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April 2016

Feature Articles

Tax Tips

Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as athorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. If desired, wewould be pleased to perform the requisite research and provide you with a detailed written analysis. Such an engagement may be the subject of a separateengagement letter that would define the scope and limits of the desired consultation services.

Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

There are a number of end of year tax planning strategies that businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2016. Here are a few of them:

Deferring Income

Businesses using the cash method of accounting can defer income into 2017 by delaying end-of-year invoices so payment is not received until 2017. Businesses using the accrual method can defer income by postponing delivery of goods or services until January 2017.

Purchase New Business Equipment

Section 179 Expensing. Business should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2016 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $500,000 for the first $2,010,000 million of property placed in service by December 31, 2016. Keep in mind that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed net taxable business income. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2.01 million threshold and eliminated above amounts exceeding $2.5 million.

Bonus Depreciation. Businesses are able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and placed in service during 2015, 2016 and 2017. However, the bonus depreciation is reduced to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.

Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.

Note: Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.

Please contact the office if you have any questions regarding qualified property.

Timing. If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here’s a simplified explanation:

Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include “conventions” or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.

  1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as “placed in service” (or “disposed of”) at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

  2. Example: You buy a $40,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

  3. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40 percent of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.

  4. The mid-month convention:This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

  5. If you’re planning on buying equipment for your business, call the office and speak to a tax professional who can help you figure out the best time to buy that equipment and take full advantage of these tax rules.

Other Year-End Moves to Take Advantage Of

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Small business employers with 25 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees (average annual wages of $52,000 in 2016) may qualify for a tax credit to help pay for employees’ health insurance. The credit is 50 percent (35 percent for non-profits).

Business Energy Investment Tax Credit. Business energy investment tax credits are still available for eligible systems placed in service on or before December 31, 2016, and businesses that want to take advantage of these tax credits can still do so.

Business energy credits include solar energy systems (passive solar and solar pool-heating systems excluded), fuel cells and microturbines, and an increased credit amount for fuel cells. The extended tax provision also established new credits for small wind-energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. Utilities are allowed to use the credits as well.

Repair Regulations. Where possible, end of year repairs and expenses should be deducted immediately, rather than capitalized and depreciated. Small businesses lacking applicable financial statements (AFS) are able to take advantage of de minimis safe harbor by electing to deduct smaller purchases ($2,500 or less per purchase or per invoice). Businesses with applicable financial statements are able to deduct $5,000. Small business with gross receipts of $10 million or less can also take advantage of safe harbor for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to eligible buildings. Please call if you would like more information on this topic.

Partnership or S-Corporation Basis. Partners or S corporation shareholders in entities that have a loss for 2016 can deduct that loss only up to their basis in the entity. However, they can take steps to increase their basis to allow a larger deduction. Basis in the entity can be increased by lending the entity money or making a capital contribution by the end of the entity’s tax year.

Caution: Remember that by increasing basis, you’re putting more of your funds at risk. Consider whether the loss signals further troubles ahead.

Section 199 Deduction. Businesses with manufacturing activities could qualify for a Section 199 domestic production activities deduction. By accelerating salaries or bonuses attributable to domestic production gross receipts in the last quarter of 2016, businesses can increase the amount of this deduction. Please call to find out how your business can take advantage of Section 199.

Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2016. Call today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.

Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders.

Budgets. Every business, whether small or large should have a budget. The need for a business budget may seem obvious, but many companies overlook this critical business planning tool.

A budget is extremely effective in making sure your business has adequate cash flow and in ensuring financial success. Once the budget has been created, then monthly actual revenue amounts can be compared to monthly budgeted amounts. If actual revenues fall short of budgeted revenues, expenses must generally be cut.

Tip: Year-end is the best time for business owners to meet with their accountants to budget revenues and expenses for the following year.

If you need help developing a budget for your business, don’t hesitate to call.

Call a Tax Professional First

These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2016. If you’d like more information about tax planning for 2017, please call to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.

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When Disaster Strikes

Special tax law provisions may help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. With hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters affecting so many homeowners and businesses throughout the US this year, here is some useful information about disaster-related tax relief that taxpayers should know about:

Immediate relief. If you have damaged or lost property in a location declared by the President as a major disaster area, you may be able to get some money back from the IRS right now. Please call the office for more information.

Tax filing and penalty relief. The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Thus, taxpayers need not contact the IRS to get this relief. However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

Taxpayers who live outside the disaster area. In addition, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. This also includes workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization. Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you need assistance with this.

Disaster-related losses. Individuals and businesses who suffer uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2016 return normally filed next year), or the return for the prior year (2015).

Retirement plan hardship distributions. Finally, employees and certain members of their families who live or work in disaster area localities affected by Hurricane Matthew who participate in employee sponsored retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b) tax-sheltered annuities, and state and local government employees with 457(b) deferred-compensation plans may be eligible to take loans and hardship distributions without incurring the 10 percent early withdrawal tax penalty.

Tax Relief Specifically for Victims of Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew victims in much of North Carolina and parts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida have until March 15, 2017, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments. This includes an additional filing extension for those with valid extensions that were due on October 17, 2016.

This expanded relief applies to any area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for either individual assistance or public assistance. In addition, taxpayers in counties that are added later to the disaster area will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief.

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on October 4, 2016. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until March 15, 2017, to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. This includes the January 17 deadline for making quarterly estimated tax payments.

For individual tax filers, it also includes 2015 income tax returns that received a tax-filing extension until October 17, 2016. However, because tax payments related to these 2015 returns were originally due on April 18, 2016, those are not eligible for this relief.

A variety of business tax deadlines are also affected including the October 31 and January 31 deadlines for quarterly payroll and excise tax returns. It also includes the special March 1 deadline that applies to farmers and fishermen who choose to forgo making quarterly estimated tax payments.

In addition, the IRS is waiving late-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due on or after October 4 and before October 19 if the deposits are made by October 19, 2016.

Ready to Help

Please call the office if you have any questions about the impact of a natural disaster on your tax situation or need assistance figuring out what you need to do next.

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The Overtime Rule: What Employers Need to Know

Approximately 4.2 million employees are expected to benefit from the new overtime rule that goes into effect on December 1, 2016. Here’s what employers need to know about the new overtime regulations.

What is the Overtime Rule?

The final overtime rule raises the salary threshold for overtime eligibility from $455/week to $913 ($47,476 per year). What this means for employers is that if you have an employee that makes less than $47,476 ($913 a week), then he or she automatically qualifies for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week.

In accordance with the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) employers are required to pay at least a minimum wage for up to 40 hours per week and to pay overtime for hours in excess of 40; however, many workers with at least some managerial duties who make between $23,660 and $47,476 are currently considered “exempt” from overtime pay. The Final Overtime Rule is, among other things, intended to make sure that these workers are adequately compensated, ensuring all employees that make less than $47,476 ($913 a week) automatically qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week.

What is the Effective Date?

Starting December 1, 2016, regular employees paid $913 per week will be eligible for overtime time for any works worked in excess of 40 hours effective on that date. Further, the exemption salary threshold for highly compensated employees (more on this below) rises to $134,004 per year. Exempt employees are not subject to overtime pay.

Future automatic updates to salary threshold amounts will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020. The Department of Labor will publish all updated rates in the Federal Register at least 150 days before their effective date, and also post them on the Wage and Hour Division’s website.

Are all Businesses Affected by the new Overtime Regulations?

All businesses are affected by the overtime regulations; however, because the overtime regulations fall under the FLSA, only businesses with gross annual sales of $500,000 or that are engaged in interstate commerce must comply with the new overtime rule.

How does the new Overtime Rule affect a Highly Compensated Employee (HCE)?

The Final Rule sets the HCE total annual compensation level equal to the 90th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004 annually).

To be exempt as an HCE, an employee must also receive at least the new standard salary amount of $913 per week on a salary or fee basis and pass a minimal duties test. The HCE annual compensation level set in this Final Rule brings this threshold more in line with the level established in 2004 and will avoid the unintended exemption of large numbers of employees in high-wage areas who are clearly not performing EAP (executive, administrative, and professional) duties.

Are Commissions or Bonuses Included in the Salary Calculation?

Up to 10 percent of total compensation meeting the salary threshold amount can be in the form of bonuses or commissions. Prior to the new rule, employers were not permitted to count these forms of compensation toward meeting the minimum salary threshold for overtime.

Employers will now be able to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments such as including commissions to satisfy up to 10 percent of the standard salary level. However, for employers to credit non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments toward a portion of the standard salary level test, payments must be paid on at least a quarterly basis. It is the employer’s discretion when the quarter will begin (i.e. not necessarily a calendar quarter).

Example: You pay an employee $821.70 per week and s/he also receives a bonus of $1,186.90 every quarter. The base pay plus the bonus ($91.30 x 13 weeks in a quarter) is equivalent to paying your employee a salary of $913 per week.

The Final Rule also allows an employer to make a “catch-up” payment. Catch-up payments are made when an employee doesn’t meet their sales quota in a given quarter (and doesn’t earn their expected quarterly commission) but exceeds a sales quota during the next quarter. In this case, an employer is able to make a catch-up payment and avoid paying overtime compensation.

Example: Let’s say your employee typically earns a commission of at least $1,500 every 13 weeks (quarter). You pay the employee a weekly salary of $821.70 (90 percent) and anticipate applying the 10 percent bonus commission ($91.30) toward the total salary requirement of $913 per week. However, the employee doesn’t meet his sales quota and only earns a commission of $1,000 or $76.92 per week, which is $14.38 less than required to meet the $913 per week requirement. In this example, employers are allowed to make a catch-up payment in the next quarter of $186.94 ($14.38 x 13 weeks) to maintain the employee’s exempt from overtime status.

Nondiscretionary bonuses. A form of compensation promised to employees, for example, to induce them to work more efficiently or to remain with the company.

Discretionary bonuses. The decision to award the bonus and the payment amount is at the employer’s sole discretion. For example, a previously unannounced holiday bonus qualifies as a discretionary bonus, because the bonus is entirely at the discretion of the employer, and therefore could not satisfy any portion of the standard salary threshold level of $913 per week.

Note: For businesses that pay employees large bonuses the amount attributable toward the standard salary level is capped at 10 percent of the required salary amount.

Non-discretionary bonuses and commissions continue to count toward the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees ($134,004) as long as the HCE receives at least the full standard salary amount each pay period ($913).

What are my Options as an Employer?

While the new overtime regulations don’t specify exactly what actions employers need to take, there are a number of ways that employers can comply such as:

  • Increasing workers’ salaries so they are exempt from the overtime salary threshold
  • Paying the mandatory time-and-a-half for overtime hours in excess of 40 hours per week
  • Limiting workers to 40-hour work weeks so there is no overtime
  • Reducing base salaries, but keep overtime pay with the goal of keeping weekly pay the same
  • Using a combination of the above

Are you Ready for the new Overtime Rule?

The best way to prepare for the new overtime rule is to understand how it works and how it will affect your business and your employees. Please call the office if you have any questions or need assistance complying with the new regulations.

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ACA Requirements for Employers

The health care law contains tax provisions that affect employers. The size and structure of a workforce–small or large–helps determine which parts of the law apply to which employers. Calculating the number of employees is especially important for employers that have close to 50 employees or whose workforce fluctuates during the year.

Two parts of the Affordable Care Act apply only to applicable large employers. These are the employer shared responsibility provisions and the employer information reporting provisions for offers of minimum essential coverage.

The number of employees an employer has during the current year determines whether it is an applicable large employer (ALE) for the following year. For example, you will use information about the size of your workforce during 2016 to determine if your organization is an ALE for 2017.

Applicable large employers are generally those with 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalent employees. Under the employer shared responsibility provision, ALEs are required to offer their full-time employees and dependents affordable coverage that provides minimum value. Employers with fewer than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees are not applicable large employers.

Who is a Full-time Employee?

There are many additional rules on determining who is a full-time employee, including what counts as hours of service, but in general:

  • A full-time employee is an employee who is employed on average, per month, at least 30 hours of service per week, or at least 130 hours of service in a calendar month.
  • A full-time equivalent employee is a combination of employees, each of whom individually is not a full-time employee, but who, in combination, are equivalent to a full-time employee.
  • An aggregated group is commonly owned or otherwise related or affiliated employers, which must combine their employees to determine their workforce size.

Figuring the Size of the Workforce

To determine your workforce size for a year, you add your total number of full-time employees for each month of the prior calendar year to the total number of full-time equivalent employees for each calendar month of the prior calendar year and divide that total number by 12. If the result is 50 or more employees, you are an applicable large employer.

