Five-Minute Tax Briefing


IRS Unveils New Tax Withholding Estimator: The IRS has unveiled its latest online tool, the “Tax Withholding Estimator.” The estimator, which replaces the “Withholding Calculator,” assists workers, retirees, self-employed individuals, and other taxpayers in determining how much income tax should be withheld from wages and pension payments. Among other things, the estimator features (1) plain language to improve user comprehension; (2) a mobile-friendly design; (3) enhanced tips and links on various tax credits and deductions; and (4) an automatic calculation of the taxable portion of any Social Security benefits. In addition, the tool makes it easier to enter wages and withholding for each job held by the taxpayer and his or her spouse. The IRS encourages all taxpayers to use the tool to do a “Paycheck Checkup” and review their withholding for 2019. The new estimator is available at www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-tax-withholding-estimator . News Release IR 2019-139.

Are You Applying Finance Charges? Should You Be?

Assessing finance charges is a complicated process. But if you have a lot of late payments coming in, you may want to consider it.

There are many reasons why your customers send in payments past their due dates. Maybe they missed or misplaced your invoice, or they’re disputing the charges. They might not be very conscientious about bill-paying. Or they simply don’t have the money.

Sometimes they contact you about their oversight, but more often, you just see the overdue days pile up in your reports.

You could use stronger language in your customer messages. Send statements. Make phone calls if the delinquency goes on too long. Or you could start assessing finance charges to invoices that go unpaid past the due date. QuickBooks provides tools to accommodate this, but you’ll want to make absolutely sure you’re using them correctly – or you’ll risk angering customers and creating problems with your accounts receivable.

Setting the Rules

Before you can start, you’ll need to tell QuickBooks how you’d like your finance charges to work. It’s at this stage that we recommend you let us work with you. There’s nothing overly difficult about understanding finance charges in theory: you apply a percentage of the dollar amount that’s overdue to come up with a new total balance. But setting up your QuickBooks file with the finance charge rules you want to incorporate may require some assistance. If it’s done incorrectly, you will hear from your customers.

Here’s how it works. Open the Edit menu and select Preferences, then Finance Charge | Company Preferences.

Figure 1: Before you can start adding finance charges to overdue invoices, you’ll need to establish your company preferences.

What Annual Interest Rate percentage do you want to tack onto late payments? This is an issue we can discuss with you. Too low, and it’s not worth your extra time and trouble. To, high, and your customers may stop patronizing your business. And do you want to set a Minimum Finance Charge? Will you allow a Grace Period? If so, how many days?

You’ll need to assign an account to the funds that come in from interest charges. This needs to be an income account. In our example, it’s Other Income.

The next decision, whether to Assess finance charges on overdue finance charges, needs consideration – and some research. This may not be an option depending on the lending laws in the jurisdiction where your business is located. So again, if you want to charge interest on unpaid and tardy finance charges themselves, let’s talk.

When do you want the finance charge “countdown” to begin? When QuickBooks identifies a transaction that has not been paid within the stated terms, do you want the added charge to be applied based on the due date or the invoice/billed date?

Note: If your business sends statements rather than invoices, leave the Mark finance charge invoices “To be printed” box at the bottom of this window unchecked.

Applying the Rules

QuickBooks does not automatically add finance charges to your customers’ invoices. You’ll need to administer these additions yourself, though QuickBooks will handle the actual calculations. Open the Customers menu and select Assess Finance Charges to open this window:

Figure 2: You’ll determine who should have finance charge invoices created in the Assess Finance Charges window.

Make very sure that the Assessment Date is correct, as it has impact on QuickBooks’ calculations. Being even a day off makes a difference. Select the customers who should have finance charges applied by clicking next to their names in the Assess column. QuickBooks will display the Overdue Balance from the original invoice, as well as the Finance Charge it has calculated.

  • If you choose not to apply finances charges to a customer because he or she has provided a good reason for the late payment, be sure the box in the Assess column is unchecked.
  • If you want to change the finance charge due for a valid reason, you can type over the amount in the last column. This would be a rare occurrence and should be exercised only after consulting with us.

Important: If there is an asterisk next to a customer’s name, there are payments or credit memos that have not yet been applied to any invoice.

When everything is correct, click the Assess Charges button at the bottom. QuickBooks will create separate invoices for finance charges for each customer who owes them.

