IRS Tax Lien – How to release federal tax liens and levies

Taxpayers have the right to appeal the IRS’ filing of a notice of a tax lien in the public record and petition for release. If filed in error, the IRS must release the lien and state that the lien was erroneous. The request for tax relief must be based on one of the following grounds: (1) the tax liability had been satisfied before the lien was filed; (2) the assessing of the tax liability violated either the notice of deficiency procedures or the Bankruptcy Code; or (3) the limitations period for collecting the liability had expired prior to the filing of the lien.

The IRS may withdraw a tax lien before payment in full if:

(1) the filing of the lien notice was premature or not in accord with administrative procedures;
(2) the taxpayer has entered into an agreement to satisfy the tax liability;
(3) withdrawal of the lien notice would facilitate the collection of the tax liability; or
(4) the withdrawal of the lien notice would be in the best interest of the taxpayer and the government.

The withdrawal of a notice of tax lien does not affect the underlying tax lien; rather, the withdrawal simply relinquishes any lien priority the IRS had obtained when the tax lien notice was filed.

The IRS is required to release a levy if:

(1) the underlying tax liability is satisfied or becomes unenforceable due to lapse of time;
(2) the IRS determines that the release of the tax levy will facilitate the collection of the tax debt;
(3) a satisfactory installment payment agreement has been executed by the taxpayer with respect to the tax liability;
(4) the IRS agrees that the levy is creating a financial hardship; or
(5) the fair market value of the property exceeds the tax liability, and the partial release of the IRS levy would not hinder the collection of tax.

In addition, a taxpayer may request that the IRS sell the levied property.

The IRS has been given authority to return property that has been levied upon if:

(1) the tax levy was premature or not in accordance with the IRS administrative procedure;
(2) the taxpayer has entered into an installment agreement to satisfy the tax liability, unless the agreement provides otherwise;
(3) the return of the property will facilitate collection of the tax liability; or
(4) with the consent of the taxpayer, the return of the property would be in the best interests of the taxpayer and the government.

Property is returned in the same manner as if the property had been wrongfully levied upon, except that the taxpayer is not entitled to interest.

A taxpayer may bring a suit in federal district court if an IRS employee knowingly or negligently fails to release a tax lien on the taxpayer’s property after receiving written notice from the taxpayer of the IRS’s failure to release the lien. The taxpayer may recover actual economic damages plus the costs of the action. Injuries such as inconvenience, emotional distress, and loss of reputation are not compensable damages unless they result in actual economic harm. Costs of the action that may be recovered are limited generally to certain court costs and do not include administrative costs or attorney’s fees, although attorney’s fees may be recoverable under Code Sec. 7430. A two-year statute of limitations, measured from the date on which the cause of action accrued, applies.

Third-Party Owners. A third-party owner of property against which a federal tax lien has been filed may obtain a certificate of discharge with respect to the lien on such property. The certificate is issued if (1) the third-party owner deposits with the IRS an amount of money equal to the value of the government’s interest in the property as determined by the IRS or (2) the third-party owner posts a bond covering the government’s interest in the property in a form acceptable by the IRS.

A third-party owner who is a co-owner of property with the taxpayer against whom the underlying tax was assessed may no longer be automatically barred from obtaining a certificate of discharge with respect to a lien on the property. Applicable to requests to obtain a discharge after January 31, 2008, third-party owners may request the discharge of a tax lien on property that they own with the person whose tax liability gave rise to the tax lien.

If the IRS determines that (1) the liability to which the tax lien relates can be satisfied from other sources or (2) the value of the government’s interest in the property is less than the IRS’s prior determination of the government’s interest in the property, then the IRS will refund (with interest) the amount deposited and release the bond applicable to such property. Within 120 days after a certificate of discharge is issued, the third-party owner may file a civil action against the United States in a federal district court for a determination of whether the government’s interest in the property (if any) has less value than that determined by the IRS.