Employers with Fewer than 50 Employees

If an employer has fewer than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on average during the prior year, the employer is not an ALE for the current calendar year. Therefore, the employer is not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions or the employer information reporting provisions for the current year.

Information Reporting (Including Self-Insured Employers)

All providers of health coverage, including employers that provide self-insured coverage, must file annual returns with the IRS reporting information about the coverage and about each covered individual. The coverage is reported on a Form 1095-B, Health Coverage and the employer must also furnish a copy of Form 1095-B to the employee.

Tax Credits

Certain employers may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit if they:

  1. cover at least 50 percent of employees’ premium costs
  2. have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees with average annual wages of less than $52,000 in 2016 (indexed for inflation)
  3. purchase their coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program.

Employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees or full-time equivalent employees are not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions.

Employers with 50 or More Employees

Information Reporting

All employers including applicable large employers that provide self-insured health coverage must file an annual return for individuals they cover, and provide a statement to responsible individuals.

Applicable large employers must file an annual return–and provide a statement to each full-time employee–reporting whether they offered health insurance, and if so, what insurance they offered their employees.

ALEs are required to furnish a statement to each full-time employee that includes the same information provided to the IRS by January 31, 2017. ALEs that file 250 or more information returns during the calendar year must file the returns electronically.

Employer Shared Responsibility Payment

ALEs are subject to the employer shared responsibility payment if at least one full-time employee receives the premium tax credit and any one these conditions apply. The ALE:

  • failed to offer coverage to full-time employees and their dependents
  • offered coverage that was not affordable
  • offered coverage that did not provide a minimum level of coverage

Questions? Don’t hesitate to call for assistance.

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Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

Tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing income and accelerating deductions, as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning.

General tax planning strategies that taxpayers might consider include the following:

  • Sell 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 2016 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 2017.

  • Prepay deductible expenses such as charitable contributions and medical expenses this year using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken based on when the expense was charged on the credit card, not when the bill was paid.

    For example, if you charge a medical expense in December but pay the bill in January, assuming it’s an eligible medical expense, it can be taken as a deduction on your 2016 tax return.

  • 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 2017. Exercising this 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 to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Accelerating Income and Deductions

Accelerating income into 2016 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 Net Investment Income Tax (see below).

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 2016, 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 percent 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.

Tip: 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.

Tip: 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.

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 2017, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.

  • It may be beneficial to pay 2017 tuition in 2016 to take full advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an above-the-line deduction worth up to $2,500 per student to cover the cost of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year. Forty percent of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, which means you can get it even if you owe no tax.

  • Try to bunch “threshold” expenses, such as medical and dental expenses–10 percent of AGI (adjusted gross income)–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.

    Note: The temporary exemption of 7.5 percent for individuals age 65 and older and their spouses ends on through December 31, 2016.

    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.

Health Care Law

If you haven’t signed up for health insurance this year, do so now and avoid or reduce any penalty you might be subject to. Depending on your income, you may be able to claim the premium tax credit that reduces your premium payment or reduces your tax obligations, as long as you meet certain requirements. You can choose to get the credit immediately or receive it as a refund when you file your taxes next spring. Please contact the office if you need assistance with this.

Additional Medicare Tax

Taxpayers whose income exceeds certain threshold amounts ($200,000 single filers and $250,000 married filing jointly) are liable for an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on their tax returns, but may request that their employers withhold additional income tax from their pay to be applied against their tax liability when filing their 2016 tax return next April.

High net worth individuals should consider contributing to Roth IRAs and 401(k) because distributions are not subject to the Medicare Tax.

If you’re a taxpayer close to the threshold for the Medicare Tax, it might make sense to switch Roth retirement contributions to a traditional IRA plan, thereby avoiding the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax as well (more about the NIIT below).

Alternate Minimum Tax

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exemption “patch,” which was made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012, is indexed for inflation and it’s important not to overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2016 and 2017.

Items that may affect AMT include deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions. Please call if you’re not sure whether AMT applies to you.

Note: AMT exemption amounts for 2016 are as follows:

  • $53,900 for single and head of household filers,

  • $83,800 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers,

  • $41,900 for married people filing separately.

Charitable Contributions

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 your charitable contributions–including travel expenses such as mileage–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.

Investment Gains and Losses

This year, and in the coming years, investment decisions are likely to be more about managing capital gains than about minimizing taxes per se. For example, taxpayers below threshold amounts in 2016 might want to take gains; whereas taxpayers above threshold amounts might want to take losses.

Caution: In recent years, extreme fluctuations in the stock market have been commonplace. Don’t assume that a down market means investment losses. Your cost basis may be low if you’ve held the stock for a long time.

If your tax bracket is either 10 or 15 percent (married couples making less than $75,300 or single filers making less than $37,650), then you might want to take advantage of the zero percent tax rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains. If you fall into the highest tax bracket (39.6 percent), the maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains is capped at 20 percent for tax years 2013 and beyond.

Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term capital gains, which are usually taxed at a much higher tax rate than long-term gains–up to 39.6 percent in 2016 for high-income earners ($415,050 single filers, $466,950 married filing jointly).

Where feasible, reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000.

Tip: As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.

Tip: After selling a securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. This is known as the “Wash Rule Sale.” If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., and ETF or another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.

Tip: If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free; your original investment is restored, and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).

Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

The Net Investment Income Tax, which went into effect in 2013, is a 3.8 percent tax that is applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains for earners above certain threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly). Short-term capital gains are subject to ordinary income tax rates as well as the 3.8 percent NIIT. This information is something to think about as you plan your long-term investments. Business income is not considered subject to the NIIT provided the individual business owner materially participates in the business.

Please call if you need assistance with any of your long term tax planning goals.

Mutual Fund Investments

Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the next year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.

Example: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund at the end of 2016. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends, and in late December of 2016, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.

Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund’s long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.

The mutual fund’s distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as “ordinary dividends” that don’t qualify for relief.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date.

Tip: To find out a fund’s ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.

Please call if you’d like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.

Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax

The federal gift and estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $5.45 million, is set to increase to $5.49 million in 2017. ATRA set the maximum estate tax rate set at 40 percent.

Gift Tax. For many, sound estate planning begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor’s assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.

Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $14,000 a year per donee.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn’t carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2016, you must make your gift by December 31.

Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $28,000 ($14,000 each). Though what’s given may come from either you or your spouse or both of you, both of you must consent to such “split gifts.”

Gifts of “future interests,” assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don’t qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.

Tip: If you’re considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift’s true value when given.

You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings and built-in gain on sale.

Gift tax returns for 2016 are due the same date as your income tax return. Returns are required for gifts over $14,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $14,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $14,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not “adequately disclosed.”

Tip: Call if you’re considering making a gift of property whose value isn’t unquestionably less than $14,000.

Income earned on investments you give to children or other family members are generally taxed to them, not to you. In the case of dividends paid on stock given to your children, they may qualify for the reduced child tax rate, generally 10 percent, where the first $1,050 in investment income is exempt from tax and the next $1,050 is subject to a child’s tax rate of 10 percent (0 percent tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends).

Caution: In 2016, investment income for a child (under age 18 at the end of the tax year or a full-time student under age 24) that is in excess of $2,100 is taxed at the parent’s tax rate.

Other Year-End Moves

Retirement Plan Contributions. Maximize your retirement plan contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don’t already have one. It doesn’t actually need to be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year’s return.

If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($18,000 for 2016), plus an additional catch-up contribution of $6,000 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this and income restrictions don’t apply.

If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $5,500 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.

Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.

In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the excess over 10 percent of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later that are not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.

To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2016, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,300 for single coverage or $2,600 for a family.

Summary

These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact the office for assistance with implementing these and other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable to your particular situation.

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Lending Money to a Friend? It Pays to Plan Ahead

Lending money to a cash-strapped friend or family member is a noble and generous offer that just might make a difference. But before you hand over the cash, you need to plan ahead to avoid tax complications for yourself down the road.

Take a look at this example: Let’s say you decide to loan $5,000 to your daughter who’s been out of work for over a year and is having difficulty keeping up with the mortgage payments on her condo. While you may be tempted to charge an interest rate of zero percent, you should resist the temptation.

Here’s why:

When you make an interest-free loan to someone, you will be subject to “below-market interest rules.” IRS rules state that you need to calculate imaginary interest payments from the borrower. These imaginary interest payments are then payable to you, and you will need to pay taxes on these interest payments when you file a tax return. To complicate matters further, if the imaginary interest payments exceed $14,000 for the year, there may be adverse gift and estate tax consequences.

Exception: The IRS lets you ignore the rules for small loans ($10,000 or less), as long as the aggregate loan amounts to a single borrower are less than $10,000, and the borrower doesn’t use the loan proceeds to buy or carry income-producing assets.

As was mentioned above, if you don’t charge any interest, or charge interest that is below market rate (more on this below), then the IRS might consider your loan a gift, especially if there is no formal documentation (i.e. written agreement with payment schedule), and you go to make a nonbusiness bad debt deduction if the borrower defaults on the loan–or the IRS decides to audit you and decides your loan is really a gift.

Formal documentation generally refers to a written promissory note that includes the interest rate, a repayment schedule showing dates and amounts for all principal and interest, and security or collateral for the loan, such as a residence (see below). Make sure that all parties sign the note so that it’s legally binding.

As long as you charge an interest rate that is at least equal to the applicable federal rate (AFR) approved by the Internal Revenue Service, you can avoid tax complications and unfavorable tax consequences.

AFRs for term loans that is, loans with a defined repayment schedule, are updated monthly by the IRS and published in the IRS Bulletin. AFRs are based on the bond market, which changes frequently. For term loans, use the AFR published in the same month that you make the loan. The AFR is a fixed rate for the duration of the loan.

Any interest income that you make from the term loan is included on your Form 1040. In general, the borrower, who in this example is your daughter, cannot deduct interest paid, but there is one exception: if the loan is secured by her home, then the interest can be deducted as qualified residence interest–as long as the promissory note for the loan was secured by the residence.

If you have any questions about the tax implications of loaning a friend or family member money, don’t hesitate to call.

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Eight Ways Children Lower your Taxes

Got kids? They may have an impact on your tax situation. If you have children, here are eight tax credits and deductions that can help lower your tax burden.

  1. Dependents: In most cases, a child can be claimed as a dependent in the year they were born. Be sure to let the office know if your family size has increased this year. You may be able to claim the child as a dependent this year.

  2. Child Tax Credit: You may be able to take this credit on your tax return for each of your children under age 17. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. The Additional Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit and may give you a refund even if you do not owe any tax.

  3. Child and Dependent Care Credit: You may be able to claim this credit if you pay someone to care for your child under age 13 while you work or look for work. Be sure to keep track of your child care expenses so we can claim this credit accurately.

  4. Earned Income Tax Credit: The EITC is a benefit for certain people who work and have earned income from wages, self-employment, or farming. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may also give you a refund.

  5. Adoption Credit: You may be able to take a tax credit for qualifying expenses paid to adopt a child.

  6. Coverdell Education Savings Account: This savings account is used to pay qualified expenses at an eligible educational institution. Contributions are not deductible; however, qualified distributions generally are tax-free.

  7. Higher Education Credits: Education tax credits can help offset the costs of education. The American Opportunity and the Lifetime Learning Credit are education credits that reduce your federal income tax dollar for dollar, unlike a deduction, which reduces your taxable income.

  8. Student Loan Interest: You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income, so you do not need to itemize your deductions.

As you can see, having children can make a big impact on your tax profile. Make sure that you’re getting the appropriate credits and deductions by speaking to a tax professional today.

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Cash Flow Management: the Secret to Success

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any small business. Some business experts even say that a healthy cash flow is more important than your business’s ability to deliver its goods and services.

While that might seem counterintuitive, consider this: if you fail to satisfy a customer and lose that customer’s business, you can always work harder to please the next customer. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or employees, you are out of business!

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow, simply defined, is the movement of money in and out of your business; these movements are called inflow and outflow. Inflows for your business primarily come from the sale of goods or services to your customers but keep in mind that inflow only occurs when you make a cash sale or collect on receivables. It is the cash that counts! Other examples of cash inflows are borrowed funds, income derived from sales of assets, and investment income from interest.

Outflows for your business are generally the result of paying expenses. Examples of cash outflows include paying employee wages, purchasing inventory or raw materials, purchasing fixed assets, operating costs, paying back loans, and paying taxes.

