IRS Issues Proposed Regs for Withholding

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service have issued proposed regulations updating the federal income tax withholding rules to reflect changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and other legislation.

In general, the proposed regulations, available now in the Federal Register, are designed to accommodate the redesigned Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Certificate, to be used starting in 2020, and the related tables and computational procedures in Publication 15-T, Federal Income Tax Withholding Methods. The proposed regulations and related guidance do not require employees to furnish a new Form W-4 solely because of the redesign of the Form W-4.

Employees who have a Form W-4 on file with their employer from years prior to 2020 generally will continue to have their withholding determined based on that form.

To assist with computation of income tax withholding, the redesigned Form W-4 no longer uses an employee’s marital status and withholding allowances, which were tied to the value of the personal exemption. Due to TCJA changes, employees can no longer claim personal exemptions. Instead, income tax withholding using the redesigned Form W-4 will generally be based on the employee’s expected filing status and standard deduction for the year.

The Form W-4 is also redesigned to make it easier for employees with more than one job at the same time or married employees who file jointly with their working spouses to withhold the proper amount of tax.

In addition, employees can choose to have itemized deductions, the child tax credit, and other tax benefits reflected in their withholding for the year. As in the past, employees can choose to have an employer withhold a flat-dollar extra amount each pay period to cover, for example, income they receive from other sources that is not subject to withholding. Under the proposed regulations, employees now also have the option to request that employers withhold additional tax by reporting income from other sources not subject to withholding on the Form W-4.

The proposed regulations permit employees to use the new IRS Tax Withholding Estimator (discussed in our previous blog)  to help them accurately fill out Form W-4. As in the past, taxpayers may use the worksheets in the instructions to Form W-4 and in Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, to assist them in filling out this form correctly.

The proposed regulations also address a variety of other income tax withholding issues. For example, the proposed regulations provide flexibility in how employees who fail to furnish Forms W-4 should be treated. Starting in 2020, employers must treat new employees who fail to furnish a properly completed Form W-4 as single and withhold using the standard deduction and no other adjustments. Before 2020, employers in this situation were required to withhold as if the employee was single and claiming zero allowances.

In addition, the proposed regulations provide rules on when employees must furnish a new Form W-4 for changed circumstances, update the regulations for the lock-in letter program, and eliminate the combined income tax and FICA (Social Security and Medicare) tax withholding tables.

Treasury and IRS welcome public comment on these proposed regulations. See the proposed regulations for details. Updates on TCJA implementation can be found on the Tax Reform page of IRS.gov.

IRS Tax Estimator Gets Latest Update

The Internal Revenue Service has launched a new and improved Tax Withholding Estimator, designed to help workers target the refund they want by having the right amount of federal income tax taken out of their pay. The Tax Withholding Estimator, now available on IRS.gov, incorporates the changes from the redesigned Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Certificate, that employees can fill out and give to their employers this year. The IRS urges everyone to see if they need to adjust their withholding by using the Tax Withholding Estimator to perform a Paycheck Checkup. If an adjustment is needed, the Tax Withholding Estimator gives specific recommendations on how to fill out their employer’s online Form W-4 or provides the PDF form with key parts filled out.

To help workers more effectively adjust their withholding, the improved Tax Withholding Estimator features a customized refund slider that allows users to choose the refund amount they prefer from a range of different refund amounts. The exact refund range shown is customized based on the tax information entered by that user. Based on the refund amount selected, the Tax Withholding Estimator will give the worker specific recommendations on how to fill out their W-4. This new feature allows users who seek either larger refunds at the end of the year or more money on their paychecks throughout the year to have just the right amount withheld to meet their preference.

The new Tax Withholding Estimator also features several other enhancements, including one allowing anyone who expects to receive a bonus to indicate whether tax will be withheld. In addition, improvements added last summer continue to be available, including mobile-friendly design, handling of pension income, Social Security benefits and self-employment tax.

