Health Insurance Documents – Forms 1095-A, 1095-B & 1095-C

irs.gov Issue Number:    HCTT 2016-36

Keep your Health Insurance Documents with Your Tax Records

Gathering documents and keeping well-organized records make it easier to prepare a tax return. They can also help provide answers if the IRS needs to follow-up with you for more information.

This year marks the first time that you may receive information forms about health insurance coverage.

The information forms are:

You do not need to send these forms to IRS as proof of your health coverage. However, you should keep any documentation with your other tax records. This includes records of your family’s employer-provided coverage, premiums paid, and type of coverage. You should keep these – as you do other tax records – generally for three years after you file your tax return.

When preparing 2015 tax returns, most people will simply have to check a box to indicate they and everyone on their tax return had health care coverage for the entire year. You will not need to file any additional forms, unless you are claiming the premium tax credit or a coverage exemption. In which case, you will use Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, or Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions.

For more information about the information forms, see our Questions and Answers on IRS.gov/aca.

WHO CAN BE CLAIMED AS A DEPENDENT?

WHAT IS A DEPENDENT:

This is a question I get asked all the time…Who and what qualifies as a dependent on my tax return?? To help taxpayers navigate this gray area, here are the tests necessary to claim someone as your dependent

First and foremost, whether they are your child or your girlfriend/boyfriend, a dependent is a person other than the taxpayer or spouse who entitles the taxpayer to claim a dependency exemption.

  1. You cannot claim them if you can be claimed as a dependent by another person.
  2. They cannot file a joint tax return (in most cases).
  3. They must be a U.S. citizen, resident alien, national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

In order to claim a child as a dependent, these five additional tests must be met:

  • Relationship test: Must be your child, adopted child, foster-child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these (grandchild or nephew).
  • Residency test: Must have the same residence for more than half the year.
  • Age test: Must be under age 19 or under 24 and a full-time student for at least 5 months. Can be any age if they are totally and permanently disabled.
  • Support test: Must not have provided more than half of their own support during the year.
  • Joint support test: The child cannot file a joint return for the year.

The next four tests determine where a relative or sweetheart qualifies as a dependent:

  • They are not the “qualifying child” of another taxpayer or your “qualifying child.”
  • Gross income: Dependent earns less than $3950 taxable income in 2014
  • Total support: You provide more than half of the total support for the year.
  • Member of household or relationship: The person must live with you all year as a member of your household or be one of the relatives who doesn’t have to live with you (see IRS Publication 501 for a list of qualifying relatives.)

You can even claim a boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner, or friend as a qualifying relative if:

  • They are a member of your household the entire year.
  • The relationship between you and the dependent does not violate the law, meaning you can’t still be married to someone else. Also check your individual state law, since some states do not allow you to claim a boyfriend or girlfriend as a dependent even if your relationship doesn’t violate the law.
  • You meet the other criteria for “qualifying relatives” (gross income and support).

Once you’ve determined who in your life can be claimed as a dependent, be sure to take advantage of the following tax deductions and credits:

Dependent exemption: Have you been supporting your boyfriend or girlfriend? If he or she meets the above tests, this may entitle you to a deduction of $4,000

Child tax credit: Depending on your income, you can claim up to $1,000 per qualifying child (>16 years)

• The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC): This is a tax credit that helps working families pay expenses for the care of children, adult dependents or an incapacitated spouse. Families can claim up to $3,000 in dependent care expenses for one child/dependent and $6,000 for two children/dependents per year. The credit is worth between 20 percent and 35 percent of these expenses, depending on a family’s income. Eligible families with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $15,000 or less can claim 35 percent of these expenses for a maximum potential credit of $2,100. The percentage of expenses a family can claim steadily decreases as income rises, until families with AGI of $43,000 or more reach the minimum claim rate of 20 percent, qualifying for a maximum potential credit of $1,200.

IRS: “Phone Scams Continue to be a Serious Threat!!”

Phone Scams Continue to be a Serious Threat, Remain on IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2016 Filing Season

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WASHINGTON — Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers, headlining the annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams for the 2016 filing season, the Internal Revenue Service announced today.

The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things. The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that arise during any filing season.