Note: A tax and accounting professional is the best person to help you learn how your cash flow statement works. He or she can prepare your cash flow statement and explain where the numbers come from. If you need help, don’t hesitate to call.

Cash Flow versus Profit

While they might seem similar, profit and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat broad and only looks at income and expenses over a certain period, say a fiscal quarter. Profit is a useful figure for calculating your taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Cash flow, on the other hand, is a more dynamic tool focusing on the day-to-day operations of a business owner. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. But more important, it is concerned with the times at which the movement of the money takes place.

In theory, even profitable companies can go bankrupt. It would take a lot of negligence and total disregard for cash flow, but it is possible. Consider how the difference between profit and cash flow relate to your business.

Example: If your retail business bought a $1,000 item and turned around to sell it for $2,000, then you have made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before you collect on the account? Your retail business may still show a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during that six-month period? You may not have the cash to pay the bills despite the profits you earned on the sale. Furthermore, this cash flow gap may cause you to miss other profit opportunities, damage your credit rating, and force you to take out loans and create debt. If this mistake is repeated enough times, you may go bankrupt.

Analyzing your Cash Flow

The sooner you learn how to manage your cash flow, the better your chances of survival. Furthermore, you will be able to protect your company’s short-term reputation as well as position it for long-term success.

The first step toward taking control of your company’s cash flow is to analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and outflows. A thorough analysis of these components will reveal problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps in your business. Narrowing, or even closing, these gaps is the key to cash flow management.

Some of the most important components to examine are:

  • Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An accounts receivable balance sheet is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts, the more negative the effect on your cash flow.

  • Credit terms. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers’ promise to pay for their purchases. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. A simple way to improve cash flow is to get customers to pay their bills more quickly.

  • Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy – neither too strict nor too generous – is crucial for a healthy cash flow.

  • Inventory. Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows. Too many business owners buy inventory based on hopes and dreams instead of what they can realistically sell. Keep your inventory as low as possible.

  • Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable at some point in the near future – “near” meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit, you’d have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, examine your payables schedule.

Some cash flow gaps are created intentionally. For example, a business may purchase extra inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts, accelerate cash outflows to take advantage of significant trade discounts or spend extra cash to expand its line of business.

For other businesses, cash flow gaps are unavoidable. Take, for example, a company that experiences seasonal fluctuations in its line of business. This business may normally have cash flow gaps during its slow season and then later fill the gaps with cash surpluses from the peak part of its season. Cash flow gaps are often filled by external financing sources. Revolving lines of credit, bank loans, and trade credit are just a few of the external financing options available that you may want to discuss with us.

Monitoring and managing your cash flow is important for the vitality of your business. The first signs of financial woe appear in your cash flow statement, giving you time to recognize a forthcoming problem and plan a strategy to deal with it. Furthermore, with periodic cash flow
analysis, you can head off those unpleasant financial glitches by recognizing which aspects of your business have the potential to cause cash flow gaps.

Make sure your business has adequate funds to cover day-to-day expenses.

If you need help analyzing and managing your cash flow more effectively, please call the office.

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IRS Warns of Fake Tax Bill Emails

Numerous reports of scammers sending fraudulent CP2000 Notices for tax-year 2015 have been received by the IRS, resulting in an investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The notice relates to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and requests information regarding 2014 coverage. It also includes a request for payment of unpaid taxes.

Here’s what taxpayers need to know:

What is a CP2000 Notice?

A CP2000 Notice is generated by the IRS Automated Underreporter Program when income reported from third-party sources (such as an employer) does not match the income reported on the tax return. It provides extensive instructions to taxpayers about what to do if they agree or disagree that additional tax is owed.

Commonly mailed to taxpayers through the United States Postal Service, a CP2000 Notice is never sent as part of an email to taxpayers.

What to watch out for:

Taxpayers and tax professionals should be on guard against fake emails purporting to contain an IRS tax bill related to the Affordable Care Act. Generally, the scam involves an email that includes the fake CP2000 notice as an attachment.

Indicators that the CP2000 Notice you received is a scam include the following:

  • Notices are sent electronically, even though the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or through social media platforms;
  • The CP2000 notices appear to be issued from an Austin, Texas, address;
  • The underreported issue is related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requesting information regarding 2014 coverage;
  • The payment voucher lists the letter number as 105C.

The fraudulent CP2000 Notice includes a payment request that taxpayers mail a check made out to “I.R.S.” and sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a Post Office Box address. This is in addition to a “payment” link within the email itself. In addition, if taxpayers are unable to pay, it provides instructions for payment options such as installment payments.

Unlike the fake version a real CP2000 Notice provides extensive instructions to taxpayers about what to do if they agree or disagree that additional tax is owed. A real notice also requests that checks be made out to “United States Treasury.”

To determine if a CP2000 Notice that you received in the mail is real, go to the IRS website and use the search term, “Understanding Your CP2000 Notice.” You will see an image of a real notice.

IRS Impersonation Scams

IRS impersonation scams take many forms: threatening telephone calls, phishing emails, and demanding letters. Anyone who receives this scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and then immediately delete it from their email account.

Taxpayers should always beware of any unsolicited email purported to be from the IRS or any unknown source. Never open an attachment or click on a link within an email sent by an unknown person or a source you do not know.

What you should do:

Individuals with questions about a notice or letter they receive from the IRS can generally do a keyword search for “Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter” on the IRS.gov website and view explanations and images of common correspondence.

Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions about IRS notices or letters you have received in the mail or otherwise.

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Choosing the Right Business Entity

When you decide to start a business, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is choosing the right business entity. It’s a decision that impacts many things–from the amount of taxes you pay to how much paperwork you have to deal with and what type of personal liability you face.

Forms of Business

The most common forms of business are Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), and Corporations (C-Corporations). Federal tax law also recognizes another business form called the S-Corporation. While state law controls the formation of your business, federal tax law controls how your business is taxed.

What to Consider

Businesses fall under one of two federal tax systems:

1. Taxation of both the entity itself on the income it earns and the owners on dividends or other profit participation the owners receive from the business. C-Corporations fall under this system of federal taxation.

2. “Pass through” taxation. This type of entity (also called a “flow-through” entity) is not taxed, but its owners are each taxed (more or less) on their proportionate shares of the entity’s income. Pass-through entities include:

  • Sole Proprietorships
  • Partnerships, of various types
  • Limited liability companies (LLCs)
  • “S-Corporations” (S-Corps), as distinguished from C-corporations (C-Corps)

The first major consideration when choosing a business entity is whether to choose one that has two levels of tax on income or one that is a pass-through entity with only one level directly on the owners.

The second consideration, which has more to do with business considerations rather than tax considerations, is the limitation of liability (protecting your assets from claims of business creditors).

Let’s take a general look at each of the options more closely:

Types of Business Entities

Sole Proprietorships

The most common (and easiest) form of business organization is the sole proprietorship. Defined as any unincorporated business owned entirely by one individual, a sole proprietor can operate any kind of business (full or part-time) as long as it is not a hobby or an investment. In general, the owner is also personally liable for all financial obligations and debts of the business.

Note: If you are the sole member of a domestic limited liability company (LLC), you are not a sole proprietor if you elect to treat the LLC as a corporation.

Types of businesses that operate as sole proprietorships include retail shops, farmers, large companies with employees, home-based businesses and one-person consulting firms.

As a sole proprietor, your net business income or loss is combined with your other income and deductions and taxed at individual rates on your personal tax return. Because sole proprietors do not have taxes withheld from their business income, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to make a profit. Also, as a sole proprietor, you must also pay self-employment tax on the net income reported.

Partnerships

A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the business.

There are two types of partnerships: Ordinary partnerships, called “general partnerships,” and limited partnerships that limit liability for some partners but not others. Both general and limited partnerships are treated as pass-through entities under federal tax law, but there are some relatively minor differences in tax treatment between general and limited partners.

For example, general partners must pay self-employment tax on their net earnings from self-employment assigned to them from the partnership. Net earnings from self-employment include an individual’s share, distributed or not, of income or loss from any trade or business carried on by a partnership. Limited partners are subject to self-employment tax only on guaranteed payments, such as professional fees for services rendered.

Partners are not employees of the partnership and do not pay any income tax at the partnership level. Partnerships report income and expenses from its operation and pass the information to the individual partners (hence the pass-through designation).

Because taxes are not withheld from any distributions partners generally need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if they expect to make a profit. Partners must report their share of partnership income even if a distribution is not made. Each partner reports his share of the partnership net profit or loss on his or her personal tax return.

Limited Liability Companies (LLC)

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a business structure allowed by state statute. Each state is different, so it’s important to check the regulations in the state you plan to do business in. Owners of an LLC are called members, which may include individuals, corporations, other LLCs and foreign entities. Most states also permit “single member” LLCs, i.e. those having only one owner.

Depending on elections made by the LLC and the number of members, the IRS treats an LLC as either a corporation, partnership, or as part of the LLC’s owner’s tax return. A domestic LLC with at least two members is classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.

An LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes (but as a separate entity for purposes of employment tax and certain excise taxes), unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.

C-Corporations

In forming a corporation, prospective shareholders exchange money, property, or both, for the corporation’s capital stock. A corporation conducts business, realizes net income or loss, pays taxes and distributes profits to shareholders.

A corporate structure is more complex than other business structures. When you form a corporation, you create a separate tax-paying entity. The profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends. This creates a double tax.

The corporation does not get a tax deduction when it distributes dividends to shareholders. Earnings distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends are taxed at individual tax rates on their personal tax returns. Shareholders cannot deduct any loss of the corporation.

If you organize your business as a corporation, generally are not personally liable for the debts of the corporation, although there may be exceptions under state law.

S-Corporations

An S-corporation has the same corporate structure as a standard corporation; however, its owners have elected to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S-corporations generally have limited liability.

Generally, an S-Corporation is exempt from federal income tax other than tax on certain capital gains and passive income. It is treated in the same way as a partnership, in that generally taxes are not paid at the corporate level. S-Corporations may be taxed under state tax law as regular corporations, or in some other way.

Shareholders must pay tax on their share of corporate income, regardless of whether it is actually distributed. Flow-through of income and losses is reported on their personal tax returns and they are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates, allowing S-Corporations to avoid double taxation on the corporate income.

To qualify for S-Corporation status, the corporation must meet a number of requirements. Please call if you would like more information about which requirements must be met to form an S-Corporation.

Professional Guidance

When making a decision about which type of business entity to choose each business owner must decide which one best meets his or her needs. One form of business entity is not necessarily better than any other and obtaining the advice of a tax professional is critical. If you need assistance figuring out which business entity is best for your business, don’t hesitate to call.

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Tax Records: Which Ones to Toss and When

Tax Records: Which Ones to Toss and When

Now is a great time to clean out that growing mountain of financial papers and tax documents that clutter your home and office. Here’s what you need to keep and what you can throw out.

Let’s start with your “safety zone,” the IRS statute of limitations. This limits the number of years during which the IRS can audit your tax returns. Once that period has expired, the IRS is legally prohibited from even asking you questions about those returns.

The concept behind it is that after a period of years, records are lost or misplaced, and memory isn’t as accurate as we would hope. There’s a need for finality. Once the statute of limitations has expired, the IRS can’t go after you for additional taxes, but you can’t go after the IRS for additional refunds, either.

The Three-Year Rule

For assessment of additional taxes, the statute of limitation runs generally three years from the date you file your return. If you’re looking for an additional refund, the limitations period is generally the later of three years from the date you filed the original return or two years from the date you paid the tax. There are some exceptions:

  • If you don’t report all your income, and the unreported amount is more than 25 percent of the gross income actually shown on your return, the limitation period is six years.

  • If you’ve claimed a loss from a worthless security, the limitation period is extended to seven years.

  • If you file a “fraudulent” return or don’t file at all, the limitations period doesn’t apply. In fact, the IRS can go after you at any time.

  • If you’re deciding what records you need or want to keep, you have to ask what your chances are of an audit. A tax audit is an IRS verification of items of income and deductions on your return. So you should keep records to support those items until the statute of limitations runs out.

Assuming that you’ve filed on time and paid what you should, you only have to keep your tax records for three years, but some records have to be kept longer than that.

Remember, the three-year rule relates to the information on your tax return. But, some of that information may relate to transactions more than three years old.

