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IRS Introduces New Tax Withholding Estimator To Help Taxpayers Avoid Surprises In 2020

Remember all of the times that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reminded you to do a payroll checkup (like this one)? And remember that you didn’t? The IRS is hoping you’ll reconsider this year. The agency has launched a new Tax Withholding Estimator that they hope will make it easier for everyone to figure the right amount of tax withheld during the year.

Why the need for a checkup? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many individual taxpayers experienced significant changes. Those changes included new tax rates, limits on the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT taxes), a cap on the amount that you can borrow for purposes of the home mortgage interest (you can find additional information about re-fis here), and exclusions for certain kinds of job-related expenses (like the home office deduction – more here).

With the first official tax season following the TCJA now in the books, the IRS has been exploring ways to help taxpayers have a better tax year in 2020. That includes replacing the old Withholding Calculator with the new Tax Withholding Estimator.

“The new estimator takes a new approach and makes it easier for taxpayers to review their withholding,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “This is part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to improve quality services as we continue to pursue modernization and enhancements of our taxpayer relationships.”

One of the criticisms of the old Withholding Calculator was that it didn’t work well for all taxpayers; it tended to benefit single-wage earners who were also W-2 employees. Now, the IRS says that the new Tax Withholding Estimator offers workers, as well as retirees and self-employed individuals, a more user-friendly tool to figure the amount of income tax they must have withheld from wages and pension payments.

You can find the Tax Withholding Estimator on the IRS website here. To get started, you’ll need to be able to estimate your 2019 income, the number of children you will claim for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and other items that will affect your 2019 taxes like itemized deduction amounts. You’ll also want to have your most recent pay stubs and a copy of your last year’s form 1040 handy.

The Tax Withholding Estimator is more user-friendly than its predecessor. Here’s what the opening screen looks like:

You’ll begin by entering information about you, including your dependents:

You’ll next input information about your income. Unlike the last calculator, the new Tax Withholding Estimator gives you more options related to the kinds of income you might receive, like these:

Along the way, the tool uses plain language, asking taxpayers questions like:

Deductions reduce the amount of your income subject to income tax. Most taxpayers take the standard deduction. Would you like to take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions?

If you itemize, you can estimate the value of those deductions:

The Tax Withholding Estimator also allows you to go back and fix your errors without starting over – and skip questions that don’t apply (that’s a big change from before).

Remember that the results are only as good as the information you provide. And if your circumstances change during the year (say, for example, that you get a new job, buy a new house or have a baby), you’ll want to revisit the Tax Withholding Estimator to make sure that your withholding is still correct.

If you are an employee, the Tax Withholding Estimator can help you determine whether you need to give your employer a new form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate (downloads as a PDF). You can use your results to help fill out the form and adjust your income tax withholding. For more information about form W-4, click here. If you receive pension income, you can use the results to complete a form W-4P (downloads as a PDF).

One more thing: if you’re worried about privacy, the Tax Withholding Estimator will not ask you to provide sensitive personally-identifiable information like your name, Social Security number, address or bank account numbers. Additionally, the IRS says that it does not save or record the information you enter on the Tax Withholding Estimator.

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Years ago, I found myself sitting in law school in Moot Court wearing an oversized itchy blue suit. It was a horrible experience. In a desperate attempt to avoid anything like that in the future, I enrolled in a tax course. I loved it. I signed up for another. Before I knew it, in addition to my JD, I earned an LL.M Taxation. While at law school, I interned at the estates attorney division of the IRS. At IRS, I participated in the review and audit of federal estate tax returns. At one such audit, opposing counsel read my report, looked at his file and said, “Gentlemen, she’s exactly right.” I nearly fainted. It was a short jump from there to practicing, teaching, writing and breathing tax. Just like that, Taxgirl® was born.

Source: IRS Introduces New Tax Withholding Estimator To Help Taxpayers Avoid Surprises In 2020

 

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Bitcoin: IRS Takes On The Crooks—And The Good Guys

Image result for bitcoin and IRS

Are cryptocurrencies reportable for FBAR? For Fatca? No and maybe.

Turns out there’s no FBAR mandate on your offshore bitcoin account. Is the government making a tactical retreat in its war on money launderers and tax cheats?

In response to a request for guidance from an accountants’ group, the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has recently decreed that cryptocurrency accounts held by exchanges located outside the country don’t have to be disclosed.

That means you don’t have to confess your Binance assets on the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report, alias FBAR. The report, which is filed on a form called Fincen 114, is required when a taxpayer’s financial assets (cash and securities) held in foreign institutions top $10,000.

