45% of Americans Pay No Federal Income Tax

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Many Americans don’t have to worry about giving Uncle Sam part of their hard-earned cash for their income taxes this year.

An estimated 45.3% of American households — roughly 77.5 million — will pay no federal individual income tax, according to data for the 2015 tax year from the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington-based research group. (Note that this does not necessarily mean they won’t owe their states income tax.)

Roughly half pay no federal income tax because they have no taxable income, and the other roughly half get enough tax breaks to erase their tax liability, explains Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

Despite the fact that rich people paying little in the way of income taxes makes plenty of headlines, this is the exception to the rule: The top 1% of taxpayers pay a higher effective income-tax rate than any other group (around 23%, according to a report released by the Tax Policy Center in 2014) — nearly seven times higher than those in the bottom 50%.

On average, those in the bottom 40% of the income spectrum end up getting money from the government. Meanwhile, the richest 20% of Americans, by far, pay the most in income taxes, forking over nearly 87% of all the income tax collected by Uncle Sam.

The top 1% of Americans, who have an average income of more than $2.1 million, pay 43.6% of all the federal individual income tax in the U.S.; the top 0.1% — just 115,000 households, whose average income is more than $9.4 million — pay more than 20% of it.

When it comes to all federal taxes — individual income, payroll, excise, corporate income and estate taxes — the distributions of who pays what is more spread out. This is partially because nearly everyone pays excise taxes, which includes taxes on gasoline, alcohol and cigarettes.

Written by Catey Hill of MarketWatch

(Source: MarketWatch)

IRS Audit Red Flags for Retirees

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In 2015, the Internal Revenue Service audited only 0.84% of all individual tax returns. So the odds are generally pretty low that your return will be picked for review.

That said, your chances of being audited or otherwise hearing from the IRS escalate depending on various factors. Math errors may draw an IRS inquiry, but they’ll rarely lead to a full-blown exam. Check out these red flags that could increase the chances that the IRS will give the return of a retired taxpayer special, and probably unwelcome, attention.

MAKING A LOT OF MONEY

Although the overall individual audit rate is only about one in 119, the odds increase dramatically as your income goes up, as it might if you sell a valuable piece of property or get a big payout from a retirement plan.

IRS statistics show that people with incomes of $200,000 or higher had an audit rate of 2.71%, or one out of every 37 returns. Report $1 million or more of income? There’s a one-in-13 chance your return will be audited. The audit rate drops significantly for filers reporting less than $200,000: Only 0.78% (one out of 128) of such returns were audited, and the vast majority of these exams were conducted by mail.

We’re not saying you should try to make less money—everyone wants to be a millionaire. Just understand that the more income shown on your return, the more likely it is that you’ll be hearing from the IRS.

FAILING TO REPORT ALL TAXABLE INCOME

The IRS gets copies of all 1099s and W-2s you receive. This includes the 1099-R (reporting payouts from retirement plans, such as pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs) and 1099-SSA (reporting Social Security benefits).

Make sure you report all required income on your return. IRS computers are pretty good at matching the numbers on the forms with the income shown on your return. A mismatch sends up a red flag and causes the IRS computers to spit out a bill. If you receive a tax form showing income that isn’t yours or listing incorrect income, get the issuer to file a correct form with the IRS.

TAKING HIGHER-THAN-AVERAGE DEDUCTIONS

If deductions on your return are disproportionately large compared with your income, the IRS may pull your return for review. A large medical expense could send up a red flag, for example. But if you have the proper documentation for your deduction, don’t be afraid to claim it. There’s no reason to ever pay the IRS more tax than you actually owe.

CLAIMING LARGE CHARITABLE DEDUCTIONS

We all know that charitable contributions are a great write-off and help you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. However, if your charitable deductions are disproportionately large compared with your income, it raises a red flag.

That’s because the IRS knows what the average charitable donation is for folks at your income level. Also, if you don’t get an appraisal for donations of valuable property, or if you fail to file Form 8283 for noncash donations over $500, you become an even bigger audit target. And if you’ve donated a conservation or façade easement to a charity, chances are good that you’ll hear from the IRS.