“Taxpayers across the nation face a deluge of these aggressive phone scams. Don’t be fooled by callers pretending to be from the IRS in an attempt to steal your money,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you’re not hearing from us.”

“There are many variations. The caller may threaten you with arrest or court action to trick you into making a payment,” Koskinen added. “Some schemes may say you’re entitled to a huge refund. These all add up to trouble. Some simple tips can help protect you.”

The Dirty Dozen is compiled annually by the IRS and lists a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year. Many of these con games peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do so.

This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam.

“The IRS continues working to warn taxpayers about phone scams and other schemes,” Koskinen said. “We especially want to thank the law-enforcement community, tax professionals, consumer advocates, the states, other government agencies and particularly the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for helping us in this battle against these persistent phone scams.”

Protect Yourself

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email.

Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.

Stay alert to scams that use the IRS as a lure. Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

2016 Standard Mileage Rates for Business, Medical and Moving Announced

2016 Standard Mileage Rates for Business, Medical and Moving Announced 

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued the 2016 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2016, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 54 cents per mile for business miles driven, down from 57.5 cents for 2015
  • 19 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down from 23 cents for 2015
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

The business mileage rate decreased 3.5 cents per mile and the medical, and moving expense rates decrease 4 cents per mile from the 2015 rates. The charitable rate is based on statute.

The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.

These and other requirements for a taxpayer to use a standard mileage rate to calculate the amount of a deductible business, moving, medical or charitable expense are in Rev. Proc. 2010-51Notice 2016-01 contains the standard mileage rates, the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate, and the maximum standard automobile cost that a taxpayer may use in computing the allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan

Answers to Five of Your Questions about the Premium Tax Credit

Answers to Five of Your Questions about the Premium Tax Credit

The premium tax credit is a refundable credit that helps eligible individuals and families with low or moderate income afford health insurance purchased through a Health Insurance Marketplace. To get this credit, you must meet certain eligibility requirements and file a tax return.

Here are five questions the IRS is hearing from taxpayers, along with answers and where to go for more information.

1. What is included in household income?

For purposes of the PTC, household income is the modified adjusted gross income of you and your spouse if filing a joint return, plus the modified AGI of each individual in your tax family whom you claim as a dependent and who is required to file a tax return because their income meets the income tax return filing threshold. Household income does not include the modified AGI of those individuals you claim as dependents and who are filing a return only to claim a refund of withheld income tax or estimated tax. For this and other detailed premium tax credit questions and answers visit IRS.gov/aca.

2. The IRS is asking to see my 1095-A. What should I do?

You should follow the instructions on the correspondence that you received from the IRS.  You may be asked for a copy of Form 1095-A in order to verify information that has been entered on your tax return.  Visit our Health Insurance Marketplace Statements webpage for more information about Form 1095-A and how to obtain a copy,

3. If I got advance payments of the PTC, do I have to file even if I never had a filing requirement before?

Yes. If you received the benefit of advance payments of the premium tax credit, you must file a tax return to reconcile the amount of advance credit payments made on your behalf with the amount of your actual premium tax credit.  You must file a return and submit a Form 8962 for this purpose even if you are otherwise not required to file a return.

4. Marketplace says I did not file, but I did file before the extended due date.  What should I do?

In advance of the open enrollment period that runs through January 31, 2016, the Marketplace sent Marketplace Open Enrollment and Annual Redetermination letters to individuals who might not have filed a tax return. Follow the instructions in the letter you received.

  • Log in to your Marketplace account to update your 2016 Marketplace application.
  • Check the box telling the Marketplace you reconciled your premium tax credits by filing a 2014 tax return and Form 8962.
  • Update your Marketplace application by December 15, 2015.
  • If you don’t update your Marketplace application, any help with costs you currently get will stop on December 31, 2015 and you’ll be responsible for the full upfront costs of your Marketplace plan and covered services.
  • For more help visit HealthCare.gov or call your Marketplace.

5. What are my options to receive help with filing a return and reconciling?

Filing electronically is the easiest way to file a complete and accurate tax return as the software guides you through the filing process. Electronic filing options include free Volunteer Assistance, IRS Free File, commercial software, and professional assistance. For information about filing a return and reconciling advance credit payments, visit IRS.gov/aca.

