Starting with their 2013 tax return, taxpayers who claim deductions for business use of a home (“the home office deduction”) now have another option. Taxpayers claiming the home office deduction are generally required to fill out a 43-line form (Form 8829) often with complex calculations of allocated expenses, depreciation and carryovers of unused deductions.
Taxpayers claiming the optional deduction will complete a significantly simplified form. The new optional deduction is capped at $1,500 per year based on $5 per square foot for up to 300 square feet. Give us a call if you’d like more information on the simplified home office deduction for 2013.
Low and moderate-income workers still have time to make qualifying retirement contributions and get the saver’s credit on their 2013 tax return.
Also known as the retirement savings contributions credit, the saver’s credit is available in addition to any other tax savings that apply and helps offset part of the first $2,000 workers voluntarily contribute to IRAs and to 401(k) plans and similar workplace retirement programs.
The saver’s credit supplements other tax benefits available to people who set money aside for retirement. Taxpayers have until April 15, 2014, to set up a new individual retirement arrangement or add money to an existing IRA for 2013.
Most workers may deduct their contributions to a traditional IRA. Though Roth IRA contributions are not deductible, qualifying withdrawals, usually after retirement, are tax-free. Normally, contributions to 401(k) and similar workplace plans are not taxed until withdrawn.
Note: Elective deferrals (contributions) must have been made by the end of the year to a 401(k) plan or similar workplace program, such as a 403(b) plan for employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations, a governmental 457 plan for state or local government employees, and the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees.
The saver’s credit can be claimed by:
- Married couples filing jointly with incomes up to $60,000 in 2014;
- Heads of Household with incomes up to $45,000 in 2014; and
- Married individuals filing separately and singles with incomes up to $30,000 in 2014.
The saver’s credit can increase a taxpayer’s refund or reduce the tax owed. The maximum saver’s credit is $1,000 for single filers and $2,000 for married couples and is based on filing status, adjusted gross income, tax liability and amount contributed to qualifying retirement programs.
Other special rules that apply to the saver’s credit include the following:
- Eligible taxpayers must be at least 18 years of age.
- Anyone claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return cannot take the credit.
- A student cannot take the credit. A person enrolled as a full-time student during any part of 5 calendar months during the year is considered a student.
In tax-year 2011, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, saver’s credits totaling just over $1.1 billion were claimed on nearly 6.4 million individual income tax returns. Saver’s credits claimed on these returns averaged $215 for joint filers, $166 for heads of household and $128 for single filers.
The IRS is making changes regarding the annual election under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), often referred to as the “Section 179 election” or the “Code Section 179 election.” For 2013 tax returns, the allowable 179 expense election is $500,000. For 2014, the allowable 179 expense election will be reduced to $25,000. This represents a significant decrease in allowable 179 deduction available for you in 2014. This reduction should be taken into consideration for 2013 year-end planning and budgets for the subsequent 2014 year. Please consult your tax advisor regarding your specific situation and how you can plan accordingly.
Section 179 Overview
Generally, the cost of property placed in service in a trade or business can’t be deducted in the year it’s placed in service if the property will be useful beyond the year. Instead, the cost is “capitalized” and depreciation deductions are allowed for most property (other than land), but are spread out over a period of years. Capitalization delays the tax benefits of business expenditures. For example, you may spend $50,000 on a new computer system today, but must spread your depreciation deductions over several years. That’s why the election to take immediate deductions is valuable.
As the end of 2013 approaches, donors are likely thinking about their
favorite charity or ministry and what they may be able to do in the way
I know I am. I am always encouraged when I think
about the important mission of these organizations and how lives are
being changed as a result of what they are doing. After all, that is
why we give. We give because we are taking part in something bigger
than we are. We give because we believe in the mission of these great
organizations. We give because we believe in the power of giving to
transform lives, maybe even our own.
So, after dwelling on the good stuff it is then time to consider how to give. Should I give cash? Should I donate stock? Should I do something else?
Having served in some nonprofits, I know we were always thankful for unrestricted
gifts in whatever form they came to us. This might be your first
consideration and I would recommend making your gifts unrestricted so
that the organization can put it to use in the best way possible.