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Stop wage garnishment, IRS Tax Levy, release IRS levies and release federal tax liens in the following states, counties, and metro cities, Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Guam Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Puerto Rico Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington D.C.. West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming. AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY New York, Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Francisco, Ventura, Lancaster, Palmdale, Santa Barbara, Chicago, Washington D. C., Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Cleveland, San Diego, St Louis, Denver, San Juan, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Portland, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Orlando, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Norfolk & VB, Las Vegas, Columbus, Charlotte, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, Greensboro, Austin, Nashville, Providence, Raleigh, Hartford, Buffalo, Memphis, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Rochester, Grand Rapids, Reno, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Richmond, Greenville, Dayton, Fresno, Birmingham, Honolulu, Albany, Tucson, Tulsa, Tempe, Syracuse, Omaha, Albuquerque, Knoxville, El Paso, Bakersfield, Allentown, Harrisburg, Scranton, Toledo, Baton Rouge, Youngstown, Springfield, Sarasota, Little Rock, Orlando, McAllen, Stockton, Charleston, Wichita, Mobile, Columbia, Colorado Springs, Fort Wayne, Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Johnson City, Lexington, Augusta, Melbourne, Lancaster, Chattanooga, Des Moines, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Modesto, Fort Myers, Jackson, Boise, Billings, Madison, Spokane, Montgomery, and Pensacola

Table 16. Delinquent Collection Activities, Fiscal Years 2005-2008

[Money amounts are in thousands of dollars.]










Returns filed with additional tax due:

Total amount collected [1]

[r] 27,615,348

[r] 29,172,915

[r] 31,952,399


Taxpayer delinquent accounts (thousands):

Number in beginning inventory





Number of new accounts





Number of accounts closed





Ending inventory:






Balance of assessed tax, penalties, and interest [2]





Returns not filed timely:

Delinquent return activity:

Net amount assessed [3]





Amount collected with delinquent returns





Taxpayer delinquency investigations (thousands) [4]:

Number in beginning inventory





Number of new investigations





Number of investigations closed





Number in ending inventory





Offers in compromise (thousands) [5]:

Number of offers received





Number of offers accepted





Amount of offers accepted





Enforcement activity:

Number of notices of Federal tax liens filed





Number of notices of levy served on third parties





Number of seizures






[1] Includes previously unpaid taxes on returns filed plus assessed and accrued penalties and interest. For Fiscal Year 2008, includes a total of $37,254,116 (dollars) collected by private debt collection agencies.

[2] Includes assessed penalties and interest but excludes any accrued penalties and interest. Assessed penalties and interestusually determined simultaneously with the unpaid balance of taxare computed on the unpaid balance of tax from the due date of the return to the date of assessment. Penalties and interest continue to accrue (accrued penalties and interest) after the date of assessment until the taxpayer’s balance is paid in full.

[3] Net assessment of tax, penalty, and interest amounts (less prepaid credits, withholding, and estimated tax payments) on delinquent tax returns secured by Collection activity.

[4] A delinquency investigation is opened when a taxpayer does not respond to an IRS notice of a delinquent return.

[5] An offer in compromise (OIC) is a binding agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. An OIC will not be accepted if the IRS believes the liability can be paid in full as a lump sum or through a payment agreement.

NOTES: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding. All amounts are in current dollars.

SOURCE: Small Business/Self-Employed, Collection Planning and Analysis, Collection National Reports SE:S:C:PA:CNR

IRS has filed $79,000 lien against Gov. Schwarzenegger, records show

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times

A spokesman for the governor says the matter is related to a paperwork discrepancy and has nothing to do with the payment of taxes.

By Michael Rothfeld
Reporting from Sacramento
The Internal Revenue Service has filed a federal tax lien against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for nearly $80,000, public records show.

The lien was filed May 11 at the Los Angeles County recorder’s office for $79,064, according to a record in an electronic database that includes lien filings. The record lists the debtor as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the address as the governor’s home address in Brentwood.

The matter apparently is related to “a minor paperwork tracking discrepancy,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said in a statement released Friday afternoon. He said Schwarzenegger is resubmitting information to the IRS and expects the lien to be expunged without penalty.

The lien was first reported Friday by, which posted a copy of a lien document that says it is from the county recorder’s office. That document shows that Schwarzenegger owes $39,047.20 from 2004 and $40,016.80 from 2005.

The document also lists a section of the IRS code that suggests the debt may be penalties for a failure to report certain business transactions.

McLear said the matter had not been brought to Schwarzenegger’s attention until Friday. “The issue is completely unrelated to the payment of taxes, which the governor has paid in full and on time,” the spokesman said.

IRS spokesman Victor Omelczenko said he could not discuss the agency’s dealings with individual taxpayers.