2015 Year-End Reminders

2015 Year-End Reminders

IRA Reminders

Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs, are important vehicles for you to save for retirement. If you have an IRA or plan to start one soon, there are a few key year-end rules that you should know. Here are the top year-end IRA reminders from the IRS:

  • Know the contribution and deduction limits.  You can contribute up to a maximum of $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) to a traditional or Roth IRA. If you file a joint return, you and your spouse can each contribute to an IRA even if only one of you has taxable compensation. You have until April 18, 2016, to make an IRA contribution for 2015. In some cases, you may need to reduce your deduction for your traditional IRA contributions. This rule applies if you or your spouse has a retirement plan at work and your income is above a certain level.
  • Avoid excess contributions.  If you contribute more than the IRA imits for 2015, you are subject to a six percent tax on the excess amount.The tax applies each year that the excess amounts remain in your account. You can avoid the tax if you withdraw the excess amounts from your account by the due date of your 2015 tax return (including extensions).
  • Take required distributions.  If you’re at least age 70½, you must take a      required minimum distribution, or RMD, from your traditional IRA. You are not required to take a RMD from your Roth IRA. You normally must take your RMD by Dec. 31, 2015. That deadline is April 1, 2016, if you turned 70½ in 2015. If you have more than one traditional IRA, you figure the RMD separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the total amount from one or more of them. If you don’t take your RMD on time you face a 50 percent excise tax on the RMD amount you failed to take out.
  • IRA distributions may affect your premium tax credit. If you take a distribution from your IRA at the end of  the year and expect to claim the PTC, you should exercise caution regarding the amount of the distribution.  Taxable distributions      increase your household income, which can make you ineligible for the PTC.  You will become ineligible if the increase causes your household income for the year to be above 400 percent of the Federal poverty line for your family size. In this circumstance, you must repay the entire amount of any advance payments of the premium tax credit that were made to your health insurance provider on your behalf.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Additional IRS Resources:

Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts

Review Investment Gains and Losses
Consider selling investment losers to offset any capital gains. When calculating your gains and losses, be sure to include mutual fund distributions; they are taxable gains even when you hold onto the shares. You may want to sell appreciated securities before year-end (or donate them to charity; see #7 below). If you have excess losses, they may be carried forward into future tax years, at a rate of no more than $3,000 each year.

Make Charitable Contributions
You can make year-end gifts to charity with cash or with appreciated securities. If you donate appreciated securities (like stocks), you can take a deduction for the current fair market value.

If you decide to make gifts in cash, you can simply write a check. Or you can put the amount on a credit card in December, pay the bill when it arrives in 2016 and deduct the donation in 2015. Either way, you must submit a letter of acknowledgment from the charity, showing the date of the gift, the amount, and whether you received any tangible benefit in exchange, such as a thank you gift.

Donations of used cars may be deducted at fair market value only if the charity uses the vehicle in its tax-exempt work. If the charity sells it, your contribution is limited to the actual proceeds of the sale.

Make Your House Energy-Efficient
If you make qualified energy-saving home improvements by the end of 2015, you can claim a tax credit of up to 30% of the costs. The improvements must meet federal energy-efficiency standards in order to qualify for the credit. For more information, go to www.EnergyStar.gov

2016 – Some Tax Benefits Increase Slightly Due to Inflation Adjustments

In 2016, Some Tax Benefits Increase Slightly Due to Inflation Adjustments, Others Are Unchanged

WASHINGTON — For tax year 2016, the Internal Revenue Service today announced  annual inflation adjustments for more than 50 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules, and other tax changes. Revenue Procedure 2015-53 provides details about these annual adjustments. The tax items for tax year 2016 of greatest interest to most taxpayers include the following dollar amounts:

  • For tax year 2016, the 39.6 percent tax rate affects single taxpayers whose income exceeds $415,050 ($466,950 for married taxpayers filing jointly), up from $413,200 and $464,850, respectively. The other marginal rates – 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent – and the related income tax thresholds for tax year 2016 are described in the revenue procedure.
  • The standard deduction for heads of household rises to $9,300 for tax year 2016, up from $9,250, for tax year 2015.The other standard deduction amounts for 2016 remain as they were for 2015:   $6,300 for singles and married persons filing separate returns and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly
  • The limitation for itemized deductions to be claimed on tax year 2016 returns of individuals begins with incomes of $259,400 or more ($311,300 for married couples filing jointly).
  • The personal exemption for tax year 2016 rises $50 to $4,050, up from the 2015 exemption of $4,000. However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $259,400 ($311,300 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $381,900 ($433,800 for married couples filing jointly.)
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2016 is $53,900 and begins to phase out at $119,700 ($83,800, for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption begins to phase out at $159,700). The 2015 exemption amount was $53,600 ($83,400 for married couples filing jointly).  For tax year 2016, the 28 percent tax rate applies to taxpayers with taxable incomes above $186,300 ($93,150 for married individuals filing separately).
  • The tax year 2016 maximum Earned Income Credit amount is $6,269 for taxpayers filing jointly who have 3 or more qualifying children, up from a total of $6,242 for tax year 2015. The revenue procedure has a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds and phase-outs.
  • For tax year 2016, the monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit remains at $130 for transportation, but rises to $255 for qualified parking, up from $250 for tax year 2015.
  • For tax year 2016 participants who have self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account, the plan must have an annual deductible that is not less than $2,250, up from $2,200 for tax year 2015; but not more than $3,350, up from $3,300 for tax year 2015. For self-only coverage the maximum out of pocket expense amount remains at $4,450. For tax year 2016 participants with family coverage, the floor for the annual deductible remains as it was in 2015 — $4,450, however the deductible cannot be more than $6,700, up $50 from the limit for tax year 2015. For family coverage, the out of pocket expense limit remains at $8,150 for tax      year 2016 as it was for tax year 2015.
  • For tax year 2016, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $111,000, up from $110,000 for tax year 2015.
  • For tax year 2016, the foreign earned income exclusion is $101,300, up from $100,800 for tax year 2015.
  • Estates of decedents who die during 2016 have a basic exclusion amount of $5,450,000, up from a total of $5,430,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2015

Don’t Fall for New Tax Scam Tricks by IRS Posers

copied and posted directly from the IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015


Don’t Fall for New Tax Scam Tricks by IRS Posers

Though the tax season is over, tax scammers work year-round. The IRS advises you to stay alert to protect yourself against new ways criminals pose as the IRS to trick you out of your money or personal information. These scams first tried to sting older Americans, newly arrived immigrants and those who speak English as a second language. The crooks have expanded their net, and now try to swindle virtually anyone. Here are several tips from the IRS to help you avoid being a victim of these scams:

  • Scams use scare tactics.  These aggressive and sophisticated scams try to scare people into making a false tax payment that ends up with the criminal. Many phone scams use threats to try to intimidate you so you will pay them your money. They often threaten arrest or deportation, or that they will revoke your license if you don’t pay. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests, sometimes through “robo-calls,” via phone or email. The emails will often contain a fake IRS document with a phone number or an email address for you to reply.
  • Scams use caller ID spoofing.  Scammers often alter caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legit. They may use online resources to get your name, address and other details about your life to make the call sound official.
  • Scams use phishing email and regular mail.  Scammers copy official IRS letterhead to use in email or regular mail they send to victims. In another new variation, schemers provide an actual IRS address where they tell the victim to mail a receipt for the payment they make. All in an attempt to make the scheme look official.
  • Scams cost victims over $20 million.  The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, has received reports of about 600,000 contacts since October 2013. TIGTA is also aware of nearly 4,000 victims who have collectively reported over $20 million in financial losses as a result of tax scams.

The real IRS will not:

  • Call you to demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
  • Demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount that you owe.
  • Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.

If you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not provide any information to the caller. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
  • You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC      Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe taxes:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you if you do owe taxes.

Stay alert to scams that use the IRS as a lure. For more, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.

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Notify the Marketplace If You Have Changes in Circumstances

Report Changes in Circumstances that could Affect Your 2015 Premium Tax Credit

If you have enrolled for health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace and receive advance payments of the premium tax credit in 2015, it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Marketplace.

For the full list of changes you should report, visit HealthCare.gov/how-do-i-report-life-changes-to-the-marketplace.

Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Marketplace. Having at least some of your credit paid in advance directly to your insurance company will reduce the out-of-pocket cost of the health insurance premiums you’ll pay each month.

