Tax School

Don't File a Tax Extension, File Your Return

Haven't filed your taxes yet?  Considering filing a tax extension?  Read this article before you do, because tax extensions are fool's gold.  Why? You may not need to file an extension and if you do file an extension, you still have to pay the taxes you owe. The following info applies to federal tax returns, many states have different rules.  

File Your Taxes Now

 

tax extension

 

Why Don't I Need to File a Tax Extension?

Tax extensions are one of the most misunderstood options you have when filing your taxes. There are two important reasons that filing a tax extension is a waste of time:

  1. If you're getting a refund, as two-thirds of all taxpayers are, you are not required to file a tax extension if you choose to file your taxes after April 15th.  You have three years to file your return with no late fees or penalties.  April 15th is a payment deadline, not necessarily a filing deadline.
  2. If you're NOT getting a refund (you owe additional taxes), you still have to pay at least 90% of the taxes you owe by April 15th.  That's right, an extension does't buy you any extra time to pay the taxes you owe.  Plus, you still have to prepare enough of your tax return to determine if you owe and how much you owe.  Once you've done this much work, you might as well go the last mile and just finish and file your return.

 

So What Should I Do Instead of Filing a Tax Extension?

File your tax return!  As mentioned above, if you're getting a refund there is no need to file an extension.  Don't get us wrong, we're not suggesting that you extend the interest free loan you've given Uncle Sam, but if you can't file by 4/15 and you're sure you're getting a refund - don't sweat it.  Just file when.  We do recommend you file in 2015, as most tax software companies raise their prices for prior year returns.

If you owe additional taxes, then you definitely should file by April 15th. Otherwise you must:  1) File an extension by April 15, 2015, 2) pay 90% or more of taxes owed by April 15th, 3) File your return and pay remaining taxes owed by October 15, 2015.

  • If you don't file your return or an extension by April 15, 2015, a late filing penalty applies:
    • The late filing penalty is 5% of the additional taxes owed amount for every month (or fraction thereof) your return is late, up to a maximum of 25%.
    • The late filing penalty is 10 times higher than the late payment penalty. If you can’t pay your tax bill and didn’t file an extension, at least file your return as soon as possible! You can always amend it later.
  • And, a late payment penalty applies if you don’t pay 90% or more of taxes owed by April 15, 2015, whether you filed an extension or not.
    • The late payment penalty is 0.5% (1/2 of 1 percent) of the additional tax owed amount for every month (or fraction thereof) the owed tax remains unpaid, up to a maximum of 25%.

In other words, you're not getting off the hook for the taxes you owe and you're going to expose yourself to more late fees, penalties, and headaches.

 

What Else Do I Need To Know About Tax Extensions?

As mentioned above, an extension does NOT give you any extra time to pay the IRS the taxes you owe.  If you're stuck and unable to pay the taxes you owe, contact the IRS immediately and work out a payment plan.

We're not advocating filing late or taking unnecessary risks.  If there is any chance you owe additional taxes, you need to pay them by April 15th and file your tax return or an extension.  We recommend you spend that time and energy completing your return, not filing an extension.

 

File Your Taxes Now

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Tax Day 2015

tax filing deadline

 The deadline to file your taxes in 2015, also known as Tax Day, is April 15th.

 

Tax Day 2015

April 15th.  If you know one date about taxes, it's this one.  However the most well known date in the tax code is also the most misunderstood.  Most people think it's the deadline for filing their personal income taxes.  That's pretty close and there's no reason why you shouldn't file by 4/15.  However if you're getting a refund, which most taxpayers are, you don't have to file by tax day.  In fact you have 3 years to file with no late fees or penalties. Note this info applies to federal returns, many states have different rules.

 

So What Does Tax Day Really Mean?

Tax Day is a payment deadline, not necessarily a filing deadline.  The meaning differs if you're getting a refund vs. if you owe taxes. The following information applies to Tax Day 2015 (filing taxes on the money you made in 2014).

If you’re getting a refund:

  • You can file for 3 years, through April 15, 2018 with no late fees or penalties.  You don't need to file an extension, just file whenever you like.
  • If you don’t file by 2018, you forfeit your refund.
  • Although you don't have to file by April 15, we recommend you do.  Your refund is an interest free loan you're giving Uncle Sam, why give him any longer to pay you back?  And it's not a small loan - the average refund is $2,893 this year!  File today and get yours!

If you owe additional  taxes:

  • There is no penalty if you file an extension and pay 90% or more of taxes owed by April 15, 2015 as long as you file your return by October 15, 2015.
  • A late filing penalty applies if you owe taxes and don't file your return or an extension by April 15, 2015.
    • The late filing penalty is 5% of the additional taxes owed amount for every month (or fraction thereof) your return is late, up to a maximum of 25%.
    • The late filing penalty is 10 times higher than the late payment penalty. If you can’t pay your tax bill and didn’t file an extension, at least file your return as soon as possible! You can always amend it later.
  • A late payment penalty applies if you don't pay 90% or more of taxes owed by April 15, 2015, whether you filed an extension or not.
    • The late payment penalty is 0.5% (1/2 of 1 percent) of the additional tax owed amount for every month (or fraction thereof) the owed tax remains unpaid, up to a maximum of 25%.

If you’re not sure if you owe or are getting a refund:

  • If there’s a chance you owe, the penalties could be racking up, so don’t risk it by waiting.  File by April 15.
  • Most of our customers complete their taxes in minutes, so file now and get it over with.

 

What About Filing an Extension?

Extensions are fool’s goldyou still have to pay at least 90% of taxes owed.  That means you have to do enough of your taxes to determine how much you owe.  You might as well just spend a few more minutes and finish your taxes.  And if you're getting a refund, federal extensions are unnecessary.  You have 3 years to file, without filing an extension.

 

What If I Miss the Tax Filing Deadline?

As mentioned above, it depends if you're getting a refund or owe taxes.  If you're getting a refund, you can file for 3 years, through April 15, 2018, with no late fees or penalties.  If you are unable to pay the taxes you owe, contact the IRS and work out a payment plan.

 

File Your Taxes Now

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What is eFile?

What is efile? How do you efile your taxes?  We explain it all in this short and sweet article.  

IRS efile logo

 

What is efile?

eFile, also known as e-file or electronic filing, is a system for submitting tax information to the IRS through the internet or a direct connection, usually without having to submit any paperwork.  IRS developed eFile in 1986 to lower cost and paper usage and it has grown into the most popular way for individuals and businesses to send their tax returns to IRS.  Think of it as online bill pay for your taxes.

 

How do I efile my taxes?

The easiest way to efile is to use online tax software.  Both IRS and all major tax software providers recommend efile as the best way to submit your tax return.  Here's how to efile your taxes:

  1. Select the tax software / website that best meets your needs.  If you have relatively simple finances, we hope you'll give Common Form a try. If you have more complicated taxes, check out our friends at TaxAct.
  2. Use the software you selected to prepare your tax return.  Don't worry, the best software packages make it very easy.  You don't need to know anything about taxes and they do all the math for you.
  3. Once you're done preparing your return, you'll be asked if you want to efile your taxes or print and mail your return to the IRS.
  4. You'll verify your identity and "sign" your return electronically.
  5. The tax software you're using will securely transmit your return to the IRS.

 

How much does efile cost?

The IRS does not charge you or the tax software company you use for efile.  They want us all to use is because it's easier for them and better for the environment.  Many tax companies do charge a modest fee for preparing your tax return with them.  We have to pay our employees, buy and maintain secure servers, and have the normal expenses that any business does after all.  Most software sites allow you to start for free and not pay until the end, so you can see which one you like best before committing.  Watch out for those upgrade offers and add-ons, though.  Trust me, you do NOT need audit insurance!

 

How do I get my refund?

