IRS Launches New Tool for Estimating Taxes

The Internal Revenue Service has launched the new Tax Withholding Estimator, an expanded, mobile-friendly online tool designed to make it easier for everyone to have the right amount of tax withheld during the year. The Tax Withholding Estimator replaces the Withholding Calculator, which offered workers a convenient online method for checking their withholding. The new Tax Withholding Estimator offers workers, as well as retirees, self-employed individuals and other taxpayers, a more user-friendly step-by-step tool for effectively tailoring the amount of income tax they have withheld from wages and pension payments.

“The new estimator takes a new approach and makes it easier for taxpayers to review their withholding,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “This is part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to improve quality services as we continue to pursue modernization and enhancements of our taxpayer relationships.” The IRS took the feedback and concerns of taxpayers and tax professionals to develop the Tax Withholding Estimator, which offers a variety of new user-friendly features including:

  • Plain language throughout the tool to improve comprehension.
  • The ability to more effectively target at the time of filing either a tax due amount close to zero or a refund amount.
  • A new progress tracker to help users see how much more information they need to input.
  • The ability to move back and forth through the steps, correct previous entries and skip questions that don’t apply.
  • Enhanced tips and links to help the user quickly determine if they qualify for various tax credits and deductions.
  • Self-employment tax for a user who has self-employment income in addition to wages or pensions.
  • Automatic calculation of the taxable portion of any Social Security benefits.
  • A mobile-friendly design.

In addition, the new Tax Withholding Estimator makes it easier to enter wages and withholding for each job held by the taxpayer and their spouse, as well as separately entering pensions and other sources of income. At the end of the process, the tool makes specific withholding recommendations for each job and each spouse and clearly explains what the taxpayer should do next.

The new Tax Withholding Estimator will help anyone doing tax planning for the last few months of 2019. Like last year, the IRS urges everyone to do a Paycheck Checkup and review their withholding for 2019. This is especially important for anyone who faced an unexpected tax bill or a penalty when they filed this year. It’s also an important step for those who made withholding adjustments in 2018 or had a major life change.

Those most at risk of having too little tax withheld include those who itemized in the past but now take the increased standard deduction, as well as two-wage-earner households, employees with nonwage sources of income and those with complex tax situations.

 

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Our First Payroll Lecture is Here

I am offering my first payroll lecture of the year next week on June 18th.  The subject will be travel pay. The lecture is two hours from 10:00 am to Noon Pacific time.  It is approved by the APA for 2 RCHs.  The nominal charge for the webinar is $99.  You can register under our Shop on our website. 

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the FLSA requirements for paying an employee who travels
  • Comprehend the best practices for tracking and paying for travel pay
  • Understand the IRS requirements for taxing travel pay reimbursements including per diems and accountable plans.

EFT, ACH and EDI are Different and It Matters

In payroll we tend to use the terms EFT, ACH and EDI interchangeably.  But in actual practice they are quite different.  To help explain these important differences the National Automated Clearing House Association or NACHA has provided some guidance on their April 29, 2019 blog, written by Rober Unger.   It is helpful to payroll professionals to understand these terms and use them correctly.  I found this blog extremely helpful and I hope you do to.

The Social Security Wage Base Projections Are Here!

Every year we, in payroll, wait in anticipation for the social security (OASDI) wage base to be announced. This basically heralds in the year end/year beginning processing time.  But for some, maybe those responsible for employment tax budgets or financial reports, the wage bases for future years is a handy thing to have all at once and not just wait for it at the end of the year. For this reason, the Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes their estimates for the social security wage base each year.  The years 2020-2028 are included in this year’s 2019 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Funds.   The SSA provides three estimates, high, intermediate and low. For example, for 2019, the actual wage base is $132,900. However, the 2018 report projected $132,300 to $136,800.  The following chart lists the projections estimated by SSA (on page 115 of the report) for calendar years 2020 through 2028:

We still have to wait until October or so for the actual 2020 wage base, but the estimates can be useful in predicting future labor costs.

 

Reminder: Keep up with the payroll news by subscribing to Vicki’s e-news alerts, Payroll 24/7.  The latest payroll news when you need it, right to your inbox.

A Fresh Approach to Payroll Training is Coming Your Way!

I am proud to announce that I am once again offering training webinars but this time with a fresh approach.  We are an approved provider by the American Payroll Association (APA).  This means that my training can earn you RCHs as well as enhance your education.  But my training will be different than the usual fare that you get for webinars, even the ones I conduct for other vendors.  Instead of just listening, my webinars or “lectures” as I call them, will be interactive. Let me explain how this works.  I am an adjunct faculty member at Brandman University and am responsible for their Practical Payroll Online program. I do all of the materials for the program as well as teach the courses.  Each year I record various topical lectures for my students to use in each of the five courses.  These “lectures” are provided live to the students at a certain date and time and are recorded using the Zoom software Brandman provides. Students may attend the live event or may choose to view the recorded version, it is up to them. Because these are related to the course work, they include more interaction than standard or traditional webinars. For example, you can ask questions at any time during the lecture just as you would in a live classroom setting. You may have forms to complete (such as the lecture on the Form 941 or Form W-2) or you may have calculations to perform for the child support lecture. Each lecture is a full two hours, so more time to devote to the information and to related questions.

