IRS Offers Advice on How to Choose a Tax Preparer

FS-2014-5, February 2014

Many people hire a professional when it’s time to file their tax return. If you pay someone to prepare your federal income tax return, the IRS urges you to choose that person wisely. Even if you don’t prepare your own return, you’re still legally responsible for what is on it.

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax preparer:

  • Check to be sure the preparer has a PTIN.  All paid tax preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number or PTIN. In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask the preparer if they belong to a professional organization and attend continuing education classes.
  • Check the preparer’s history.  Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. Check for disciplinary actions and for the status of their licenses. For enrolled agents, check with the IRS Office of Enrollment. (Enrolled agents are licensed by the IRS and are specifically trained in federal tax planning, preparation and representation.) For certified public accountants, check with the state board of accountancy. For attorneys, check with the state bar association. Ask about service fees.  Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can. Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
  • Ask to e-file your return.  Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically. IRS has safely processed more than 1.2 billion e-filed tax returns.
  • Make sure the preparer is available.  Make sure you’ll be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions come up about your tax return.
  • Provide records and receipts.  Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask you questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
  • Never sign a blank return.  Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign a blank tax form.
  • Review your return before signing.  Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
  • Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN.  Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
  • Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS.  You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

IRS Releases the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2014; Identity Theft, Phone Scams Lead List

Issue Number:    IR-2014-16

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

“Taxpayers should be on the lookout for tax scams using the IRS name,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “These schemes jump every year at tax time. Scams can be sophisticated and take many different forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues.”

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

The following are the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2014:

Identity Theft

Tax fraud through the use of identity theft tops this year’s Dirty Dozen list. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. In many cases, an identity thief uses a legitimate taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund.

The agency’s work on identity theft and refund fraud continues to grow, touching nearly every part of the organization. For the 2014 filing season, the IRS has expanded these efforts to better protect taxpayers and help victims.

The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft issues, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and an assistance guide. For victims, the information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For other taxpayers, there are tips on how taxpayers can protect themselves against identity theft.

Taxpayers who believe they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. Taxpayers can call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. More information can be found on the special identity protection page.

Pervasive Telephone Scams

The IRS has seen a recent increase in local phone scams across the country, with callers pretending to be from the IRS in hopes of stealing money or identities from victims.

These phone scams include many variations, ranging from instances from where callers say the victims owe money or are entitled to a huge refund. Some calls can threaten arrest and threaten a driver’s license revocation. Sometimes these calls are paired with follow-up calls from people saying they are from the local police department or the state motor vehicle department.

Characteristics of these scams can include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.
  • Scammers “spoof” or imitate the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

After threatening victims with jail time or a driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

In another variation, one sophisticated phone scam has targeted taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do: If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

If you’ve been targeted by these scams, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov.  Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Phishing

Phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS has information online that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

False Promises of “Free Money” from Inflated Refunds

Scam artists routinely pose as tax preparers during tax time, luring victims in by promising large federal tax refunds or refunds that people never dreamed they were due in the first place.

Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and even word of mouth to throw out a wide net for victims. They may even spread the word through community groups or churches where trust is high. Scammers prey on people who do not have a filing requirement, such as low-income individuals or the elderly. They also prey on non-English speakers, who may or may not have a filing requirement.

Scammers build false hope by duping people into making claims for fictitious rebates, benefits or tax credits. They charge good money for very bad advice. Or worse, they file a false return in a person’s name and that person never knows that a refund was paid.

Scam artists also victimize people with a filing requirement and due a refund by promising inflated refunds based on fictitious Social Security benefits and false claims for education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or the American Opportunity Tax Credit, among others.

The IRS sometimes hears about scams from victims complaining about losing their federal benefits, such as Social Security benefits, certain veteran’s benefits or low-income housing benefits. The loss of benefits was the result of false claims being filed with the IRS that provided false income amounts.

While honest tax preparers provide their customers a copy of the tax return they’ve prepared, victims of scam frequently are not given a copy of what was filed. Victims also report that the fraudulent refund is deposited into the scammer’s bank account. The scammers deduct a large “fee” before cutting a check to the victim, a practice not used by legitimate tax preparers.

The IRS reminds all taxpayers that they are legally responsible for what’s on their returns even if it was prepared by someone else. Taxpayers who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.

Taxpayers should take care when choosing an individual or firm to prepare their taxes. Honest return preparers generally: ask for proof of income and eligibility for credits and deductions; sign returns as the preparer; enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN); provide the taxpayer a copy of the return.

