By Dianne Goodman, CPA

The IRS is offering many opportunities to help victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The information in this article summarizes some of the assistance the IRS offers Katrina and/or Rita victims and those who wish to help them.

The IRS has a special disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227 for all victims of the hurricanes. This number will have all the up-to-date information regarding what the IRS can do to assist you with your individual questions. Since information is being updated regularly, it is a good idea to find out what the latest information is.

Taxpayers don't need to live in the affected areas, but need to establish the hurricane affected them in order to qualify for the tax relief. The special disaster hotline can help you determine if you qualify for this tax relief. If you are a relief worker assisting in the recovery or have your books, records or tax professional located in the affected areas, you also may qualify.

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In general, you can postpone filing returns and paying taxes until January 3, 2006 for due dates falling on or after August 29, 2005. For Florida the due date is on or after August 24, 2005 since Katrina hit there first. This would include corporate and individual returns with proper extensions, federal employment and excise returns and their respective deposits due on or before January 3, 2006.

If you are affected by an "individual assistance area" as designated by FEMA, the tax relief is automatic. If you are in a "public assistance area" as designated by FEMA or other impacted area, you will need to identify yourself as a hurricane victim with the IRS.

You can have your interest and penalties abated for payments due for this time period. Of course, any tax owed is still due but payment can be delayed without interest and penalties accumulating during this time period.

Money from retirement plans such as 401(k), 403(b) and certain 457 deferred-compensation plans may also be utilized in the form of a loan or hardship distribution. You should discuss the options available with your plan administrator and tax preparer to ensure that you don't get penalized. Individual Retirement Account (IRA) participants cannot get a loan from their IRA but they may be able to take hardship distributions. Hardship withdrawals must be made by March 31, 2006. Be aware you will owe taxes on the amount withdrawn. Congress is considering a modification to the 10% early-withdrawal penalty so make sure the transaction is handled properly to avoid any penalty. This retirement plan relief can be utilized to repair or replace a home or for other necessities. You can use it to assist certain relatives and dependents including parents, grandparents and children.

For individuals and corporations who want to help victims, it is relatively easy for employers to adopt a Leave Donation Program where employees can donate their unused vacation, sick or personal leave. The amount is calculated based on the hours donated and the hourly rate of the employee. This is converted to a cash payment to the respective charities as set up by the corporation and may even include religious and educational organizations as well as local, state and federal governments. The donated time is not taxable to the employee and is tax deductible to the corporation. The payments need to be made by December 31, 2006. If you don't have accrued time this year, you can wait until you have accrued time and donate it as long as it is before the end of 2006. Employers can find the basic requirements in Notice 2005-68 at the irs.gov website.

This article was intended to provide general information about IRS help for hurricane victims. It does not contain all the information available.

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Dianne Goodman, CPA - Comprehensive Small Business Solutions, visit <A HREF="http://www.dgoodmancpa.com">dgoodmancpa.com</A> for more content like this.