IRS Issues Final Regulations Governing Installment Agreements

The IRS has issued final regulations relating to the payment of tax liabilities through installment agreements. The regulations reflect changes to the law made by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights II (P.L. 104-168), the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-206) and the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-357). The final regulations generally adopt proposed regulations issued in March 2007 (NPRM REG-100841-97), with revisions to two provisions made in response to comments received by the IRS. The regulations are effective November 25, 2009.

The final regulations adopt without change procedures set forth in the proposed regulations regarding submission and consideration by the IRS of proposed installment agreements, and acceptance, form and terms of installment agreements. The regulations provide that a proposed installment agreement must be submitted according to the procedures prescribed by the IRS, and becomes pending when it is accepted for processing. An installment agreement request is not accepted until the IRS notifies the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative of the acceptance.

The final regulations clarify that partial payment agreements do not reduce the amount of taxes, interest or penalties owed. They also clarify that the IRS may enter into agreements that end before the expiration of the period of limitations on collection. Thus, a partial payment installment agreement ending before the expiration of the collection period of limitations would allow the IRS to collect the balance of the tax liability after the agreement expired. However, the preamble to the final regulations notes that the IRS does not currently enter into partial payment installment agreements that expire before the end of the collection statute and has no plans to do so routinely in the future. The final regulations also require the IRS to review partial payment agreements every two years to determine whether the financial condition of the taxpayer has significantly changed. Further, the regulations provide that, while an installment agreement is in effect, the IRS may require the taxpayer to provide updated financial information at any time.

In addition, the final regulations provide that the IRS may not notify a taxpayer of the rejection of an installment agreement until an independent review of the proposed rejection is completed. The final regulations also allow taxpayers to appeal a rejection of an installment agreement to the IRS Office of Appeals within 30 days of being notified of the rejection.

The IRS may modify or terminate an installment agreement if it determines that the taxpayer’s financial condition has significantly changed or if the taxpayer fails to meet certain requirements. The proposed regulations provided that the IRS may modify or terminate an installment agreement if the taxpayer fails to provide a financial condition update requested by the Service. The final regulations clarify that the IRS may terminate an installment agreement only if the taxpayer provides materially inaccurate or incomplete information in connection with a requested financial update. Further, the final regulations modify the rule provided in the proposed regulations to explicitly allow taxpayers to request a modification or termination of an existing installment agreement. Additionally, the final regulations clarify that a taxpayer must comply with the terms of an existing installment agreement while a request for modification is being considered, and that a proposed modification will not result in a suspension of the statute of limitations on collection.

The final regulations generally prohibit the IRS from taking any collection activity while a proposed installment agreement is pending, while an installment agreement is in effect, or during the 30-day period following the rejection of a proposed installment agreement or the termination of an installment agreement. Further, the final regulations provide that the statute of limitations on collection under Code Sec. 6502 is suspended while a proposed installment agreement is pending, plus 30 days following a rejection of a proposed installment agreement, and during any appeal. The final regulations also provide that each taxpayer with an installment agreement must also be provided with an annual statement showing the balance due at the beginning of the year, the payments made during the year, and the remaining balance due at the end of the year.

To secure and negotiate an affordable installment agreement for back taxes, contact Mike Habib, EA at 1-877-788-2937

Treasury / SBA Highlight Role of Tax Cuts During Small Business Financing Forum

US Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presided over the Small Business Financing Forum presented by the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration (SBA) on November 18 in Washington, D.C. While the program was aimed at exploring financing issues, recent tax cuts were highlighted as a potential method by which the government could help small businesses increase their cash flow during the current tough economic environment.

Economic Stimulus Effort

The forum was part of the administration’s push to brainstorm ways in which the government could help ease access to credit for small businesses. “Without increased access to credit for American families and small businesses, growth will be weaker, companies will defer long term investments and we will not be able to create a recovery that is self-sustaining and led by private demand,” Geithner explained.

NOL Relief

In his opening remarks, Geithner highlighted the enhanced net operating loss (NOL) carryback rules under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the 2009 Recovery Act) (P.L. 111-5) for small businesses. These were recently extended to the 2009 tax year by the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-92). “We need to provide direct help to small businesses,” Geithner stated in his prepared opening remarks. “We’ve done that through the Recovery Act by establishing targeted tax relief to small businesses, allowing them to write off more of their expenses and to earn an instant refund on their taxes by “carrying back” their losses five years instead of two.”