Next, if your cash position is good you will certainly want to share the wealth. Here are a few reminders about cash gifts–
- Make sure you are donating to a qualified organization if you want a tax deduction.
- Make sure to get an official receipt for your gift, especially if it is over $250.
- For tax purposes, cash donations generally have a deductible limit of 50% of your AGI.
- You must make your gift before the end of the year or make sure it is postmarked December 31 if mailed.
If you want to make stock gifts at the end of 2012, this is a positive
time to do so. The stock market has performed well over the past couple
of years and you may have stocks that you feel have appreciated
significantly. Also, the fiscal cliff that has been the focus of the
post-election likely will see income tax rates and capital gains tax
rates rise after 2012. With this in thought, making a stock gift seems
like the right and prudent thing to do. Here are some reminders about
making stock gifts–
- You can take a tax deduction for the fair market value of the stock at the time of the gift.
- For tax purposes, stock gifts and other capital gain property gifts are limited to 30% of your AGI.
- Make sure to give the stock directly to the charity (don’t sell it yourself and then give the cash).
Of course, make sure you consult your professional advisor as you plan your year-end giving.
No matter what your situation, you have the ability to make a difference
through your giving to nonprofits. Keep that in mind as you move
forward into this holiday season.
Property, as well as money, can be donated to a charity. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the property; however, for certain property, the deduction is limited to your cost basis. While you can also donate your services to charity, you may not deduct the value of these services. You may also be able to deduct charity-related travel expenses and some out-of-pocket expenses, however.
Keep in mind that a written record of charitable contribution is required in order to qualify for a deduction. A donor may not claim a deduction for any contribution of cash, a check or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a cancelled check) or written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.
Tip: Contributions of appreciated property (i.e. stock) provide an additional benefit because you avoid paying capital gains on any profit.
Accelerating Income and Deductions
Accelerating income into 2013 is an especially good idea for taxpayers who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year or whose earnings are close to threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married filing jointly) that make them liable for additional Medicare tax or NIIT (see below).
Here are several examples of what a taxpayer might do to accelerate deductions:
- Pay a state estimated tax installment in December instead of at the January due date. However, make sure the payment is based on a reasonable estimate of your state tax.
- Pay your entire property tax bill, including installments due in year 2014, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.
- Try to bunch “threshold” expenses, such as medical and dental expenses (10% of AGI starting in 2013) and miscellaneous itemized deductions. For example, you might pay medical bills and dues and subscriptions in whichever year they would do you the most tax good.
Threshold expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI). By bunching these expenses into one year, rather than spreading them out over two years, you have a better chance of exceeding the thresholds, thereby maximizing your deduction.
In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of accelerating income and deductions might allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2013, depending on your situation.
The latter benefits include Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child credits, higher education tax credits and deductions for student loan interest.
Caution: Taxpayers close to threshold amounts for the Net Investment Income Tax (3.8% of net investment income) should pay close attention to “one-time” income spikes such as those associated with Roth conversions, sale of a home or other large assets that may be subject to tax.
If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, increasing your withholding before year-end can avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due.
On the other hand, the penalty could be avoided by covering the extra tax in your final estimated tax payment and computing the penalty using the annualized income method.
Tax planning presents more challenges than usual this year due to the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), which was signed into law on January 2, 2013, as well as certain tax provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 taking effect in 2013 and 2014.
Tax planning strategies for individuals this year–and for the next several years–require careful consideration of taxable income in relation to threshold amounts that might bump a taxpayer into a higher or lower tax bracket, thus, subjecting him or her to additional taxes such as the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) or an additional Medicare tax.
Even so, there are several more general tax planning strategies taxpayers might consider such as:
- Selling any investments on which you have a gain or loss this year. For more on this, see Investment Gains and Losses, below.
- If you anticipate an increase in taxable income in 2014 and are expecting a bonus at year-end, try to get it before December 31. Keep in mind however, that contractual bonuses are different, in that they are typically not paid out until the first quarter of the following year. Therefore, any taxes owed on a contractual bonus would not be due until you file a tax return for tax year 2014.
- If your company grants stock options, you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option this year if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2014. Exercise of the option is often but not always a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.
