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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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

CA Adopts ABC Test for Independent Contractors

On Monday, April 30, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark [Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Ct., Cal. Sup. Ct., Dkt. No. S222732, 4/30/18] decision basically stating that the “ABC Test” is to be used when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor for purposes of California wage orders. Previous to this latest decision the court case of S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations, Cal. Sup. Ct., 769 P.2d 399, 3/23/89) was used to determine employee status. In that case the principal test of an employment relationship was whether the person to whom services were rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired. Under Dynamex, the Court embraced a standard that presumes all workers are employees instead of contractors and places the burden on classifying an independent contractor under the ABC test.

For a detailed analysis of this case and how you might have to adjust your hiring decisions, I will refer you to the Labor & Employment Law Blog posted by Timothy Kim for the law firm of Sheppard Mullin.

DOL Issues New Opinion Letters Including Lump Sums

The Federal Department of Labor (DOL) has been issuing a flurry of opinion letters recently.   But even more  amazing, is that one of the opinion letters actually deals with a subject long been a thorn in payroll’s side and one that some of us have waited years for a ruling.  The basic problem is whether or not lump sum payments such as bonuses are the same as normal wages under the law when it comes to withholding for garnishments.  You see many of the states do not think that lump sum payments fall under the Consumer Credit Protection Act or CCPA.  This is the Act, written in 1970, that sets the limits for what can be deducted from an employee’s pay for such garnishments as child support and creditor garnishments.  The DOL is actually in charge of enforcing the Act, but has always been unclear on their position on whether or not lump sum payments are covered under the Act.  This is especially true for child support, as employers may actually be required to report the pending lump sum payment and wait for instructions on withholding, usually for back child support owed to the state.  For example, according the the Office of Child Support Enforcement’s matrix on states and lump sums, Alabama requires 100% of all lump sums.  California states that it is subject to 50% unless the lump sum payment does “not involve earnings”. while Indiana follows the CCPA, So we have tried to look to the DOL to give a definition ruling on this and low and behold, they finally have.

In opinion letter CCPA2018-1NA the DOL has answered numerous questions on what constitutes earnings by discussing 18 different specific examples of common types of lump sum payments that an employer may issue to an employee.  These include commissions, discretionary and non discretionary bonuses, profit sharing, production bonuses, sign-on bonuses, relocation incentive payments and safety awards.

Employer Information Report (EEO-1) Pay Data Collection Blocked

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been notified by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that it is initiating a review and immediate stay of the effectiveness of the pay data collection aspects of the EEO-1 Form that was revised on September 29, 2016, in accordance with with its authority under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).

The previously approved EEO-1 form which collects data on race, ethnicity and gender by occupational category will remain in effect. Employers should plan to comply with the earlier approved EEO-1 (Component 1) by the previously set filing date of March 2018.

Acting Chair Lipnic said:

“The EEOC remains committed to strong enforcement of our federal equal pay laws, a position I have long advocated. Today’s decision will not alter EEOC’s enforcement efforts.

I had consistently urged OMB to make a decision on this matter so that stakeholders would be aware of their reporting obligations.

Going forward, we at the EEOC will review the order and our options. I do hope that this decision will prompt a discussion of other more effective solutions to encourage employers to review their compensation practices to ensure equal pay and close the wage gap. I stand ready to work with Congress, federal agencies, and all stakeholders to achieve that goal.”

My editorial:  Is this a good move?  I am not sure, but it seems like it will do more to discourage employers from closing the wage gap.  So far voluntary “encouragement” to bring compensation practices closer to ensure equal pay has not really worked very well, now has it? Having to actually set down on paper, in a report to the EEOC, exactly what the wage gap is in an employer’s compensation was a good way to shed light on the subject.

What do you think?

Last Round for Now: Obama Era New OT Rules Knocked Out

On August 31st, the Judge in charge of the court case for the new OT rules initiated by President Obama issued its final ruling.  Basically he sided with the plaintiffs. For an excellent recap of the ruling I am referring you to Bill Pokorny’s blog.

Opinion Letters Are Back at DOL!

The Department of Labor (DOL) has just announced that they will reinstate the issuance of opinion letters. The action allows the department’s Wage and Hour Division to use opinion letters as one of its methods for providing guidance to covered employers and employees. An opinion letter is an official, written opinion by the Wage and Hour Division of how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by an employer, employee or other entity requesting the opinion. The letters were a division practice for more than 70 years until being stopped and replaced by general guidance in 2010.

“Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes,” said Secretary Acosta. “The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities so employers can concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”

The division has established a web page where the public can see if existing agency guidance already addresses their questions or submit a request for an opinion letter. The web page explains what to include in the request, where to submit the request, and where to review existing guidance. The division will exercise discretion in determining which requests for opinion letters will be responded to, and the appropriate form of guidance to be issued.