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Now Is a Great Time for Some Tax Planning

July 10, 2014 Leave a comment

This year’s tax deadline may have come and gone, but it’s never too early to start planning for next year or to think about setting up a smart record-keeping system. With that in mind, here are seven things you can do now to make next April 15 easier.

1. Adjust your withholding. Why wait another year for a big refund? Now is as good a time as any to review your withholding and make adjustments for next year, especially if you’d prefer more money in each paycheck this year. If you owed money at tax time, perhaps you’d like next year’s tax payment to be smaller.

Give us a call if you need assistance in adjusting your withholding.

2. Take action when life events occur. Life events include the birth of a child, a change in marital status or buying a home, and can affect the amount of taxes you owe. When such events occur during the year, you may need to change the amount of tax taken out of your pay by filing a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer. If you receive advance payments of the premium tax credit it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you need help with this.

3. Store your return in a safe place. Put your 2013 tax return and supporting documents somewhere secure so you’ll know exactly where to find them if you receive an IRS notice and need to refer to your return. Or, if you need a copy of your return when you apply for a home loan or financial aid. If it is easy to find, you can also use it as a helpful guide for next year’s tax return.

4. Organize your record-keeping. Establish a central location where everyone in your household can put tax-related records all year long. Anything from a shoe box to a file cabinet works. Just be consistent to avoid a scramble for misplaced mileage logs or charity receipts come tax time.

5. Review your paycheck. Make sure your employer is properly withholding and reporting retirement account contributions, health insurance payments, charitable payroll deductions and other items. These payroll adjustments can make a big difference on your bottom line. Fixing an error in your paycheck now gets you back on track before it becomes a huge hassle.

6. Consult a tax professional early. If you are planning to use a tax professional to help you strategize, plan and make financial decisions throughout the year, then contact us now. You’ll have more time when you’re not up against a deadline or anxious for a refund.

7. Prepare to itemize deductions. If your expenses typically fall just below the amount to make itemizing advantageous, a bit of planning to bundle deductions into 2014 may pay off. An early or extra mortgage payment, pre-deadline property tax payments, planned donations or strategically paid medical bills could equal some tax savings.

If you need help with tax planning for 2014, we can help you prepare an approach that works best for you. Each household’s financial circumstances are different so it’s important to fully consider your specific situation and goals before making any financial decisions.

Feel free to contact us any time you have questions or concerns. We can help you stay abreast of tax law changes throughout the year–not just at tax time.

Categories: business, Consulting, Taxes

Going on Vacation? Check This Out Before You Go

May 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Tim, who owns his own business, decided he wanted to take a two-week trip around the US. So he did–and was able to legally deduct every dime that he spent on his vacation. Here’s how he did it.

1. Make all your business appointments before you leave for your trip.
Most people believe that they can go on vacation and simply hand out their business cards in order to make the trip deductible.

Wrong.

You must have at least one business appointment before you leave in order to establish the “prior set business purpose” required by the IRS. Keeping this in mind, before he left for his trip, Tim set up appointments with business colleagues in the various cities that he planned to visit.

Let’s say Tim is a manufacturer of green office products and is looking to expand his business and distribute more of his products. One possible way to establish business contacts–if he doesn’t already have them–is to place advertisements looking for distributors in newspapers in each location he plans to visit. He could then interview those who respond when he gets to the business destination.

Example: Tim wants to vacation in Hawaii. If he places several advertisements for distributors, or contacts some of his downline distributors to perform a presentation, then the IRS would accept his trip for business.

Tip: It would be vital for Tim to document this business purpose by keeping a copy of the advertisement and all correspondence along with noting what appointments he will have in his diary.

2. Make Sure your Trip is All “Business Travel.”
In order to deduct all of your on-the-road business expenses, you must be traveling on business. The IRS states that travel expenses are 100 percent deductible as long as your trip is business related and you are traveling away from your regular place of business longer than an ordinary day’s work and you need to sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away from home.

Example: Tim wanted to go to a regional meeting in Boston, which is only a one-hour drive from his home. If he were to sleep in the hotel where the meeting will be held (in order to avoid possible automobile and traffic problems), his overnight stay qualifies as business travel in the eyes of the IRS.

Tip: Remember: You don’t need to live far away to be on business travel. If you have a good reason for sleeping at your destination, you could live a couple of miles away and still be on travel status.

3. Be sure to deduct all of your on-the-road-expenses for each day you’re away.
For every day you are on business travel, you can deduct 100 percent of lodging, tips, car rentals, and 50 percent of your food. Tim spends three days meeting with potential distributors. If he spends $50 a day for food, he can deduct 50 percent of this amount, or $25.

Tip: The IRS doesn’t require receipts for travel expense under $75 per expense–except for lodging.

Example: If Tim pays $6 for drinks on the plane, $6.95 for breakfast, $12 for lunch, $50 for dinner, he does not need receipts for anything since each item was under $75.

