Natural disasters: Preparing for them and their impact on your taxes

Man repairing ceiling

(NAPS) — From floods and wildfires to tornadoes and hurricanes, natural disasters can leave a path of devastation. Although you can't prevent natural disasters, you can minimize losses with proper preparation and tax relief.

Natural disaster preparation involves much more than a survival kit with first aid, food and water. "Individuals and businesses need to remember to protect their financial data and documents," says Jessi Dolmage, spokesperson for TaxACT. "Taking time to document and save information now saves time, money and stress if a natural disaster occurs."

Take a room-by-room inventory of your personal and business belongings, especially property of greater value. Document, photograph or video record belongings for proof of value for insurance, tax and casualty loss purposes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers workbooks to help individuals and businesses with inventory. Publication 584 is available at www.irs.gov.

Save electronic copies of inventory and other documents on an external drive, CD or secure website. Documents should include home closing statements, homeowner and other insurance records, tax returns and W-2s. Keep copies in multiple locations in case your home, business or nearby sites are destroyed.

The IRS often grants individuals and businesses in federally declared disaster areas extended tax return filing and payment deadlines, as well as lesser or waived penalties. Deadlines for contributing to individual retirement accounts can also be extended, and the IRS usually waives the $57 fee for copies of previous year tax returns.

Individuals and businesses in affected areas typically don't have to contact the IRS to receive tax relief, as the agency automatically identifies you. However, if you have property in the designated area but reside or have a business outside of the designated area, call the IRS disaster hotline to request relief. If you move, remember to notify the IRS of your new address.

Casualty losses related to your home or business, household items and vehicles not covered by insurance or other reimbursements may be deductible on your federal tax return. To determine the deductible amount for each item, the IRS requires you first subtract any insurance reimbursement from the value of the item and then $100. The total of all losses is then reduced by 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. Keep in mind, casualty does not include normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration.

Depending on when the federally declared disaster happens, you may have the option of claiming related losses on the previous or current year's return. Dolmage explains, "Casualty losses for federally declared disasters can be claimed as a miscellaneous deduction. So, if you claimed the standard deduction last year and your casualty loss plus other itemized deductions total more than the standard deduction, you may benefit more from amending last year's return."

Amending last year's return can mean faster cash for repairs, rebuilding and replacing personal property. However, depending on your income the year of the disaster, you may increase your tax savings by waiting to claim losses on the current year return.

Regardless of which return you claim losses on, keep detailed documentation and receipts. More disaster preparation tips and resources can be found at www.irs.gov.

Tax preparation solutions like TaxACT provide step-by-step guidance for amending last year's return and claiming losses on your current year return. Learn more about TaxACT at www.taxact.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

February 2 Individuals who must make estimated tax payments
If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 15, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040) for 2014 by February 2. Filing your return and paying any tax due by February 2 prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by February 2, file and pay your tax by April 15.

February 2 All Employers
Give your employees their copies of Form W2 for 2014. If an employee agreed to receive Form W2 electronically, have it posted on a website and notify the employee of the posting.

February 2Payers of gambling winnings
If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W2G.

February 2 Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2014 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, gambling winnings, and payments of Indian gaming profits to tribal members. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules.

February 2 Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2014 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2014. If your undeposited tax is $500 r less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014 - Details

February 2Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the fourth quarter of 2014.

February 2 Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during December 2014.

February 2Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in December 2014.

February 10Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2014 on all nonpayroll items. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer - Details

February 11Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of January.

February 13Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of January.

February 17Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) - Details

February 17Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-4 by this date to continue your exemption for another year - Details

February 17All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014 - Details

February 17Publication 509 (2015)
All payments reported on Form 1099S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Substitute payments reported in box 8 or gross proceeds paid to an attorney reported in box 14 of Form 1099MISC.

February 17Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 17Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 18All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2014, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 25Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of January.

February 27Regular method taxes.
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of February.

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