New Markets Tax Credit

Additionally, Geithner pointed out that the 2009 Recovery Act enhanced the New Markets Tax Credit. Code Sec. 45D allows the tax credit for taxpayers investing in entities whose primary mission is to provide investment capital for low-income communities or persons. “The Recovery Act provided…an additional $3 billion in New Market Tax Credit investments to support small businesses as they spur growth in those struggling communities,” Geithner stated.

Continued Efforts

Despite some economists’ reports that the country’s recession may already be at, or will soon come to, an end, Geithner indicated that the Treasury will continue to prompt tax cuts that make small businesses more liquid. Nevertheless, the main focus of the forum was financing opportunities and Geithner stayed on message in that regard in his closing remarks: “No jobs without growth. No growth without credit.” He stated that President Obama would soon receive a conference report on the results of the forum, which would be publicly available for review.

Tax relief and tax controversy services by the tax firm of Mike Habib, EA at or at 1-877-788-2937

President Signs Military Spouses Residency Relief Act

Source: Journal of Accountancy

President Barack Obama signed into law the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act (PL 111-97), which will ensure that the spouses of military personnel who move because their spouse is posted for military duty will be treated as not having changed residency for tax purposes.

Under the act, the fact that a military spouse is present in or absent from a jurisdiction in the United States will not affect that spouse’s residence or domicile for tax purposes, as long as that presence in (or absence from) the jurisdiction is due to the service member’s compliance with military orders. In addition, any income the military spouse earns in a jurisdiction will not be treated as income from services performed or sources within that jurisdiction if that spouse is not treated as a resident of the jurisdiction under the act.

The act conforms the treatment of military spouses to the treatment accorded military personnel under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Congress was concerned that in certain cases, military personnel were losing the benefits of the SCRA where they held property in joint title with their spouses. For example, where the family car was not titled in the service member’s name only, some states were collecting personal property tax on that car. In addition, military families were subject to return filing complications when the service member retained residency in the home state, but the spouse was treated as a resident of the new state.

The act also accords similar treatment to military spouses for voting and certain land rights residency requirements.

The act is effective for any state or local tax return filed for any tax year beginning with the tax year that includes the date Nov. 11, 2009.

Effective Date of Regulations Under § 411(b)(5)(B)(i); Relief Under § 411(d)(6); and Notice to Pension Plan Participants

Announcement 2009-82

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service are announcing relief for sponsors of statutory hybrid plans that must amend the interest crediting rate in those plans. Plan sponsors may rely on this announcement pending publication of the anticipated additional guidance described below. Treasury and the Service expect to issue in the near future final regulations and proposed regulations relating to statutory hybrid plans. The regulations will include rules interpreting the requirement in § 411(b)(5)(B)(i) of the Internal Revenue Code that such plans not have an interest crediting rate in excess of a market rate of return. The rules in the regulations specifying permissible market rates of return are not expected to go into effect before the first plan year that begins on or after January 1, 2011.

In addition, it is anticipated that Treasury and the Service will exercise the authority under § 1.411(d)-4, A-2(b)(2)(i) of the Treasury regulations to provide that, once final regulations regarding the market rate of return requirements are issued, an amendment to a statutory hybrid plan with an interest crediting rate that is in excess of a market rate of return under those final regulations that is adopted prior to the effective date of those final regulations will not violate § 411(d)(6) merely because it reduces the future interest crediting rate on participants’ account balances to the extent necessary to constitute a permissible rate under those final regulations. Under this anticipated guidance, § 411(d)(6) will not operate to bar such an amendment, even if the amendment is adopted after the last day of the first plan year that begins on or after January 1, 2009, and therefore is not an amendment described in section 1107 of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA ’06), Pub. L. 109-280. Section 1107 of PPA ’06 provides, in general, that a plan will not fail to satisfy § 411(d)(6) as a result of amendments that are adopted pursuant to PPA ’06 or regulations thereunder by the last day of the first plan year that begins on or after January 1, 2009.

Finally, it is anticipated that future guidance will include a special timing rule for providing section 204(h) notice, as defined in § 54.4980F-1, Q&A-4, to participants and other applicable individuals with respect to an amendment that changes a statutory hybrid plan’s interest crediting rate that is adopted by the last day of the first plan year that begins on or after January 1, 2009 (that is, by the end of the period described in section 1107 of PPA ’06) and after November 10, 2009. Under this special timing rule, any required section 204(h) notice relating to such an amendment will be permitted to be provided as late as 30 days after the effective date of the amendment. It is expected that this relief will apply to an amendment only if the amendment is effective not later than the first day of the first plan year that begins on or after January 1, 2010.