Be sure to keep all your supporting documents, including receipts for cash and property contributions made during the year.

NOT TAKING REQUIRED MINIMUM DISTRIBUTIONS

The IRS wants to be sure that owners of IRAs and participants in 401(k)s and other workplace retirement plans are properly taking and reporting required minimum distributions. The agency knows that some folks age 70½ and older aren’t taking their annual RMDs, and it’s looking at this closely.

Those who fail to take the proper amount can be hit with a penalty equal to 50% of the shortfall. Also on the IRS’s radar are early retirees or others who take payouts before reaching age 59½ and who don’t qualify for an exception to the 10% penalty on these early distributions.

Individuals age 70½ and older must take RMDs from their retirement accounts by the end of each year. However, there’s a grace period for the year in which you turn 70½: You can delay the payout until April 1 of the following year. A special rule applies to those still employed at age 70½ or older: You can delay taking RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) until after you retire (this rule doesn’t apply to IRAs). The amount you have to take each year is based on the balance in each of your accounts as of December 31 of a prior year and a life-expectancy factor found in IRS Publication 590-B.

CLAIMING RENTAL LOSSES

Claiming a large rental loss can command the IRS’s attention. Normally, the passive loss rules prevent the deduction of rental real estate losses. But there are two important exceptions. If you actively participate in the renting of your property, you can deduct up to $25,000 of loss against your other income. This $25,000 allowance phases out at higher income levels. A second exception applies to real estate professionals who spend more than 50% of their working hours and more than 750 hours each year materially participating in real estate as developers, brokers, landlords or the like. They can write off losses without limitation.

The IRS is actively scrutinizing rental real estate losses. If you’re managing properties in your retirement, you may qualify under the second exception. Or, if you sell a rental property that produced suspended passive losses, the sale opens the door for you to deduct the losses. Just be ready to explain things if a big rental loss prompts questions from the IRS.

FAILING TO REPORT GAMBLING WINNINGS OR CLAIMING BIG LOSSES

Whether you’re playing the slots or betting on the horses, one sure thing you can count on is that Uncle Sam wants his cut. Recreational gamblers must report winnings as other income on the front page of the 1040 form. Professional gamblers show their winnings on Schedule C. Failure to report gambling winnings can draw IRS attention, especially because the casino or other venue likely reported the amounts on Form W-2G.

Claiming large gambling losses can also be risky. You can deduct these only to the extent that you report gambling winnings. And the costs of lodging, meals and other gambling-related expenses can only be written off by professional gamblers. Writing off gambling losses but not reporting gambling income is sure to invite scrutiny. Also, taxpayers who report large losses from their gambling-related activity on Schedule C get an extra look from IRS examiners, who want to make sure that these folks really are gaming for a living.

WRITING OFF A LOSS FOR A HOBBY

Your chances of “winning” the audit lottery increase if you file a Schedule C with large losses from an activity that might be a hobby—dog breeding, jewelry making, coin and stamp collecting, and the like. Agents are specially trained to sniff out those who improperly deduct hobby losses. So be careful if your retirement pursuits include trying to convert a hobby into a moneymaking venture.

You must report any income from a hobby, and you can deduct expenses up to the level of that income. But the law bans writing off losses from a hobby.

To be eligible to deduct a loss, you must be running the activity in a business-like manner and have a reasonable expectation of making a profit. If your activity generates profit three out of every five years (or two out of seven years for horse breeding), the law presumes that you’re in business to make a profit, unless the IRS establishes otherwise. If you’re audited, the IRS is going to make you prove you have a legitimate business and not a hobby. Be sure to keep supporting documents for all expenses.

NEGLECTING TO REPORT A FOREIGN BANK ACCOUNT

Just because you may be travelling more in retirement, be careful about sending your money abroad. The IRS is intensely interested in people with money stashed outside the U.S., and U.S. authorities have had lots of success getting foreign banks to disclose account information. The IRS also uses voluntary compliance programs to encourage folks with undisclosed foreign accounts to come clean—in exchange for reduced penalties. The IRS has learned a lot from these amnesty programs and has been collecting a boatload of money (we’re talking billions of dollars). It’s scrutinizing information from amnesty seekers and is targeting the banks that they used to get names of even more U.S. owners of foreign accounts.