Tip: He would, however, need to document these items in your diary. A good tax diary is essential in order to audit-proof your records. Adequate documentation includes amount, date, place of meeting, and business reason for the expense.

Example: If, however, Tim stays in the Bates Motel and spends $22 on lodging, will he need a receipt? The answer is yes. You need receipts for all paid lodging.

Tip: Not only are your on-the-road expenses deductible from your trip, but also all laundry, shoe shines, manicures, and dry-cleaning costs for clothes worn on the trip. Thus, your first dry cleaning bill that you incur when you get home will be fully deductible. Make sure that you keep the dry cleaning receipt and have your clothing dry cleaned within a day or two of getting home.

4. Sandwich weekends between business days.
If you have a business day on Friday and another one on Monday, you can deduct all on-the-road expenses during the weekend.

Example: Tim makes business appointments in Florida on Friday and one on the following Monday. Even though he has no business on Saturday and Sunday, he may deduct on-the-road business expenses incurred during the weekend.

5. Make the majority of your trip days count as business days.
The IRS says that you can deduct transportation expenses if business is the primary purpose of the trip. A majority of days in the trip must be for business activities; otherwise, you cannot make any transportation deductions.

Example: Tim spends six days in San Diego. He leaves early on Thursday morning. He had a seminar on Friday and meets with distributors on Monday and flies home on Tuesday, taking the last flight of the day home after playing a complete round of golf. How many days are considered business days?

All of them. Thursday is a business day, since it includes traveling – even if the rest of the day is spent at the beach. Friday is a business day because he had a seminar. Monday is a business day because he met with prospects and distributors in pre-arranged appointments. Saturday and Sunday are sandwiched between business days, so they count, and Tuesday is a travel day.

Since Tim accrued six business days, he could spend another five days having fun and still deduct all his transportation to San Diego. The reason is that the majority of the days were business days (six out of eleven). However, he can only deduct six days’ worth of lodging, dry cleaning, shoe shines, and tips. The important point is that Tim would be spending money on lodging, airfare, and food, but now most of his expenses will become deductible.

Categories: business, Financial, Taxes

April 15 Approaches – Some Tax Tips For You

April 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Are you one of the millions of Americans who haven’t filed (or even started) your taxes yet? With the April 15 tax filing deadline less than a week away, here’s some last minute tax advice for you.

1. Stop Procrastinating. Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the very last minute. Our office needs time to prepare your return, and we may need to request certain documents from you, which will take additional time.

2. Include All Income. If you had a side job in addition to a regular job, you might have received a Form 1099-MISC. Make sure you include that income when you file your tax return because you may owe additional taxes on it. If you forget to include it you may be liable for penalties and interest on the unreported income.

3. File on Time or Request an Extension. This year’s tax deadline is April 15. If the clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension, bringing the filing date to October 15, 2014. You should keep in mind however, that filing the extension itself does not give you more time to pay any taxes due. You will still owe interest on any amount not paid by the April deadline, plus a late-payment penalty if you have not paid at least 90 percent of your total tax by that date.

Call us if you need to file an extension and we’ll take care of it for you. If you need to file for late-penalty relief, we can help with that too.

4. Don’t Panic If You Can’t Pay. If you can’t immediately pay the taxes you owe, there are several alternatives. You can apply for an IRS installment agreement, suggesting your own monthly payment amount and due date, and getting a reduced late-payment penalty rate. You also have various options for charging your balance on a credit card. There is no IRS fee for credit card payments, but processing companies generally charge a convenience fee. Electronic filers with a balance due can file early and authorize the government’s financial agent to take the money directly from their checking or savings account on the April due date, with no fee.

5. Sign and Double Check Your Return. The IRS will not process tax returns that aren’t signed, so make sure that you sign and date your return. You should also double check your social security number, as well as any electronic payment or direct deposit numbers, and finally, make sure that your filing status is correct.

Check Out These Tax Breaks

March 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Confused about which credits and deductions you can claim on your 2013 tax return? You’re not alone. Here are six tax breaks that you won’t want to overlook.

1. State Sales and Income Taxes

Thanks to the fiscal cliff deal last January, the sales tax deduction, which originally expired at the end of 2011, was reinstated in 2013 (retroactive to 2012). As such, taxpayers filing their 2013 returns can still deduct either state income tax paid or state sales tax paid, whichever is greater.

If you bought a big ticket item like a car or boat in 2013, it might be more advantageous to deduct the sales tax, but don’t forget to figure any state income taxes withheld from your paycheck just in case. If you’re self-employed you can include the state income paid from your estimated payments. In addition, if you owed taxes when filing your 2012 tax return in 2013, you can include the amount when you itemize your state taxes this year on your 2013 return.

2. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Most parents realize that there is a tax credit for daycare when their child is young, but they might not realize that once a child starts school, the same credit can be used for before and after school care, as well as day camps during school vacations. This child and dependent care tax credit can also be taken by anyone who pays a home health aide to care for a spouse or other dependent–such as an elderly parent–who is physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself. The credit is worth a maximum of $1,050 or 35percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses per dependent.

3. Job Search Expenses

Job search expenses are 100percent deductible, whether you are gainfully employed or not currently working–as long as you are looking for a position in your current profession. Expenses include fees paid to join professional organizations, as well as employment placement agencies that you used during your job search. Travel to interviews is also deductible (as long as it was not paid by your prospective employer) as is paper, envelopes, and costs associated with resumes or portfolios. The catch is that you can only deduct expenses greater than 2percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

4. Student Loan Interest Paid by Parents

Typically, a taxpayer is only able to deduct interest on mortgages and student loans if he or she is liable for the debt; however, if a parent pays back their child’s student loans the money is treated by the IRS as if the child paid it. As long as the child is not claimed as a dependent, he or she can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest paid by the parent. The deduction can be claimed even if the child does not itemize.

5. Medical Expenses

Most people know that medical expenses are deductible as long as they are more than 10 percent of AGI for tax year 2013. What they often don’t realize is what medical expenses can be deducted, such as medical miles (24 cents per mile) driven to and from appointments and travel (airline fares or hotel rooms) for out of town medical treatment.

Other deductible medical expenses that taxpayers might not be aware of include: health insurance premiums, prescription drugs, co-pays, and dental premiums and treatment. Long-term care insurance (deductible dollar amounts vary depending on age) is also deductible, as are prescription glasses and contacts, counseling, therapy, hearing aids and batteries, dentures, oxygen, walkers, and wheelchairs.

If you’re self-employed, you may be able to deduct medical, dental, or long term care insurance. Even better, you can deduct 100 percent of the premium. In addition, if you pay health insurance premiums for an adult child under age 27, you may be able to deduct them as well.

6. Bad Debt

If you’ve ever loaned money to a friend, but were never repaid, you may qualify for a non-business bad debt tax deduction of up to $3,000 per year. To qualify however, the debt must be totally worthless, in that there is no reasonable expectation of payment.

Non-business bad debt is deducted as a short-term capital loss, subject to the capital loss limitations. You may take the deduction only in the year the debt becomes worthless. You do not have to wait until a debt is due to determine whether it is worthless. Any amount you are not able to deduct can be carried forward to reduce future tax liability.

Are you getting all of the tax credits and deductions that you are entitled to? Maybe you are…but maybe you’re not. Why take a chance? Make an appointment with us today and we’ll make sure you get all of the tax breaks you deserve.

Saver’s Tax Credit Explained

January 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

Year End Planning for Section 179 Deductions

December 17, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Hobby or Business? Read This

October 16, 2013 Leave a comment

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.)

The Shutdown Affects Taxpayers in Many Ways

October 10, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Taxpayer Assistance

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.

Miscellaneous

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

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

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.

IRS Notice Regarding Shutdown

October 2, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Categories: business, Financial, Taxes

10 Key Facts About Mortgage Debt Forgiveness

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Here are 10 key facts from the IRS about mortgage debt forgiveness:

1. Cancelled debt normally results in taxable income. However, you may be able to exclude the cancelled debt from your income if the debt was a mortgage on your main home.

2. To qualify, you must have used the debt to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence. The residence must also secure the mortgage.

3. The maximum qualified debt that you can exclude under this exception is $2 million. The limit is $1 million for a married person who files a separate tax return.

4. You may be able to exclude from income the amount of mortgage debt reduced through mortgage restructuring. You may also be able to exclude mortgage debt cancelled in a foreclosure.

5. You may also qualify for the exclusion on a refinanced mortgage. This applies only if you used proceeds from the refinancing to buy, build or substantially improve your main home. The exclusion is limited to the amount of the old mortgage principal just before the refinancing.

6. Proceeds of refinanced mortgage debt used for other purposes do not qualify for the exclusion. For example, debt used to pay off credit card debt does not qualify.

7. If you qualify, report the excluded debt on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. Submit the completed form with your federal income tax return.

8. Other types of cancelled debt do not qualify for this special exclusion. This includes debt cancelled on second homes, rental and business property, credit cards or car loans. In some cases, other tax relief provisions may apply, such as debts discharged in certain bankruptcy proceedings. Form 982 provides more details about these provisions.

9. If your lender reduced or cancelled at least $600 of your mortgage debt, they normally send you a statement in January of the following year. Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, shows the amount of cancelled debt and the fair market value of any foreclosed property.

10. Check your Form 1099-C for the cancelled debt amount shown in Box 2, and the value of your home shown in Box 7. Notify the lender immediately of any incorrect information so they can correct the form.

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