7 ways to reduce stress this tax season

The arrival of tax season often leaves many employers stressed and face-to-face with a number of demands. Continue reading this post from Employee Benefit News for seven ways employers can reduce stress during tax season.


Tax filing season is here, which means many employers will come face-to-face with a number of demands. Whether they do their own taxes, use online tax software or meet with a trusted tax adviser, there are many useful resources out there that will help employers work smarter, not harder.

Here are seven ways employers can reduce stress during tax season.

2019 U.S. Master Tax Guide

The U.S. Master Tax Guide contains timely and precise explanations of federal income taxes for individuals, partnerships and businesses. This guide contains information including tax tables, tax rates, checklists, special tax tables and explanatory text.

Legislative resources

Find a trusted, reputable resource for the latest news, opinions and laws regarding healthcare. Many companies in the industry have a designated section on their website that is dedicated to providing employers with updates and trends in the health insurance industry and how it will affect taxes.
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Payroll calculators

Employers can use payroll calculators to determine gross pay, withholdings, deductions, net pay after Social Security and Medicare and more. Calculator types include salary payroll calculators, hourly paycheck calculators, gross pay calculators, W-4 assistants, percentage bonus calculators and aggregate bonus calculators.

Keep, shred, toss

Now is the perfect time to organize tax records so that they’re easy to find in case they’re needed to apply for a loan, answer IRS questions or file an amended return.

The IRS has some helpful guidance you can share with your clients on what records to keep and for how long. They should remember to:

  • Keep copies of tax returns and supporting documents for at least three years.
  • Keep some documents for up to seven years.
  • Keep healthcare information statements for at least three years. These include records of employer-provided coverage, premiums paid, advance payments of the premium tax credit received and type of coverage.

Make sure records are kept safe — but when it’s time, shred or destroy

Whether they consist of paper stacked in a shoebox, electronic files stored on a device or in the cloud, it’s important to safeguard all personal records, especially anything that lists Social Security numbers. Consumer Affairs recommends scanning paper and keeping records stored securely on a flash drive, CD or DVD.

It’s more important than ever for employers to keep personal information out of the hands of identity thieves. That means not tossing records in the trash or recycling bin. Home paper shredders are often inadequate for large piles of paper, but many communities have professional, secure document shredding services.
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Start as early as possible

A deadline looming always makes the situation more stressful. It’s very important for employers to not wait until the last minute to start their tax return. If they choose to use a tax professional, be sure that they get in early. Tax professionals take on many clients, and only have a short timeframe to get all the work done.

Be honest

It may be tempting for employers to tell a white lie on their taxes to maximize their tax breaks or return, but that comes at a great risk. If they are audited by the IRS, they will liable for whatever was reported.

SOURCE: Waletzki, T. (12 March 2019) "7 ways to reduce stress this tax season" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/how-to-reduce-stress-this-tax-season?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


4 FAQs about W-2 business email compromise attacks during tax season

Did you know: Tax season is the most popular time of the year for W-2 related cyber attacks. Phishing emails will often request employees to provide W-2s by return email. Continue reading this blog post for four FAQs about W-2 business email compromise attacks.


The most likely cyber attack a company will face will come in the form of an email. One of the most common forms of email attack is the business email compromise (BEC), and the most popular time of the year for the W-2 version of BEC is right now — tax season.

A BEC attack involves attackers sending emails disguised as coming from high-level executives within a company, such as the CEO, to lower level personnel. During tax season, the spoof email will often request that W-2s for employees be provided by return email.

While the email looks identical to the executive’s email, it is coming from — and then returned to — the criminal, not the executive, along with the W-2s and the personal information associated with the documents.

If an employee falls for the scam, the company now has experienced a serious data breach and must comply with certain legal requirements. Worse yet, the company’s employees’ sensitive personal information has been given to the attackers and they have this problem to worry about instead of performing their job. The disruption is substantial in their personal lives and for the company’s operations.

How do attackers use W-2 information?

In most cases, once the attackers have that W-2 information, they use it to attempt to file fraudulent tax returns for those employees and have their tax refunds sent to them instead of the employee. They also use it for traditional identity theft.

The attackers act very quickly once the information is obtained. In some cases, they have begun to fraudulently use the information on the same day they obtained the W-2 information from the company. Time is truly of the essence in responding to these attacks and legal assistance is necessary for properly responding to these data breach events.

Why do so many attacks happen during tax season?

Law enforcement officers and cybersecurity professionals report a drastic increase in these types of attacks during the beginning of each year because of tax season. This is consistent with what is seen in helping companies with these cases in past years, as well. The reason this type of attack is so common during tax season is because of the tax-related fraud aspect of this type of attack. That is, the attackers monetize their attacks by using the fraudulently obtained information to file fraudulent tax returns and obtain refunds from innocent victims.