Beware: Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.

Return Preparer Fraud

About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But, some unscrupulous preparers prey on unsuspecting taxpayers, and the result can be refund fraud or identity theft.

It is important to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare your return. This year, the IRS wants to remind all taxpayers that they should use only preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs).

The IRS also has a web page to assist taxpayers. For tips about choosing a preparer,  details on preparer qualifications and information on how and when to make a complaint, visit www.irs.gov/chooseataxpro.

Remember: Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task.

IRS.gov has general information on reporting tax fraud. More specifically, you report abusive tax preparers to the IRS on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. Download Form 14157 and fill it out or order by mail at 800-TAX FORM (800-829-3676). The form includes a return address.

Hiding Income Offshore

Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities and then using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute tax evasion cases.

While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Since 2009, tens of thousands of individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to comply with the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore is increasingly more difficult.

At the beginning of 2012, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS works on a wide range of international tax issues with DOJ to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion. This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.

The IRS has collected billions of dollars in back taxes, interest and penalties so far from people who participated in offshore voluntary disclosure programs since 2009. It is in the best long-term interest of taxpayers to come forward, catch up on their filing requirements and pay their fair share.

Impersonation of Charitable Organizations

Another long-standing type of abuse or fraud is scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters.

Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists can use a variety of tactics. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

They may attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources. Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims. The IRS cautions both victims of natural disasters and people wishing to make charitable donations to avoid scam artists by following these tips:

  • To help disaster victims, donate to recognized charities.
  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

Call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number (1-866-562-5227) if you are a disaster victim with specific questions about tax relief or disaster related tax issues.

False Income, Expenses or Exemptions

Another scam involves inflating or including income on a tax return that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions. This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution.

Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit although they were not eligible. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

Frivolous Arguments

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are wrong and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes.

Those who promote or adopt frivolous positions risk a variety of penalties.  For example, taxpayers could be responsible for an accuracy-related penalty, a civil fraud penalty, an erroneous refund claim penalty, or a failure to file penalty.  The Tax Court may also impose a penalty against taxpayers who make frivolous arguments in court.

Taxpayers who rely on frivolous arguments and schemes may also face criminal prosecution for attempting to evade or defeat tax. Similarly, taxpayers may be convicted of a felony for willfully making and signing under penalties of perjury any return, statement, or other document that the person does not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter.  Persons who promote frivolous arguments and those who assist taxpayers in claiming tax benefits based on frivolous arguments may be prosecuted for a criminal felony.

Falsely Claiming Zero Wages or Using False Form 1099

Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer may also submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS.

Sometimes, fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any variations of this scheme. Filing this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

Some people also attempt fraud using false Form 1099 refund claims. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS. In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return.

Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.

Abusive Tax Structures

Abusive tax schemes have evolved from simple structuring of abusive domestic and foreign trust arrangements into sophisticated strategies that take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit/debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions.

IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) has developed a nationally coordinated program to combat these abusive tax schemes. CI’s primary focus is on the identification and investigation of the tax scheme promoters as well as those who play a substantial or integral role in facilitating, aiding, assisting, or furthering the abusive tax scheme (e.g., accountants, lawyers).  Secondarily, but equally important, is the investigation of investors who knowingly participate in abusive tax schemes.

What is an abusive scheme? The Abusive Tax Schemes program encompasses violations of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and related statutes where multiple flow-through entities are used as an integral part of the taxpayer’s scheme to evade taxes.  These schemes are characterized by the use of Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs), International Business Companies (IBCs), foreign financial accounts, offshore credit/debit cards and other similar instruments.  The schemes are usually complex involving multi-layer transactions for the purpose of concealing the true nature and ownership of the taxable income and/or assets.

Form over substance are the most important words to remember before buying into any arrangements that promise to “eliminate” or “substantially reduce” your tax liability.  The promoters of abusive tax schemes often employ financial instruments in their schemes.  However, the instruments are used for improper purposes including the facilitation of tax evasion.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to report unlawful tax evasion. Where Do You Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity?