Here’s a checklist of the documents you should hold on to:

  1. Capital gains and losses. Your gain is reduced by your basis – your cost (including all commissions) plus, with mutual funds, any reinvested dividends, and capital gains. But you may have bought that stock five years ago, and you’ve been reinvesting those dividends and capital gains over the last decade. And don’t forget those stock splits.

    You don’t ever want to throw these records away until after you sell the securities. And then if you’re audited, you’ll have to prove those numbers. Therefore, you’ll need to keep those records for at least three years after you file the return reporting their sales.

  2. Expenses on your home. Cost records for your house and any improvements should be kept until the home is sold. It’s just good practice, even though most homeowners won’t face any tax problems. That’s because profit of less than $250,000 on your home ($500,000 on a joint return) isn’t subject to capital gains tax.

    If the profit is more than $250,000 ($500,000 joint filers) or if you don’t qualify for the full gain exclusion, then you’re going to need those records for another three years after that return is filed. Most homeowners probably won’t face that issue, but of course, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  3. Business records. Business records can become a nightmare. Non-residential real property is depreciated over a period of 39 years. You could be audited on the depreciation up to three years after you file the return for the 39th year. That’s a long time to hold onto receipts, but you may need to validate those numbers.

  4. Employment, bank, and brokerage statements. Keep all your W-2s, 1099s, brokerage, and bank statements to prove income until three years after you file. And don’t even think about dumping checks, receipts, mileage logs, tax diaries, and other documentation that substantiate your expenses.

  5. Tax returns. Keep copies of your tax returns as well. You can’t rely on the IRS to actually have a copy of your old returns. As a general rule, you should keep tax records for six years. The bottom line is that you’ve got to keep those records until they can no longer affect your tax return, plus the three-year statute of limitations.

  6. Social Security records. You will need to keep some records for Social Security purposes, so check with the Social Security Administration each year to confirm that your payments have been appropriately credited. If they’re wrong, you’ll need your W-2 or copies of your Schedule C (if self-employed) to prove the right amount. Don’t dispose of those records until after you’ve validated those contributions.

    Contact the office by phone or email if you have any questions about which tax and financial records you need to keep this year.

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Small Business: Deductions for Charitable Giving

Small Business: Deductions for Charitable Giving

Tax breaks for charitable giving aren’t limited to individuals, your small business can benefit as well. If you own a small to medium size business and are committed to giving back to the community through charitable giving, here’s what you should know.

1. Verify that the Organization is a Qualified Charity.

Once you’ve identified a charity, you’ll need to make sure it is a qualified charitable organization under the IRS. Qualified organizations must meet specific requirements as well as IRS criteria and are often referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations. Note that not all tax-exempt organizations are 501(c)(3) status, however.

There are two ways to verify whether a charity is qualified: use the IRS online search tool or ask the charity to send you a copy of their IRS determination letter confirming their exempt status.

2. Make Sure the Deduction is Eligible

Not all deductions are created equal. In order to take the deduction on a tax return, you need to make sure it qualifies. Charitable giving includes the following: cash donations, sponsorship of local charity events, in-kind contributions such as property such as inventory or equipment.

Lobbying. A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks the loss of its tax-exempt status. As such, you cannot claim a charitable deduction (or business expense) for amounts paid to an organization if both of the following apply.

  • The organization conducts lobbying activities on matters of direct financial interest to your business.
  • A principal purpose of your contribution is to avoid the rules discussed earlier that prohibit a business deduction for lobbying expenses.

Further, if a tax-exempt organization, other than a section 501(c)(3) organization, provides you with a notice on the part of dues that is allocable to nondeductible lobbying and political expenses, you cannot deduct that part of the dues.

3. Understand the Limitations

Sole proprietors, partners in a partnership, or shareholders in an S-corporation may be able to deduct charitable contributions made by their business on Schedule A (Form 1040). Corporations (other than S-corporations) can deduct charitable contributions on their income tax returns, subject to limitations.

Note: Cash payments to an organization, charitable or otherwise, may be deductible as business expenses if the payments are not charitable contributions or gifts and are directly related to your business. Likewise, if the payments are charitable contributions or gifts, you cannot deduct them as business expenses.

Sole Proprietorships

As a sole proprietor (or single-member LLC), you file your business taxes using Schedule C of individual tax form 1040. Your business does not make charitable contributions separately. Charitable contributions are deducted using Schedule A, and you must itemize in order to take the deductions.

Partnerships

Partnerships do not pay income taxes. Rather, the income and expenses (including deductions for charitable contributions) are passed on to the partners on each partner’s individual Schedule K-1. If the partnership makes a charitable contribution, then each partner takes a percentage share of the deduction on his or her personal tax return. For example, if the partnership has four equal partners and donates a total of $2,000 to a qualified charitable organization in 2016, each partner can claim a $500 charitable deductions on his or her 2016 tax return.

Note: A donation of cash or property reduces the value of the partnership. For example, if a partnership donates office equipment to a qualified charity, the office equipment is no longer owned by the partnership and the total value of the partnership is reduced. Therefore, each partner’s share of the total value of the partnership is reduced accordingly.

S-Corporations

S-Corporations are similar to Partnerships, with each shareholder receiving a Schedule K-1 showing the amount of charitable contribution.

C-Corporations

Unlike sole proprietors, Partnerships and S-corporations, C-Corporations are separate entities from their owners. As such, a corporation can make charitable contributions and take deductions for those contributions.

4. Categorize Donations

Each category of donation has its own criteria with regard to whether it’s deductible and to what extent. For example, mileage and travel expenses related to services performed for the charitable organization are deductible but time spent on volunteering your services is not. Here’s another example: As a board member, your duties may include hosting fundraising events. While the time you spend as a board member is not deductible, expenses related to hosting the fundraiser such as stationery for invitations and telephone costs related to the event are deductible.

Generally, you can deduct up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income. Non-cash donations of more than $500 require completion of Form 8283, which is attached to your tax return. In addition, contributions are only deductible in the tax year in which they’re made.

5. Keep Good Records

The types of records you must keep vary according to the type of donation (cash, non-cash, out of pocket expenses when donating your services) and the importance of keeping good records cannot be overstated.

Ask for–and make sure you receive–a letter from any organizations stating that said organization received a contribution from your business. You should also keep canceled checks, bank and credit card statements, and payroll deduction records as proof or your donation. Further, the IRS requires proof of payment and an acknowledgement letter for donations of $250 or more.

If you’re a small business owner, don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about charitable donations.

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Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

Tax planning is the process of looking at various tax options to determine when, whether, and how to conduct business transactions to reduce or eliminate tax liability.

Many small business owners ignore tax planning. They don’t even think about their taxes until it’s time to meet with their CPAs, EAs, or tax advisors but tax planning is an ongoing process and good tax advice is a valuable commodity. It is to your benefit to review your income and expenses monthly and meet with your CPA, EA, or tax advisor quarterly to analyze how you can take full advantage of the provisions, credits, and deductions that are legally available to you.

Although tax avoidance planning is legal, tax evasion – the reduction of tax through deceit, subterfuge, or concealment – is not. Frequently what sets tax evasion apart from tax avoidance is the IRS’s finding that there was fraudulent intent on the part of the business owner. The following are four of the areas the IRS examiners commonly focus on as pointing to possible fraud:

  1. Failure to report substantial amounts of income such as a shareholder’s failure to report dividends or a store owner’s failure to report a portion of the daily business receipts.
  2. Claims for fictitious or improper deductions on a return such as a sales representative’s substantial overstatement of travel expenses or a taxpayer’s claim of a large deduction for charitable contributions when no verification exists.
  3. Accounting irregularities such as a business’s failure to keep adequate records or a discrepancy between amounts reported on a corporation’s return and amounts reported on its financial statements.
  4. Improper allocation of income to a related taxpayer who is in a lower tax bracket such as where a corporation makes distributions to the controlling shareholder’s children.

Tax Planning Strategies

Countless tax planning strategies are available to small business owners. Some are aimed at the owner’s individual tax situation and some at the business itself, but regardless of how simple or how complex a tax strategy is, it will be based on structuring the strategy to accomplish one or more of these often overlapping goals:

  • Reducing the amount of taxable income
  • Lowering your tax rate
  • Controlling the time when the tax must be paid
  • Claiming any available tax credits
  • Controlling the effects of the Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Avoiding the most common tax planning mistakes

In order to plan effectively, you’ll need to estimate your personal and business income for the next few years. This is necessary because many tax planning strategies will save tax dollars at one income level, but will create a larger tax bill at other income levels. You will want to avoid having the “right” tax plan made “wrong” by erroneous income projections. Once you know what your approximate income will be, you can take the next step: estimating your tax bracket.

The effort to come up with crystal-ball estimates may be difficult and by its very nature will be inexact. On the other hand, you should already be projecting your sales revenues, income, and cash flow for general business planning purposes. The better your estimates are, the better the odds that your tax planning efforts will succeed.

Maximizing Business Entertainment Expenses

Entertainment expenses are legitimate deductions that can lower your tax bill and save you money, provided you follow certain guidelines.

In order to qualify as a deduction, business must be discussed before, during, or after the meal and the surroundings must be conducive to a business discussion. For instance, a small, quiet restaurant would be an ideal location for a business dinner. A nightclub would not. Be careful of locations that include ongoing floor shows or other distracting events that inhibit business discussions. Prime distractions are theater locations, ski trips, golf courses, sports events, and hunting trips.

The IRS allows up to a 50 percent deduction on entertainment expenses, but you must keep good records and the business meal must be arranged with the purpose of conducting specific business. Bon appetite!

Important Business Automobile Deductions

If you use your car for business such as visiting clients or going to business meetings away from your regular workplace you may be able to take certain deductions for the cost of operating and maintaining your vehicle. You can deduct car expenses by taking either the standard mileage rate or using actual expenses. In 2016, the mileage reimbursement rate is 54 cents per business mile (57 cents per mile in 2015).

If you own two cars, another way to increase deductions is to include both cars in your deductions. This works because business miles driven is determined by business use. To figure business use, divide the business miles driven by the total miles driven. This strategy can result in significant deductions.

Whichever method you decide to use to take the deduction, always be sure to keep accurate records such as a mileage log and receipts. If you need assistance figuring out which method is best for your business, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

Increase Your Bottom Line When You Work At Home

The home office deduction is quite possibly one of the most difficult deductions ever to come around the block. Yet, there are so many tax advantages it becomes worth the navigational trouble. Here are a few tips for home office deductions that can make tax season significantly less traumatic for those of you with a home office.

Try prominently displaying your home business phone number and address on business cards, have business guests sign a guest log book when they visit your office, deduct long-distance phone charges, keep a time and work activity log, retain receipts and paid invoices. Keeping these receipts makes it so much easier to determine percentages of deductions later on in the year.

Section 179 expensing for tax year 2016 allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over time, up to $500,000, with a cap of $2,000,000 worth of qualified business property that you purchase during the year. The key word is “purchase.” Equipment can be new or used and includes certain software. All home office depreciable equipment meets the qualification. Some deductions can be taken whether or not you qualify for the home office deduction itself.

If you’re ready to meet with a tax professional to discuss tax planning strategies for your business, call the office today.

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Deducting Business-Related Car Expenses

Deducting Business-Related Car Expenses

Whether you’re self-employed or an employee, if you use a car for business, you get the benefit of tax deductions.

There are two choices for claiming deductions:

  1. Deduct the actual business-related costs of gas, oil, lubrication, repairs, tires, supplies, parking, tolls, drivers’ salaries, and depreciation.

  2. Use the standard mileage deduction in 2016 and simply multiply 54 cents by the number of business miles traveled during the year. Your actual parking fees and tolls are deducted separately under this method.

Which Method Is Better?

For some taxpayers, using the standard mileage rate produces a larger deduction. Others fare better tax-wise by deducting actual expenses.

Tip: The actual cost method allows you to claim accelerated depreciation on your car, subject to limits and restrictions not discussed here.

The standard mileage amount includes an allowance for depreciation. Opting for the standard mileage method allows you to bypass certain limits and restrictions and is simpler– but it’s often less advantageous in dollar terms.

Caution: The standard rate may understate your costs, especially if you use the car 100 percent for business, or close to that percentage.

Generally, the standard mileage method benefits taxpayers who have less expensive cars or who travel a large number of business miles.

How to Make Tax Time Easier

Keep careful records of your travel expenses and record your mileage in a logbook. If you don’t know the number of miles driven and the total amount you spent on the car, your tax advisor won’t be able to determine which of the two options is more advantageous for you at tax time.