And the sooner they can do this, the better their chances are of getting the refund before the taxpayer files and receives their tax refund.

If a company has not yet been targeted, it is likely that it will be very soon so it is important to be prepared.

What can you do to protect your company?

Educating employees is critical because they will be the ones who receive the emails from the attackers.

  • Make them aware of this issue by sharing the information in this article with them so that they understand the threat, how it works and how it could affect them personally.
  • Train them by having appropriate personnel discuss this threat with them and help them understand that they should be very suspicious of any requests to email out anything of this nature (or make payments, such as with the very similar wire transfer version of the BEC).

Have appropriate internal controls in place to protect against these types of attacks. These controls can include:

  • Limit who has access to your company’s W-2s and other sensitive information as well as who has the authority to submit or approve wire payments.
  • Have established procedures in place for sending W-2 information or other sensitive information as well as for submitting or approving wire payments so that dual approvals are required for these activities.
  • Require employees to use an alternative means of confirming the identity of the person making the request. If the request is by email, the employee should talk to the requestor in-person or call and speak to the requestor using a known telephone number to get verbal confirmation. If the request is by telephone or fax (many times they are), then use email to confirm by using an email address known to be correct to confirm with the purported requestor. Never reply to one of these emails or call using a telephone number that is provided in one of these emails, faxes, or telephone calls.

What to do if your company is hit by an attack

  • Immediately contact experienced legal counsel who understands how to guide a company through these incidents and, ideally, has appropriate contacts with law enforcement and the IRS to assist in reporting this incident quickly.
  • Report the incident to the FBI or Secret Service and appropriate IRS investigators so that the IRS can implement appropriate procedures to protect the employees whose information was exposed in the W-2s.
  • Prepare appropriate notifications to the people whose information was exposed and comply with all legal and regulatory reporting requirements. This should be a part of an existing incident response plan. Companies should have such a procedure in place to be better prepared if and when a security breach occurs.
  • Inform employees that the IRS will never contact them directly, for the first time, via email, telephone, text message, social media or any way other than through a written “snail mail” letter.

SOURCE: Tuma, S. (19 February 2019) "4 FAQs about W-2 business email compromise attacks during tax season" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/19/4-faqs-about-w-2-business-email-compromise-attacks-during-tax-season/


IRS updates required tax notice to address plan loan offsets

Recently, the IRS updated the model notice that must be sent out to all plan participants. This model notice modifies the prior model notices that were published four years ago in 2014. Continue reading to learn more.


The IRS has updated the model notice that is required to be provided to participants before they receive an “eligible rollover distribution” from a qualified 401(a) plan, a 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity, or a governmental 457(b) plan.

Notice 2018-74, which was published on September 18, 2018, modifies the prior safe-harbor explanations (model notices) that were published in 2014. Like the 2014 guidance, the 2018 Notice — sometimes referred to as the “402(f) Notice” or “Special Tax Notice” — includes two separate “model” notices that are deemed to satisfy the requirements of Code Section 402(f): one for distributions that are not from a designated Roth account, and one for distributions from a designated Roth account. The 2018 Notice also includes an appendix that can be used to modify (rather than replace) existing safe-harbor 402(f) notices.

The model notices were updated to take into consideration certain legislation that has been enacted, and other IRS guidance that has been published, since 2014. They include:

  • changes related to qualified plan loan offsets under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017;
  • changes in the rules for phased retirement under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (“MAP-21”);
  • changes in the exceptions to the 10% penalty for early distributions from governmental plans under the Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act; and
  • IRS guidance (in Revenue Procedure 2016-47) regarding a self-certification procedure for waivers of the 60-day rollover deadline.

The model notices also make some “clarifying” changes to the 2014 notices, including:

  • clarification that the 10% additional tax on early distributions applies only to amounts includible in income;
  • an explanation of how the rollover rules apply to governmental 457(b) plans that include designated Roth accounts;
  • clarification that certain exceptions to the 10% tax on early distributions do not apply to IRAs; and
  • recognizing that taxpayers affected by federally declared disasters and other events may have an extended deadline for making rollovers.

The updated model 402(f) notices should be particularly useful in communicating to participants the extension, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, of the time to roll over a “qualified plan loan offset amount.”

Inside the plan load offset

By way of background, Notice 2018-74 reminds us that distribution of a “plan loan offset amount” is an eligible rollover distribution, and that a “plan loan offset” occurs when, under the plan terms governing a plan loan, the participant’s accrued benefit is reduced, or offset, in order to repay the loan. According to the Notice, this can occur when, for example, the terms of the plan loan require that, in the event of an employee’s termination of employment or request for a distribution, the loan is to be repaid immediately or treated as in default.