This is the most important question of course!  As you're efiling your taxes, you'll be able to select how you want to receive your refund.  The fastest way is to have it direct deposited into your bank account.  You can chose to have IRS send you a paper check, but that takes several weeks longer.  Some tax companies offer pre-paid debit cards and other offers that are essentially payday loans.  We strongly recommend you avoid them - they are loaded with hidden fees and the interest rates (APR) can be astronomical.  Most refunds are issued within a few days after IRS receives your efile, so you won't have to wait long.

 

How do I check the status of my refund?

Once you've filed, you can use the IRS's Where's My Refund tool or IRS2Go mobile app to check the status of your refund.  These tools are updated around once a day.

 

 

That's all there is to it! The IRS is far from perfect, but efile is a good system especially when compared to the alternative.  Who wants to print their return, attach a paper copy of their W-2, and mail it all in?

If you found this information helpful, we appreciate the chance to earn your business.  We pride ourselves on being the most user friendly tax software on the market.  Most of our customers get their taxes done in just a few minutes and we won't try to sell you a bunch of extra stuff you don't need.

 

File Your Taxes Now

 

 

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The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the South

  Recently, some folks here at Common Form Tax Software began a virtual journey across the U.S. to find the top accounting schools in each region of the country. As a follow up to our previous rankings of the The Top 10 Accounting Schools on the East Coast, the West, and the Midwest, we are proud to present Top 10 Accounting Schools in the South.

 

The criteria used to evaluate these schools include:

  • Job placement rates and average starting salary for graduates
  • Awards and recognition
  • Faculty and staff
  • Funds generated and allocated for research

 

Our fingers still stained with BBQ sauce, we present to you the very best that the South has to offer in accounting education, The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the South.

 

 

10. University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Haslam College of Business Administration

 

University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Haslam College of Business Administration logo

 

Starting us off at #10 on our list is The Haslam College of Business Administration at University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Tennessee, the birthplace of the blues and the home of Jack Daniels, is known for excellence and Haslam College of Business is no exception. The Haslam school ranked 24th in the Public Accounting Report. The Master of Accountancy program at University of Tennessee prides itself on their commitment to improving the world. Graduates of the Accountancy program find themselves receiving offers from the Big Four accounting firms and other notable companies. There is a 90% placement rate for its graduate accounting students, with expected mid-career average earnings of $77,000. Alumni become a Vol for Life, being inducted into the network that spans the globe.

 

 

9. University of Alabama, Culverhouse School of Accountancy

 

University of Alabama, Culverhouse School of Accountancy  logo

 

The University of Alabama’s Culverhouse School of Accountancy has rolled in at a very respectable 9th on our rankings. Culverhouse is no stranger to being in the top 10, as it has found its way onto TaxTalent’s top 10 rankings as well. The University of Alabama is one of the oldest and largest institutions of higher education in the state. Culverhouse offers a Master of Accountancy with a strong mentor program that provides valuable networking opportunities, coaching, and often leads to job offers. Upon graduation 91% of students find themselves gainfully employed with a mid-career salary of $ 74,000. Roll Tide!

 

 

8. University of Virginia, McIntire School of Commerce

University of Virginia, McIntire School of Commerce logo

Coming in at #8 is the University of Virginia, McIntire School of Commerce. We aren’t the only ones who think they're stellar. TaxTalent ranked them 6th in their top 10, and Public Accounting Report has them ranked 23rd nationally. One facet of the program that sets McIntire apart is The Galant Center for Entrepreneurship. Founded in 2008 by proud alumnus Mark E. Galant, their mission is "to encourage, educate, and empower students—past and present— to take on crucial roles in the new venture community, thereby impacting the world in which we live and creating value of all kinds.” 95% of the graduates of the School of Commerce find employment with average Mid-career earnings of $112,000. Wah-hoo-wah UVA!

 

 

7. Wake Forest University, School of Business

Wake Forest University logo

Our 7th place pick is a prestigious private school located in North Carolina, Wake Forest University’s School of Business.  Wake Forest University distinguishes itself by providing a small class size and a high faculty to student ratio. Wake Forest professors found that More Female Executives Means Less Tax Evasion, research that was featured in Bloomberg. Wake Fores had the number one CPA pass rate in 2013 and the class of 2014 had a 100% employment rate upon graduation. The average mid-salary earnings of a WFU graduate are $105,000. Well done Demon Deacons!

 

 

6. University of Georgia, Terry College of Business

 

 

University of Georgia Terry College of Business logo

 

 

The Bulldogs using their brawn in research to bully their way into 6th place. The University of Georgia, Terry College of Business is also well known for its excellent faculty. They've been recognized by AAA Auditing Section Outstanding Educator Award and the American Tax Association Outstanding Manuscript Award. Even more impressive is that five of Terry faculty members are considered the most productive researchers being in the top 5% over the last 50 years. With extraordinary faculty like that, it is no wonder the school’s employment placement rate in 2013-2014 was 97%. Alumni of the Accounting program can expect to earn average mid-career salaries of $92,000. Congrats Uga and high-five, Hairy Dawg!

 

 

5. University of Mississippi, Patterson School of Accountancy

 

University of Mississippi logo

 

Flim Flam, Bim Bam, OLE MISS BY DAMN!  And the #5 ranking goes to the University of Mississippi, Patterson School of Accountancy. University of Mississippi is the largest university in the state and the largest employer in Lafayette, MS. Patterson is unique in that the university made it a separate school in 1979. The school placed fifth in the national rankings of Public Accounting Report. Along with remarkable faculty and small class size, the accounting school is home to the National Tax History Research Center and the National EDP Audit Archival Center. 94% of grads are offered employment within 6 months with average mid-career wages of $84,000. Way to fight Rebel Black Bears!

 

 

4. Texas A&M University, Mays Business School

 

Texas A & M University Mays Business School logo

 

Texas A&M University, Mays Business School is next, grabbing a top 4 spot on our list. This is one of two premier Texas business schools in our line-up. A&M got its start as a military and agricultural school. Those roots are still visible today in campus architecture and culture, but that hasn't stopped it from developing a top tier accounting school. Mays Business School was ranked #4 in Washington Monthly's 2014 "National Universities Rankings” based on three broad categories: social mobility, research, and service. The Master of Science in Accounting program from Mays provides students with technical accounting skills in addition to soft skills like teamwork and communication. Texas A&M is viewed as one of the nation’s top four (again) most affordable public universities with the highest ROI (what graduates are projected to earn in their first 20 years of careers divided by cost of attendance). The Texas A&M grads become part of an elite alumni network and 96% find employment. They can expect an average mid-salary income of $ 98,000. Gig 'em, Aggies!

 

 

3. University of Florida, Warrington College of Business Administration

 

University of Florida Warrington College of Business Administration logo

 

University of Florida, Warrington College of Business Administration wins the bronze medal as our third ranked school in the South. Their Master's program offers three tracks, including taxation. The University of Florida is one of the largest research universities in the nation and the accounting department is no exception. Their International Center for Research in Accounting and Auditing focuses on advancing the overall educational and academic goals at the same time as increasing global visibility. As a testament to the fine instruction the students receive, in 2013, Warrington students ranked 12th in CPA pass rate among 262 schools. 93% of graduates receive job offers within 90 days of graduating with average mid-career earnings of $87,000. Give a cheer for the Orange and Blue!

 

 

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kenan-Flagler Business School

 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kenan-Flagler Business School logo

 

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kenan-Flagler Business School comes in a close second place. This beautiful university known for specializing in medicine and law also has an elite business school. Their accounting program has received top 10 national rankings in U.S. News and World Report, Public Accounting Report, and TaxTalent. Kenan-Flagler’s Master of Accounting program prepares students to “make an impact in the business world.” Their world-class faculty helps students achieve a 98% job placement rate and mid-career salaries $104K on average. A hearty congratulations to the Tar Heels!