Essential year end tax planning

Year-end tax planning could be especially productive this year because timely action can nail down a host of tax breaks that won’t be around next year unless Congress acts to extend them. These include, for individuals: the option to deduct state and local sales and use taxes instead of state income taxes; the standard or itemized deduction for state sales tax and excise tax on the purchase of motor vehicles; the above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education expenses; tax-free distributions by those age 70 1/2 or older from IRAs for charitable purposes; and the $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit (expires for purchases after Nov. 30, 2009). For businesses, tax breaks that are available through the end of this year but won’t be around next year unless Congress acts include: 50% bonus first year depreciation for most new machinery, equipment and software; an extraordinarily high $250,000 expensing limitation; the research tax credit; the five-year writeoff for most farm equipment; and the 15-year writeoff for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements and qualified retail improvements. Finally, without Congressional “extender” legislation (which has come at the eleventh hour for several years), alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amounts for individuals are scheduled to drop drastically next year, and most nonrefundable personal credits won’t be available to offset the AMT.

High-income-earners have other factors to keep in mind when mapping out year-end plans. Many observers expect top tax rates on ordinary income to increase after 2010, making long-term deferral of income less appealing. Long-term capital gains rates could go up as well, so it may pay for some to take large profits this year instead of a few years down the road. On the other hand, the solid good news high-income-earners have to look forward to next year is that there no longer will be an income based reduction of most itemized deductions, nor will there be a phaseout of personal exemptions. Additionally, traditional IRA to Roth IRA conversions will be allowed regardless of a taxpayer’s income.

We have compiled a checklist of actions based on current tax rules that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end. Not all actions will apply in your particular situation, but you (or a family member) will likely benefit from many of them. We can narrow down the specific actions that you can take once we meet with you to tailor a particular plan. In the meantime, please review the following list and contact us at your earliest convenience so that we can advise you on which tax-saving moves to make:

• Increase the amount you set aside for next year in your employer’s health flexible spending account (FSA) if you set aside too little for this year. Don’t forget that you can set aside amounts to get tax-free reimbursements for over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin and antacids.

• If you become eligible to make health savings account (HSA) contributions in December of this year, you can make a full year’s worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2009.

• Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done. For example, you can sell the original holding, then buy back the same securities at least 31 days later. It may be advisable for us to meet to discuss year-end trades you should consider making.

• Postpone income until 2010 and accelerate deductions into 2009 to lower your 2009 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2009 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include IRA and Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child credits, higher education tax credits, the above-the-line deduction for higher-education expenses, and deductions for student loan interest. Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2009. For example, this may be the case where a person’s marginal tax rate is much lower this year than it will be next year.

• If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, and want to remain in the market for the long term, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your adjusted gross income for 2009.

• It may be advantageous to try to arrange with your employer to defer a bonus that may be coming your way until 2010.

• If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation you may need to increase your basis in the entity so you can deduct a loss from it for this year.

• Consider using a credit card to prepay expenses that can generate deductions for this year.

• If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year, consider asking your employer to increase withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to pull the deduction of those taxes into 2010 if doing so won’t create an AMT problem (see below).

• Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for 2009, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes (or state sales tax if you elect this deduction option), miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. Other deductions, such as for medical expenses, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes. As a result, in some cases, deductions should be deferred rather than accelerated to keep them from being lost because of the AMT.

• Those facing a penalty for underpayment of federal estimated tax may be able to eliminate or reduce it by increasing their withholding.

• Accelerate big ticket purchases into 2009 in order to assure a deduction for sales taxes on the purchases if you will elect to claim a state and local general sales tax deduction instead of a state and local income tax deduction.

• If you are planning to buy a car, do so before year-end in order to nail down a deduction for state sales tax and excise tax on the purchase.

• You may be able to save taxes this year and next by applying a bunching strategy to “miscellaneous” itemized deductions, medical expenses and other itemized deductions.

• If you are a homeowner, make energy saving improvements to the residence, such as putting in extra insulation or installing energy saving windows, and qualify for a tax credit. Additional, substantial tax credits are available for installing energy generating equipment (such as solar electric panels or solar hot water heaters) to your home.

• If you or a family member are thinking of becoming a first-time homebuyer, make the purchase before Dec. 1, 2009, in order to qualify for an up-to-$8,000 credit.

• You may want to pay contested taxes to be able to deduct them this year while continuing to contest them next year.