The Notice also indicates that a plan loan offset may occur when, under the terms of the plan loan, the loan is canceled, accelerated, or treated as if it were in default (for example, when the plan treats a loan as in default upon an employee’s termination of employment or within a specified period thereafter). The Notice also reminds us, however, that a plan loan offset cannot occur prior to a distributable event.

This is helpful guidance for distinguishing between a “deemed distribution” of a defaulted loan (a taxable event which is not eligible for rollover) and a “plan loan offset amount,” which is an eligible rollover distribution.

Generally, if a default occurs before the participant has a distributable event (such as termination of employment, or attainment of age 59½), and the default is not cured by the last day of the cure period, it must be treated as a “deemed distribution” and reported on Form 1099. Such defaulted amounts are not eligible for rollover.

However, if the default occurs at or after a distribution event, and the plan terms require that the participant’s account be offset to pay off the loan, then the reduction of the account may be treated as a plan loan offset, which is an eligible rollover distribution.

Notice 2018-74 (and the new model notices) also reflect that, prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, participants who incurred a “plan loan offset” only had 60 days to “roll” an equivalent amount of money to an IRA or another employer plan (to avoid the offset being treated as a taxable distribution). However, for plan loan offsets that occur after December 31, 2017, if the plan loan offset is a “qualified plan loan offset” (meaning it occurs in connection with termination of employment or termination of the plan), then the participant has significantly more time (until the extended due date of the participant’s tax return for the year of the offset) in which to roll an amount equal to the loan offset amount to an IRA or another employer plan.

SOURCE: Browning, R (4 October 2018) "IRS updates required tax notice to address plan loan offsets" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/irs-updates-required-tax-notice-to-address-plan-loan-offsets?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Compliance Bulletin: IRS Issues New Tools for 2018 Tax Withholding

As of Feb. 15, 2018, employers must use new tables to determine how much income tax to withhold from their employees’ paychecks. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued the required new tables in Notice 1036 on Jan. 9, 2018. The new tables are also available in IRS Publication 15.

In addition, the IRS issued a new Form W-4 and a new withholding calculator on Feb. 28, 2018.

The updated tools aim to help employers improve the accuracy of their tax withholdings under changes made by the tax reform law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was enacted on Dec. 22, 2017.

ACTION STEPS

Employers should already be using the new tables for 2018. Employers are not required to use the new Form W-4 for 2018 but may use it for any 2018 withholding changes. Employers will be required to use the new version of Form W-4 for 2019.

Taxpayers can use the updated tax withholding calculator to determine whether they should make any changes to their 2018 withholdings.

Background

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made several changes to the tax code that will affect individual taxpayers in 2018. For example, the new law:

 

  • Adjusted tax rates and tax brackets;
  • Increased the standard deduction;
  • Repealed certain exemptions;
  • Changed itemized deductions;
  • Increased the child tax credit; and
  • Created a new dependent credit.

 

To reflect these changes, the IRS has issued three new tax withholding tools. The tools aim to help employers avoid withholding too much or too little from their employees’ paychecks for income taxes in 2018 and 2019.

For 2018, New Tables Work with Existing Forms W-4

The IRS’ new withholding tables are designed to work with the Forms W-4 that employees have already filed with their employers to claim withholding allowances for 2018. Thus, employers do not need to obtain updated Forms W-4 from their employees to use the new tables. The deadline for employers to begin using the new tables was Feb. 15, 2018.

New Form W-4 for 2019 May Be Used in 2018

For 2019, the IRS has revised Form W-4 to more fully reflect the new tax law and to help employees determine appropriate withholding amounts. Released on Feb. 28, 2018, the Form W-4 can be used in 2018 if an employee starts a new job or if existing employees wish to update their 2018 withholding in response to the new law or changes in their personal circumstances.

New Calculator

The IRS’ updated withholding calculator allows employees to perform a quick “paycheck checkup” to help them determine whether they should make changes to their 2018 withholdings. While the IRS encourages all taxpayers to use the new calculator, employees who have simple financial situations are not likely to require any revisions for 2018. Those with more complicated situations, however, are strongly encouraged to check their 2018 withholdings using the calculator. These include employees who itemized their deductions in 2017 or have:

     Two-income households;

Two or more jobs at the same time;

     Children who claim credits; or

High incomes.

Employees with even more complex situations (such as those who owe self-employment tax or have capital gains) may need to use Publication 505 instead of the withholding calculator. The IRS expects to release an updated version of this publication in the near future.

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