LOS ANGELES – March is when you get really serious about finishing up our tax returns. By now, you should have all those 1099s and other things that banks and employers produce to help IRS police your activities.
Oh, you thought those 1099s and things were to help you know what goes on your tax returns? Well, sure, they're for you, too. But sometimes, you learn that while you didn't ever get those 1099s — IRS did.
How to avoid those nasty surprises
It helps to know what forms to expect. Look at your 2004 tax return and use that as a guide to make a list of what's missing. Look at these pages:
Page 1 of your Form 1040, line 7 — You have W-2 income. Look at the copies of the W-2s attached to the return. Or look towards the back pages to see if there's a list, if you have several employers. Make a list of all your employers that you remember working for in 2005. Compare that to the W-2s you've received. If any are missing, call them up. Now. (Sure, you only had one job. But in certain industries, like entertainment, hospitality, trucking, etc., people have many employers.)
Page 1 of your Form 1040, line 10 — Taxable refunds from your state. If you itemized last year, and deducted your state taxes, remember, the refunds are taxable. Your state probably sent you a W-G as a letter or postcard with the amount to report. If you deducted sales taxes last year, instead of state income taxes, skip it. The state income tax refund won't be income.
Page 1 of your Form 1040, line 13 — Capital gains can come from anywhere. You might have that information on a 1099-DIV from a company that is passing through capital transactions. You might get a 1099-B showing the sale of securities. They could be on a K-1 from an LLC, partnership or trust. They could be on your brokerage statement, showing the proceeds of sales. Yes, you do have to report them, even if you had a loss. Often, you do get the statement, then have to scramble to reconstruct your basis, or tax cost the stocks or assets.
Page 1 of your Form 1040, lines 15 and 16 are for your retirement plan and pension distributions. You should be getting 1099-Rs from your banks and administrators. Somehow, this is one of the most overlooked and forgotten sources of income. Did you switch jobs and get a distribution? Need emergency money? One taxpayer with a concussion from a major fall had clinical short-term memory loss. She forgot to tell her husband about over $60,000 that had been drawn from her retirement fund. So, talk to each other and look at your deposits. Make sure you account for anything that didn't get rolled over. And be sure you get those 1099-Rs.
Page 1 of your Form 1040, line 19 — Were you unemployed early in the year? If you were, you've probably forgotten about it by now. Make sure you get that 1099 from the state.
Page 1 of your Form 1040, line 20 — So, you thought that when you finally grew up and got to collect Social Security, you'd be home, free. Well, free isn't the word for it. Up to 80% of your Social Security benefits could be taxable. Yours and your spouse's. So be sure to find that long folded up letter the Social Security Administration (SSA) sends. Not there yet? Did you move? Call SSA right away.
Schedule A, Mortgage Interest — Is the total on the 1098s you've received from your lenders similar to last year's mortgage interest? Just a tad lower? Good. Much lower? Did you refinance and dramatically drop your interest rate? No? Then you're missing a mortgage interest report. It's either your equity line or second trust deed. Or your lenders sold your note again and didn't bother to send you a 1098 for the time they held it, earlier in the year. You may need to look through your mortgage statements for the year to find the lender who had it for the missing two or three months. Whatever it is, track it down. You need the deductions. Unless, of course, you're affected by the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Schedule B — Look at the top section where the interest income is located. Do you have 1099-INTs for all those banks or financial institutions? If not, did you close that account? Or did it change hands? Now is a good time to call your financial institutions for those missing 1099s. Looking at the bottom, you have dividends. Sometimes, especially if you still have Baby-Bell stocks, you may have dividends from many sources. See if there is a 'continuation sheet' or additional schedule at the back of the tax return. There are usually several missing. They could be missing because you sold the stock in 2004. Or the companies merged or consolidated. Or they didn't pay dividends. Or you transferred your personal shares to your brokerage account. Or, you simply didn't get the 1099-DIVs. So, add them to list to track down.
These are just some of the forms you should be getting from the businesses, employers and government agencies with whom you interact all year. Keep using your 2004 tax return as your guide to build the list of missing documents.
Before calling all over creation to track down the missing information, see if you can get access to your various accounts online and just print out all the data you need.
Getting the biggest pile means you're very important! Or that you're spread out all over and should consider consolidating your holdings and activities. Or not. You could simply continue to pay a fortune to your accountants, attorneys and financial advisors. It makes them happy!
Eva Rosenberg is the founder of http://www.taxmama.com, an enrolled agent licensed to represent taxpayers before the IRS. She is the author of the new book, "Small Business Taxes Made Easy."
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