Why the leniency? Mostly because the antiquated laws aimed at financial mischief simply can’t cope with crypto.

A rational observer would say that bitcoin, which is both a store of value and a medium of exchange, is money. But the IRS, enforcing legislation written in a pre-internet age, has concluded that cryptocurrencies are “property”—more like Picassos than pesos.

At some point the tax police will get up to speed. They’ll rewrite rules or get legislation including digital assets in the offshore reporting scheme. But they’ll still have a hard time ferreting out hidden wealth. Cryptocurrencies, already somewhat anonymous, are getting more so. There are tumblers that erase bitcoin trails and there are newer currencies designed to offer enhanced privacy.

To investors, crypto is an asset class that might warrant an allocation in a portfolio. Although cryptocurrencies are volatile, they have the virtue of being not very correlated to stocks and bonds that fall, directly or indirectly, under the spell of central banks.

To enforcers, crypto is nothing but trouble. Bitcoin was the common currency of Silk Road, that bazaar of contraband whose manager got a life sentence. Russian hackers used bitcoin in their election meddling. A press release in May from Immigration & Customs Enforcement, crowing about the indictment of an alleged fentanyl vendor, gives bitcoin a prominent mention.

Donald Trump doesn’t like crypto. His Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, complained recently that cryptocurrencies are being used illicitly. He vowed to produce regulations to keep them from turning into a new form of numbered Swiss bank account.

But aren’t bitcoins by their nature numbered accounts? The blockchain—a record of all transactions to date—is a string of integers, with no holders’ names attached. Still, holders can get nailed for doing something wrong.

Chain analysis software traces the history of a bitcoin as it moves from account to account. If at any point that coin passed through an exchange subject to U.S. know-your-customer rules (like Coinbase), the cops can get the name and taxpayer ID of someone who used the coin. That may give them a wedge, via subpoena or a threat of prosecution, to identify other participants in the chain of ownership.

And then there are users who make mistakes. Evidently the fellow accused of selling fentanyl wanted to convert bitcoins to dollars, and in the process of doing that transferred the coins to addresses that were controlled by federal agents. This is reminiscent of the bank robber who hops into what he thinks is a getaway car but turns out to be a police vehicle.

Cryptocurrency users who want their activities to be more cryptic have options. They can use one of the tumbler services that take in possibly dirty coins and replace them with randomly selected coins. They can use Monero or Zcash, currencies explicitly designed to be more private than bitcoin. And how is Secretary Mnuchin going to police Binance, the fast-growing coin repository that hops from jurisdiction to jurisdiction? It is now in Malta, where regulators are proud of their light touch.

Yet another way to keep coins hidden is to keep them in your own wallet instead of in the custody of an exchange. Just don’t lose the key.

Sean Golding, an Irvine, California attorney whose clientele includes global investors, says that you are under no obligation to report coins held in a wallet on your desktop, any more than you are obliged to report gold stored under your bed. You must, though, report and pay tax on profitable sales of either.

What about your account at an offshore exchange? Even with the recent dispensation from the IRS, Golding says, it might be a good idea to file the FBAR anyway. You might, after all, do some trading that temporarily turns bitcoins into dollars or euros. If your total of cash and securities held offshore exceeds $10,000, even for a day, the FBAR is mandatory.

The government takes the Fincen 114 form seriously. It’s trying to collect a $4.7 million fine from someone who forgot to fill it out.

Your account at a U.S. exchange needs no FBAR. The IRS can already see the account. Thus, Coinbase customers who neglect to declare gains from crypto sales can expect to hear from the feds.

What about Fatca? The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is another disclosure regime, overlapping Fincen but with its own set of rules and different thresholds ($50,000 for a single taxpayer, $100,000 for a joint return filer). Play it safe, advises Golding. The recent guidance on FBAR doesn’t apply here. If you’re at or above the cutoff, file the Fatca report.

The FBAR must be filed electronically with Fincen, a Treasury unit separate from the IRS. Start here.

For Fatca, file Form 8938 with the 1040 you send to the IRS. It can be on paper. The form is here and the instructions are here.

A useful comparison between the FBAR and Fatca requirements is here.

This Journal of Accountancy report describes the recent guidance from Fincen.

The FBAR regs are here.

I aim to help you save on taxes and money management costs. I graduated from Harvard in 1973, have been a journalist for 44 years, and was editor of Forbes magazine from 1999 to 2010. Tax law is a frequent subject in my articles. I have been an Enrolled Agent since 1979. Email me at williambaldwinfinance — at — gmail — dot — com.

 

 

Source: Bitcoin: IRS Takes On The Crooks—And The Good Guys

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