Furthermore, the tax law requires that you keep travel expense records and that you show business versus personal use on your tax return. If you use the actual cost method for your auto deductions, you must keep receipts.

Tip: Consider using a separate credit card for business, to simplify your recordkeeping.

Tip: You can also deduct the interest you pay to finance a business-use car if you’re self-employed.

Note: Self-employed individuals and employees who use their cars for business can deduct auto expenses if they either (1) don’t get reimbursed, or (2) are reimbursed under an employer’s “non-accountable” reimbursement plan. In the case of employees, expenses are deductible to the extent that auto expenses (together with other “miscellaneous itemized deductions”) exceed 2 percent of adjusted gross income.

Call today and find out which deduction method is best for your business-use car.

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Identity Theft and Your Taxes

Identity Theft and Your Taxes

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. It presents challenges to individuals, businesses, organizations and government agencies, including the IRS.

Learning that you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event and you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity. In many cases, the IRS may be the first to let you know you’re a victim of ID theft after you try to file your taxes.

The IRS is working hard to stop identity theft using a strategy of prevention, detection, and victim assistance. In 2015, the IRS stopped 1.4 million confirmed ID theft returns and protected $8.7 billion. In the past couple of years, more than 2,000 people have been convicted of filing fraudulent ID theft returns. And, in 2014, the IRS stopped more than $15 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. Additionally, as the IRS improves its processing filters, the agency has also been able to halt more suspicious returns before they are processed.

Here’s what you should know about identity theft:

1. Protect your Records. Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN on them. Only provide your SSN (social Security Number) if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Protect your personal information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for all of your Internet accounts.

2. Don’t Fall for Scams. Criminals often try to impersonate your bank, credit card company, and even the IRS in order to steal your personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid those fake emails and texts.

3. Beware of Threatening Phone Calls. Correspondence from the IRS is always in the form of a letter in the mail. The IRS will not call you threatening a lawsuit, arrest, or to demand an immediate tax payment using a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.

As schools around the nation re-open, it is important for taxpayers to be particularly aware of a new scam going after students and parents. In this latest scheme, telephone scammers have been targeting students and parents and demanding payments for non-existent taxes, such as the “Federal Student Tax.”

People should be on the lookout for IRS impersonators calling students and demanding that they wire money immediately to pay a fake “federal student tax.” If the person does not comply, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested.

4. Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement. If you cannot e-file your return because a tax return already was filed using your SSN, consider the following steps:

  • File your taxes by paper and pay any taxes owed.
  • File an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. You may include it with your paper return.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant.
  • Contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account.

5. Complete an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit (see below). Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by filing on paper.

6. IRS Notices and Letters. If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with your SSN, it may send you a letter asking you to verify your identity by calling a special number or visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is to protect you from tax-related identity theft.

7. IP PINs. If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, he or she will be issued an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. Each year, you will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.

8. Data Breaches. If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind that not every data breach results in identity theft. Furthermore, not every identity theft case involves taxes. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.

9. Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can report it on the IRS.gov website.

10. IRS Options. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online at IRS.gov. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.

If you have any questions about identity theft and your taxes, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Charitable Contributions of Property

Charitable Contributions of Property

If you contribute property to a qualified organization, the amount of your charitable contribution is generally the fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution. However, if the property fits into one of the categories discussed here, the amount of your deduction must be decreased. As with many aspects of tax law, the rules are quite complex. If you’re considering a charitable contribution of property, here’s what you need to know:

After discussing how to determine the fair market value of something you donate, we’ll discuss the following categories of charitable gifts of property:

  • Contributions subject to special rules
  • Property that has decreased in value;
  • Property that has increased in value;
  • Food Inventory.
  • Bargain Sales.

Determining Fair Market Value

Fair market value is the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all of the relevant facts.

Used Clothing and Household Items.

The fair market value of used clothing and used household goods, such as furniture and furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens, and other similar items is typically the price that buyers of used items actually pay clothing stores, such as consignment or thrift shops. Be prepared to support your valuation of other household items, which must be in good used condition unless valued at more than $500 by a qualified appraisal, with photographs, canceled checks, receipts from your purchase of the items, or other evidence.

Cars, Boats, and Aircraft

The FMV of a donated car, boat, or airplane is generally the amount listed in a used vehicle pricing guide for a private party sale, not the dealer retail value, of a similar vehicle. The FMV may be less than that, however, if the vehicle has engine trouble, body damage, high mileage, or any type of excessive wear.

Except for inexpensive small boats, the valuation of boats should be based on an appraisal by a marine surveyor because the physical condition is so critical to the value.

If you donate a qualified vehicle to a qualified organization, and you claim a deduction of more than $500, you can deduct the smaller of the gross proceeds from the sale of the vehicle by the organization or the vehicle’s fair market value on the date of the contribution. If the vehicle’s fair market value was more than your cost or other basis, you may have to reduce the fair market value to figure the deductible amount.

Paintings, Antiques, and Other Objects of Art.

Deductions for contributions of paintings, antiques, and other objects of art should be supported by a written appraisal from a qualified and reputable source unless the deduction is $5,000 or less.

  1. Art valued at $20,000 or more. If you claim a deduction of $20,000 or more for donations of art, you must attach a complete copy of the signed appraisal to your return. For individual objects valued at $20,000 or more, a photograph of a size and quality fully showing the object, preferably an 8 x 10-inch color photograph or a color transparency no smaller than 4 x 5 inches, must be provided upon request.
  2. Art valued at $50,000 or more. If you donate an item of art that has been appraised at $50,000 or more, you can request a Statement of Value for that item from the IRS. You must request the statement before filing the tax return that reports the donation.

Contributions Subject to Special Rules

Special rules apply if you contribute:

  • Clothing or household items,
  • A car, boat, or airplane,
  • Taxidermy property,
  • Property subject to a debt,
  • A partial interest in property,
  • A fractional interest in tangible personal property,
  • A qualified conservation contribution,
  • A future interest in tangible personal property,
  • Inventory from your business, or
  • A patent or other intellectual property.

Donating Property That Has Decreased in Value

If you contribute property with a fair market value that is less than your basis in it (generally, less than what you paid for it), your deduction is limited to its fair market value. You cannot claim a deduction for the difference between the property’s basis and its fair market value. Common examples of property that decreases in value include clothing, furniture, appliances, and cars.

Donating Property That Has Increased in Value

If you contribute property with a fair market value that is more than your basis in it, you may have to reduce the fair market value by the amount of appreciation (increase in value) when you figure your deduction. Again, your basis in the property is generally what you paid for it. Different rules apply to figuring your deduction, depending on whether the property is Ordinary income property, Capital gain property, or Ordinary Income Property.

Ordinary Income Property

Property is ordinary income property if its sale at fair market value on the date it was contributed would have resulted in ordinary income or in short-term capital gain. Examples of ordinary income property are inventory, works of art created by the donor, manuscripts prepared by the donor, and capital assets held 1 year or less.

Equipment or other property used in a trade or business is considered ordinary income property to the extent of any gain that would have been treated as ordinary income under the tax law, had the property been sold at its fair market value at the time of contribution.

Capital Gain Property

Property is capital gain property if its sale at fair market value on the date of the contribution would have resulted in a long-term capital gain. Capital gain property includes capital assets held more than 1 year.

Capital assets. Capital assets include most items of property that you own and use for personal purposes or investment. Examples of capital assets are stocks, bonds, jewelry, coin or stamp collections, and cars or furniture used for personal purposes. For purposes of figuring your charitable contribution, capital assets also include certain real property and depreciable property used in your trade or business and, generally, held more than 1 year.

Real property. Real property is land and generally, anything that is built on, growing on, or attached to land.

Depreciable property. Depreciable property is property used in business or held for the production of income and for which a depreciation deduction is allowed.

Ordinary or capital gain income included in gross income. You do not reduce your charitable contribution if you include the ordinary or capital gain income in your gross income in the same year as the contribution. This may happen when you transfer installment or discount obligations or when you assign income to a charitable organization.

Food Inventory

Special rules apply to certain donations of food inventory to a qualified organization. Please call if you would like information about donations of food inventory.

Bargain Sales

A bargain sale of property to a qualified organization (a sale or exchange for less than the property’s fair market value) is partly a charitable contribution and partly a sale or exchange. The part of the bargain sale that is a sale or exchange may result in a taxable gain.

Seek advice from a tax professional.

Stiff penalties may be assessed by the IRS if you overstate the value or adjusted basis of donated property. If you’re considering a charitable contribution of property, don’t hesitate to call the office to speak with a qualified tax professional.

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Tax-Free Savings for College

Tax-Free Savings for College

According to a recent study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, researchers found that over a lifetime, the average U.S. college graduate will earn at least $800,000 more than the average high school graduate–even after taking into consideration the cost of college tuition and the four years of lost wages it entails. Despite this, most people still feel that a college education is worth the investment.

That said, however, the need to set money aside for their child’s education often weighs heavily on parents. Fortunately, there are two savings plans available to help parents save money as well as provide certain tax benefits. Let’s take a closer look.

The two most popular college savings programs are the Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs) or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Whichever one you choose, try to start when your child is young. The sooner you begin saving, the less money you will have to put away each year.

Example: Suppose you have one child, age six months, and you estimate that you’ll need $120,000 to finance his college education 18 years from now. If you start putting away money immediately, you’ll need to save $3,500 per year for 18 years (assuming an after-tax return of 7 percent). On the other hand, if you put off saving until your son is six years old, you’ll have to save almost double that amount every year for 12 years.

How Much Will College Cost?

College is expensive, and proper planning can lessen the financial squeeze considerably–especially if you start when your child is young. According to the College Board, average published tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased 2.9 percent before adjusting for inflation, rising from $9,145 in 2014-15 to $9,410 in 2015-16.

Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions increased 3.6 percent before adjusting for inflation, rising from $31,283 in 2014-15 to $32,405 in 2015-16. Undergraduates received an average of $14,210 in financial aid in 2014-15, including $8,170 in grants from all sources, $4,800 in federal loans, $1,170 in education tax credits and deductions, and $70 in Federal Work-Study.

Saving with Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs)

Qualified Tuition Programs, also known as 529 plans, are often the best choice for many families. Every state now has a program allowing persons to prepay for future higher education, with tax relief. There are two basic plan types, with many variations among them:

  1. The prepaid education arrangement. With this type of plan, one is essentially buying future education at today’s costs, by buying education credits or certificates. This is the older type of program and tends to limit the student’s choice to schools within the state; however, private colleges and universities often offer this type of arrangement.

  2. Education Savings Account (ESA). With an ESA, contributions are made to an account to be used for future higher education.

Tip: When approaching state programs, one must distinguish between what the federal tax law allows and what an individual state’s program may impose.

You may open a 529 plan in any state, but when buying prepaid tuition credits (less popular than savings accounts), you will want to know what institutions the credits will be applied to.

Unlike certain other tax-favored higher education programs, such as the American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) and Lifetime Learning Credit, federal tax law doesn’t limit the benefit to tuition, but can also extend it to room, board, and books (individual state programs could be narrower).

The two key individual parties to the program are the Designated Beneficiary (the student-to-be) and the Account Owner, who is entitled to choose and change the beneficiary and who is normally the principal contributor to the program.

There are no income limits on who may be an account owner. There’s only one designated beneficiary per account. Thus, a parent with three college-bound children might set up three accounts. Some state programs don’t allow the same person to be both beneficiary and account owner.

Tax Rules Relating to Qualified Tuition Programs

Income Tax. Contributions made by an account owner or other contributor are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes, but earnings on contributions do grow tax-free while in the program.

Distributions from the fund are tax-free to the extent used for qualified higher education expenses. Distributions used otherwise are taxable to the extent of the portion which represents earnings.

A distribution may be tax-free even though the student is claiming an American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) or Lifetime Learning Credit, or tax-free treatment for a Coverdell ESA distribution, provided the programs aren’t covering the same specific expenses.

Distribution for a purpose other than qualified education is taxable to the one getting the distribution. In addition, a 10 percent penalty must be imposed on the taxable portion of the distribution, which is comparable to the 10 percent penalty in Coverdell ESAs.

The account owner may change the beneficiary designation from one to another in the same family. Funds in the account roll over tax-free for the benefit of the new beneficiary.

Tip: In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) added expenses for computer technology/equipment or Internet access to the list of qualifying expenses. Software designed for sports, games, or hobbies does not qualify, unless it is predominantly educational in nature. In general, however, expenses for computer technology are not considered qualified expenses.

