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Paying taxes in hard times

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POSTED: February 11, 2009 11:06 a.m.

By David Uffington

Dollars and Sense

 

By now you should have received your W-2 or 1099 forms for your taxes. If you’ve run the numbers and suspect you’re going to be short when it’s time to pay, you’re not alone. Lots of people are experiencing adverse financial situations right now, and the Internal Revenue Service knows this. It’s devoted a whole section of its Web site to help you.

Gather your information now. The worst thing you can do is delay making a game plan.

Here are some things you need to know:

• If you lose your job and get severance pay, it’s taxable, including any amounts for sick time or vacation pay.

• If you get unemployment compensation, it’s taxable.

• Even if your employer went out of business, it must provide you a W-2 form by Jan. 31. Contact the IRS for help in getting a substitute W-2.

• For information on moving or cashing out an IRA, moving costs to take a new job, getting food stamps or selling assets, see IRS Publication 4128 (Tax Impact of Job Loss).

• Keep track of your mileage and expenses (including having a resume written) while you hunt for a job. They might be deductible. See IRS Publication 529 if you have expenses related to your work or if you move more than 50 miles away to take a new job.

• Debt cancellation generally incurs a tax liability. For example, if you settle a credit-card debt for less than you owe, the forgiven amount becomes income that is taxable. However, this is not necessarily so with mortgage forgiveness, including foreclosure. The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 creates exceptions to the kind of debt cancellation that is taxable. See the details in Publication 4681.

• If you have an installment agreement for a prior tax year, and you can’t meet your payments because you’ve lost a job, call the IRS. It’s possible that the IRS will be able to reduce those payments. Be prepared to supply proof of your changed situation.

If you already suspect that you won’t be able to pay all your taxes by April, there are options such as a short-term extension, offer in compromise and installment agreements. Don’t be too hasty in setting up an arrangement, however. Your situation could change by April.

 

Uffington does not personally answer reader questions, but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Write to him in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

 

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