 

 

1. University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

 

University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business logo

 

Brimming with pride from coming in first place, the blue ribbon winner is the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business.  True, UT is our CEO’s alma mater, but we're not biased. U.S. News and World Report lists them as the top accounting school in the country in its most recent rankings.  They offer a Master in Professional Accounting (MPA) degree program with a fast track from Bachelor's to Master's in as little as 12 months. Distinguishing McCombs is its focus on creating an individual plan for success in the workplace based on each student’s goals and strengths. The Texas Exes have a tight-knit network of business partners to help students find jobs and 94% do so within 90 days of graduation. The average mid-career salary is a healthy $107,000. Hook 'em Horns!

 

Five Key Facts About Unemployment Benefits

Much of the content of this post comes from IRS Tax Tip 2014-30. Sample 1099-G Form reporting Unemployment Income

 

If you lose your job, you may qualify for unemployment benefits. The payments may serve as much needed relief. But did you know unemployment benefits are taxable? Here are five key facts about unemployment compensation:

1. Unemployment is taxable.  You must include all unemployment compensation as income for the year. If you received unemployment in 2014 you should receive a Form 1099-G from the state that paid you by February 2, 2015. This form shows the amount paid to you and any federal income tax withheld.

2. Unemployment is paid under U.S. or state law.  There are various types of unemployment compensation. Unemployment includes amounts paid under U.S. or state unemployment compensation laws.

3. Union benefits may be taxable.  You must include benefits paid to you from regular union dues in your income. Other rules may apply if you contributed to a special union fund and those contributions are not deductible. In that case, you only include as income any amount that you got that was more than the contributions you made.

4. You may have tax withheld.  You can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment. You can have this done using Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. Most people don't do this, and pay taxes owed when they file their tax return.

5. Visit IRS.gov for help.  If you’re facing financial difficulties, you should visit the IRS.gov page: “What Ifs” for Struggling Taxpayers. This page explains the tax effect of events such as job loss. For example, if your income decreased, you may be eligible for certain tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you owe federal taxes and can’t pay your bill, contact the IRS. In many cases, the IRS can take steps to help ease your financial burden.

 

IRS makes it sound more complicated than it is. We ask you all the right questions, put the numbers in the right places, and do the math so you get the biggest refund possible.

 

File Your Taxes Now

 

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What is a W-2?

What is a w-2
What is a w-2

What is a W-2?

Simply put, a W-2 is a tax form your employer sends you, known as a Wage and Tax Statement. Sounds simple, then why are there so many boxes and codes? Familiarizing yourself with the most important parts of this form can help you understand the income you made, taxes you paid, and prepare you for filing your tax return.

W-2, wages and withholding

Most taxpayers are considered employees and will receive a W-2 from their employer(s) by February 2, 2015. In addition to the wages, salaries and tips you made, the W-2 reports the amount of federal, state, and other taxes withheld from your paycheck. If you are not considered an employee, then your income will be reported on a different form. Independent contractors typically receive a 1099-MISC.

Why is your tax withholding important?

Your employer withholds money from your paycheck for federal income taxes. When you prepare your tax return, you compare the amount withheld to the amount of tax you owe. If too much was withheld, you get a tax refund. If too little was withheld, you owe additional taxes.

What are all those boxes and codes on the W-2 Form?

This is the best part of using TaxAct - they deal with all of this for you. Our easy to use software helps you enter this data in the right place and we do all the calculations for you. If you're the curious type, here's what the most frequently used boxes mean.

  • Box 1:Wages, tips, and other compensation. This is the amount of your total taxable wages or salary being reported to the IRS for federal income tax purposes. This amount includes any wages, salary, tips you reported, bonuses, and other taxable compensation.
  • Box 2:Federal income tax withheld. This is the total amount of Federal Income Tax withholdings from your paychecks. This represents the amount of federal taxes your employer has withdrawn throughout the year.
  • Box 3:Social Security wages. Box 3 reports the total amount of wages subject to the Social Security tax.
  • Box 4:Social Security tax withheld. This box reports the entire amount of Social Security taxes withheld from your paychecks. Usually, the Social Security tax2 is a flat tax rate of 6.2% on your wage income, up to a maximum wage base of $117,700 (for tax year 2014).
  • Box 5:Medicare wages and tips. Box 5 is the amount of wages subject to the Medicare tax. Medicare wages includes any deferred compensation, 401(k) contributions, or other fringe benefits that are excluded from the federal income tax.
  • Box 6:Medicare tax withheld. This is the amount of tax withheld from your paycheck for the Medicare tax. The Medicare tax is a based on a 1.45% flat tax rate of your total Medicare wages.
  • Box 12:Deferred Compensation and Other Compensation. Box 12 will have a single or double letter code followed by a dollar amount. It can report many types of income, such as a 401(k) plan, 403(b) plan, or a Health Savings Plan (HSA). Often box 12 is for your information only. Here's a detailed list of box 12 codes.

There are several other boxes on your W-2 that may have information in them, but boxes 1 - 6 are the most common. If you have data in those other boxes, enter them into Common Form and we'll deal with them appropriately.

Attaching your W-2

When you finish your tax return and get ready to file it, remember that a copy of your W-2 must be attached. If you e-file using tax software then your W-2 information is sent along with your tax return. However, if you are filing by mail then you need to include a copy of your W-2 in the envelope.

File Your Taxes Now

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Meaning of Box 12 of Your W-2

The codes and amounts in Box 12 of your W-2 are important for preparing your return. Some codes affect your current year income tax return, and other codes are simply for your information. Enter them into Common Form and we'll handle them appropriately. Here's a summary of the codes that pertain to your tax return and how we handle these amounts for you:

  • A and B: Uncollected social security and Medicare tax on tips. This represents the social security and Medicare tax on the tips you reported to your employer. There will be an amount here if your employer didn't withhold social security or Medicare taxes on these tips.
  • C: Taxable cost of group-term life insurance. You received group-term life insurance valued at more than $50,000 from your employer. The amount is also reported in Boxes 1, 3 and 5 of your W-2 and appears in Box 12 for your information only.
  • D, E, F, G, S, and H: These codes give you information about contributions to your retirement plan at work, and they are for your information only:
    • D: 401(k) plan
    • E: 403(b) plan
    • F: 408(k)(6) plan
    • G: 457(b) plan
    • S: 408(p) salary reduction SIMPLE retirement account
    • H: 501(c)(18)(D) plan
  • J: You received non-taxable sick pay.
  • K: Excise tax for excess golden parachute payments.
  • L: Your employer reimbursed you for employee business expenses that you paid out of your own pocket and the amount you received as a reimbursement is greater than the amount you actually spent. This amount isn't included in your income in Box 1, so you cannot deduct any of the expenses related to this reimbursement.
  • M and N: Uncollected social security and Medicare tax on group-term life insurance. If your employer pays for life insurance for you, you have to pay tax on premiums for the life insurance coverage that is in excess of $50,000. The amount of the excess premiums are included in Box 1 of your Form W-2, so you'll pay income tax on them when you file your return. Your employer didn't withhold any social security or Medicare taxes on the amount, so you cannot file a Form 1040EZ.
  • P: Exclusionary moving expense reimbursements. This amount isn't included in your income in Box 1.
  • R: Your employer made contributions to an Archer MSA (medical savings account) for you. If you have to pay tax on any of the contributions, the amount is already included in Box 1 of your W-2.
  • T: Employer-provided adoption benefits.
  • V: Your income from the exercise of non-statutory stock options. This amount is included in Box 1 of your W-2.
  • W: Employer contributions (including amounts the employee elected to contribute using a section 125 (cafeteria) plan) to your health savings account. Reported on Form 8889, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
  • Y: Deferrals under section 409(A) on an nonqualified deferred compensation plan.
  • Z: Income under section 409(A) on a nonqualified deferred compensation plan. This amount is also included in Box 1. It is subject to an additional 20% tax plus interest.
  • AA: Designated Roth contributions under a section 401(k) plan.
  • BB: Designated Roth contributions under a section 403(b) plan.
  • DD: Cost of employer sponsored health coverage.  This amount is not taxable.
  • EE: Designated Roth contributions under governmental section 457(b) plan. This amount does not apply to contributions under a tax-exempt organization section 457(b) plan.

