The 2016 tax filing season has begun, with W-2s arriving in the mail and some confusion arising from news of a refund delay.
While most people will be minimally impacted by changes this year, one of the biggest additions is aimed at helping low-income families.
The California earned income tax credit is entering its second year. The credit applies to people who earn $6,717 or less with no children up to $14,161 with two or more children. To help you get the most out of your taxes, we asked Aaron Martinez, a tax expert with H&R Block since 1998, and Andrew Nelsen, a certified public accountant in Fountain Valley, for tips ahead of the April 18 filing deadline.
Some who file early may be in for a surprise. Those claiming the EITC or a child tax credit – an estimated 30 million taxpayers – will have their refund held until Feb. 15.
“We’re telling everyone to file normally,” Martinez said. “They just have to wait a little bit longer to get their refund.”
The delay, created by the Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, is meant to prevent fraud.
“Those two credits are target credits for identity thieves and fraudsters. The IRS wants to make sure that the W-2s that are coming in are correct and that they have time to make sure there is no theft,” Martinez said.
The IRS estimates that as many as 26 percent of EITC claims may be paid erroneously in 2015. “Some of the errors are unintentional, caused by the complexity of the law, but some of the claims are intentional disregard of the law,” the agency said.
For people who need the refund sooner, H&R Block is offering a $1,250 refund advance, a no-interest loan that’s repaid when the refund is issued by the IRS.
The personal exemption has been increased to $4,050. But that amount is phased out for taxpayers at higher income levels. Similarly, those with higher adjusted gross income might not be able to get the full value of their deductions.
The alternative minimum tax is still around, but the exemption has increased to $53,900 for single taxpayers, $83,000 for those married filing jointly and $41,900 for married filing separately.
People who have been issued an individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, instead of a Social Security number may have to renew it before filing their tax returns. The IRS says current ITINs will no longer be valid if they weren’t used at least once in the last three years or if the number was issued before 2013.
Make sure you have last year’s tax return handy when you prepare to file your taxes this year.
“Taxpayers who are changing tax software products this filing season will need their adjusted gross income from their 2015 tax return in order to file electronically,” the IRS said. “The electronic filing PIN is no longer an option.”
That, too, is part of the agency’s attempt to battle tax fraud and identity theft.
CLAIM ALL YOUR CREDITS
Martinez said there are a lot of deductions people forget to take. They include:
--Mortgage interest, property taxes and mortgage insurance
--Employee expenses such as mileage and phone bills
--Education costs: Schools issue a tuition statement, form 1098-T, for eligible deductions
--Filing status: For example, a single mother with a child can file as head of household
--Caring for parents
--Even if you have a degree, the IRS offers a lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 annually
--Delivery drivers, especially those working for Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, should keep track of miles, oil changes and vehicle repairs as business expenses
“A big change this year is the PATH Act. This act made some tax changes permanent and made some expire,” Martinez said.
Under the act, the American Opportunity Education Tax Credit, which gives undergraduate students up to $2,500 in tax credits, and some other tax breaks were made permanent.
This is the last year for private mortgage insurance, mortgage debt forgiveness, a tuition and fees deduction, and non-business energy credits.
“Next year is the year that could really be topsy-turvy,” said Nelsen. “Not a whole lot changed this year.”
To prevent fraud, file your taxes as early as possible, Martinez urges.
The IRS will not ask for your credit card or send the sheriff to your house. Anyone threatening to do so is likely a scammer.
Anyone impersonating the IRS can be reported online at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by calling 800-366-4484.
Taxpayers who need more time to file can request an extension.
“Getting a filing extension avoids the late filing penalty, but it doesn’t avoid the late payment penalty,” said Barbara Weltman, a consultant and author of books on taxes, law and finance.
So the advice from tax experts: To avoid the late payment penalty, estimate the amount due and pay it before the April 18 deadline. But even with that, you won’t be able to avoid interest on payments made after the deadline.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
While Republicans seem committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act, it remains to be seen what might replace it.
In the meantime, people who do not have health insurance should be prepared to pay more this year as penalties for those without coverage have risen.
The penalty for not having insurance is $695 per uninsured adult or 2.5 percent of household income over the filing threshold – whichever is greater. In 2015, it was $325 per uninsured adult or 2 percent of household income.
Enrollees with insurance through the state’s health exchange, Covered California, have to file a 1095-A form with their taxes.
To help with the cost, there are 30 exemptions available for people who are uninsured, according to Martinez.
“It’s in its third year. The first year people didn’t really understand it,” Nelsen said. “The second year penalties really started kicking in, and people started to catch on, so I know it’s on people’s mind this year.”
Genre: Animals / Family / Peer Pressure / Self Esteem
Year Published: 2016
Year Read: 2016
Publisher: Annick Press
I would like to thank NetGalley and Annick Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Now, I have heard many stories that involve a human character being adopted by an animal family or being born with an animal family. So, when I found this interesting children’s book called “Rosie the Raven” which is written and illustrated by Helga Bansch on NetGalley, I just had to check this book out and it was a pretty sweet and short little read!