• You may want to settle an insurance or damage claim in order to maximize your casualty loss deduction this year.

• Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option, which is up to $250,000 for assets bought and placed in service this year; the maximum expensing amount will drop to $134,000 for assets bought and placed in service next year (higher expensing amounts apply in certain specialized situations). Businesses also should consider making expenditures that qualify for 50% bonus first year depreciation if bought and placed in service this year. This bonus writeoff generally won’t be available next year.

• If you are self-employed and haven’t done so yet, set up a self-employed retirement plan.

• You can save gift and estate taxes by making gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year. You can give $13,000 in 2009 to an unlimited number of individuals but you can’t carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next.

• If you are age 70 1/2 or older, own IRAs (or Roth IRAs), and are thinking of making a charitable gift, consider arranging for the gift to be made directly by the IRA trustee. Such a transfer, if made before year-end, can achieve important tax savings.

• If you are age 70 1/2 or older and took a distribution from a retirement plan or IRA earlier this year, you may be able to avoid tax on the payout by rolling it over into an eligible retirement plan (including an IRA) before Dec. 1, 2009.

• If you are receiving Social Security benefits, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce or eliminate tax on your benefits.

• Consider extending your subscriptions to professional journals, paying union or professional dues, enrolling in (and paying tuition for) job-related courses, etc., to bunch into 2009 miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2%-of-AGI floor.

• Depending on your particular situation, you may also want to consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2010, electing to deduct investment interest against capital gains, and disposing of a passive activity to allow you to deduct suspended losses.

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. Again, by contacting us, we can tailor a particular plan that will work best for you.

Mike Habib, EA at 1-877-78-TAXES
Keywords: tax planning, estate planning, ROTH IRA Conversion 2010, tax saving strategies, tax shelters, effective tax planning

Roth IRA Rollovers

Mike Habib, EA

I am writing to tell you of an interesting new rollover opportunity that’s coming up in a few months. After 2009, you will be able to roll over amounts in qualified employer sponsored retirement plan accounts, such as 401(k)s and profit sharing plans, and regular IRAs, into Roth IRAs, regardless of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Currently, individuals with more than $100,000 of adjusted gross income as specially modified are barred from making such rollovers.

What’s so attractive about a Roth IRA? Here’s a summary:

  • Earnings within the account are tax-sheltered (as they are with a regular qualified employer plan or IRA).
  • Unlike a regular qualified employer plan or IRA, withdrawals from a Roth IRA aren’t taxed if some relatively liberal conditions are satisfied.
  • A Roth IRA owner does not have to commence lifetime required minimum distributions (RMDs) after he or she reaches age 70 1/2 as is generally the case with regular qualified employer plans or IRAs. (For 2009, there’s a moratorium on RMDs.)
  • Beneficiaries of Roth IRAs also enjoy tax-sheltered earnings (as with a regular qualified employer plan or IRA) and tax-free withdrawals (unlike with a regular qualified employer plan or IRA). They do, however, have to commence regular withdrawals from a Roth IRA after the account owner dies.

The catch, and it’s a big one, is that the rollover will be fully taxed, assuming the rollover is being made with pre-tax dollars (money that was deductible when contributed to an IRA, or money that wasn’t taxed to an employee when contributed to the qualified employer sponsored retirement plan) and the earnings on those pre-tax dollars. For example, if you are in the 28% federal tax bracket and roll over $100,000 from a regular IRA funded entirely with deductible dollars to a Roth IRA, you’ll owe $28,000 of tax. So you’ll be paying tax now for the future privilege of tax-free withdrawals, and freedom from the RMD rules.

Should you consider making the rollover to a Roth IRA? The answer may be “yes” if:

  • You can pay the tax hit on the rollover with non-retirement-plan funds. Keep in mind that if you use retirement plan funds to pay the tax on the rollover, you’ll have less money building up tax-free within the account.
  • You anticipate paying taxes at a higher tax rate in the future than you are paying now. Many observers believe that tax rates for upper middle income and high income individuals will trend higher in future years.
  • You have a number of years to go before you might have to tap into the Roth IRA. This will give you a chance to recoup (via tax-deferred earnings and tax-deferred payouts) the tax hit you absorb on the rollover.
  • You are willing to pay a tax price now for the opportunity to pass on a source of tax-free income to your beneficiaries.