 

File Your Taxes Now

 

 

The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the Midwest

  Recently, some folks here at Common Form began a virtual journey across the U.S. to find the Top Accounting Schools in each region of the country. As a follow up to our two previous rankings, The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the West and The Top 10 Accounting Schools on the East Coast, we braved tornados and the Wicked Witch of the East to find the top schools in the Midwest. While we didn’t find Oz, we did find accounting gold spun out of straw.

 

The criteria used to evaluate these schools include:

  • Job placement rates and average starting salary for graduates
  • Awards and recognition
  • Faculty and staff
  • Funds generated and allocated for research

 

We present to you the very best that the Midwest has to offer in accounting education, The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the Midwest.

 

10. Northern Illinois University, College of Business

 

Northern Illinois

 

Starting our list off in fine form with a ranking of #10 is Northern Illinois University, College of Business. This mighty Illinois business school beat out two well-known alternates to secure its rank in our top 10 list. “Finish the Fight!” Well done Huskies! What sets this university apart is the offering of a Master of Accounting Science in Leadership.  A rare degree taught by their notable faculty. This program provides students with leadership skills and the ability to effectively make important business decisions. Having the distinction of being ranked #1 in Illinois by Businessweek for providing the greatest return on investment (calculated by salary earned per annual tuition dollar spent). A degree from NIU is money well spent.  Students from NIU are expected to make a mid-career salary of $ 120,000 with 94% being offered employment upon graduation.

 

9. University of Missouri, Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business

 

missouri logo

 

Next in the line-up with a solid #9 is University of Missouri, Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business and they MIZ BIZ! 2014 was a memorable year for the university, marking the 100 year anniversary of the school’s existence. This birthday hasn’t slowed down the University of Missouri a bit, even if it is a centenarian, as they recently launched their Entrepreneurial Scholars and Interns Program. This is a highly selective entrepreneurial program for students including a 10 week paid summer internship. University of Missouri didn’t stop there. The year was also notable for faculty member Elaine Mauldin, as her research on audit fees was published by the Wallstreet Journal. All this bodes well for students with an advanced degree from Trulaske, as they can expect an average mid-career salary of $125,000,with 96% of students finding employment soon after graduation.

 

8. Michigan State University, Eli Broad College of Business

 

Michigan State University Logo

 

Michigan State University, Eli Broad College of Business pulls in an honorable #8 in our ranking. The Master of Science in Accounting program boasts that it “readies students to become leaders in the accounting industry.” The Eli Broad College of Business ranked #13 in the Accounting Degree Review 2014 Best Accounting School Super Ranking. This ranking combines BusinessweekPublic Accounting Report, and U.S. News & World Report and that is why it is super! Research plays a role in deciding those rankings and Michigan State College of business takes it quite seriously with 6 research centers total. Two of which include the Center for Venture Capital, Private Equity and Entrepreneurial Finance (CVCPEEF)  and the Demmer Center for Business Transformation. The school is also known for the Ernst & Young Communication Center which offers students career preparation, so it comes as no surprise that 99% of Eli Broad graduates find themselves quickly employed with an average mid-career salary rounding out the $92,000 a year range.

 

7. Indiana University – Bloomington, Kelley School of Business

 

Indiana University Kelley School of Business logo

 

Indiana University – Bloomington, Kelley School of Business is Breaking Away from the pack as these Indiana Hoosiers earn the highly coveted lucky #7. The accounting program has also been recognized by U.S. News and World Report and TaxTalent as a top 10 graduate accounting program. The curriculum at Kelley School of Business “mirrors real-world situations.” Students are expected to participate in consulting projects in cooperation with top corporations. Kelley accounting faculty is unrivaled by other larger institutions. Patrick Hopkins was honored by the American Accounting Association for his research uncovering companies that hid poor accounting practices to make their bottom line look better than it really was. With remarkable faculty like Patrick, students are well prepared to take on a career in accounting and are highly sought after for a close to 100% employment rate and an average mid-career salary of $103,000.

 

6. University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business

 

Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business

 

The University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business is located in Northern Indiana and while there is no hunchback lurking in the school bell tower, legend has it that you can still hear echoes of “Rudy, Rudy” being chanted through the stadium corridors. These “fighting Irish” do business as well as they do football, earning a respectable #6 on our list. The Accounting department is recognized for its Center for Accounting Research and Education (CARE), whose objective is to “strengthen the bridges between accounting research, accounting education, and accounting practice.” According to Public Accounting Report and TaxTalent Mendoza College placed 4th in the nation and is a highly favored institution among tax hiring authorities. It makes perfect sense, that 99% of Mendoza College graduates had an immediate job offer and enjoy an average mid-career salary of $119,000 a year.

 

 

5. University of Iowa, Tippie College of Business

University of Iowa School of Management logo

 

University of Iowa, Tippie College of Business comes in at #5 and that is no Field of Dreams! UI is located in the small percentage of the state that is not dominated by farmland. The Tippie Master of Accountancy program puts the power in the hands of the students with four concentrations from which to choose.  Offerings are in Financial/Auditing, Management Information Systems, Managerial Accounting, or Tax. The Accounting department faculty is top in their field. Many have been recognized for their pace-setting curriculum. Ramji Balakrishnan is a bit of a Tippie celebrity on campus with many acclaimed published works in the accounting field, including "The Influence of Institutional Constraints on Outsourcing," published in the Journal of Accounting Research, 2010. 48(4): 767-791. Due to the stellar preparation, Tippie students who took the CPA exam for the first time had an excellent CPA pass rate of around 75%. Graduates of UI often earn an average mid-career salary of $86,000 annually. 93% of students are employed upon graduation.

 

 

4. Miami University (Ohio), Farmer School of Business

 

Miami University logo

 

Don’t be confused by the name, you won't see any farmer’s tans at the Miami University (Ohio), Farmer School of Business. This business school is nestled in the Ohio Valley just miles from Cincinnati and has earned the #4 spot on our list of 10. Farmer School of Business is no novice to this type of recognition. The graduate accounting program routinely falls in the top 20 of Public Accounting Report’s list of top programs. Farmer is extremely competitive only accepting 20-25 students each year. They are well-known for their Experimental Learning including the Center for Business Excellence (CBE), which serves as a bridge that connects faculty, their students and external stakeholders. Another Farmer innovation in education is the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Case Competition, which prepares students by requiring them to work in teams to solve hypothetical problems relating to taxes and tax code. It is no wonder that graduate employment rate is 98% with active recruitment by “The Big Four accounting firms.” Their average mid-career salary runs around $81,000.

 

 

3. DePaul University

 

Depaul University Logo

 

Winning the bronze medal is DePaul University. This school is the highest ranked Chicago business college according to Bloomberg Businessweek's 2014 national rankings of undergraduate business programs. The graduate school was named for Charles H. Kellstadt, the former CEO and chairman of Sears. Roebuck & Co, in 1992. The Accountancy program is credited with three programs ranked in the top 10 according to corporate tax hiring authorities surveyed by TaxTalent.com. The college's Master of Science in Taxation program was ranked No. 2, Master of Science in Accountancy program was ranked No. 3, and the undergraduate accounting program placed No. 6 nationally. Graduates of this fine institution become part of a close-knit alumni network in the accounting field. It follows that an impressive 90% of graduates find themselves gainfully employed within 6 months of graduation and on average earn a mid-career salary of $120,000.