The story starts off with a pair of raven parents seeing their five eggs hatching and while the four other eggs had baby ravens hatching out, the fifth egg had a little human girl hatching out! The little girl was named Rosie and at first, Rosie did not notice that she was different from the other ravens. But when the other birds started making insulting comments about Rosie’s strange appearance, Rosie then wanted to be like her brothers and sisters by trying to fly and make caw noises. But Rosie soon finds out that she could not do the things that her brothers and sisters could do and it was then that she discovered that her unique appearance might actually have some benefits…
As I mentioned before, I have seen many stories that has a human character being adopted by an animal family, but I had never read an animal/human family story where the main human character was actually born to a family of animals. Helga Bansch has done an excellent job at conveying the message of the importance of family through a supernatural yet heartwarming way as Rosie is presented as being a human who was somehow born the natural way a baby raven would be born…by hatching through an egg. There was no clear explanation about how this phenomena even happened and Rosie’s raven family did not seem to mind how bizarre this event is, which really made the story truly heartwarming to read as it shows that Rosie’s raven family does not care about how different Rosie looks from the other Raven children, they just care that Rosie is part of the family. Helga Bansch’s artwork is quite unique as the characters are drawn in a scratchy manner and the colorings are a bit of an earthly hue as we mainly see black, white and pink colors in the artwork. I also thought it was quite unique that Rosie’s skin tone is completely white, which makes her look extremely pale and it gives her a sort of unnatural appearance that really makes her stand out in the story.
Parents should know that some of the images in this book might be a tad bit scary for some children, especially since most characters look quite unnatural in this book. Probably the images that might scare some children the most would be the close up images of Rosie’s face as her eyes tend to look blank and her eyes seem a bit too misshapen. There were also the images of the other birds as they have newspaper collages as their feathers and that makes them look quite uncanny. Parents might want to read this book first to see if their child would enjoy seeing strange imagery in a book.
Overall, “Rosie the Raven” is a truly beautiful story about the importance of being in a loving family that cares about you no matter how different you are from them. I would recommend this book to children ages five and up since the some of the strange imagery might scare some children.
Review is also on: Rabbit Ears Book Blog
Paksenarrion — Paks for short — is somebody special. She knows it, even if nobody else does yet. No way will she follow her father's orders to marry the pig farmer down the road. She's off to join the army, even if it means she can never see her family again.
And so her adventure begins... the adventure that transforms her into a hero remembered in songs, chosen by the gods to restore a lost ruler to his throne.
Here is her tale as she lived it.
I really wanted to like this tale more than I actually did. It had moments of greatness—as when Paksenarrion fights off her father and leaves home to join the army. (Although, as the daughter of a pig farmer, I will tell you that there are worse men that you could end up married to).
I read this book while on holiday and it always seemed that I was interrupted right in mid-battle, left wondering for many hours how things would turn out! That said, the battles were certainly not gritty like those described by Glen Cook in his Dark Company series. These were battlefield-lite. And although Paks is injured several times and has bad things happen to her, she leads the charmed life of the fantasy heroine.
What was refreshing was having a female main character who was competent with a weapon and interested in tactics. Now, how much is her own doing and how much is she being assisted by somewhat magical influences? This supernatural stirring in her life puts me in mind of Joan of Arc….
Book 241 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.
A war fueled by the powers of dark sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard—for Prester John, the High King, lies dying. And with his death, the Storm King, the undead ruler of the elf-like Sithi, seizes the chance to regain his lost realm through a pact with the newly ascended king. Knowing the consequences of this bargain, the king’s younger brother joins with a small, scattered group of scholars, the League of the Scroll, to confront the true danger threatening Osten Ard.
Simon, a kitchen boy from the royal castle unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League, will be sent on a quest that offers the only hope of salvation, a deadly riddle concerning long-lost swords of power. Compelled by fate and perilous magics, he must leave the only home he’s ever known and face enemies more terrifying than Osten Ard has ever seen, even as the land itself begins to die.
Oh, the orphan boy with unknown talents, who under-performs until the pressure is applied—how many fantasy stories have you read with this structure? Let’s see--Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey, The Riftwar Saga by Raymond Feist, The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, even to some extent The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien (substitute “hobbit” for “boy”). Maybe even the King Arthur story to some extent—until young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone. It’s a well-used idea.
At the book’s beginning, I found Simon particularly annoying. As lives go in Midieval-like settings, his lot in life isn’t so bad, although the housekeeper Rachel does make his existence somewhat miserable. However, we all have to earn our keep, so pull up your socks, laddie, and make an effort! Even when offered opportunities to learn to read and to study, he complains! Typical 14-year-old, I guess, something I wouldn’t know about, having had the reading bug ever since I learned to read. Simon doesn’t appreciate his warm bed, three square meals a day, and secure surroundings until he has to flee the castle.
Once he starts running for his life, Simon begins growing up. He becomes a much more likeable character at that point and I began to get invested in his tale. He loses some of the ADHD qualities that made him a “mooncalf” in the beginning and becomes a much more focused young man.
I also appreciated a brand new take on trolls—making them smaller, wiser, and wilier. I liked Binobik and his wolf companion a lot. The Sithi are interesting in their ambiguity—are they enlightened, ethereal beings like the elves in Tolkien? Or are they the dark enemies of mankind? The world of Osten Ard is very detailed and easy to picture in the mind’s eye.
The writing isn’t the best ever, but the story is engaging and I am waiting impatiently for volume 2 at my public library, where it is ‘on order.’ No telling how long I will have to pause before I know what happens to Simon, the kingdom, and the Storm King!
Book number 239 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.