Failure to report a foreign bank account can lead to severe penalties. Make sure that if you have any such accounts, you properly report them.

Written by IRS Audit Red Flags for Retirees of Kiplinger

(Source: MSN)

 

4 Common Mortgage Killers & How to Survive Them

© Credit.com Blog
© Credit.com Blog

Applying for a home loan these days requires detailed documentation. Expect to show everything from full tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, to letters of explanation regarding your credit, debt, income and assets. However, that leaves quite a bit of room for challenges to pop up. Here are four common roadblocks you may encounter in the mortgage underwriting process, and how you can fix them.

1. Changes in Your Income

Let’s say the underwriter at the loan company determines — based upon your pay stubs and tax returns — that your income is lower than what the loan originator said it was. An easy way to offset that is a written verification of employment (VOE), which specifies and breaks down your income. This is especially important if you’re an hourly wage earner with gyrating income – such as varying hours worked, bonuses, or overtime – that has not been consistent for most of the past two years.

Lenders like to see two years of more or less consistent income history, but there are ways to work with that. If you don’t have this, you’ll need a lender who can work with your ancillary income with less than 24 months. This is the type of thing that can make or break your loan, especially with income outside of a traditional fixed salary.

2. Your Debt Eats Up Too Much of Your Income

A lender considers what your payment-to-income ratio will be with the new mortgage, so you can encounter a problem if your consumer debts, such as student loans, credit cards and auto loans, are just too large for the mortgage amount you’re applying for. If your debt-to-income ratio exceeds 45%, to still qualify, you’ll need to make a change in any of the following ways:

  • Reduce the payment on the mortgage
  • Reduce and/or remove the payments on the consumer loans
  • Re-evaluate the income

Here’s how your payment-to-income ratio — also called the debt-to-income ratio — is calculated: Take the minimum payments you have on all current consumer obligations, add those to your proposed total mortgage payment and divide the sum of those numbers into your monthly gross income.

3. Paying Off Your Debt… the ‘Wrong’ Way

Let’s say you have credit card payments totaling $300 per month on a $10,000 balance spread out over two to three credit cards. You decide to pay off those credit cards to reduce your payment liabilities, thus lowering your payment-to-income ratio.

This can be very tricky if not done correctly, and can very easily skew the underwriter’s perception of what your liabilities truly will be by closing. When you pay off consumer debts to qualify for a mortgage, the account(s) must be closed as well. This can be problematic, as closing credit cards can have a negative impact on a healthy credit score. It is true you could simply re-open the credit cards after you close on the mortgage anyway, but lenders do not view it that way. They assume you’ll close the cards and not open them later on.

An alternative option involves getting an updated credit report that shows that the debts are paid off in full without any payments due. The key is to make absolutely sure each creditor whom you paid off in full specifically reports to each credit bureau a zero balance and a zero payment due.

4. Negative Events On Your Credit Report 

Let’s face it — mortgage loan originators are human, and they make mistakes just like everyone else. Let’s say your mortgage officer did not ask or was unaware of you having a previous short sale in the past four years. If it happened within the past four years, this can stop your conventional loan in its tracks, which could mean you’d have to move to an alternative loan program, such as FHA.

Lenders run each borrower through a comprehensive background screening through multiple fraud databases, which would identify any other property you were tied to in the past seven years. If any other unaccounted-for properties pop up, documentation will be required to either show the property is no longer yours, or it was sold, or the carrying cost of that property would be factored into your payment-to-income ratio.

If you are not sure about something financially related to your loan application, just be sure to ask your loan professional. Should any unforeseen roadblocks pop up in your mortgage loan process, call your loan officer right away to explain the situation and get a read on what type of documentation will be needed to satisfy the condition and/or the problem. An experienced loan professional — who has experience working with the type of mortgage you’re trying to obtain – can guide you through to a successful closing.

Written by Scott Sheldon of Credit.com

(Source: Credit)