 

 

2. The Ohio State University, Max M. Fisher College of Business

 

Ohio State University logo

 

Second place is The Ohio State University, Max M. Fisher College of Business. Earning Fisher this distinction is its unprecedented student-faculty ratio of 3-to-1. This individual attention helps students excel and exceed even their own expectations. Fisher College of Business does not only set the pace for learning, their research centers are impeccable. Charles A. Dice Center for Financial Economics is just one of 10 extraordinary research centers setting the standard for innovation and best practices. The College of Business enjoys a ranking of 11th and 12th in U.S News & World Report and Public Accounting Report, respectively. Another aspect of the program that sets the Buckeye’s apart is its flexibility. 78% of the coursework is made up of electives. Students can pick and choose from: financial reporting, managerial decision making, finance, taxation, and auditing. The school has a strong job placement assistance program FisherConnect. Graduates can expect calls from top firms such as: Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, Limited Brands, and Chase, putting the post-graduate employment rate at 92% with an average mid-career salary of $96,000 a year.

 

1. University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, College of Business

 

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign logo

 

The blue ribbon goes to the third Illinois business school in the line-up, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, College of Business. University of Illinois, the second centenarian on our list has been running a remarkable accounting program for 100 years. The university is  in the news not only for putting their controversial mascot Chief Illiniwek to rest, the business school ranked in the top 3 in both U.S. News & World Report and Public Accounting Report. Maybe their next mascot should be King ROI, as they were ranked #5 in a national survey for educational return on investment. Additionally, University of Illinois is leader in research. Two highly regarded research programs on campus include KPMG & UIUC Business Measurement Research Program which supports research on new measurement, reporting and assurance concepts. The V. K. Zimmerman Center was originally known as the Center for International Education and Research in Accounting (CIERA). It remains a leader in the nation conducting research on the study and teaching of international topics as they relate to the field of accounting. 98% of graduates quickly find themselves employed and enjoy a highly successful career in the business world, earning an average mid-career salary of $100,000. Bravo University of Illinois!

 

If you enjoyed The Top Accounting Schools of the Midwest, stay tuned for our next journey through the southern part of the country to find the Top 10 Accounting Schools of the South. It is not all BBQ and Big Hair, many of the country’s finest business institutions call the South home.

 

The Top 10 Accounting Schools - East Coast

  Here at Common Form, we dream in triplicate and we are always interested in finding which higher education institutions are churning out the next Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Russell Wilson of Accounting. In other words, who will we be sorting mail for when we are 65? As a follow up to the previous list we compiled on the Top 10 Accounting Schools in the West, we have now assembled a list of the Top 10 Accounting Schools on the East Coast. If you're looking for schools in other parts of the country, check out The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the Midwest.

 

The criteria used to evaluate these colleges include:

  • Job placement rates and average starting salary for graduates
  • Awards and recognition
  • Faculty and staff
  • Funds generated and allocated for research

 

Drumroll please….and here they are the Top 10 Accounting Schools on the East Coast:

 

10. Binghamton University, School of Management

Binghamton

 

Beautiful Binghamton University kicks off our list. The campus is spread across 930 acres of wooded hillside above the Susquehanna River in the suburb of Vestal, nestled in the southern-most part of the state of New York, just miles from the Pennsylvania border. The School of Management boasts their undergraduate programs in accounting and management prepare graduates for admission to elite graduate-level programs. 86% of graduates receive job offers and enjoy a beginning average salary of $58,000.

 

 

9. New York University, Stern School of Business

 

NYU Stern

 

Everyone has heard of NYU, most notably for its theater arts program, but the Leonard N. Stern School of Business is no act! NYU’s undergraduate business and accounting programs are often listed among the best in the country and has earned a solid ranking of #9. One of the greatest draws of NYU’s accounting program is the ability to co-major in general accounting and choose a concentration in any of the following specialties: investment banking, securities markets, tax management, personal financial planning and corporate financial management. Graduates holding a B.S in Accounting from Stern are highly sought-out and have an average starting salary of $65,000, earning an average mid-career salary of $114,000.

 

 

8. Bryant University, College of Business

Bryant  Coming in at a very respectable #8 is Bryant University found in the Northern region of the tiny state of Rhode Island. “As a student at Bryant University, you’ll belong to a dynamic community with an atmosphere of purpose.”  Its accounting program is no exception. Their College of Business creates leaders in financial reporting, taxation, auditing and management. Graduates of this program can expect to earn an average starting salary of $52,000 and mid-career salaries of $80,000.

 

 

7. CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business

Baruch

 

You don't hear a lot about of The Zicklin School of Business at CUNY Bernard M Baruch College, at least out here in San Diego. But according to our criteria, it is a major player and is regularly ranked as one of the premiere business schools in the country. We gave it lucky #7 and deservedly so.  This school attracts top faculty and fosters practical accounting and business practices. Baruch College City University New York is found in the center of bustling NYC, blocks from Wall Street “the financial heartbeat of our nation.” Students are a part of the pulse and reap the benefits with graduates being highly sought after landing well-paying jobs and earning an average mid-career salary of $89,000.

 

 

6. University Of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business

 

University of Maryland

 

It comes as no surprise that The University of Maryland, College Park’s Robert H. Smith School of Business is ranked #6. University of Maryland may be the queen of online education, but the accounting program at Robert H. Smith School of Business has been recognized by The Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 in the country. Graduates of this fine institution are a favored source for accounting hires. 90% of degree holders find themselves employed and can expect to earn average wages of $ 93,000.

 

 

5. Penn State University, Smeal College of Business

 

Penn State

 

#5 in the line-up are the Nittany Lions, Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business. A dominant presence in the state of Pennsylvania, the Smeal College of Business was named in honor of its benefactors Mary Jean and Frank P. Smeal, two Penn State University alumni. “WE ARE” now that’s school pride! The accounting program is known for its many certification programs and five year fast track through Bachelor’s to Master’s program. Graduates of this program can expect to earn $ 101,000 with 90% of the student body finding employment upon completion.

 

 

4. Boston College, Carroll School of Management

 

Boston College

 

We give Boston College, Carroll School of Management a rank of #4, while there is no trophy, the race was hard and BC should be proud! And if not, I think Bostonians could take Villanova accountants in a fight and grab the bronze. Boston College is known for its world-class faculty and the strong success of its graduates. The accounting curriculum with its choice of specialties, adequately prepares graduates for an array of accounting roles. Graduates can enjoy earning an average mid-career salary of $109,000.

 

 

3. Villanova University, School of Business

 

Villanova School of Business

 

The third place medal goes to The Villanova University School of Business and not because the name and crest seem Italian and expensive, they earned it. Another Pennsylvania school this time Catholic with the moto “ignite change and go nova.” The School is all Business offering an accountancy program that prepares students for their careers by incorporating theory and principles with real life experience in current business practices. What sets Villanova apart are the elective offerings in international, real estate and fraud accounting. Villanova graduates can expect to earn an average starting salary of $55,000 and mid-career salaries averaging $107,000.

 

 

2. Bentley University

 

Bentley University

 

The dark horse Bentley University pulled in at a surprising and extremely impressive #2. Tipping the scales was the university’s integration of technology with the Howard A. Winer Accounting Center for Electronic Learning and Business Measurement (ACELAB), “students gain firsthand experience with sophisticated technologies that are reshaping the accounting profession.” The prestigious university is located in Waltham, Massachusetts. The accounting program at Bentley University has held the honor of being named one of the best in the entire country and is a contender for our soon to be formulated Top 10 Accounting Schools in the Nation. Graduates of this top ranked business college can expect an average starting salary of $50,000 with an unprecedented 95% post-graduate career placement rate.

 

 

1. University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business

 

Penn Wharton School of Business

 

And finally, the Belle of the Ball, coming in first place at #1 University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business. The undergraduate accounting program for the University of Pennsylvania is housed in the prestigious Wharton School. Founded by the famous inventor and patriot, Benjamin Franklin, and American industrialist Joseph Wharton, this university has a record of coming in first. The renowned faculty has developed a multidisciplinary curriculum giving students the tools they need to navigate today’s complex economy. Graduates from this elite institution can expect an average salary of $124,000 with 98% of alumni experiencing heavy recruitment and employment.

 

 

We hope you enjoyed this compilation of the Top 10 Accounting Schools on the East Coast. Stay-tuned for our next trek through corn fields and cow pastures scouring the “Heartland of America” to find the Top 10 Accounting Schools of the Midwest.