- If you’re self employed, send invoices or bills to clients or customers this year in order to be paid in full by the end of December.
Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.
Millions of Americans have hobbies such as sewing, woodworking, fishing, gardening, stamp and coin collecting, but when that hobby starts to turn a profit, it might just be considered a business by the IRS.
Definition of a Hobby vs. a Business
The IRS defines a hobby as an activity that is not pursued for profit. A business, on the other hand, is an activity that is carried out with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.
The tax considerations are different for each activity so it’s important for taxpayers to determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit as a business or is just a hobby for personal enjoyment.
Of course, you must report and pay tax on income from almost all sources, including hobbies. But when it comes to deductions such as expenses and losses, the two activities differ in their tax implications.
Is Your Hobby Actually a Business?
If you’re not sure whether you’re running a business or simply enjoying a hobby, here are some of the factors you should consider:
- Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
- Do you depend on income from the activity?
- If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
- Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
- Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
- Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
- Does the activity make a profit in some years?
- Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?
An activity is presumed to be for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (or at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training, or racing horses).
The IRS says that it looks at all facts when determining whether a hobby is for pleasure or business, but the profit test is the primary one. If the activity earned income in three out of the last five years, it is for profit. If the activity does not meet the profit test, the IRS will take an individualized look at the facts of your activity using the list of questions above to determine whether it’s a business or a hobby. (It should be noted that this list is not all-inclusive.)
October 1, 2013 marked the first day of the shutdown of the federal government–the first since 1995-1996. Without a clear idea of how long this “lapse in appropriations” is expected to continue, here’s a look at how taxpayers are affected.
During the shutdown, approximately 86,000 IRS employees have been furloughed and IRS operations are limited. Despite this, tax law remains in effect, and in that respect it’s “business as usual.”
Individuals and businesses should keep filing their tax returns and making deposits with the IRS, as they are required to do so by law. All other tax deadlines remain in effect, including those covering individuals, corporations, partnerships and employers. The regular payroll tax deadlines remain in effect as well.
Where’s My Refund?
Although the IRS will accept and process all tax returns with payments, it is unable to issue refunds during the shutdown. Tax refunds will not be issued until normal government operations resume. This includes the “Where’s my refund?” service.
October 15 Tax Filing Deadline
Individuals who requested an extension of time to file should file their returns by October 15, 2013. According to the IRS, more than 12 million taxpayers requested an automatic six-month extension this year, but have yet to file.
Members of the military and others serving in Afghanistan or other combat zone localities typically have until at least 180 days after they leave the combat zone to both file returns and pay any taxes due. People with extensions in parts of Colorado affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides also have more time, until Dec. 2, 2013, to file and pay.
Taxpayers are urged to file electronically, because most of these returns will be processed automatically. You can file your tax return electronically or on paper–although the processing of paper returns will be delayed until full government operations resume. Payments accompanying paper tax returns will still be accepted as the IRS receives them.
Tax software companies, tax practitioners and Free File will remain available to assist with taxes and continue to accept and file tax returns.
For taxpayers seeking assistance, only the automated applications on the regular 800-829-1040 telephone line will remain open.
The IRS website, http://www.IRS.gov, will remain available, although some interactive features may not be available.
IRS criminal law enforcement and undercover operations will continue.
During the shutdown, all IRS audits and examinations will stop. All non-automated collection activity will also stop.
During the shutdown, the IRS will take also steps to protect ongoing bankruptcy, lien, and seizure cases and to prevent lapses in the statute of limitation.
Tax Court closed at noon on Tuesday, October 1 and stopped accepting and serving documents such as petitions and motions, as well as electronic filings and hand deliveries. For those with deadlines that cannot be extended (i.e. set by statute), documents may be sent by US mail. The postmark serves as the filing date. If you have any questions relating to tax court, please contact us.
Social Security checks will continue to be issued and mailed out via US mail, which is not shut down as it is not funded by the federal government. Field offices are open, but assistance may be limited.
Here is a short statement I received from the IRS that may apply to you at this time:
Due to the current lapse in appropriations, IRS operations are limited. However, the underlying tax law remains in effect, and all taxpayers should continue to meet their tax obligations as normal.