Misuse of Trusts

Trusts also commonly show up in abusive tax structures. They are highlighted here because unscrupulous promoters continue to urge taxpayers to transfer large amounts of assets into trusts. These assets include not only cash and investments, but also successful on-going businesses. There are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, but the IRS commonly sees highly questionable transactions. These transactions promise reduced taxable income, inflated deductions for personal expenses, the reduction or elimination of self-employment taxes and reduced estate or gift transfer taxes. These transactions commonly arise when taxpayers are transferring wealth from one generation to another. Questionable trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means of avoiding income tax liability and hiding assets from creditors, including the IRS.

IRS personnel continue to see an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses, as well as to avoid estate transfer taxes. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering a trust arrangement.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that tax scams can take many forms beyond the “Dirty Dozen,” and people should be on the lookout for many other schemes. More information on tax scams is available at IRS.gov.

Explore a Quick and Simple Way of Understanding Taxes

 IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2013-21 

 If you’re a student or teacher, the summer months may be a nice break from class, but they’re also a good time to learn something new. A quick and simple way to learn about taxes is by using the IRS Understanding Taxes program.
The program is a free online tool designed in partnership with teachers for classroom use. The interactive tool is a great resource for middle, high school or community college students. However, anyone can use it to learn about the history, theory and application of taxes in the U.S.

Here are seven reasons why you should consider exploring the Understanding Taxes program:

1. Understanding Taxes makes learning about federal taxes easy, relevant and fun. It features 38 lessons that help students understand the American tax system. Best of all, it’s free!

2. The site map helps users quickly navigate through all parts of the program and skip to different lessons and interactive activities.

3. A series of tax tutorials guide students through the basics of tax preparation. Other features include a glossary of tax terms and a chance to test your knowledge through tax trivia. Interactive activities encourage students to apply their knowledge using real world simulations.

4. Understanding Taxes makes teaching taxes as easy as ABC:

  • Accessible (web-based)
  • Brings learning to life
  • Comprehensive

5. It’s easy to add to a school’s curriculum. Teachers can customize the program to fit their own personal style with lesson plans and activities for the classroom. They will also find links to state and national educational standards.

6. The program is available 24 hours a day. All you have to do is access the IRS website and type “Understanding Taxes” in the search box.

7. There are no registration or login requirements to access the program. That means people can take a break and return to a lesson at any time.

You can use the Understanding Taxes anytime during the year. The IRS usually updates the program each fall to reflect current tax law and new tax forms.

Additional IRS Resources:

Last-Minute Filers: Avoid Common Errors

IRS YouTube Video
Tax Return Errors: English | Spanish | ASL

Podcast
Tax Return Errors: English | Spanish

IR-2013-40, April 11, 2013

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded taxpayers to review their tax returns for common errors that could delay the processing of their returns. Here are some ways to avoid common mistakes.

File electronically. Filing electronically, whether through e-file or IRS Free File, vastly reduces tax return errors, as the tax software does the calculations, flags common errors and prompts taxpayers for missing information. And best of all, there is a free option for everyone.

Mail a paper return to the right address. Paper filers should check the appropriate address where to file in IRS.gov or their form instructions to avoid processing delays.

Take a close look at the tax tables. When figuring tax using the tax tables, taxpayers should be sure to use the correct column for the filing status claimed.

Fill in all requested information clearly. When entering information on the tax return, including Social Security numbers, take the time to be sure it is correct and easy to read. Also, check only one filing status and the appropriate exemption boxes.

Review all figures. While software catches and prevents many errors on e-file returns, math errors remain common on paper returns.

Get the right routing and account numbers. Requesting direct deposit of a federal refund into one, two or even three accounts is convenient and allows the taxpayer access to his or her money faster. Make sure the financial institution routing and account numbers entered on the return are accurate. Incorrect numbers can cause a refund to be delayed or deposited into the wrong account.

Sign and date the return. If filing a joint return, both spouses must sign and date the return. E-filers can sign using a self-selected personal identification number (PIN).

Attach all required forms. Paper filers need to attach W-2s and other forms that reflect tax withholding, to the front of their returns. If requesting a payment agreement with the IRS, also attachForm 9465 to the front of the return. Attach all other necessary schedules and forms in sequence number order shown in the upper right-hand corner.

Keep a copy of the return. Once ready to be filed, taxpayers should make a copy of their signed return and all schedules for their records.

Request a Filing Extension. For taxpayers who cannot meet the April 15 deadline, requesting a filing extension is easy and will prevent late filing penalties. Either use Free File or Form 4868. But keep in mind that while an extension grants additional time to file, tax payments are still due April 15.

Owe tax? If so, a number of e-payment options are available. Or send a check or money order payable to the “United States Treasury.”