 

 

Income Tax Basics, The Tax Refund

tax refund check  

The Essentials Of Tax Refunds

It's tax season, and whether this is your first year filing a tax return or your 50th, you probably have some questions about your tax refund. We cover the basics in this short and sweet article. It has five sections:

 

1. What is a tax refund?

2. How is my refund calculated?

3. How do I claim my tax refund?

4. How does the IRS send me my refund?

5. How long will it take to get my refund?

 

1. What is a tax refund?

Every time you get paid, income tax is withheld from your paycheck based on information you gave you your employer. In most cases, you settle up with Uncle Sam once a year, usually by April 15th. If you paid too much, you get a tax refund. If you underpaid you must pay additional taxes. The average tax refund is around $2,800, so be sure to file your taxes and get yours!

 

2. How is my refund calculated?

First, determine your tax obligation for the year. This is somewhat complicated and involves determining how much of your income is taxable vs. not, factoring in deductions and credits, and more. The headline is that your obligation is a percentage of your total income. Then compare your obligation to the taxes you've already paid, usually by the withholdings from your paychecks. If you've paid more than your obligation, you get the difference back in the form of a tax refund. If you paid less than your obligation, then you don't get a refund and you have to write a check for the balance due. This work is what is what most people consider "doing their taxes."

 

3. How do I claim my tax refund?

The only way to get your federal tax refund is to file a tax return. Most Americans use tax software or go to a professional like a CPA. You can also file your taxes by hand, but the IRS is trying to cut down on the paper it has to deal with so paper forms are harder to find these days. If you use software, You enter information about yourself and from the tax information you received in the mail, and the software calculates your refund or balance due then transmits your tax return electronically to the IRS. The IRS processes your return, and you get your tax refund.

 

4. How does the IRS send me my refund?

When you're doing your taxes online, you usually have two options for receiving your refund - direct deposit or have the IRS mail you a paper check. Direct deposit is much faster and is free, so we recommend it. You can also receive your refund in U.S. Savings Bonds. Some software providers offer pre-paid debit cards, too. We only recommend them if you don't have a bank account because there are almost always fees hidden in the fine print.

 

5. How long will it take to get my refund?

We have to quote the IRS on this one:

The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. However, it’s possible your tax return may require additional review and take longer. The easiest way to check your refund status is by using our automated tools. Where’s My Refund? has the most up to date information available about your refund. The tool is updated no more than once a day so you don’t need to check more often.

 

We hope you enjoyed this article. If it was helpful, your business is the best compliment you can give us.

 

File Your Taxes Now

 

 

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When can I file my 2015 taxes?

tax-day-cropped.jpg

 

Update: Click here to see 2016 dates

 

 

Great question!  But what you really meant to ask is – when can I file my 2014 taxes?  It’s a bit confusing.  In 2015 you will be filing your 2014 taxes, settling up with Uncle Sam on the income you made in 2014. The short answer is - now!  File your taxes today.  For more important tax dates and deadlines, read on.

January 5, 2015

Common Form opened its virtual doors and started accepting 2014 tax returns.

January 20, 2015

IRS e-file goes live and begins processing returns.  If you file your taxes with us before Jan 20th, we'll transmit your return as soon as IRS is ready to process it.

February 2, 2015

Deadline for your employer to mail you your 2014 W-2.  Note this is a mailing deadline, not a receipt deadline, so if your company is slacking, it may take a few extra days to get it via snail mail.  Many employers offer electronic versions via the same website you can view your pay checks.

If you received unemployment income, this is also the deadline for the state(s) to provide you with a 1099-G.

Finally, this is deadline for banks to supply you with a 1099-INT reporting bank account interest you made.  Note that banks are only required to issue a 1099-INT if you made at least $10 of interest during the year, however you are still required to report it even if they don't send you one.  If you made less than $10, use your bank statements or online banking to determine the amount of interest you made.

April 15, 2015

Also known as “tax day.”  Most people believe this is the deadline to file your income taxes.  That’s close enough.  It’s actually a payment deadline rather than a filing deadline.  If you owe IRS additional taxes, you must file and pay them by this date to avoid fees and penalties.  However, if you’re getting a refund, this deadline doesn’t apply to you.  You can file for up to 3 years with no late fees or penalties. Read more about the deadline or file your taxes now.

If you want to, you could file an extension.  But extensions are fool’s gold – you still have to pay at least 90% of taxes owed.

October 15, 2015

If you filed an extension and owe additional taxes, this is your deadline to file your completed return and pay any remaining taxes owed.

 

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Scams

dirty dozen tax scams  

Each year the IRS releases the dirty dozen tax scams, a list of the 12 most prevalent tax scams consumers need to be aware of.  The full list for 2015 hasn't been released yet, so here's 2014's list. If we were betting men, we'd bet the list won't change much in 2015. Read on for an abridged version of 2014 list or read the full article on IRS.gov.

 

1. Phishing

The IRS has already confirmed that Phishing will remain on the 2015 list.

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 generally 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.

 

2. Identity Theft

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.

When you file your tax return, it will be rejected by IRS with error code R0000-902-01. For more info on how to deal with this error and identity fraud in general, read this article on our support site.

 

3. Pervasive Telephone Scams

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.

 

4. 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.

 

5. 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).

 

6. 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.

 

7. 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.

 

8. 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.

 

9. 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.

 

10. 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.

 

11. 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.

 

12. 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.

 

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How Obamacare Impacts Your Taxes

Obamacare affordable care act taxes  

How Does Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) impact your taxes? Why does healthcare have anything to do with taxes? We give you the scoop in this short and sweet article.

From a tax perspective, the headline for Obamacare is that everyone must have health insurance, or pay a fine that is enforced when they file their federal tax return. Here are five key things that describe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in more detail.

 

1. Fines start in tax year 2014, on tax returns that are typically filed in 2015. The fine amount for 2014 is the higher of these two amounts:

  • 1% of your yearly household income. Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, $10,150 for an individual, is used to calculate the penalty.
  • $95 per person for the year ($47.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty per family using this method is $285.

 

2. The fines increase significantly over time. If you don’t have coverage in 2015, you’ll pay the higher of these two amounts when you file taxes in 2016:

  • $325 per person for the year ($162.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty per family using this method is $975.
  • 2% of your yearly household income. Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, $10,300 for an individual, is used to calculate the penalty.

In 2016 it’s 2.5% of income or $695 per person. After that it's adjusted for inflation.

 

3. There are exceptions. You are exempt from the fine under certain hardship conditions. See a full list of the conditions at HealthCare.gov.

 

4. You may be eligible for a tax credit for some of the health insurance premiums you paid. Use this calculator to determine if you’re eligible and the amount of the credit.

 

5. You can get coverage from your employer (if they offer it), directly from a private provider, or via the Marketplace at Healthcare.gov. The deadline for Open Enrollment for 2015 is February 15th.

 

File Your Taxes

 

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IRS E-file Opened Today

IRS e-file

IRS e-File Opened Today

IRS e-file opened today, January 20, 2015. If you've already filed with a software provider, they will transmit it to IRS on a first in, first out basis. IRS also began processing paper returns today.

Here are the top five reasons to e-File from the IRS:

1. Accurate and easy. IRS e-file is the best way to file an accurate tax return. The tax software that you use to e-file helps avoid mistakes by doing the math for you. It guides you every step of the way as you do your taxes. IRS e-file can also help with the new health care law tax provisions. The bottom line is that e-file is much easier than doing your taxes by hand and mailing paper tax forms.

2. Convenient options. You can buy commercial tax software to e-file or ask your tax preparer to e-file your tax return. You can also e-file through IRS Free File, the free tax preparation and e-file program available only on IRS.gov. You may qualify to have your taxes filed through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs. In general, VITA offers free tax preparation and e-file if you earned $53,000 or less. TCE offers help primarily to people who are age 60 or older.

