consider any supporting documentation promptly.
- Receive a response if the IRS does not agree with their position.
While the IRS contemplates these rights are in place to assure a fairly administered tax system, in reality that is hardly the case as many people coming to me have expressed their unresolved tax problems and how the IRS has not helped them or is treating them unfairly not giving proper credence to their situation.
When Is The Best Time to Bring In A Board Certified Tax Attorney To Resolve Your Tax Problems?
First and foremost, you need a tax lawyer if you have a dispute with the IRS or any State Tax Agency. Most tax disputes arise in the form of an audit of one or several past tax returns. If the IRS notifies you of an audit, you should hire a tax attorney immediately. Your tax lawyer can communicate with the IRS on your behalf, be present during your audit and help negotiate a settlement, if necessary. Having experienced legal counsel helps ensure that you don’t overpay as a result of your audit.
In some instances, taxpayers ignore letters and warnings from the IRS because they’re scared or don’t know how to respond. In those cases, the IRS may have no choice but to threaten you with criminal charges for tax evasion. If you learn that you’re the target of an IRS criminal investigation, you’ll want to hire a tax lawyer—and do it quickly.
Your tax lawyer can reassure the IRS that you’re taking its investigation seriously, work with the IRS in an effort to help you avoid criminal charges and represent you in court if you are charged with a tax crime.
Second, a tax lawyer’s help can also be invaluable if you’re facing a complicated legal tax situation. This might include instances where:
- You’re starting a new company and are trying to decide between the various ways to structure your company
- You’re the executor of an estate and need advice regarding whether and how much is owed in estate taxes
- You want to challenge the IRS on a tax decision or appeal an audit
- You receive a Collections Notice telling you that tax is due and/or threatening collection action
- You want to sue the IRS
- You think or know that you’ve committed tax fraud
Most people have tax problems because they did not plan how to do business, how to record transactions or how to account and substantiate their expenses or they have taken inappropriate or unjustified risky positions on their tax returns. Being proactive by engaging a tax lawyer to avoid having these problems in the first place would be wise to pursue. Additionally hiring tax counsel early on should assure that you do not blow any appeals or communicate something to the IRS that you later wished you never did.
Questions to Ask When Interviewing Tax Lawyer
At your initial meeting with a lawyer, you’ll want to share the specifics of your situation and then ask the lawyer about his or her experience handling similar matters. Know that lawyers are bound by strict confidentiality rules. Even if you end up hiring a different attorney, the lawyers you meet with cannot share the information they learned with the IRS or anyone else.
Some questions to consider asking your lawyer during your initial meeting:
- How long have you been practicing law?
- Do you just practice tax law, or do you also work in other areas of practice?
- What are your credentials as a tax specialist (such as Board Certified Tax Law Designation, LL.M.(Tax) Degree or C.P.A. License)?
- Have you previously handled tax situations similar to mine?
- What’s your assessment of my situation? What works for me and against me?
- If I hired you, what course of action would you recommend?
- Do you charge a flat fee or hourly rate, or do you use some other billing structure?
- Can you estimate my total legal fees?
What Should You Do?
If you have outstanding tax problems or liabilities with the IRS or any State Tax Agency, protect yourself and preserve your right to challenge the tax agency’s position and be heard. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Diego County (Carlsbad) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent you at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, unreported foreign income and unreported crypto-currency income.
On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law the 2017 Tax Cuts And Jobs Act. It’s been a good 30 years since the last time the Internal Revenue Code received such a major update. Among other changes, the new law increases the Standard Deduction For Individuals starting with 2018. But for 2017 tax returns, the old law still applies where individual taxpayers can still effectively choose to itemize or take the Standard Deduction.
Most taxpayers claim the standard deduction when they file their federal tax return. However, some filers may be able to lower their tax bill by itemizing when they file their 2017 tax return. Before choosing to take the standard deduction or itemize, it’s a good idea to figure deductions using both methods and choose the method with the most benefit.
So here are some tips to help you decide how to save the most in 2017 taxes:
Figuring Itemized Deductions
Home mortgage interest
State and local income taxes or sales taxes – but not both
Real estate and personal property taxes
Gifts to charities
Casualty or theft losses
Unreimbursed medical and employee business expenses above certain amounts
Know the Standard Deduction
For taxpayers who don’t itemize, the standard deduction for 2017 depends on their filing status:
Single — $6,350
Married Filing Jointly — $12,700
Head of Household — $9,350
Married Filing Separately — $6,350
Qualifying Widow(er) — $12,700
If a taxpayer is 65 or older, or blind, the standard deduction is more, but may be limited if another person claims that taxpayer as a dependent.