Five Tax Credits that Can Reduce Your Taxes

IRS Tax Tip 2013-33

A tax credit reduces the amount of tax you must pay. A refundable tax credit not only reduces the federal tax you owe, but also could result in a refund.

Here are five credits the IRS wants you to consider before filing your 2012 federal income tax return:

1. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable credit for people who work and don’t earn a lot of money. The maximum credit for 2012 returns is $5,891 for workers with three or more children. Eligibility is determined based on earnings, filing status and eligible children. Workers without children may be eligible for a smaller credit. If you worked and earned less than $50,270, use the EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you qualify. For more information, see Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.

2. The Child and Dependent Care Credit is for expenses you paid for the care of your qualifying children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent. The care must enable you to work or look for work. For more information, see Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.

3. The Child Tax Credit may apply to you if you have a qualifying child under age 17. The credit may help reduce your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child you claim on your return. You may be required to file the new Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with your tax return to claim the credit. See Publication 972, Child Tax Credit, for more information.

4. The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit) helps low-to-moderate income workers save for retirement. You may qualify if your income is below a certain limit and you contribute to an IRA or a retirement plan at work. The credit is in addition to any other tax savings that apply to retirement plans. For more information, see Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).

5. The American Opportunity Tax Credit helps offset some of the costs that you pay for higher education. The AOTC applies to the first four years of post-secondary education. The maximum credit is $2,500 per eligible student. Forty percent of the credit, up to $1,000, is refundable. You must file Form 8863, Education Credits, to claim it if you qualify. For more information, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

Make sure you qualify before claiming any tax credit. You can always visit IRS.gov to learn about the rules. The free IRS publications mentioned are also available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Additional IRS Resources:

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Time is Running Short to Claim Your 2009 Refund

IRS Special Edition Tax Tip 2013-07

If you haven’t filed your 2009 federal tax return, you may still have time to claim your tax refund. The IRS has $917 million in unclaimed refunds from an estimated 984,000 tax returns that people didn’t file for the 2009 tax year. The IRS estimates that half the potential refunds for 2009 are more than $500.

Here are some things the IRS wants you to know about unclaimed refunds:

1. Not required to file.  You may not have filed a 2009 tax return because you didn’t earn enough income to have a filing requirement. If you had taxes withheld from your wages or made quarterly estimated payments, you can still file a return and claim your refund.

2. Three-year window.  You have three years to claim a refund. If you don’t claim your refund within three years, the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury. For 2009 returns, the window closes on April 15, 2013. You must properly address, postmark and mail your return by that date. There is no penalty for filing a late return if you are due a refund.

3. Don’t miss the EITC.  By not filing a return, you may miss an important credit — the Earned Income Tax Credit. For 2009, the credit is worth as much as $5,657. The EITC can put extra money in the pockets of individuals and families with low and moderate incomes. If you are eligible for the EITC, you must file a federal income tax return to claim the credit. This is true even if you are not otherwise required to file.

4. Some refunds applied.  The IRS may hold your refund if you have not filed tax returns for 2010 and 2011. The law allows the use of your federal tax refund to pay any amounts still owed to the IRS or your state tax agency. If you have unpaid debts, such as overdue child support or student loans, your refund may be applied to pay that debt.

Current and prior year tax forms and instructions are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). If you are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498, you should request copies from your employer, bank or other payer. If you can’t get these forms, you can get a free transcript from the IRS showing the information you need from those forms.

Order a transcript by filing Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return, with the IRS, or by calling 800-829-1040.
Additional IRS Resources:

Parents and Students: Check Out College Tax Benefits for 2012 and Years Ahead

IRS Issue IR-2013-22

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.

In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the taxpayer.

Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is claimed on Form 8917.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax credit for another five years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, through 2013. The lifetime learning credit did not need to be extended because it was already a permanent part of the tax code.

For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will yield the greatest tax savings.  Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.

All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases, dependents cannot claim these education benefits.

Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Forms 8863 and 8917 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.

Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:

  • The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
  • Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
  • The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
  • The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
  • Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.

The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:

  • Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
  • The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
  • Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2012, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $124,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $62,000 or more.

Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of post-secondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds $130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but is no more than $80,000.

Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these provisions during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.

There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:

  • Scholarship and fellowship grants—generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
  • Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
  • Savings bonds used to pay for college—though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
  • Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.

Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.

The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for these benefits. Details can also be found in the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.