You also should know that Roth rollovers made in 2010 represent a novel tax deferral opportunity and a novel choice. If you make a rollover to a Roth IRA in 2010, the tax that you’ll owe as a result of the rollover will be payable half in 2011 and half in 2012, unless you elect to pay the entire tax bill in 2010.

Why on earth would you choose to pay a tax bill in 2010 instead of deferring it to 2011 and 2012? Keep in mind that absent Congressional action, after 2010 the tax brackets above the 15% bracket will revert to their higher pre-2001 levels. That means the top four brackets will be 39.6%, 36%, 31%, and 28%, instead of the current top four brackets of 35%, 33%, 28%, and 25%. The Administration has proposed to increase taxes only for those making $250,000, but it is difficult to predict who will get hit by higher rates. What’s more, there’s a health reform proposal before the House of Representatives right now that would help finance healthcare reform with a surtax on higher-income individuals.

So if you believe there’s a strong chance your tax rates will go up after 2010, you may want to consider paying the tax on the Roth rollover in 2010.

Here are some ways individuals can prepare now for next year’s rollover opportunity.

(1) Non-high-income individuals who are able to make deductible IRA contributions this year should do so. They’ll reduce their 2009 tax bill and, if they make the conversion to Roth IRA next year, they won’t have to pay back the tax savings until 2011 and 2012.

(2) Individuals who have never opened a traditional IRA because they weren’t able to make deductible contributions (and who never rolled over pre-tax dollars to a regular IRA) should consider opening such an IRA this year and making the biggest allowable nondeductible contribution they can afford. If they convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA next year they will have to include in gross income only that part of the amount converted that is attributable to income earned after the IRA was opened, presumably a small amount. In 2010 and later years, they could continue to make nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA and then roll the contributed amount over into a Roth IRA. However, note that if an individual previously made deductible IRA contributions, or rolled over qualified plan funds to an IRA, complex rules determine the taxable amount.

(3) Some high-income individuals may plan to make large conversions in 2010 but to opt out of the deferral of tax until 2011 and 2012 because they fear they will be in a higher tax bracket in those years than in 2010. These individuals should avoid the standard year-end-planning wisdom of accelerating deductions and deferring income but should, rather, do the reverse in an effort to avoid being pushed into the highest brackets by a large IRA-to-Roth-IRA conversion in 2010. These individuals should be considering ways to defer deductions to 2010, and accelerate income from next year into 2009.

We should discuss your and your family’s entire financial situation before you plan for a large rollover to a Roth IRA after 2009. There also are many details that we should go over, such as whether the amounts you are thinking of switching to a Roth IRA are eligible for the rollover (technically, they are called “eligible rollover distributions”), whether you can make rollovers from your employer sponsored plan (for example, there are restrictions on rollovers from 401(k) plans), and the tax impact of rolling over amounts that represent nondeductible as well as deductible contributions.

I’m looking forward to your call at 1-877-78-TAXES (1-877-788-2937).

Keywords: Roth IRA Rollover, Estate Planning, Tax Planning, Roth IRA 2010, Stretch IRA

Extended and liberalized homebuyer tax credit rules

Mike Habib, EA

On November 6, the President signed into law H.R. 3548, the ”Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009.” The new law extends and generally liberalizes the tax credit for first-time homebuyers, making it a much more flexible tax-saving tool. It also includes some crackdowns designed to prevent abuse of the credit. These important changes could it make it easier for you or someone in your family to buy a home. And because the changes generally aid buyers and aim to improve residential real estate markets nationwide, they also could make it easier for you or someone in your family to sell a home. This Client Letter fills you in on the details you need to know about the first-time homebuyer credit.

Homebuyer credit basics. Before the new law was enacted, the homebuyer credit was only available for qualifying first-time home purchases after April 8, 2008, and before December 1, 2009. The top credit for homes bought in 2009 is $8,000 ($4,000 for a married individual filing separately) or 10% of the residence’s purchase price, whichever is less. Only the purchase of a main home located in the U.S. qualifies. Vacation homes and rental properties are not eligible. The homebuyer credit reduces one’s tax liability on a dollar-for-dollar basis, and if the credit is more than the tax you owe, the difference is paid to you as a tax refund. For homes bought after Dec. 31, 2008, the homebuyer credit is recaptured (i.e., paid back to the IRS) if a person disposes of the home (or stops using it as a principal residence) within 36 months from the date of purchase.