We can’t stress enough the importance of consulting with us before you start to work with finance charges enough. Keep your company file accurate and your customers happy by getting this complex accounting element right from the start.

Done with taxes this year? Use 2018 return to get 2019 withholding right

Millions of taxpayers filed a 2018 tax return in the last few weeks, making now a prime time for everyone to consider whether their tax situation came out as they expected. If it didn’t, they can use their recently finished 2018 return and the IRS Withholding Calculator to do a Paycheck Checkup and adjust their withholding.

Checking and then adjusting their tax withholding can help make sure they don’t owe more tax than they are expecting. Usually, they can also avoid a surprise tax bill and possibly a penalty when they file next year. At the same time, with the average refund more than $2,700, some taxpayers may choose to reduce their withholding to have a larger paycheck and smaller refund.

Now is an ideal time to check withholding, since having a completed tax return is helpful when using the Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov. Since taxpayers need to estimate deductions, credits and other amounts for 2019, having similar information from the 2018 return can make using the Withholding Calculator easier.

Who should do a Paycheck Checkup?

Though doing a Paycheck Checkup is a good idea every year, for many people, it’s even more important this year. This includes anyone who:

  • Adjusted their withholding in 2018 – especially those who did so in the middle or later part of the year.
  • Owed additional tax when they filed their tax return this year.
  • Had a refund that was larger or smaller than expected.
  • Had life changes such as marriage, childbirth, adoption, buying a home or when income changes.

In addition, most people are affected by changes made in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the tax reform legislation enacted in December 2017. These changes included lowered tax rates, increased standard deductions, suspension of personal exemptions, the increased Child Tax Credit and limited or discontinued deductions. As a result, the IRS continues to encourage people to check their withholding, even if they did a Paycheck Checkup in 2018.

This includes taxpayers who:

  • Have children and claim credits, such as the Child Tax Credit
  • Have older dependents, including children age 17 or older
  • Itemized deductions in the past
  • Are a two-income family
  • Have two or more jobs at the same time
  • Only work part of the year
  • Have high income or a complex tax return

Those with more complex situations may need to use Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, instead of the Withholding Calculator. This includes employees who owe self-employment tax, the alternative minimum tax or tax on unearned income from dependents. It can also help those who receive non-wage income, such as dividends, capital gains, rents and royalties. The publication includes worksheets and examples to guide taxpayers through these special situations.

Sooner is better for a Paycheck Checkup

The IRS urges everyone to do a Paycheck Checkup as early in the year as possible so that if a tax withholding adjustment is needed, there is more time for withholding to happen evenly during the rest of the year. Waiting means there are fewer pay periods to withhold the necessary federal tax.

 

Another tax headache ahead: IRS is changing paycheck withholdings, and it’ll be a doozy

You finally finished your taxes and are learning – for better or worse – the ins and outs of the new law.

But wait, the law isn’t done with you. There’s another complication coming out later this year: The Internal Revenue Service is changing how you adjust your paycheck withholdings, and early indicators show it won’t be easy.

The agency plans to release a new W-4 form that better incorporates the changes ushered in by the new tax law so that the amount held back for taxes in each of your paychecks is more accurate.

The agency’s goal: A taxpayer shouldn’t owe or be owed come tax time.

But the changes won’t be simple, says Pete Isberg, head of government affairs at ADP, the payroll and human resources company. Filling out the new form will be a lot like doing your taxes again.

“It’ll be a much bigger pain,” he says. “The accuracy will be 100 percent, but the ease-of-use will be zero.”

What’s changing?

While the new form hasn’t been released yet, the IRS last summer put out a draft version and instructions seeking feedback from tax preparation companies and payroll firms. Instead of claiming a certain amount of allowances based on exemptions – which have been eliminated – the draft form asked workers to input the annual dollar amounts for:

  • Nonwage income, such as interest and dividends
  • Itemized and other deductions
  • Income tax credits expected for the tax year
  • For employees with multiple jobs, total annual taxable wages for all lower paying jobs in the household

“It looked a lot more like the 1040 than a W-4,” Isberg says.

The new form referenced up to 12 other IRS publications to fill it out. It was so complex and different from the previous W-4 form that Ernst & Young worried employees would struggle to fill it out correctly and employers may need to offer training beforehand.

