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Continuing IRS Delays: What to Expect this Tax Season

As recently as January 13th, 2021, IRS updated the  IRS Operations During COVID-19 page  with details about ongoing service delays.
Specifically, the page opens with:

“We’re open and processing mail, tax returns, payments, refunds and correspondence. However, COVID-19 continues to cause delays in some of our services. Our service delays include:

• Live phone support
• Processing tax returns filed on paper
• Answering mail from taxpayers
• Reviewing tax returns, even for returns filed electronically”

In other words, pretty much everything is delayed, and trying to get answers will continue to be difficult for the foreseeable future, particularly as processing this year’s returns gets underway. 

With many IRS employees continuing to work remotely, the mountains of paper mail delivered to their regular locations have continued to pile up. the few employees allowed in those buildings are doing their best to address as much of the backlog as they can, but it’s slow going without the manpower on site. as It’s kind of like the sports stadiums we are seeing designed to hold tens f thousands of people, with only a few hundred in the stands.

There are other helpful resources available through the IRS website, however, including a page dedicated to stimulus payments, and, when the time comes, the “Where’s my refund?” link.

We’ll be keeping up to date with IRS communications as they are released and sharing relevant information we find for you this tax season.

Reminder: Check Your Withholding!

With the fallout from COVID-19 affecting every taxpayer this year—whether it’s a change in employment status or pay fluctuations amid the pandemic—we wanted to take a minute to once again stress the importance of checking your pay stubs on a regular basis to ensure that your withholding is as you want it to be.

Many of our clients experienced sticker shock when the Tax cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 skewed the tax tables, and their withholding elections left them unexpectedly owing money.

We know that most people receive their payroll check through direct deposit, and paystubs are usually issued by e-mail these days. As a result, most pay stubs go unchecked, and unfortunately by the time the withholding deficit is discovered it’s already the following year—and too late to do anything about it.

To avoid this, we recommend making a habit of checking your pay stubs every month to verify the withholdings are per your instructions—even if you are not not paid via direct deposit.

And if you need to make adjustments, you can contact your HR benefits people to fill out a new w-4.

See our earlier post about the withholding here.

The Top 9 Things Our Clients Need To Know & Do This Tax Season

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Let’s face it: we’ve just said goodbye to a year like no other. And though it’s “officially” over, we are continuing to adapt our best practices to align with the changing tax laws, as well as the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines. With the benefit of our clients in mind, we’ve put together the list below to help ensure that we keep things running smoothly and efficiently this season, despite the limitations we are all facing.

  1. You do not need to contact our office to request that a Tax Year Organizer be sent to you. Tax Organizers will be delivered by regular mail or uploaded on the portal, depending on how you have received them previously. Our only automated delivery method for organizers is via the portal. Keep an eye out for an e-mail from Secure File Pro indicating your organizer has been placed in your portal folder.
  2. Make sure you are on our e-mail list! We know that everyone gets too many e-mails, but this is still the fastest and most effective way for us to communicate with clients, and we generally send no more than two e-mails per month. If we do not currently have your preferred e-mail address, then please take a minute to sign up for our email list or update your information through the opt-in link on our website home page or by sending your first and last name and e-mail address to: [email protected].
  3. We will begin e-filing on January 27, 2021. With IRS staffing shortages, processing could take longer than usual this year, so we are aiming to get a jump on the season by starting our clients’ e-filings as soon as we can.
  4. Provide us with all your information, all at one time. Missing or incorrect information, or information that comes in piecemeal causes hiccups that may cause your return to get pushed back. The Organizer we send out is the best tool we have to aid us in processing your return. The more accurate and complete the organizer is, the quicker we can file your return.
  5. Be sure to include Our 2020 Income Tax Checklist with your paperwork. We created this checklist because we have learned that if a return is delayed because any of these items are missing it can take up to nine months to correct since IRS access is limited due to offices being closed and employees working remotely. This form must be completed in order for us to process your tax return.
  6. Collect any questions you have about your return and include them in writing with your organizer. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to answer questions outside of the time that we are dedicating to your individual return. For this reason, we ask that any questions you have be submitted on a separate sheet along with your paperwork. That way we can address them and provide answers while we have your information in hand and eliminate the guesswork!
  7. Keep your medical receipts—literally. If you think your medical and dental expenses in 2020 might be high enough to deduct, please add up what you spent, and provide us only the total amount. Sending us your receipts can not only jeopardize the privacy of your records, but it will delay processing your return since we do not have the staff to add them up on your behalf.
  8. Visit our website for office updates. Due to the pandemic we have changed how we operate in this new climate. To keep our employees and clients safe and minimize the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus, we will not be having in person appointments, but we will be establishing a safe and secure drop off and pickup protocol for you and will post it on our website. Our newsletter will be the main line of communication as the COVID regulations for businesses change, so please make sure you are on the list!
  9. Please be patient. We have put a lot of thought into how we can tackle this tax season with as few speedbumps as possible. And like so many of you, we—and the IRS— continue to work within the limitations of health and safety guidelines. We sincerely appreciate your patience as we work to get your returns taken care of quickly and accurately!