Before the new law, the first-time homebuyer credit phased out for individual taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (AGI) between $75,000 and $95,000 ($150,000 and $170,000 for joint filers) for the year of purchase.

Your guide to the revised homebuyer credit. The new law makes four important changes to the homebuyer credit:

(1) New lease on life for the homebuyer credit. The homebuyer credit is extended to apply to a principal residence bought before May 1, 2010. The homebuyer credit also applies to a principal residence bought before July 1, 2010 by a person who enters into a written binding contract before May 1, 2010, to close on the purchase of the principal residence before July 1, 2010. In general, a home is considered bought for credit purposes when the closing takes place. So the extra two-months (May and June of 2010) helps buyers who find a home they like but can’t close on it before May 1, 2010. They can go to contract on the home before May 1, 2010, close on it before July 1, 2010, and get the homebuyer credit (if they otherwise qualify). Note that certain service members on qualified official extended duty service outside of the U.S. get an extra year to buy a qualifying home and get the credit; they also can avoid the recapture rules under certain circumstances.

(2) The homebuyer credit may be claimed by existing homeowners who are “long-time residents. For purchases after November 6, 2009, you can claim the homebuyer credit if you (and, if married, your spouse) maintained the same principal residence for any 5-consecutive year period during the 8-years ending on the date that you buy the subsequent principal residence. For example, if you and your spouse are empty nesters who have lived in your suburban home for the past ten years, you are potentially eligible for the credit if you “move down” and buy a smaller townhome. There’s no requirement for your current home to be sold in order to qualify for a homebuyer credit on the replacement principal residence. Thus, the replacement residence can be bought to beat the new deadlines (explained above) before the old home is sold. For that matter, you can hold on to your prior principal residence in the hope of achieving a better selling price later on.

The maximum allowable homebuyer credit for qualifying existing homeowners is $6,500 ($3,250 for a married individual filing separately), or 10% of the purchase price of the subsequent principal residence, whichever is less.

(3) The homebuyer credit is available to higher income taxpayers. For purchases after November 6, 2009, the homebuyer credit phases out over much higher modified AGI levels, making the credit available to a much bigger pool of buyers. For individuals, the phaseout range is between $125,000 and $145,000, and for those filing a joint return, it’s between $225,000 and $245,000.

(4) There’s a new home-price limit for the homebuyer credit. For purchases after Nov. 6, 2009, the homebuyer credit cannot be claimed for a home if its purchase price exceeds $800,000. It’s important to note that there is no phaseout mechanism. A purchase price that exceeds the $800,000 threshold by even a single dollar will cause the loss of the entire credit.

The new purchase price limitation applies whether you are buying a first-time principal residence or are a qualifying existing homeowner purchasing a replacement principal residence.

Other homebuyer credit changes. The new law includes a number of new anti-abuse rules to prevent taxpayers from claiming the homebuyer credit even though they don’t qualify for it. The most important of these are as follows:

  • Beginning with the 2010 tax return, the homebuyer credit can’t be claimed unless the taxpayer attaches to the return a properly executed copy of the settlement statement used to complete the purchase of the qualifying residence.
  • For purchases after Nov. 6, 2009, the homebuyer credit can’t be claimed unless the taxpayer has attained 18 years of age as of the date of purchase (a married person is treated as meeting the age requirement if he or his spouse meets the age requirement).
  • For purchases after Nov. 6, 2009, the homebuyer credit can’t be claimed by a taxpayer if he can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer for the tax year of purchase. It also can’t be claimed for a home bought from a person related to the buyer or the spouse of the buyer, if married.
  • Beginning with 2009 returns, the new law makes it easier for the IRS to go after questionable homebuyer credit claims without initiating a full-scale audit.

What hasn’t changed. The tax law still gives you the extraordinary opportunity to get your hands on homebuyer credit cash without waiting to file your tax return for the year in which you buy the qualifying principal residence. Thus, if you buy a qualifying principal residence in 2009 you can treat the purchase as having taken place this past December 31, file an amended return for 2008 claiming the credit for that year, and get your homebuyer credit cash relatively quickly via a tax refund. Similarly, you can treat a qualifying principal residence bought in 2010 (before the new deadlines) as having taken place on December 31, 2009, and file an original or amended return for 2009 claiming the credit for that year.

What also hasn’t changed is the need for getting expert tax advice in negotiating through the twists and turns of the new beefed-up homebuyer credit. Please call us today for details on how the homebuyer credit can help you or your family members.