For almost 100 years, Americans have been paying federal income taxes. In return, the government has defended our freedom, built highways, preserved natural resources and funded programs that have helped all Americans. Over those same years, the income tax law itself and the rules surrounding the law have become huge, complex and confusing. Many have found that professional income tax advisors, and software programs are essential for preparing tax returns and just dealing with all the financial issues associated with income taxes.

This article does not replace the expert advice of professionals, but rather explains some of the basics so you can better understand how our income tax structure works, how it can affect your financial decisions and how you can be a more-informed income taxpayer.

Our income tax system is generally described as a progressive, marginal rate system. This means that as we earn more income, we pay higher rates of tax on that income. To better understand this, consider the following three components – how much is taxed, what tax rates apply and how do we pay the tax. Then, unfortunately, there are all the additional rules.

How much is taxed – or what is taxable income?
When you prepare your tax return (Form 1040), or gather information for your return accountant, you probably start by identifying all your income for the year. This includes your wages (reported on Form W-2 and supplied by your employer), dividends and interest (reported on Form 1099 and supplied by your bank, credit union, brokerage firm and others), any capital gains you had during the year (determined your own records or supplied by a mutual fund or brokerage firm) and income from self employment, retirement plan distributions, Social Security income and other sources. You then get reductions for deductible IRA or retirement plan contributions and a couple other items.

The next step is to determine your deductions. The tax law allows itemized deductions for state and local taxes, interest paid on mortgages, charitable contributions, medical expenses that exceed certain levels and a few other items. If you do not have large amounts of itemized deductions, you can take a "standard deduction." After all the needed calculations, you arrive at your "taxable income."

How is your taxable income taxed?
There are different tax rate schedules depending on your filing status. Most taxpayers fall into the categories of "Single" filers or "Married Filing Jointly" filers. Here are the tax rate schedules for single and joint returns for 2009.

Income Tax Rate Schedules for 2009

2009 Single Return
Rate Schedule
2009 Married Filing Jointly
Rate Schedule
Taxable income levels Tax rate Taxable income levels Tax rate
0 to $8,350 10% 0 to $16,7000 10%
$8,351 to $33,950 15% $16,701 to $67,900 15%
$33,951 to $82,250 25% $67,901 to $137,050 25%
$82,251 to $171,550 28% $137,051 to $208,850 28%
$171,551 to $372,950 33% $208,851 to $372,950 33%
Over $372,950 35% Over $372,950 35%

You should also note that the 2003 Tax Act brought the tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends down to 15%. This new tax rate is scheduled to be in effect for all tax years through 2010. The rate on gains for taxpayers in the 10% and 15% brackets will be 5%. The 15% tax rate for dividends applies to most dividends from investments, but does not cover receipts that are "interest" in nature like those from money market funds and fixed income mutual funds. It also does not apply to distributions from real estate investment trusts.

Depending on your situation, there may also a few "credits" that can be applied to reduce your taxes for things like foreign taxes and certain education expenses. The net result is your income tax liability for the year.

Paying your income taxes
Your employer withholds federal income taxes from your paychecks and forwards those funds to the government. This is reflected in your Form W-2 along with your earnings and Social Security withholding. The amount of income tax they withhold is based on the Form W-4 on which you identify the number of "exemptions" you claim. The larger the number of exemptions, the less they withhold.

Some individuals also end up making quarterly estimated income tax payments if they suspect their withholding will not be sufficient. There can be interest and penalties if the total of your withholding and estimated payments are too little.

You then compare your income tax liability with the total payments you have already made and the difference is what you owe or the amount of refund you should receive.

Other issues
This article has only provided some of the very basics of our income tax laws. The Alternative Minimum Tax, special distributions from retirement plans, stock options, and changes in marital status are just a few of the hundreds, if not thousands, of other issues that can complicate your situation.

Each person’s situation is different, the rules are complex and the consequences of not following the rules can be severe. Be sure you get the tax advice you want and need from a qualified professional.

Hot Topics

What is FAIRWINDS' Routing Number?

263181368

What are the 2013 IRA and HSA contribution limits?

Find out here.

When will I receive my 2012 5498 form?

Find out here.

What is a Routing Number?

FAIRWINDS' routing number (263181368) is used to identify FAIRWINDS Credit Union from other financial institutions and in no way identifies you or your accounts to others.

A routing transit number (RTN) is a nine digit bank code, used in the United States, to facilitate the sorting, bundling, and shipment of paper checks back to the drawer's (check writer's) account.

The RTN is also used by Federal Reserve Banks to process Fedwire funds transfers, and by the Automated Clearing House (ACH) to process direct deposits, bill payments, and other such automated transfers.

What can I do with my Relationship Rewards points?