We are confident that these steps will help all of us get through this unusual tax season with ease.

The Essential 2020 Income Tax Filing Checklist

Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about what the IRS looks for on your tax return. We put together the list below for our clients to help them avoid the pitfalls of missing or inaccurate information that can delay tax returns by 6 months or more. Especially during the continuing pandemic at the time of this posting, since the IRS is working with limited staffing, you’ll want to make sure the information you provide is accurate and complete. We encourage you to “check off” the items on the list before submitting your tax paperwork to ensure a smooth and efficient filing!

If you received a stimulus payment in 2020 and January 2021 your tax professional needs to know the amount of the payment you received. $________________ 
This payment is not taxable but the amount must be reconciled on your tax return.
If you collected unemployment benefits in 2020 you will receive a 1099-G form in the mail in by January 31, 2021We have included an image of the 1099-G form below for reference.
FRAUD ALERT for Massachusetts residents:  If you receive a 1099-G form and did not collect unemployment benefits please contact the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) at 617-626-5647 immediately! Likewise, if you did receive unemployment benefits and do not receive a 1099-G form, again, you will need to call MA DUA at 617-626-5647.
If you made estimated tax payments in 2020 please provide your tax preparer copies of the cancelled checks. We have seen issues this past year with these checks not being cashed, and not being applied properly. If we have copies of the cancelled checks we can speak with IRS on your behalf to resolve any issues that may arise. 
4FORM 1095A (Health Connector for Massachusetts Residents)
If your health insurance is through the Massachusetts Health Connector please provide your 1095A. This form will be mailed to you by January 31, 2021. If your insurance is through the health connector, IRS will not process your tax return and delay your refund. Please see a copy of the 1095A form below for reference. You can also obtain your form online at welcome to health connector | health connector (mahealthconnector.org)
If you paid rent in the last calendar year please indicate the total rent you paid in 2020  $____________.
6NEW BABY IN 2020?
Congratulations! Please make sure to provide the baby’s date of birth and social security number. This information is necessary to determine if you qualify for an additional stimulus payment, as well as the normal credits for a child.
Tax preparers need to know if you have dependent college-age kids who are filing taxes and “claiming” themselves under their Social Security Number. This will trigger the IRS to disable your ability to e-file your own return, forcing you to file on paper and have your return delayed by as much as 6 months.
Have you changed addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or jobs since last year? Make sure your tax preparer has your up-to-date information!

Below is an example of Form 1099-G. Individuals who collected unemployment in the last year should receive this form in the mail by January 31, 2021, and must include it with their tax paperwork. Please note: This is for reference purposes only and cannot to be downloaded, reproduced, or used for filing.

Below is an example of Form 1095-A. Individuals who are insured through the MA Health connector should receive this form in the mail by January 31, 2021, and must include it with their tax paperwork. Please note: This is for reference purposes only and cannot to be downloaded, reproduced, or used for filing.

Stimulus Round 2: What You Need to Know

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Some of you may have already received your money from the second stimulus package that recently passed but it is important to note that the amounts and calculations are different this time around. 

The Basics:

  • IRS began issuing payments via direct deposit on December 29, 2020.
  • Standard payment amounts are $600 for each qualifying U.S. citizen, resident alien, and dependent child under age 17, based on adjusted gross income (AGI) limits. (See chart below)
  • Payment amounts are reduced by $5 for every $100 above the determined income thresholds.
  • Confirmed direct deposit accounts will receive payments first, followed by mailed paper checks. 
  • Please note: The IRS has not set up a procedure to change your direct deposit information through their website at this time, so if your direct deposit information has changed in the last year, you will likely need to wait for a paper check. Attempting to change your direct deposit information through the IRS website at this time may jeopardize your electronic filing for tax year 2020. 

How much can you expect?

The graphic below shows the standard payments based on income limits.

Payments are reduced by $5 per $100 above the qualifying income thresholds, and will phase out completely at $87,000 AGI for individuals and $174,000 AGI for couples filing jointly.  

We found an article on the Forbes Advisor website that provides an excellent comprehensive overview of the second round stimulus package, including a payment calculator and notable changes from the original CARES Act that was passed last spring. You can read the entire article here.

The IRS website also issued a press release regarding details of the second round stimulus, which can be found on their website here.