3. Safe and secure. IRS e-file meets strict security guidelines. It uses secure encryption technology to protect your tax return. The IRS has safely and securely processed more than 1.3 billion e-filed tax returns from individuals since the program began.

4. Faster refunds. In most cases you get your refund faster when you e-file. That’s because there is nothing to mail and your return is virtually free of mistakes. The fastest way to get your refund is to combine e-file with direct deposit into your bank account. The IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days.

5. Payment flexibility. If you owe taxes, you can e-file early and set up an automatic payment on any day until the April 15 due date. You can pay electronically from your bank account. You can also pay by check, money order, debit or credit card. Visit IRS.gov/payments for more information.

 

How To File Taxes - A Beginner's Guide

how-to-file-taxes.jpg

Updated for Tax Year 2015 (for returns filed in 2016)

If you're new to taxes they can be quite intimidating. Confusing language. Fear of getting in trouble with the IRS. Math. Don't worry, it's really not that hard. In our Beginner's Guide To Taxes we'll tell you everything you need to know to file your taxes and get a nice refund. Fast.

This guide has 4 sections:

1. Do I have to file?

2. What paperwork and information do I need?

3. How do I prepare and file my tax return?

4. How do I get my refund?

1. Do I have to file?

The short answer – if you made any money, you should file a tax return even if you’re not required to.  Why?  To get a refund!  Most likely income tax is being withheld from your paycheck.  Often too much.  File a return and get some of your money back!  Even if you only worked for a month and only made a few bucks, file a tax return. Besides the money in your pocket, better safe than sorry. The last thing you want is to get in hot water with the IRS.

You may also be eligible for valuable tax credits like the Earned Income Credit, which can give you a refund even if you didn't have taxes withheld from your paycheck.  Still not convinced? Read more about filing requirements.

2. What paperwork and information do I need?

Besides basic information about yourself (name, address, date of birth, etc.), your spouse, and your kids, you'll receive tax forms in the mail from your employer and any banks you do business with. The most common of these forms are:

  • A W-2 from your job that reports the salary, wages, and tips you made. Your employer must mail your W-2 by February 1, 2016. Many employers offer electronic versions via the same website you can view your paycheck stubs. If you worked more than one job during the year, you’ll receive a W-2 for each one.
  • If you received any unemployment income, you’ll get a 1099-G from the state that paid you.
  • If you made $10 or more in interest from a checking or savings account, your bank will send you Form 1099-INT, otherwise you can use online banking or your account statements to determine the interest you made.

There are less common forms you may receive as well. They'll be mailed by early February at the latest. Don't worry, we'll remind you about this stuff while you're doing your taxes, so get started with confidence whenever you're ready.

3. How do I prepare and file my tax return?

You have three options:

Pen and paper

The old school way to do your taxes is with pen and paper. It takes a while and some tax knowledge, but you can’t beat the price. Determine the forms and schedules you need, download them from the IRS, print them, and get cranking. Once you're done, mail your completed return to the IRS along with your W-2 and a check (if you owe additional taxes).

Pay someone else to do it for you

You can hire a CPA, EA, or go to a tax store and pay someone to do it for you. It’s much less effort on your part, but it isn't cheap. Prices start at around $100, most people pay $200 - $300. If you have complicated finances it can cost even more. They send your return and the needed paperwork to Uncle Sam for you.

Do It Yourself With Your Phone or Computer

Online tax software has revolutionized the tax preparation industry. Today's software has an "interview" format - it asks you a series of questions and creates the right tax forms based on your answers. It does all the math for you, puts the numbers in the right places, and checks for mistakes, ensuring you get the biggest refund possible. Once you're done, your return is filed electronically with IRS e-file.

We believe TaxAct is the best software on the market. Try it for free and don't pay until you're happy. 

4. How do I get my refund?

Most taxpayers get a refund. A nice one, too. The average is around $2,700! As you're filing your return you'll chose to either have IRS cut you a check or direct deposit your refund into your bank account. Direct deposit is significantly faster, so we recommend it.

If you owe the IRS additional taxes, you can write them a check, or they can withdraw the money from your bank account electronically.

That's all there is to it. It's really not that bad. If you can get online, you can do your taxes yourself with software. And if you're reading this, you're online so...

 

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The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the West

  As a tax software company, we are very interested in the education of the next generation of accounting & finance professionals. To help prospective students chose the college that’s best for them, we crunched the numbers and compiled a list of the Top 10 Accounting Schools in the West. If you're looking for schools in other parts of the country, check out our Top 10 Accounting Schools on the East Coast and The Top 10 Accounting Schools in the Midwest.

 

The criteria we used to evaluate these colleges include:

  • Job placement rates and average starting salary for graduates
  • Awards and recognition
  • Faculty and staff
  • Funds generated and allocated for research

 

Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Accounting Schools in the West:

 

 

10. Stanford

 

stanford top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) is consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the United States. Among American MBA programs, Stanford has the lowest acceptance rate, 6.5%. If you want to be an entrepreneur, there is no better program than Stanford for academic excellence, networking, and proximity to Silicon Valley. Their accounting curriculum is extensive, including a PhD program.

 

 

9. University of Arizona

arizona top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eller College of Management at The University of Arizona offers both graduate and undergrad degrees in accounting. The college is also home to top-ranked entrepreneurship, MIS, MBA, and doctoral programs, and leads the nation’s business schools in generating grant funds for research. This well rounded program comes in at number 9 on our list.

 

 

8. University of California - San Diego

 

 

UCSD top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

UCSD’s Rady School of Management is well known throughout the country for both its MBA and undergraduate programs. Their staff is anchored by Dr. Harry M. Markowitz, winner of the Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Science. Their undergraduate accounting program positions students well to earn their CPA as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality curriculum.

 

 

7. University of Oregon

 

 

Oregon top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The University of Oregon's Master of Accounting program at the Lundquist College of Business is very prestigious. Students are well prepared to earn their CPA license and their job placement rates and average starting salaries stack up with any school in the country. And who wouldn't want to spend time in beautiful Eugene?

 

 

6. University of California, Los Angeles

UCLA top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UCLA Anderson School of Management is an extremely renowned program. In 2009, the UCLA Finance PhD Program was ranked number 1 in the world. This research study ranked them as the top program at enhancing the publication record of its students in the top three finance journals.  They also offer a Master’s degree in Financial Engineering.

 

 

5. University of Washington

 

Washington top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business Accounting Department contributes more to financial accounting research than any other school. In addition to earning your CPA, students can continue their education with a Master of Professional Accounting or a PhD in Accounting. UDub comes is # 5 on our list.

 

 

4. University of California, Berkeley

 

California top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Haas School of Business is an outstanding school for both graduate and undergraduate students. Through the Haas@Work program, students are assigned to projects at both local and global companies, learning through direct experience. Although Cal does not offer a major in Accounting, they offer a full curriculum of Accounting courses to prepare students for careers in Accounting and becoming a CPA. The Wall Street Journal ranked as the eighth best accounting school in the country in 2010.

 

 

3. University of Nevada Las Vegas

UNLV top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNLV’s Lee Business School is second to none when it comes to accounting and they proved it by winning first place at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Accounting Competition on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington, D.C. They prove their financial acumen and learn real world investing by managing a $100K fund known as the Rebel Investment Group (RIG). It's hard to rank them third, and all of the schools at the top of this list have truly exceptional programs.

 

 

2. University of Southern California

 

 

USC top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

USC’s Leventhal School of Accounting is one of the best in the west. Part of USC’s Marshall School of Business, their undergraduate accounting program is one of the most exclusive in the country. Accounting has been a critical part of the School of Business at USC since its inception in 1920 and it has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence. They came in a very close second on our list.

 

 

1. Bringham Young University

 

BYU top 10 accounting schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BYU’s Marriott School of Business has earned numerous accolades over the years. Their professors have won national awards for research and recently the Big Four accounting firm Ernst & Young awarded the school with a $500,000 grant to promote international learning and experience. The Wall Street Journal ranked BYU as the number 1 accounting school in the country in 2010 and we don't see anything to indicate they've fallen off.