Gift Tax. For gift tax purposes, contributions are treated as completed gifts even though the account owner has the right to withdraw them. Thus they qualify for the up-to-$14,000 annual gift tax exclusion in 2016 (same as 2015). One contributing more than $14,000 may elect to treat the gift as made in equal installments over the year of the gift and the following four years so that up to $56,000 can be given tax-free in the first year.

However, a rollover from one beneficiary to another in a younger generation is treated as a gift from the first beneficiary, an odd result for an act the “giver” may have had nothing to do with.

Estate Tax. Funds in the account at the designated beneficiary’s death are included in the beneficiary’s estate, another odd result, since those funds may not be available to pay the tax.

Funds in the account at the account owner’s death are not included in the owner’s estate, except for a portion thereof where the gift tax exclusion installment election is made for gifts over $14,000. For example, if the account owner made the election for a gift of $56,000 in 2016, a part of that gift is included in the estate if he or she dies within five years.

Tip: A Qualified Tuition Program can be an especially attractive estate-planning move for grandparents. There are no income limits, and the account owner giving up to $56,000 avoids gift tax and estate tax by living five years after the gift, yet has the power to change the beneficiary.

State Tax. State tax rules are all over the map. Some reflect the federal rules; some reflect quite different rules. For specifics of each state’s program, see College Savings Plans Network (CSPN). If you need assistance with this, please contact us.

Saving with Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

You can contribute up to $2,000 in 2016 to a Coverdell Education Savings account (a Section 530 program formerly known as an Education IRA) for a child under 18. These contributions are not tax deductible but grow tax-free until withdrawn. Contributions for any year, for example, 2016 can be made through the (unextended) due date for the return for that year (April 17, 2017). There is no adjustment for inflation; therefore the $2,000 contribution limit is expected to remain at $2,000.

Only cash can be contributed to a Coverdell ESA, and you cannot contribute to the account after the child reaches his or her 18th birthday.

The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if they are less than a beneficiary’s qualified education expenses at an eligible institution. This benefit applies to higher education expenses as well as to elementary and secondary education expenses.

Anyone can establish and contribute to a Coverdell ESA, including the child. An account may be established for as many children as you wish; however, the amount contributed during the year to each account cannot exceed $2,000. The child need not be a dependent, and in fact, does not even need to be related to you. The maximum contribution amount in 2016 for each child is subject to a phase-out limitation with a modified AGI between $190,000 and $220,000 for joint filers and $95,000 and $110,000 for single filers.

A 6 percent excise tax (to be paid by the beneficiary) applies to excess contributions. These are amounts in excess of the applicable contribution limit ($2,000 or phase out amount) and contributions for a year that amounts are contributed to a Qualified Tuition Program for the same child. The 6 percent tax continues for each year the excess contribution stays in the Coverdell ESA.

Exceptions. The excise tax does not apply if excess contributions made during 2016 (and any earnings on them) are distributed before the first day of the sixth month of the following tax year (June 1, 2017, for a calendar year taxpayer). However, you must include the distributed earnings in gross income for the year in which the excess contribution was made. The excise tax does not apply to any rollover contribution.

The child must be named (designated as beneficiary) in the Coverdell document, but the beneficiary can be changed to another family member–to a sibling for example when the first beneficiary gets a scholarship or drops out. Funds can also be rolled over tax-free from one child’s account to another child’s account. Funds must be distributed not later than 30 days after the beneficiary’s 30th birthday (or 20 days after the beneficiary’s death if earlier). For “special needs” beneficiaries the age limits (no contributions after age 18, distribution by age 30) don’t apply.

Withdrawals are taxable to the person who gets the money, with these major exceptions: Only the earnings portion is taxable (the contributions come back tax-free). Also, even that part isn’t taxable income, as long as the amount withdrawn does not exceed a child’s “qualified higher education expenses” for that year.

The definition of “qualified higher education expenses” includes room and board and books, as well as tuition. In figuring whether withdrawals exceed qualified expenses, expenses are reduced by certain scholarships and by amounts for which tax credits are allowed. If the amount withdrawn for the year exceeds the education expenses for the year, the excess is partly taxable under a complex formula. A different formula is used if the sum of withdrawals from a Coverdell ESA and from the Qualified Tuition Program exceeds education expenses.

As the person who sets up the Coverdell ESA, you may change the beneficiary (the child who will get the funds) or roll the funds over to the account of a new beneficiary, tax-free, if the new beneficiary is a member of your family. But funds you take back (for example, withdrawal in a year when there are no qualified higher education expenses, because the child is not enrolled in higher education) are taxable to you, to the extent of earnings on your contributions, and you will generally have to pay an additional 10 percent tax on the taxable amount. However, you won’t owe tax on earnings on amounts contributed that are returned to you by June 1 of the year following contribution.

Professional Guidance

Considering the wide differences among state plans, federal and state tax issues, and the dollar amounts at stake, please call the office before getting started with any type of college savings plan.

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The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider

The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider

More than 52 percent of businesses today are home-based. Every day, people are striking out and achieving economic and creative independence by turning their skills into dollars. Garages, basements, and attics are being transformed into the corporate headquarters of the newest entrepreneurs–home-based businesspeople.

And, with technological advances in smartphones, tablets, and iPads as well as rising demand for “service-oriented” businesses, the opportunities seem to be endless.

Is a Home-Based Business Right for You?

Choosing a home business is like choosing a spouse or partner: Think carefully before starting the business. Instead of plunging right in, take the time to learn as much about the market for any product or service as you can. Before you invest any time, effort, or money take a few moments to answer the following questions:

  • Can you describe in detail the business you plan on establishing?
  • What will be your product or service?
  • Is there a demand for your product or service?
  • Can you identify the target market for your product or service?
  • Do you have the talent and expertise needed to compete successfully?

Before you dive head first into a home-based business, it’s essential that you know why you are doing it and how you will do it. To succeed, your business must be based on something greater than a desire to be your own boss, and involves an honest assessment of your own personality, an understanding of what’s involved, and a lot of hard work. You have to be willing to plan ahead and make improvements and adjustments along the way.

While there are no “best” or “right” reasons for starting a home-based business, it is vital to have a very clear idea of what you are getting into and why. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a self-starter?
  • Can you stick to business if you’re working at home?
  • Do you have the necessary self-discipline to maintain schedules?
  • Can you deal with the isolation of working from home?

Working under the same roof that your family lives under may not prove to be as easy as it seems. It is important that you work in a professional environment. If at all possible, you should set up a separate office in your home. You must consider whether your home has space for a business and whether you can successfully run the business from your home. If so, you may qualify for a tax break called the home office deduction. For more information see the article, Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction? below.

Compliance with Laws and Regulations

A home-based business is subject to many of the same laws and regulations affecting other businesses, and you will be responsible for complying with them. There are some general areas to watch out for, but be sure to consult an attorney and your state department of labor to find out which laws and regulations will affect your business.

Zoning

Be aware of your city’s zoning regulations. If your business operates in violation of them, you could be fined or closed down.

Restrictions on Certain Goods

Certain products may not be produced in the home. Most states outlaw home production of fireworks, drugs, poisons, sanitary or medical products, and toys. Some states also prohibit home-based businesses from making food, drink, or clothing.

Registration and Accounting Requirements

You may need the following:

  • Work certificate or a license from the state (your business’s name may also need to be registered with the state)
  • Sales tax number
  • Separate business telephone
  • Separate business bank account

If your business has employees, you are responsible for withholding income, social security, and Medicare taxes, as well as complying with minimum wage and employee health and safety laws.

Planning Techniques

Money fuels all businesses. With a little planning, you’ll find that you can avoid most financial difficulties. When drawing up a financial plan, don’t worry about using estimates. The process of thinking through these questions helps develop your business skills and leads to solid financial planning.

Estimating Start-Up Costs

To estimate your start-up costs include all initial expenses such as fees, licenses, permits, telephone deposit, tools, office equipment and promotional expenses.

In addition, business experts say you should not expect a profit for the first eight to ten months, so be sure to give yourself enough of a cushion if you need it.

Projecting Operating Expenses

Include salaries, utilities, office supplies, loan payments, taxes, legal services and insurance premiums, and don’t forget to include your normal living expenses. Your business must not only meet its own needs but make sure it meets yours as well.

Projecting Income

It is essential that you know how to estimate your sales on a daily and monthly basis. From the sales estimates, you can develop projected income statements, break-even points, and cash-flow statements. Use your marketing research to estimate initial sales volume.

Determining Cash Flow

Working capital–not profits–pays your bills. Even though your assets may look great on the balance sheet, if your cash is tied up in receivables or equipment, your business is technically insolvent. In other words, you’re broke.

Make a list of all anticipated expenses and projected income for each week and month. If you see a cash-flow crisis developing, cut back on everything but the necessities.

If a home-based business is in your future, then a tax professional can help. Don’t hesitate to call if you need assistance setting up your business or making sure you have the proper documentation in place to satisfy the IRS.

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Five Ways to Improve Your Financial Situation

Five Ways to Improve Your Financial Situation

If you are having trouble paying your debts, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Doing nothing leads to much larger problems in the future, whether it’s a bad credit record or bankruptcy resulting in the loss of assets and even your home. If you’re in financial trouble, then here are some steps to take to avoid financial ruin in the future.

If you’ve accumulated a large amount of debt and are having difficulty paying your bills each month, now is the time to take action–before the bill collectors start calling.

1. Review each debt. Make sure that the debt creditors claim you owe is really what you owe and that the amount is correct. If you dispute a debt, first contact the creditor directly to resolve your questions. If you still have questions about the debt, contact your state or local consumer protection office or, in cases of serious creditor abuse, your state Attorney General.

2. Contact your creditors. Let your creditors know you are having difficulty making your payments. Tell them why you are having trouble–perhaps it is because you recently lost your job or have unexpected medical bills. Try to work out an acceptable payment schedule with your creditors. Most are willing to work with you and will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness.

Tip: Most automobile financing agreements permit your creditor to repossess your car any time you are in default, with no advance notice. If your car is repossessed you may have to pay the full balance due on the loan, as well as towing and storage costs, to get it back. Do not wait until you are in default. Try to solve the problem with your creditor when you realize you will not be able to meet your payments. It may be better to sell the car yourself and pay off your debt than to incur the added costs of repossession.

3. Budget your expenses. Create a spending plan that allows you to reduce your debts and itemize necessary expenses (such as housing and healthcare) and optional expenses (such as entertainment and vacation travel). Stick to the plan.

4. Try to reduce your expenses. Cut out any unnecessary spending such as eating out and purchasing expensive entertainment. Consider taking public transportation or using a car sharing service rather than owning a car. Clip coupons, purchase generic products at the supermarket and avoid impulse purchases. Above all, stop incurring new debt. Leave your credit cards at home. Pay for all purchases in cash or use a debit card instead of a credit card.

5. Pay down and consolidate your debts. Withdrawing savings from low-interest accounts to settle high-rate loans or credit card debt usually makes sense. In addition, there are a number of ways to pay off high-interest loans, such as credit cards, by getting a refinancing or consolidation loan, such as a second mortgage.

Tip: Selling off a second car not only provides cash but also reduces insurance and other maintenance expenses.

Caution: Be wary of any loan consolidations or other refinancing that actually increase interest owed, or require payments of points or large fees.

Caution: Second mortgages greatly increase the risk that you may lose your home.

You can regain financial health if you act responsibly. But don’t wait until bankruptcy court is your only option. If you’re having financial troubles, don’t hesitate to call.

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Seven Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

Seven Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in running your own business is staying on top of your numerous obligations to federal, state, and local tax agencies. Tax codes seem to be in a constant state of flux and increasingly complicated.

The old legal saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is perhaps most often applied in tax settings and it is safe to assume that a tax auditor presenting an assessment of additional taxes, penalties, and interest will not look kindly on an “I didn’t know I was required to do that” claim.

On the flip side, it is surprising how many small businesses actually overpay their taxes, neglecting to take deductions they’re legally entitled to that can help them lower their tax bill.

Preparing your taxes and strategizing as to how to keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year. Your best course of action to save time, frustration, money, and an auditor knocking on your door, is to have a professional accountant handle your taxes.

Tax professionals have years of experience with tax preparation, regularly attend tax seminars, read scores of journals, magazines, and monthly tax tips, among other things, to correctly interpret the changing tax code.

When it comes to tax planning for small businesses, the complexity of tax law generates a lot of folklore and misinformation that also leads to costly mistakes. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the more common small business tax misperceptions.