Why is it taking so long?

The tax and payroll community expressed many concerns about the draft form aside from its complexity.

Many cited privacy issues because the form asked for spousal and family income that workers might not want to share with their employers. Other employees may not want to disclose they have another job or do side work outside their full-time job.

To avoid disclosing so much private information, taxpayers instead could use the IRS withholding calculator, but it’s “not easy to use, and the instructions are confusing,” according to feedback from the American Payroll Association.

In September, the IRS scrapped plans to implement the new W-4 form for 2019 and instead is planning to roll it out for 2020.

What to expect

Another draft version of the new W-4 is expected by May 31, according to the IRS, which will also ask for public comment.

“We encourage taxpayers to take advantage of that opportunity and send us comments on the redesign,” says agency spokeswoman Anny Pachner.

The IRS will review the comments and plans to post a second draft later in the summer. The final W-4 version will be released by the end of the year in time for the 2020 tax year.

Once it arrives, you’ll probably need the following information on hand, says Kathy Pickering, executive director of H&R Block’s Tax Institute. That may mean lugging in past 1099 forms, paystubs or last year’s tax returns to fill it out correctly.

  • Your filing status
  • Number of dependents
  • Information about your itemized deductions such as home mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable deductions
  • Earnings from all jobs
  • Information about nonwage income such as business income, dividends, and interest.

“If you’re married, and both you and your spouse work, it will also be helpful to know information about your spouse’s income,” she says.

You may also need to fill out a new state income withholding form. Many states use the current W-4 for withholding, but they may need to release their own forms, too.

If you owe the government taxes, you may find that paying Uncle Sam with a credit card is actually advantageous.

IRS Waives Penalty for Underpayment of Estimated Income Tax

The IRS has announced that it will waive the Section 6654 penalty for the underpayment of estimated income tax for certain individuals who would otherwise be required to make estimated payments on or before 1/15/19. The waiver is limited to individuals whose total withholding and estimated tax payments equal or exceed 85% of the tax shown on their 2018 returns. (The usual percentage threshold is 90%.) Taxpayers should complete Part I of Form 2210 (Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Individuals, Estates, and Trusts) to determine if the waiver applies. If it applies, taxpayers should check the waiver box (Part II, Box A) and include the statement “85% Waiver” with the return.

Form 1099-MISC

Generally, any person, including a corporation, partnership, individual, estate, and trust that makes reportable transactions during the calendar year must file information returns to report those transactions to the IRS. However, a payer does not need to file Form 1099-MISC for payments not made in the course of the taxpayer’s trade or business. Thus, personal payments are not reportable. A payer is engaged in a trade or business if it operates for gain or profit. Nonprofit organizations are considered to be engaged in a trade or business and are subject to the reporting requirements.

Observation: The determination of whether a taxpayer is engaged in a trade or business, and thus liable for filing Forms 1099-MISC, is important for a couple reasons. While taxpayers may want to escape liability for filing Forms 1099-MISC by claiming they are not engaged in a trade or business, that can hurt them if (1) they want to avail themselves of the Code Sec. 199A deduction, which is only available to a trade or business, or (2) they want escape the reach of the NIIT (discussed below), which generally excepts a trade or business from the tax.

The type of reportable transaction determines the Form 1099 that must be filed. Most of the issues revolving around the filing of Forms 1099, involve Form 1099-MISC and the reporting of NEC. In general, a payer must file Form 1099-MISC for each person to whom the payer has paid during the year:

(1) at least $10 in royalties or broker payments in lieu of dividends or tax-exempt interest;

(2) at least $600 in rents, services (including parts and materials), prizes and awards, other income payments, medical and health care payments, crop insurance proceeds, cash payments for fish (or other aquatic life) purchased from anyone engaged in the trade or business of catching fish, or, generally, the cash paid from a notional principal contract to an individual, partnership, or estate;

(3) any fishing boat proceeds; or

(4) gross proceeds to an attorney.

In addition, Form 1099-MISC must be filed to report direct sales of at least $5,000 of consumer products made to a buyer for resale anywhere other than a permanent retail establishment. Form 1099-MISC must also be filed for each person from whom a taxpayer has withheld any federal income tax under the backup withholding requirement (discussed below), regardless of the amount of the payment.