Students enrolled in the Brandman program are permitted to attend the lectures for free and do not receive RCHs.  However, I have had numerous requests to provide payroll training that gives RCHs so this is how I have decided to offer that training to my non-students.  I will post the latest lecture on my website.  All lectures are during normal business hours and usually held on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.  I cannot offer these lectures for free.  There is a fee for APA certification, but I want to keep the costs within everyone’s budgets.  The introductory cost will be $99 per lecture per attendee.  That is two RCHs for less than $100 and no sales pitches or follow-ups about buying anything.  You may sign up with a personal email or with your business email, whichever you prefer.  And you don’t need to worry about getting your questions answered.  Since this is still a “class-room” style setting I am limited to only 20 additional attendees per lecture. So you won’t be lost in the multitude of other attendees vying for attention.

I will be offering our first lectures in May on Travel Pay, Child Support, Multistate Taxation, and Wage and Hour Law.  June’s lectures will include California Wage and Hour Law, Tax Levies and Creditor Garnishments, Payroll Procedures, and Abandoned Wages.  As each lecture is approved by the APA it will be posted to our website and open for registration. You simply pay online for the lecture and you will receive all the info for how to log into the classroom on the day of the lecture within two business days of registering.  After the lecture, your Certificate of Attendance will be issued once we verify you have completed all the required time in the classroom, the required APA polls, and the survey,  usually within 2 weeks after the lecture.

Unfortunately, although the lectures are recorded for use on the Brandman website, I cannot offer the lecture as an on-demand product or after the fact electronic version.  Only live attendees will be accepted. But you always have the option of signing up for the Brandman course which features the lecture and if you complete the tests and quizzes can receive up to 8 RCHs for $200 per course for APA members. One more way to earn RCHs at a low price.

We are very excited to be offering this learning opportunity to our social media network.  We hope you find our lectures informative and useful. Further announcements for exact dates and topics will be coming.

IRS Revises EIN Application Process…hoping to enhance security

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced today that starting May 13th only individuals with tax identification numbers may request an Employer Identification Number, or EIN, as the “responsible party” on the application.  This change will prevent entities, such as employer, from using their own EINs to obtain additional EINs. The requirement will apply to both the paper Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number, and the online EIN application.

Individuals named as responsible party must have either a Social Security Number (SSN) or an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). The IRS is making the announcement now to give entities and their representatives time to identify proper responsible officials and to comply with the new policy.

This change is part of the IRS’s ongoing security review. It provides greater security to the EIN process by requiring an actual individual to be the responsible party and improves transparency. If the employer needs to change the responsible party, it can complete the Form 8822-B, Change of Address or Responsible Party within 60 days of the change.

Entities such as federal, state, local or tribal governments are exempt from the responsible party requirement, as is the military including state national guard units.

 

Reminder: Keep up with the payroll news by subscribing to Vicki’s e-news alerts, Payroll 24/7.  The latest payroll news when you need it, right to your inbox.

 

 

New DOL Wage and Hour Opinion Letters Have Been Delivered. Let’s Look Inside…

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced on March 14th, that they had released new opinion letters on their website.  These letters address the compliance issues related to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Before we review the new opinion letters for the FLSA, let’s do a quick review of what exactly is an opinion letter.

The Wage and Hour Division issues guidance primarily through Opinion Letters, Ruling Letters, Administrator Interpretations, and Field Assistance Bulletins. They are provided on the DOL website.

An interpretation or ruling issued by the Administrator interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA), or the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act (PCA) is an official ruling or interpretation of the Wage and Hour Division for purposes of the Portal-to-Portal Act. 29 U.S.C. § 259. Such rulings provide a potential good faith reliance defense for actions that may otherwise constitute violations of the FLSA, DBA, or PCA. Prior rulings and interpretations are affected by changes to the applicable statute or regulation so an employer should always periodically review any relevant opinion letters that it uses as a basis for a policy to ensure that changes have not occurred. From time to time the DOL updates its interpretations in response to new information, such as court decisions, and may withdraw a ruling or interpretation in whole or in part.

Now on to the new letters just recently issued.

FLSA2019-1:  This opinion letter clarifies the FLSA wage and recordkeeping requirements for residential janitors and the “good faith” defense. Discusses what to do if the FLSA and state requirements do not match. In this case the state of New York did not consider the employee subject to minimum wage and overtime but the FLSA does.

FLSA2019-2: Addresses the FLSA compliance related to the compensability of time spent participating in an employer-sponsored community service program.

I always encourage employers to use the opinion letters when formulating policy.  If you don’t see an opinion letter that addresses your issue, you may ask for one to be issued on that policy or question by submitting the request online.  Of course, not all requests submitted result in an opinion letter being issued. Or it may be issued but as a non-administrative letter which holds less weight. But it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Reminder: Keep up with the payroll news by subscribing to Vicki’s e-news alerts, Payroll 24/7.  The latest payroll news when you need it, right to your inbox.