1. All Start-Up Costs are Immediately Deductible

Business start-up costs refer to expenses incurred before you actually begin operating your business. Business start-up costs include both start-up and organizational costs and vary depending on the type of business. Examples of these types of costs include advertising, travel, surveys, and training. These start-up and organizational costs are generally called capital expenditures.

Costs for a particular asset (such as machinery or office equipment) are recovered through depreciation or Section 179 expensing. When you start a business, you can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs.

You can also elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs paid or incurred. Business start-up and organizational costs are generally capital expenditures. However, you can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs paid or incurred. The $5,000 deduction is reduced by the amount your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized.

2. Overpaying the IRS Makes you “Audit Proof.”

The IRS doesn’t care if you pay the right amount of taxes or overpay your taxes. They do care if you pay less than you owe and you can’t substantiate your deductions. Even if you overpay in one area, the IRS will still hit you with interest and penalties if you underpay in another. It is never a good idea to knowingly or unknowingly overpay the IRS. The best way to “Audit Proof” yourself is to properly document your expenses and make sure you are getting good advice from a tax professional.

3. Being Incorporated Enables you to take more Deductions.

Self-employed individuals (sole proprietors and S Corps) qualify for many of the same deductions that incorporated businesses do, and for many small businesses, being incorporated is an unnecessary expense and burden. Start-ups can spend thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees to set up a corporation, only to discover soon thereafter that they need to change their name or move the company in a different direction. In addition, plenty of small business owners who incorporate don’t make money for the first few years and find themselves saddled with minimum corporate tax payments and no income.

4. The Home Office Deduction is a Red Flag for an Audit.

While it used to be a red flag, this is no longer true–as long as you keep excellent records that satisfy IRS requirements. Because of the proliferation of home offices, tax officials cannot possibly audit all tax returns containing the home office deduction. In other words, there is no need to fear an audit just because you take the home office deduction. A high deduction-to-income ratio, however, may raise a red flag and lead to an audit.

5. If you don’t take the Home Office Deduction, Business Expenses are not Deductible.

You are still eligible to take deductions for business supplies, business-related phone bills, travel expenses, printing, wages paid to employees or contract workers, depreciation of equipment used for your business, and other expenses related to running a home-based business, whether or not you take the home office deduction.

6. Requesting an Extension on your Taxes is an Extension to Pay Taxes.

Wrong. Extensions enable you to extend your filing date only. Penalties and interest begin accruing from the date your taxes are due.

7. Part-time Business Owners Cannot Set Up Self-employed Pensions.

If you start up a company while you have a salaried position complete with a 401K plan, you can still set up a SEP-IRA for your business and take the deduction.

A tax headache is only one mistake away.

Whether it’s a missed estimated tax payment or filing deadline, an improperly claimed deduction, or incomplete records, understanding how the tax system works is beneficial to any business owner. And, even if you delegate the tax preparation to someone else, you are still liable for the accuracy of your tax returns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Five Tips for Safeguarding Your Records

Five Tips for Safeguarding Your Records

Some natural disasters are more common in the summer, but major events such as hurricanes, tornadoes and fires can strike at any time. It’s always a good idea to plan for what to do in case of a disaster. Here are some basic steps you can take right now to prepare:

1. Backup Records Electronically. Many people receive bank statements by email. This is a good way to secure your records. You can also scan tax records and insurance policies onto an electronic format. You can use an external hard drive, CD or DVD to store important records. Be sure you back up your files and keep them in a safe place. If a disaster strikes your home, it may also affect a wide area. If that happens you may not be able to retrieve your records.

2. Document Valuables. Take photos or videos of the contents of your home or business. These visual records can help you prove the value of your lost items. They may help with insurance claims or casualty loss deductions on your tax return. You should store them with a friend or relative who lives out of the area. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584, which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings.

3. Update Emergency Plans. Review your emergency plans every year. Personal and business situations change over time as do preparedness needs, so update them when your situation changes. Make sure you have a way to get severe weather information and have a plan for what to do if threatening weather approaches. In addition, when employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.

4. Get Copies of Tax Returns or Transcripts. Use Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, to replace lost or destroyed tax returns or need information from your return. You can also file Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return. If you need assistance filling this form out, please call.

5. Check on Fiduciary Bonds.
Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

If you fall victim to a disaster, Help is just a phone call away. Don’t hesitate to call the office regarding any disaster-related tax questions or issues you might have.

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The Best Financial Tool for Business Owners

The Best Financial Tool for Business Owners

What if there were a tool that helped you create crystal-clear plans, provided you with continual feedback about how well your plan was working, and that told you exactly what’s working and what isn’t?

Well, there is such a tool. It’s called the Budget vs. Actual Report and it’s exactly what you need to be able to consistently make smart business decisions to keep your business on track for success.

Clarifying Your Plan

The clearer you are about your business goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. Creating a budget forces you to examine the details of your goals, as well as how even a single business decision affects all other aspects of your company’s operations.

Example: Let’s say that you want to grow your sales by 15 percent this year.

Does that mean you need to hire another salesperson? When will the business start to see new sales from this person? Do you need to set up an office for them? New phone line? Buy them a computer? Do you need to do more advertising? How much more will you spend? When will you see the return on your advertising expenditure?

Navigating the Ship

Once you clarify your goals, then you start making business decisions to help you reach your desired outcome. Some of those decisions will be great and give you better than expected results, but others might not.

This is when the Budget vs. Actual Report becomes an effective management tool. When you compare your budgeted sales and expenses to your actual results, you see exactly how far off you might be with regard to your budget, goals, and plans.

Sometimes you need to adjust your plan (budget) and sometimes you need to focus more attention to areas of your business that are not performing as well as you planned. Either way, you are gleaning valuable insights into your business.

It’s like sailing a boat. You may be off-course most of the time, but having a clear goal and making many adjustments helps you reach your destination.

Just Do It

We often know what we need to do but don’t take the necessary action. It may seem like a huge hassle to create a budget and then create a Budget vs. Actual Report every month, but as with any new skill, it does get easier.

Turn your dreams into reality. Give the office a call and let a tax and accounting professional guide you through the budgeting process.

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Paying off Debt the Smart Way

Paying off Debt the Smart Way

Between mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans, most people are in debt. While being debt-free is a worthwhile goal, most people need to focus on managing their debt first since it’s likely to be there for most of their life.

Handled wisely, however, that debt won’t be an albatross around your neck. You don’t need to shell out your hard-earned money because of
exorbitant interest rates or always feel like you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. You can pay off debt the smart way, while at the same time, saving money to pay it off even faster.

Assess the Situation

First, assess the depth of your debt. Write it down using pencil and paper or use a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel. You can also use a bookkeeping program such as Quicken. Include every instance you can think of where a company has given you something in advance of payment, including your mortgage, car payment(s), credit cards, tax liens, student loans, and payments on electronics or other household items through a store.

Record the day the debt began and when it will end (if possible), the interest rate you’re paying, and what your payments typically are. Next, add it all up–as painful as that might be. Try not to be discouraged! Remember, you’re going to break this down into manageable chunks while finding extra money to help pay it down.

Identify High-Cost Debt

Yes, some debts are more expensive than others. Unless you’re getting payday loans (which you shouldn’t be), the worst offenders are probably your credit cards. Here’s how to deal with them.

  • Don’t use them. Don’t cut them up, but put them in a drawer and only access them in an emergency.

  • Identify the card with the highest interest and pay off as much as you can every month. Pay minimums on the others. When that one’s paid off, work on the card with the next highest rate.

  • Don’t close existing cards or open any new ones. It won’t help your credit rating, and in fact, will only hurt it.

  • Pay on time, absolutely every time. One late payment these days can lower your FICO score.

  • Go over your credit-card statements with a fine-tooth comb. Are you still being charged for that travel club you’ve never used? Look for line items you don’t need.

  • Call your credit card companies and ask them nicely if they would lower your interest rates. It does work sometimes!

Save, Save, Save

Do whatever you can to retire debt. Consider taking a second job and using that income only for higher payments on your financial obligations. Substitute free family activities for high-cost ones. Sell high-value items that you can live without.

Do Away with Unnecessary Items to Reduce Debt Load

Do you really need the 200-channel cable option or that satellite dish on your roof? You’ll be surprised at what you don’t miss. How about magazine subscriptions? They’re not terribly expensive, but every penny counts. It’s nice to have a library of books, but consider visiting the public library or half-price bookstores until your debt is under control.

Never, Ever Miss a Payment

Not only are you retiring debt, but you’re also building a stellar credit rating. If you ever move or buy another car, you’ll want to
get the lowest rate possible. A blemish-free payment record will help with that. Besides, credit card companies can be quick to raise
interest rates because of one late payment. A completely missed one is even more serious.

Pay with Cash

To avoid increasing debt load, make it a habit to pay for everything you purchase with cash. If you don’t have the cash for it, you probably don’t need it. You’ll feel better about what you do have if you know it’s owned free and clear.

Shop wisely, and Use the Savings to Pay down Your Debt

If your family is large enough to warrant it, invest $30 or $40 and join a store like Sam’s or Costco–and use it. Shop there first, then at
the grocery store. Change brands if you have to and swallow your pride. If you’re concerned about buying organic, rest assured that even at places like Costco you will have many options. Use coupons religiously. Calculate the money you’re saving and slap it on your debt.

Each of these steps, taken alone, probably doesn’t seem like much, but if you adopt as many as you can, you’ll watch your debt decrease every month. If you need help managing debt, please call for assistance.

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Tax Compliance Issues for Nonprofit Organizations

Tax Compliance Issues for Nonprofit Organizations

Whether you’ve just started a nonprofit, recently submitted your organization’s first Form 990, or are the executive director, it’s important not to lose sight of your obligations under federal and state tax laws. From annual filing and reporting requirements to taxes on business income and payroll compliance, here’s a quick look at what nonprofits need to know about tax compliance.

Annual Filing and Reporting Requirements: Form 990

Once you’ve applied for and received tax-exempt status under (Section 501(c)(3) and filed Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and received your exemption letter from the IRS, your organization is officially a nonprofit, and is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3). Tax exempt status refers to exemption from federal income tax on income related to the organization’s mission, as well as the ability to receive tax-deductible contributions from donors.

The next step is to comply with annual filing and reporting requirements, specifically, Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.

Generally, tax-exempt organizations are required to file annual returns. If an organization does not file a required return or files late, the IRS may assess penalties. In addition, if an organization does not file as required for three consecutive years, it automatically loses its tax-exempt status.

Note: Certain organizations such as churches (including church-affiliated organizations and schools operated by a religious order) as well as organizations affiliated with a governmental unit are not required to file Form 990. Refer to your IRS exemption letter if you’re not sure.

There are four different Forms 990; which form an organization must file generally depends on its gross receipts. Forms 990-EZ or 990 are used for organizations with gross receipts of less than $200,000 and with total assets of less than $500,000. Form 990 is used for nonprofits with gross receipts greater than or equal to $200,000 or total assets greater than or equal to $500,000.

When gross receipts are less than or equal to $50,000, certain small organizations may file an annual electronic notice, the Form 990-N (e-Postcard); however, organizations eligible to file the e-Postcard may choose to file a full return. Private foundations file Form 990-PF regardless of financial status.

Form 990 is submitted to the IRS five and a half months after the end of an organization’s calendar year. For example, for nonprofits whose calendar year ends on December 31st, the initial return due date for Form 990 is May 15. If a due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the due date is delayed until the next business day.

Extended due dates of three and six months are available for Forms 990; however, for Form 990-N the due date is the “initial return due date,” e.g. May 15 and extended due dates do not apply.

NOTE: Unlike individual tax returns filed with the IRS, which may be postmarked on April 15, Forms 990 must be received (not postmarked) by the IRS before the May 15 due date.

Unrelated Business Income Taxes (UBIT)

Unrelated business income is defined as income from a trade or business which is regularly carried on and is not substantially related to the charitable, educational, or other purpose that is the basis of the organization’s exemption.

While it may come as a surprise to some, nearly all tax-exempt organizations are required to pay taxes on unrelated business income, which might include proceeds from an annual holiday card sale or souvenirs related to an educational exhibit in support of the nonprofit’s mission.

If the IRS determines that a nonprofit is significantly underreporting income from unrelated business activities, it may lose its tax-exempt status.