Starting in 2020, income tax withholding is no longer based on an employee’s marital status and withholding allowances, tied to the value of the personal exemption. Instead, income tax withholding is generally based on the worker’s expected filing status and standard deduction for the year. In addition, workers can choose to have itemized deductions, the Child Tax Credit and other tax benefits reflected in their withholding for the year. It is important for people with more than one job at a time (including families in which both spouses work) to adjust their withholding to avoid having too little withheld. Using the Tax Withholding Estimator is the most accurate way to do this.

As in the past, employees can also choose to have an employer withhold an additional flat-dollar amount each pay period to cover, for example, income they receive from the gig economy, self-employment, or other sources that is not subject to withholding. For more information about the updated Tax Withholding Estimator and the redesigned 2020 Form W-4, visit IRS.gov.

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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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Paycheck Checkup May be Needed

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made significant changes to the tax law, including increasing the standard deduction, eliminating personal exemptions, increasing the child care tax credit, limiting or discontinuing certain deductions and changing the tax rates and brackets.  While these changes did not affect the 2017 tax returns they will affect the 2018 tax returns filed next year.  For this reason the IRS is continuing to push a “paycheck checkup” for all employees but especially seasonal or part-time employees. To assist employees the IRS unveiled several new features to help people navigate the issues affecting withholding in their paychecks. The effort includes a new series of plain language Tax Tips, a YouTube video series and other special efforts to help people understand the importance of checking their withholding as soon as possible including a withholding calculator.

Employees can use the Withholding Calculator to estimate their 2018 income tax. The Withholding Calculator compares that estimate to the employee’s current tax withholding and can help them decide if they need to change their withholding with their employer.  When using the calculator, it’s helpful to have a completed 2017 tax return available. Employees who need to adjust their withholding will need to submit a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to their employer. If an employee needs to adjust their withholding, doing so as quickly as possible means there’s more time for tax withholding to take place evenly during the rest of the year. But waiting until later in the year means there are fewer pay periods to make the tax changes – which could have a bigger impact on each paycheck.

Among the groups who should check their withholding are:

  • Two-income families.
  • People working two or more jobs or who only work for part of the year.
  • People with children who claim credits such as the Child Tax Credit.
  • People with older dependents, including children age 17 or older.
  • People who itemized deductions in 2017.
  • People with high incomes and more complex tax returns.
  • People with large tax refunds or large tax bills for 2017.

FBI Warns of Another Phishing Scam Against Employees

The FBI is now warning employers of a possible phishing scam taking place.  This one targets the employees themselves. It focuses on companies that use self-service platforms where employees can view their pay, get duplicates of W-2s and update direct deposit information.  The fraudsters are impersonating the employer’s human resources department and asking employees to update or confirm their personal information via a fake website.  The employee receives a fake email that asks the employee to click on the link provided to log into his self-service account.  The email asks the employee to logon to view a private email from HR, to view changes that have been made to their account, or to confirm that the account is still active.

By clicking on the link and entering their self-service credentials, the employee is actually giving their logon information to the fraudster. The fraudster than can go into the self-service account himself and access all of the information including W-2 and pay stub info.  He can also change the direct deposit information. In order to prevent the victim from from knowing what is going on, the fraudster will also change the email address that the self-service platform uses to send alerts when changes are made.

Payroll and human resources professionals need to be on the lookout for this type of email.  With the new tax bill causing new tax withholding decisions, many employees are making good use of these types of self-service portals.  This will be especially true when the new Form W-4 is issued by the IRS.  Employees will want to make sure they have the proper withholding under the new tax tables.  And it would not be “unusual” for payroll or HR to send out emails during this time-frame.

It is also imperative to practice what the FBI calls “good email hygiene”.  Train your employees to watch for phishing attacks and to also check the actual email address rather than just looking at the display name.  Both these items can be crucial to seeing the attack early, before the damage is done.