 

Earned Income Credit (EIC) Explained

Earned Income Credit The Earned Income Credit (EIC), also known as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), is designed to help you keep more of your hard earned money.

 

It is a refundable tax credit, meaning you could qualify for a refund even if you did not have any income tax withheld from your paychecks. This article explains who is eligible for it, how much its worth, and how to claim it.

 

Am I Eligible for the Earned Income Credit?

To qualify for the EIC, you must have earned income from employment, self-employment, or another source and meet specific rules. Your income has to be within certain limits and there's a cap on how much investment income you can make.

You're eligible if:

  • You earned income from a job, your own business, or certain disability benefits. Unemployment income does not count as earned income, so if you only made unemployment income in 2014, you are not eligible to claim the credit.
  • You did NOT receive more than $3,350 in interest and investment income. Examples of investment income include interest, dividends, and profit from selling stocks.
  • Your filing status is Single or Married Filing Jointly. If you're Married Filing Separately, you are NOT eligible.
  • You, your spouse and children, if applicable, all have Social Security numbers.
  • You and your spouse can NOT claimed as a dependent or qualifying child on someone else's return.
  • You either have at least one qualifying child OR either you or your spouse are between the ages of 25 and 64.
    • If you have a qualifying child, you and your spouse's age don't matter
    • If you don't have a qualifying child, you and your spouse's age do matter. One of you needs to be at least age 25 but under age 65 on December 31, 2014.
  • You are a citizen or resident of the United States.

There are some other rare circumstances and edge cases, but this covers the majority of situations.

 

What is a Qualifying Child?

A qualifying child is:

  • Your son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child, or their descendant (such as a grandchild).
  • Your brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister or or their descendant.
  • Your foster child, placed with you by an authorized agency or court order.
  • Age 18 or younger on December 31, 2014, unless he or she is a full-time student, in which case the student must be 23 or younger. A person who is permanently and totally disabled at any time during the year qualifies, no matter how old.
  • A resident with you in the United States for more than half of the year.

 

How Much is the Credit Worth?

The amount of the credit depends on a number of things - the amount of income you made. your marital status, and the number of qualifying children you have. See the table below for the amounts for Tax Year 2014 (for taxes filed in 2015).

 

Qualifying Children Earned Income and AGI Must be Less Than Maximum Credit
3 or more qualifying children $46,997 ($52,427 if Married Filing Jointly) $6,143
2  qualifying children $43,756 ($49,186 if Married Filing Jointly) $5,460
1 qualifying child $38,511 ($43,941 if Married Filing Jointly) $3,305
0 qualifying children $14,590 ($20,020 if Married Filing Jointly) $496

 

 

How Do I Claim the Earned Income Credit

The only way to claim the EIC is to file a tax return, even if you do not owe any tax and are not required to file. As I mentioned earlier, the EIC is a refundable tax credit, meaning you could qualify for a refund even if you have not paid any income tax. Common Form supports the EIC, so file your taxes with us to claim this valuable credit.

 

Do Your Taxes

 

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What is the 1040EZ - 1040EZ Form Explained

1040EZ.jpg

What is the 1040EZ?  The 1040EZ form (aka the EZ form) is the simplest and shortest form you can use to file your federal income taxes.  Each year over 20 million people file this form, around 1 in every 6.5 federal tax returns filed.  This article explains who can use it, the information required to fill it out, and options for filing it with the IRS.

Who Can Use the 1040EZ?

If you make less than $100K per year, don’t have any dependents, and don’t have a mortgage, then you’re probably eligible to file the 1040EZ.  It covers salary and wages from your job (W-2), interest from your bank account (1099-INT), and unemployment income (1099-G).  If you're an independent contractor (1099-MISC), have dividend income (1099-DIV), or investment income (1099-B), then you're not eligible to file a 1040EZ.  

What Information is Required?

There are four main sections of the form.  Personal information, income you made, taxes you already paid, and your tax refund or balance due.

Personal Information     

Just the facts, ma'am.  Name, address, date of birth and social security number.  Easy breezy.  If you're married, you enter the same information for your spouse.  Since you can't claim dependents with the 1040EZ, there is no place to record their information.  If you're over age 65, you can't file the EZ form unfortunately.

Income You Made

As noted earlier, the 1040EZ covers the most common types of income - wages, salaries, and tips from your employer (reported on Form W-2), interest income from banks and other financial institutions (reported on Form 1099-INT), and unemployment income (reported on Form 1099-G).  If you received any of these types of income, these forms will be sent to you by the end of January.  For more information about the timing of Tax Year 2014 (filed in 2015), read this article.

Taxes You Paid

Each of the forms you receive will report the taxes you've already paid, or had withheld.  Typically taxes are withheld from each paycheck you receive, so your W-2 will list the total amount of tax you've already paid via your job in box 2.  It is unusual to have taxes withheld from bank interest or unemployment income, but if they were they will be reported on the 1099-INT or 1099-G you receive.

Refund or Balance Due

This is the best part!  Most people get a refund, and this is especially true for 1040EZ filers.  Your refund or balance due is the calculated by comparing the amount of tax you've already paid vs. what you actually owe.  If you're eligible for the earned income credit, it will increase your refund.

Filing Options

You have 3 options for filing your taxes.

Pencil and paper

The old school way to do your taxes is with pencil and paper. It takes a while and a little math, but you can’t beat the price (it’s free). Download the form from the IRS, grab a calculator, and read the 42 pages of instructions... Wait, never mind.  Research shows it takes over 3 and half hours on average to do it by hand.

Pay someone else to do it for you

You can hire a CPA or go to a tax store and pay someone to do it for you. It’s certainly less effort on your part, but you have to pay for it.  Around $100, if not more.

Do It Yourself With Your Phone or Computer

There are lots of mobile, online, and software options, many of them quite good.  We believe Common Form is the best option for 1040EZ filers and hope you'll give us the chance to earn your business. If you know you're not eligible to file a 1040EZ, we recommend TaxAct. They handle just about any tax situation you can think of.

Do Your Taxes

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When can I file my 2014 taxes?

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Update: Click here to see 2016 dates

 

When can I file my 2014 taxes?  The short answer is - now!  File your taxes today.  More details and a calendar of important dates and deadlines for filing your 2014 taxes is below.

January 5, 2015

Common Form opened for business and began accepting 2014 tax returns.  You can do your taxes and we will hold your return until IRS opens.

January 20, 2015

IRS e-file goes live and begins process returns.  If you file your taxes before Jan 20th, we'll transmit your return as soon as IRS is ready to process it.

February 2, 2015

Deadline for your employer to mail you your W-2.  This is a mailing deadline, so if your company waits to the last minute you may not get it until early February.  However, many employers offer electronic versions via the same website you can view your pay check stubs.  If you received unemployment, this is also the deadline for the state(s) that paid you to issue you a 1099-G.

Deadline for banks to supply you with a 1099-INT reporting bank account interest you made.  Note that banks are only required to issue a 1099-INT if you made at least $10 of interest during the year, however you are still required to report it even if they don't send you one.  If you made less than $10, use your bank statements or online banking to determine the amount of interest you made.

April 15, 2015

Also known as “tax day.”  Most people believe this is the deadline to file your 2014 income taxes.  That’s close enough.  It’s actually a payment deadline rather than a filing deadline.  If you owe IRS additional taxes, you must pay and file them to avoid fees and penalties.  However, if you’re getting a refund, this deadline doesn’t apply to you.  You can file for up to 3 years with no late fees or penalties. Read more about the deadline or file your taxes now.

If you want to, you could file an extension.  But extensions are fool’s gold – you still have to pay at least 90% of taxes owed and do almost as much work as filing your return.

October 15, 2015

If you filed an extension and owe additional taxes, this is the deadline to file your return and pay any remaining taxes you owe.