Tax Planning For 2018
Starting in 2018 tax rates are lower so less of you will get to keep more of your income, a deduction is worth less. On top of that, several popular deductions are disappearing or getting substantially limited and in combination with a nearly doubled standard deduction, less taxpayers will be itemizing.
Limit On Deduction For State And Local Taxes – A taxpayer may claim an itemized deduction of only up to $10,000 ($5,000 for a married taxpayer filing a separate return) in (i) personal state and local property taxes, and (ii) state and local income taxes (or sales taxes in lieu of income taxes). Taxes paid or accrued in carrying on a trade or business are not subject to this limitation.
Limit On Deduction Of Mortgage Interest – For mortgages incurred after December 31, 2017, taxpayers may deduct interest on up to $750,000 of principal (mortgages existing before January 1, 2018 are still subject to the pre-existing law’s $1 million limit). But for all taxpayers there is no longer a deduction for interest paid on home equity loans.
Elimination Of Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions And Deduction For Moving Expenses – A taxpayer can no longer deduct miscellaneous itemized deductions which include unreimbursed employee expenses and tax preparation costs. Also the deduction for moving expenses is gone.
What Should You Do?
You know that at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. we are always thinking of ways that our clients can save on taxes. If you are selected for an audit, stand up to the IRS by getting representation. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), South Los Angeles County (Long Beach) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.
Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act
Under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“FAST Act”), signed into law in December 2015, the IRS is required to notify the State Department of taxpayers the IRS has certified as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt. See Notice 2018-1. The FAST Act also requires the State Department to deny their passport application or deny renewal of their passport. In some cases, the State Department may revoke their passport.
Which Taxpayers Are Impacted By The FAST Act?
Taxpayers affected by this law are those with a “seriously delinquent tax debt”. A taxpayer with a “seriously delinquent tax debt” is generally someone who owes the IRS more than $51,000.00 in back taxes, penalties and interest for which the IRS has filed a Notice of Federal Tax Lien and the period to challenge it has expired or the IRS has issued a levy. The IRS announced that it is implementing this provision in the law staring January 2018.
How Can Taxpayers Avoid Notification To The State Department?
There are several ways taxpayers can avoid having the IRS notify the State Department of their seriously delinquent tax debt. They include the following:
- Paying the tax debt in full
- Paying the tax debt timely under an approved installment agreement,
- Paying the tax debt timely under an accepted offer in compromise,
- Paying the tax debt timely under the terms of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice,
- Having requested or have a pending collection due process appeal with a levy, or
- Having collection suspended because a taxpayer has made an innocent spouse election or requested innocent spouse relief.
Taxpayers Not At Risk For Loosing Passport Privileges.
A passport will not be at risk under this program for any taxpayer:
- Who is in bankruptcy,
- Who is identified by the IRS as a victim of tax-related identity theft,
- Whose account the IRS has determined is currently not collectible due to hardship,
- Who is located within a federally declared disaster area,
- Who has a request pending with the IRS for an installment agreement,
- Who has a pending offer in compromise with the IRS, or
- Who has an IRS accepted adjustment that will satisfy the debt in full.
Also for taxpayers serving in a combat zone who owe a seriously delinquent tax debt, the IRS postpones notifying the State Department and the individual’s passport is not subject to denial during this time.
Timeframe And Process To Get IRS Clearance For Passport Renewal Or Application
When a taxpayer applies for a passport (either original issuance or renewal), the State Department, in general, will provide the applicant with 90 days to resolve their tax delinquency with the IRS before denying the application. If a taxpayer needs their passport to travel within those 90 days, the taxpayer must contact the IRS and resolve the matter within 45 days from the date of application so that the IRS has adequate time to notify the State Department.
The remedy for a taxpayer who believes that a certification to the State Department of a tax delinquency is erroneous or that the IRS incorrectly failed to reverse a certification because the tax debt is either fully satisfied or ceases to be a “seriously delinquent tax debt”, is to file an action in Federal District Court. However, taxpayers in this situation may be able to reach resolution within the IRS with the assistance of qualified tax counsel and thus avoid the delay and expense of bringing an action in Federal District Court.
What Should You Do?
If you have outstanding liabilities with the IRS or any State Tax Agency, protect yourself and preserve your right to travel by getting representation. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), Walnut Creek and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent you at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.
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