Relationship Rewards provide you the opportunity to enjoy special member benefits including:

  • Buying down the interest rate on a loan.
  • Increasing your rate on a new CD.
  • Reducing service charges on additional products and services.
Learn more about our Relationship Rewards program.

How do I send or receive a wire?

To send a wire from FAIRWINDS, please provide the following:

  • Name, address and routing number of financial institution receiving the wire
  • Account number for the receiving account
  • Name and address of receiving account holder

There is a $20.00 service charge for an outgoing domestic wire from a personal account and a $25.00 service charge for an outgoing wire from a business account.

To receive a wire at the credit union, you will need to provide the following:

  • FAIRWINDS routing number (263-181-368)
  • Name of account holder
  • FAIRWINDS account number to receive the funds

There is a $10.00 service charge for an incoming domestic wire to a personal account and $15.00 service charge for an incoming wire to a business account.

*Please verify this information with the receiving financial institution as there may be an intermediary financial instititution involved.

When should I expect my 5498-ESA tax forms?

5498-ESA tax forms will be mailed by April 30th for all Coverdell Educational Savings Account owners who made contributions and/or rollovers into their ESA's in 2011.

5498 and 5498-SA tax forms will be mailed in mid-May for all Traditional, SEP, and Roth IRA owners and Health Savings Account owners who made contributions and/or rollovers into their IRA's and HSA's in 2011.

For questions regarding the 5498 forms please call Member Services at 407-277-5045 or visit your local branch.

When should I expect my tax forms?

FAIRWINDS mails 1099-INT and 1098 tax forms at the end of January. However, if you have e-Statements, these tax forms are available online right now!
Learn more here.

Members will only receive a 1099-INT form if the aggregate earnings amongst the accounts they are tax reported for (the primary owner) have earned at least $10 in interest.

These accounts include:
Savings, checking, money market, certificates of deposit, and US Bonds Redeemed, but do not include IRA accounts. If members have not earned at least $10 in interest, they will not receive a 1099-INT form.

Members will only receive a 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement if they paid $600 or more in interest on their mortgage.

FAIRWINDS mails 1099-R, 1099-Q, 1099-SA, and FMV/RMD statements to members by January 31st each year. We also mail 5498, 5498-SA, and 5498 ESA forms to members by the end of May.

Important information for all MasterCard® and VISA® credit and debit card holders.

You may have seen news stories recently about a potential data breach with MasterCard® and VISA® through a third-party payment processor. While there is no indication that any FAIRWINDS members have been impacted by this event, it is an opportunity to remind all consumers about the importance of being diligent, safeguarding your personal information and monitoring your accounts on a regular basis to minimize the effects of fraud.

Take the few extra steps to proactively protect your accounts. If you believe your credit or debit card information is at risk or unauthorized transactions have posted to your account, contact your financial institution immediately. In addition, you may want to consider looking into an identity theft alert program to keep you informed of activity on your accounts. There are many reputable programs available, including ID Secure. Click here to learn more.

There is an active texting scam occurring in the Central Florida area.

People are receiving a text at random stating their "card has been deactivated." This is a Scam!

Always remember, FAIRWINDS will never ask members to provide confidential information, such as debit or credit card numbers, PINs or Social Security numbers via email, text messages, direct mail or over the phone.

If you feel you are the victim of account fraud or identify theft, act immediately. This should help minimize the damage to your personal accounts and credit rating. Click here to learn more.

What are the 2013 IRA and HSA contribution limits?

Traditional and Roth IRA owners under age 50 may contribute up to $5,500 toward tax year 2013. A $1,000 catch up contribution may be added for Traditional and Roth IRA owners age 50 and over.

2013 SEP contribution limits have increased to a maximum of $51,000 or 25% of the employee's compensation, whichever is less.

HSA owners under age 55 with an individual HDHP (self coverage only) may contribute up to $3,250 toward tax year 2013. HSA owners under age 55 with a family HDHP may contribute up to $6,450 toward tax year 2013. A $1,000 catch up contribution may be added for HSA owners age 55 and over.

When will I receive my 2012 5498 form?

5498, 5498-SA, and 5498-ESA forms report IRA, HSA, and ESA contributions, rollovers, conversions, and fair market value (December 31st balance) information to the IRS and account owners. 5498 and 5498-SA forms are expected to be mailed by Saturday, May 18th.

Please contact Member Services at (407) 277-5045 or visit your local branch if you have questions about your form(s).

How can I make a prior year (2012) contribution to my IRA or HSA?

Eligible prior year (2012) IRA and HSA contributions may be made through the close of business on Monday, April 15th. The IRS requires signed documentation before contributions may be designated for a prior year.

Members can accomplish this by visiting a local branch during business hours or by submitting an e-Signed form through Retirement Central® and click Manage An Account on the left menu.