President Obama signed two trade bills into law on June 29 that include various tax provisions. The focus of the trade bills is mostly foreign competition and domestic jobs, but they contain new rules for claiming higher education tax credits, new fees for failing to file information returns, new retirement withdrawal rules for public safety workers, an extension of a health insurance premium tax credit that certain jobless individuals can take and other provisions.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of the tax-related provisions in the two laws.
1. Under The Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015:
- Education tax breaks. In order to claim the American Opportunity credit, Hope Scholarship credit, Lifetime Learning credit and the qualified tuition deduction, a taxpayer must now have a valid information return from his or her qualified higher education institution. This is sent to the taxpayer from the school on Form 1098-T and also filed with the IRS. It shows the amount of qualified tuition and expenses paid during the tax year.
The new requirement helps to address an area that reportedly has widespread fraud. In a report issued earlier this year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) stated that taxpayers have taken billions of dollars in education credits they weren’t entitled to. This includes filers who received benefits without having Form 1098-Ts filed by the schools the students claimed to attend. More than one million students erroneously claimed a tax credit for more than four years, according to TIGTA. In addition, more than 3,000 tax returns of full-time prisoners were found to have claimed an education tax credit.
- No penalties for schools in certain cases. Although colleges and other higher education institutions are required to file Form 1098-T with the IRS, there’s no way for the schools to verify taxpayer identification numbers with the IRS prior to filing. There are penalties for filing errors. Under the new law, no penalty will apply to educational institutions that fail to file information returns with accurate student taxpayer identification numbers if they certify, under penalty of perjury, that they properly requested the numbers from students.
- Higher penalties for incorrect information returns. The new law increases penalties that apply to taxpayers when they fail to file correct information returns (for example, Form 1099) with IRS or fail to provide a payee with a correct copy of the information return that was filed.
- Credit for health premiums paid by certain jobless individuals extended. The Health Care Tax Credit under Internal Revenue Code section 35 is extended through 2019. This is a 72.5% refundable tax credit covering COBRA or health insurance premiums for taxpayers who qualify for the trade adjustment assistance program, which helps individuals who’ve lost jobs because of foreign competition that occurred as a result of free trade policies.
2. Under the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015:
- Federal public safety officers can take penalty-free retirement plan withdrawals earlier. The new law amends the tax code to allow federal law enforcement officers, customs and border protection officers, federal firefighters, and air traffic controllers to make penalty-free withdrawals from the government’s Thrift Savings Plan after they reach age 50. Generally, these withdrawals would incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty because they were taken before age 59 1/2.
According to the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association: “This puts federal officers on par with their state and local counterparts who may access their defined benefit plans, without penalty, at age 50.”
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