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Elizabeth Warren Takes On Tax Preparation Industry With New Legislation To Make Filing Easier

Reposted with permission from Alternet

With Tax Day nearing, Elizabeth Warren has introduced legislation that would simplify tax filing and lower the cost for Americans. The Massachusetts senator introduced the Tax Filing Simplification Act, which would direct the Internal Revenue Service to create a free tax preparation and filing service.

Warren explained the importance of the bill in a press release:

Congress should be making it easier for Americans to file their taxes each year, not bowing to the interests of the tax prep industry. The Tax Filing Simplification Act is a commonsense bill that would help taxpayers all across this country file their taxes with less stress and fewer costs, and it would push the IRS to use the authority it already has to simplify Tax Day for all Americans.

Americans pay an average of $200 a year in tax filing services, so it’s little surprise that the tax preparation industry opposes a shift to free filing. Intuit, the company that owns TurboTax, has spent over $13 million lobbying against efforts to simplify the process. A staff report, relesed by Warren in conjunction with the legislation, points out that:

The tax-filing burden is an essential part of the tax preparation industry’s business model, and the industry sees return-free filing as a fundamental threat to its operations. As a result, the industry has devised numerous ways to oppose a return-free filing system, spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress against return-free filing and mounting fake “grassroots” campaigns against return-free filing.

Elizabeth Warren certainly isn’t the first politician to call for free filing. The Obama administration supports it and a recent Vox piece quotes a Ronald Reagan speech from 1985:

We envision a system where more than half of us would not even have to fill out a return. We call it the return-free system, and it would be totally voluntary. If you decided to participate, you would automatically receive your refund or a letter explaining any additional tax you owe. Should you disagree with this figure, you would be free to fill out your taxes using the regular form. We believe most Americans would go from the long form or the short form to no form.

Read the complete text of Warren’s bill on her website.

Photo: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks with a fellow guest as they arrive for U.S. President Barack Obama to sign the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Top 10 Year-End Tax Planning Moves

Dear Readers: With time rushing by and the end of 2015 in sight, you may be lamenting that you haven’t accomplished all that you had planned. But even if you’ll have to put off certain things until 2016, you still have time this year to make some smart financial moves.

To help you finish out 2015 with a flourish, here’s my list of top 10 year-end financial to dos.

— Max out retirement contributions: Make sure you’re on target for retirement — and save on taxes, too — by contributing the maximum to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, whether you have an IRA, a 401(k) or both. For 2015, you can contribute $5,500 to a traditional IRA, plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution if you’re 50 or older. Hopefully, you’re already contributing enough to your 401(k) to capture any company match; if you can do more, you can contribute up to $18,000, plus a $6,000 catch-up for those ages 50 and up. Even if you have a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) with no upfront tax deduction, max out your contributions. It’s a yearly opportunity you don’t want to give up.

— Take advantage of an HSA: If you have a health savings account tied to your high-deductible health insurance plan, now’s the time to max it out. An HSA lets you make tax-deductible contributions that you can later withdraw, tax-free, for qualified medical expenses. HSA contribution limits for 2015 are $3,350 for singles and $6,650 for a family, with a $1,000 catch-up for age 55 and up. And if you’re lucky enough not to need the money immediately, you can save it for future use.

— Harvest capital losses to balance gains: As you consider your year-end portfolio rebalancing, see if it makes sense to take some capital losses to cancel out capital gains. Not only will it save you money on capital gains taxes, it will give you the chance to clear out some of the losers, reset your asset allocation, and reinvest in areas that you think may have more potential for gain.

— Prepay where possible: If you have the means, prepaying things such as property taxes, medical bills or estimated state taxes can give you added deductions to further reduce your taxable income.

— Use, don’t lose, the money in your Flexible Savings Account: Unlike an HSA, with an FSA you generally have to use the money you put into it during the calendar year or lose it. While new rules allow an employer to let you carry over $500 or give you an extra two and a half months to use the funds, it’s not required. Either way, now’s the time to check the balance in your FSA and put those funds to work.

— Take your required minimum distribution: This won’t save you on taxes, but it will save you a hefty penalty. You must take RMDs from traditional IRA and 401(k) by Dec. 31. The only exception is your very first RMD, which you can delay until April 1of the year following the year you turn 70. This isn’t to be treated lightly. Miss the deadline and the penalty is 50 percent of the amount that should have been withdrawn.

— Get a jump on tuition: Will you be facing a big college tuition bill this spring? If you can pay it before the end of the year, you might be able to ease the pain a bit with up to a $4,000 tax deduction. There are income limits ($80,000 for single filers/$160,000 for married filing jointly; not available if married filing separately), but if it works for you, it’s worth considering.

— Give your health insurance a checkup: Make sure you have the most complete and cost-effective coverage available. Open enrollment for 2016 coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace is from Nov. 1, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016, so now’s the time to do some comparison-shopping.

— Make tax-free gifts: If you can afford to be generous, Uncle Sam makes it even easier to give gifts to special people on your list. In 2015, you can give up to $14,000 each to any number of individuals with no gift tax or reporting requirements. And there’s no tax for the recipient.

— Be charitable: Giving to charity not only feels good, it has tax advantages as well. Consider opening a Charitable Gift Account (also called a donor advised fund) and get an upfront tax deduction for your charitable contribution. If you fund your account with appreciated stock, you’ll get the added advantage of avoiding capital gains taxes while getting a tax deduction for the full market value of the donated stock.

Get these to dos out of the way now and you’ll have that much more time to enjoy the rest of the year. There’s no time like the present!

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Certified Financial Planner, is board chairwoman and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty.” Read more at http://schwab.com/book. You can email Carrie at askcarrie@schwab.com. For more updates, follow Carrie on LinkedIn and Twitter (@CarrieSchwab). This column is no substitute for individualized tax, legal or investment advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax adviser, CPA, financial planner or investment manager. To find out more about Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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