However, it is important to notify the Marketplace about changes in circumstances to allow the Marketplace to adjust your advance payment amount. This adjustment will decrease the likelihood of a significant difference between your advance credit payments and your actual premium tax credit. Changes in circumstances that you should report to the Marketplace include, but are not limited to:

  • An increase or decrease in your income
  • Marriage or divorce
  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • Starting a job with health insurance
  • Gaining or losing your eligibility for other health      care coverage
  • Changing your residence

If you report changes in your income or family size to the Marketplace when they happen in 2015, the advance payments will more closely match the credit amount on your 2015 federal tax return.  This will help you avoid getting a smaller refund than you expected, or even owing money that you did not expect to owe.

There is still time – Last-Minute Tax Tips

Last-Minute Tax Tips

It’s that time of year again–tax filing season. And while many taxpayers like to get a head start on filing their returns, there are those of us who always find ourselves scrambling at the last minute to get our tax returns filed on time. Fortunately, even for us procrastinators, there is still time to take advantage of some last-minute tax tips.

If you need more time, get an extension

Failing to file your federal tax return on time could result in a failure-to-file penalty. If you don’t think you’ll be able to file your tax return on time, you can file for and obtain an automatic six-month extension by using IRS Form 4868. You must file for an extension by the original due date for your return. Individuals whose due date is April 15 would then have until October 15 to file their returns.

In most cases, this six-month extension is an extension to file your tax return and not an extension to pay any federal income tax that is due. You should estimate and pay any federal income tax that is due by the original due date of the return without regard to the extension, since any taxes that are not paid by the regular due date will be subject to interest and possibly penalties.

Try to lower your tax bill

While most tax-saving strategies require action prior to the end of the tax year, it’s still not too late to try to lower your tax bill by making deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and/or pre-tax contributions to an existing qualified Health Savings Account (HSA). If you’re eligible, you can make contributions to these tax-saving vehicles at any time before your tax return becomes due, not including extensions (for most individuals, by April 15 of the year following the year for which contributions are being made).

For tax year 2014, you may be eligible to contribute up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA as long as you’re under age 70½ and have earned income. In addition, if you’re age 50 or older, you may be able to make an extra “catch-up” contribution of $1,000. You can make deductible contributions to a traditional IRA if neither you nor your spouse is covered by an employer retirement plan; however, if one of you is covered by an employer plan, eligibility to deduct contributions phases out at higher modified adjusted gross income limits. For existing qualified HSAs, you can contribute up to $3,300 for individual coverage or $6,550 for family coverage.

Use your tax refund wisely

It’s easy to get excited at tax time when you find out you’ll be getting a refund from the IRS–especially if it’s a large sum of money. But instead of purchasing that 60-inch LCD television you’ve had your eye on, you may want to use your tax refund in a more practical way. Consider the following options:

  • Deposit your refund into a tax-savings vehicle (if you’re eligible), such as a retirement or education savings plan–the IRS even allows direct deposit of refunds into certain types of accounts, such as IRAs and Coverdell education savings accounts.
  • Use your refund to pay down any existing debt you may have, especially if it is in the form of credit-card balances that carry high interest rates.
  • Put your refund toward increasing your cash reserve–it’s a good idea to always have at least three to six months worth of living expenses available in case of an emergency.

Finally, a tax refund is essentially an interest-free loan from you to the IRS. If you find that you always end up receiving a large income tax refund, it may be time to adjust your withholding.

Beware of possible tax scams

Though tax scams can occur throughout the year, they are especially prevalent during tax season. Some of the more common scams include:

  • Identity thieves who use your identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund.
  • Callers who claim they’re from the IRS insisting that you owe money to the IRS or that you’re entitled to a large refund.
  • Unsolicited e-mails or fake websites, often referred to as “phishing,” that pose as legitimate IRS sites to convince you to disclose personal or financial information.
  • Scam artists who pose as tax preparers and promise unreasonably large or inflated refunds in order to commit refund fraud or identity theft.

The IRS will never call you about taxes owed without sending you a bill in the mail. If you think you may owe taxes, contact the IRS directly at www.irs.gov. In addition, the IRS will never initiate contact with you by e-mail to request personal or financial information. If you believe that you’ve been the victim of a tax scam, or would like to report a tax scammer, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.treasury.gov/tigta.