Salary Levels Are Rising (Or Are They?) …It’s Still Anyone’s Guess …But We ARE Getting Closer!

On March 7, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a news update concerning the new salary levels for employees to qualify for the Executive, Administrative, and Professional exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The news update acknowledges that the currently salary level of $455 per week, in effect since 2004, needs to be increased but not to the level that was required by the Obama Administration in 2016 ($913 per week). The Department is proposing to adopt a salary level that uses a clear and predictable methodology for employees and that will also comply with the FLSA and the recent court decisions concerning the Obama Administrations regulations that were invalidated by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The rule was submitted on Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit but was being held in suspension.

This rulemaking proposes to rescind the 2016 rule formally and replace it with this current rule. The same methodology is being used as in the 2016 rule.  The level is set at approximately the 20th percentile of earnings for full-time salaried workers in the lowest region (South). Applying the 2017 data and projecting forward to January 2020 (when the rule should be effective) this results in a proposed standard salary level of $679 per week or $35,308 per year. However, the Department anticipates using the 2018 data in developing the final rule.

One holdover from the 2016 Obama Administration rule is the ability to count nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the standard salary level test.  These bonuses must be paid annually or more frequently. The new rule will incorporate these types of bonuses.

The DOL is not proposing any changes to the standards duties tests at this time.

For employees who are exempt under the Highly Compensated Employee test, this level will be increasing as well.  The 2016 rule increased that $100,000 threshold to $134,004.  This new rule, using the same methodology of the 90th percentile for full-time salaried employees nationally as the 2016 ruling is projecting that the final level will be $147,414 for 2020.

The automatic updates contained in the 2016 rule will not be adopted.  Instead the DOL proposes to update the earnings thresholds every four years to prevent the levels from, once again, becoming outdated.

The DOL is now conducting a 60-day comment period on the new rule.  Click here to read the new proposed rule.  The address to comment is on page 2 of the report.

We will see where the rule stands after the 60-day comment period. Until then we just wait…

I invite your comments… what do you think of the new level?

 

Reminder: Keep up with the payroll news by subscribing to Vicki’s e-news alerts, Payroll 24/7.  The latest payroll news when you need it, right to your inbox.

With Higher Minimum Wages Can Come Higher Penalties

As my Payroll 24/7 subscribers found out today, Illinois is increasing its minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by the 2025.  But the bill, Senate Bill 1, also increases the penalties for failure to follow

the new requirements.  One of blogs that I follow, Wage & Hour Insights has an excellent post on this very issue.  I urge you to take a moment to read Bill Pokorny’s blog on the new Illinois minimum wage violations penalties, Stiff New Employer Penalties Included in Illinois $15 Minimum Wage Law. It is an excellent source on the new requirements.

Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report: Payroll is Upfront and Center in this Year’s Recommendations

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS.  Its purpose is to ensure that every taxpayer is treated fairly and to help taxpayers know and understand their rights.  The current Taxpayer Advocate is Nina Olson.  Each year the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) releases their Annual Report to Congress.  This report describes the challenges the IRS is facing. Federal law requires that the NTA’s annual report identify at least 20 of the most serious problems encountered by taxpayers and to make administrative and legislative recommendations to mitigate those problems. The following are the highlights of this year’s recommendations that affect payroll:

  1. Alternative to Form W-4: The report recommends scraping the Form W-4 altogether and analyzing the feasibility of adopting an IRS-determined withholding code. This approach is currently being utilized in the U.S. tax administration.  It also recommends that withholding be expanded at the source to encompass not only wages, but taxable interest, pensions, dividends, capital gains, IRS income, unemployment and even, potentially, certain earnings as an independent contractor.
  2. Furnishing Information Returns Electronically: Information return data to taxpayers should be furnished electronically for direct importation into tax return preparation software or to authorized tax return preparers.
  3. Lower Electronic Filing Thresholds: The report recommends requiring employers with more than five employees to file Forms W-2 electronically.
  4. Form 941 Filing: Recommends requiring Form 941 contain information about each employee’s name, address and social security number. To promote electronic filing, direct the IRS to use the fillable form currently on the IRS website and reformat so the form can be electronically filed, at no cost, directly from the website.
  5. Effects of the new tax law and the shutdown on overall IRS workloads: With all of the new tax forms needed to incorporate the changes to the tax code the IRS was overwhelmed. Add to this the shutdown and the antiquated systems (IRS has two of the oldest IT systems in the federal government) and you have a recipe for potential disaster. Because of these issues the IRS is now having to process more than five million pieces of mail and over 87,000 amended returns. All manually. IT modernization was the number one recommendation in this report.

Whether or not the recommendations are implemented is anybody’s guess.  But as the situation is becoming more intense at the IRS for meeting deadlines and handling the workload with antiquated systems it will be well remembered to monitor this report for any upcoming legislative changes.  Especially in the area of electronic filing, lowering thresholds and replacing the Form W-4.

Reminder: Keep up with the payroll news by subscribing to Vicki’s e-news alerts, Payroll 24/7.  The latest payroll news when you need it, right to your inbox.