Employment and Payroll Compliance

Similar to for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations must comply with both federal and state payroll reporting requirements. Federal tax withholding, social security taxes, and Medicare taxes must be deposited through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (“EFTPS”), and the organization must file Form 941 on a quarterly basis. Nonprofits are also required to report reimbursements to employees for out-of-pocket expenses; however, nonprofits that create an accountable reimbursement plan or ARP that meets IRS guidelines are able to avoid these reporting requirements.

State Tax Compliance

Most nonprofit organizations incorporate before applying to the IRS for tax exempt status. As such, they must comply with state laws such as annual or periodic registrations. Each state has different laws, but in general, nonprofit organizations must update basic contact information including mailing address, names of responsible parties, and registered agents. Some states require that charitable organizations apply for sales/use or property tax exemptions as well.

Further, charitable organizations that solicit donations in a particular state are subject to state solicitation laws that require the nonprofit to register with the state(s) and to report on the nonprofit’s fundraising activities. For nonprofits that solicit donations from residents in more than one state, compliance is often challenging. Organizations that fail to register are subject to hefty penalties.

Stay Informed

These are just a few of the tax-compliance issues facing nonprofit organizations. If you have any questions, would like more information, or need help setting up an accountable reimbursement plan that meets IRS requirements, please call.

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Selling your Business

Selling your Business

There are many reasons to sell a business. Maybe you’re in ill health or ready to retire. Or you’re tired of working all the time and now that the business is profitable you’re ready to cash in. Whatever the reason, selling a small to medium sized business is a complex venture and many business owners are not aware of the tax consequences.

If you’re thinking about selling your business the first step is to consult a competent tax professional. You will need to make sure your financials in order, obtain an accurate business valuation to determine how much your business is worth (and what the listing price might be), and develop a tax planning strategy to minimizes capital gains and other taxes in order to maximize your profits from the sale.

Accurate Financial Statements

The importance of preparing your business financials before listing your business for sale cannot be overstated. Whether you use a business broker or word of mouth, rest assured that potential buyers will scrutinize every aspect of your business. Not being able to quickly produce financial statements, current and prior years’ balance sheets, profit and loss statements, tax returns, equipment lists, product inventories, and property appraisals and lease agreements may lead to loss of the sale.

Business Valuation

Many business owners have no idea what their business is worth; some may underestimate whereas others overestimate–sometimes significantly. Obtaining a third party business valuation allows business owners to set a price that is realistic for potential buyers, while achieving maximum value.

Tax Consequences of Selling

As a business owner you probably think of your business as a single entity sold as a lump sum. The IRS however, views a business as a collection of assets. Profit from the sale of these assets (i.e. your business) may be subject to short and long-term capital gains tax, depreciation recapture of Section 1245 and Section 1250 real property, and federal and state income taxes.

For IRS purposes each asset sold must be classified as capital assets, depreciable property used in the business, real property used in the business, goodwill, or property held for sale to customers, such as inventory or stock in trade. Assets are considered tangible (real estate, machinery, and inventory) or intangible (goodwill or trade name).

The gain (or loss) on each asset sold is figured separately. For instance, the sale of capital assets results in capital gain or loss whereas the sale of inventory results in ordinary income or loss, with each taxed accordingly.

Depreciable property

Section 1231 gains and losses are the taxable gains and losses from Section 1231 transactions such as sales or exchanges of real property or depreciable personal property held longer than one year. Their treatment as ordinary or capital depends on whether you have a net gain or a net loss from all your Section 1231 transactions.

When you dispose of depreciable property (Section 1245 property or Section 1250 property) at a gain, you may have to recognize all or part of the gain as ordinary income under the depreciation recapture rules. Any remaining gain is a Section 1231 gain.

Business structure

Your business structure (i.e. business entity) also affects the way your business is taxed when it is sold. Sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) are considered “pass-through” entities and each asset is sold separately. As such there is more flexibility when structuring a sale to benefit both the buyer and seller in terms of tax consequences.

C-corporations and S-corporations have different entity structures and sale of assets and stock are subject to more complex regulations.

For example, when assets of a C-corporation are sold, the seller is taxed twice. The corporation pays tax on any gains realized when the assets are sold, and shareholders pay capital gains tax when the corporation is dissolved. However, when a C-corporation sells stock the seller only pays capital gains tax on the profit from the sale, which is generally at the long-term capital gains tax rate. S-corporations are taxed similarly to partnerships in that there is no double taxation when assets are sold. Income (or loss) flows through shareholders, who report it on their individual tax returns.

Need help?

As you can see, selling a business involves complicated federal and state tax rules and regulations. If you’re thinking of selling your business in the near future don’t hesitate to call the office and schedule a consultation with a tax and accounting professional.

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Tax Breaks for Hiring New Employees

Tax Breaks for Hiring New Employees

If you’re thinking about hiring new employees this year, you won’t want to miss out on these tax breaks.

1. Work Opportunity Credit

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit for employers that hire employees from the following targeted groups of individuals:

  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Food Stamp Recipient
  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Recipient
  • Qualified Veterans
  • Qualified Ex-Felons, Pardoned, Paroled or Work Release Individuals
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Referrals
  • Qualified Summer Youths
  • Qualified Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Recipients
  • Qualified Individuals living within an Empowerment Zone or Rural Renewal Community
  • Long Term Family Assistance Recipient (TANF) (formerly known as Welfare to Work)

The tax credit (a maximum of $9,600) is taken as a general business credit on Form 3800 and is applied against tax liability on business income. It is limited to the amount of the business income tax liability or social security tax owed. Normal carry-back and carry-forward rules apply.

For qualified tax-exempt organizations, the credit is limited to the amount of employer social security tax owed on wages paid to all employees for the period the credit is claimed.

Also, an employer must obtain certification that an individual is a member of the targeted group before the employer may claim the credit.

Note: The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) retroactively allows eligible employers to claim the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for all targeted group employee categories that were in effect prior to the enactment of the PATH Act, if the individual began or begins work for the employer after December 31, 2014 and before January 1, 2020.

For tax-exempt employers, the PATH Act retroactively allows them to claim the WOTC for qualified veterans who begin work for the employer after December 31, 2014, and before January 1, 2020.

2. Empowerment Zones

This tax credit provides businesses with an incentive to hire individuals who live and work (either full-time or part-time) in a federally designated Empowerment Zone (EZ). The credit is equal to 20 percent of the first $15,000 (up to $3,000) in wages earned in a taxable year if the employee lives and works in an empowerment zone (urban or rural). This credit can be combined with state enterprise zone credits as well.

Note: The PATH Act extended the tax credit retroactively to apply to the period from January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2016.

3. Disabled Access Credit and the Barrier Removal Tax Deduction

Employers that hire disabled workers might also be able to take advantage of two additional tax credits in addition to the WOTC.

The Disabled Access Credit is a non-refundable credit for small businesses that incur expenditures for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities. An eligible small business is one that earned $1 million or less or had no more than 30 full-time employees in the previous year; they may take the credit each and every year they incur access expenditures. Eligible expenditures include amounts paid or incurred to:

1. Remove barriers that prevent a business from being accessible to or usable by individuals with disabilities;

2. Provide qualified interpreters or other methods of making audio materials available to hearing-impaired individuals;

3. Provide qualified readers, taped texts, and other methods of making visual materials available to individuals with visual impairments; or

4. Acquire or modify equipment or devices for individuals with disabilities.

The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction encourages businesses of any size to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the mobility of persons with disabilities and the elderly. Businesses may claim a deduction of up to $15,000 a year for qualified expenses for items that normally must be capitalized. Businesses claim the deduction by listing it as a separate expense on their income tax return.

Businesses may use the Disabled Tax Credit and the architectural/transportation tax deduction together in the same tax year if the expenses meet the requirements of both sections. To use both, the deduction is equal to the difference between the total expenditures and the amount of the credit claimed.

4. Indian Employment Credit

The Indian Employment Credit provides businesses with an incentive to hire certain individuals (enrolled members of an Indian tribe or the spouse of an enrolled member) who live on or near an Indian reservation. The business does not have to be in an empowerment zone or enterprise community to qualify for the credit, which offsets the business’s federal tax liability.

The credit is 20 percent of the excess of the current qualified wages and qualified employee health insurance costs (not to exceed $20,000) over the sum of the corresponding amounts that were paid or incurred during the calendar year of 1993 (not a typo).

5. State Tax Credits

Many states use tax credits and deductions as incentives for hiring and job growth. Employers are eligible for these credits and deductions when they create new jobs and hire employees that meet certain requirements. Examples include the New Employment Credit (NEC) in California and Empire Zone tax credits in New York.

Wondering what tax breaks your business qualifies for?

Help is just a phone call away!

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Tips for Taxpayers with Foreign Income

Tips for Taxpayers with Foreign Income

If you are living or working outside the United States, you generally must file and pay your tax in the same way as people living in the U.S. This includes people with dual citizenship.

In addition, U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts exceeding certain thresholds may be required to file Form 114, known as the “FBAR” as well as Form 8938, also referred to as “FATCA.”

Note: FBAR is not a tax form, but is due to the Treasury Department by June 30, 2016, and must be filed electronically through the BSA E-Filing System website. Starting in tax years after December 31, 2015, the FBAR will be due on April 15 and may be extended to October 15.

FATCA (Form 8938) is submitted on the tax due date (including extensions, if any,) of your income tax return.

Here’s what else you need to know about reporting foreign income:

1. Report Worldwide Income. By law, Americans living abroad, as well as many non-U.S. citizens, must file a U.S. income tax return and report any worldwide income. Some key tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion, are only available to those who file U.S. returns.

2. Report Foreign Accounts and Assets. Federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts.

3. File Required Tax Forms. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to file Schedule B, Interest and Ordinary Dividends, with their tax returns. Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

Some taxpayers may need to file additional forms with the Treasury Department such as Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets or FinCEN Form 114 (formerly TD F 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”).

FBAR. Taxpayers with foreign accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2015 (or 2016) must file a Treasury Department FinCEN Form 114 (formerly TD F 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”).

Form 8938. Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds:

  • If the total value is at or below $50,000 at the end of the tax year, there is no reporting requirement for the year, unless the total value was more than $75,000 at any time during the tax year
  • Taxpayers who do not have to file an income tax return for the tax year do not have to file Form 8938, regardless of the value of their specified foreign financial assets.

The threshold is higher for individuals who live outside the United States and thresholds are different for married and single taxpayers. In addition, penalties apply for failure to file accurately.

Please contact the office if you need additional information about thresholds for reporting, what constitutes a specified foreign financial asset, how to determine the total value of relevant assets, what assets are exempted and what information must be provided.

Note: An individual may have to file both forms, and separate penalties may apply for failure to file each form.

4. Review the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. Many Americans who live and work abroad qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion when they file their tax return. This means taxpayers who qualify will not pay taxes on up to $101,300 of their wages and other foreign earned income they received in 2016 ($100,800 in 2015). Please contact the office if you have any questions about foreign earned income exclusion.

5. Don’t Overlook Credits and Deductions. Taxpayers may be able to take either a credit or a deduction for income taxes paid to a foreign country. This benefit reduces the taxes these taxpayers pay in situations where both the U.S. and another country tax the same income. However, you cannot claim the additional child tax credit if you file Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income or Form 2555-EZ, Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

6. Automatic Extension. U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad on April 18, 2016, qualified for an automatic two-month extension (until June 15) to file their 2015 federal income tax returns. The extension of time to file also applies to those serving in the military outside the U.S. Taxpayers must attach a statement to their returns explaining why they qualify for the extension. Please call if you haven’t filed a 2015 tax return.

7. Get Tax Help. If you’re a taxpayer or resident alien living abroad that needs help with tax filing issues, IRS notices, and tax bills, or have questions about foreign earned income and offshore financial assets in a bank or brokerage account, don’t hesitate to call.

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Qualified Small Business Stock Exclusion

Qualified Small Business Stock Exclusion

As the driving force in today’s economy, small businesses benefit from numerous tax breaks in the tax code. One of these, the Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS), was just made permanent, thanks to the passage of the PATH Act (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015). If you’re a small business investor, here’s what you need to know about this often overlooked tax break.

What is the Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS) Exclusion?

Sometimes referred to as Section 1202 (after Section 1202 of the Internal Revenue Code, PATH made permanent for taxpayers (excluding corporations) the exclusion of 100 percent of the gain on the sale or exchange of qualified small business stock (QSBS) acquired after September 27, 2010, that is held longer than five years.

Further, QSBS gain excluded from income is not subject to 3.8 percent Obamacare tax on “Net Investment Income” from capital gains (and other investment income) on high-income taxpayers.

The definition of a qualified small business under the IRS varies; however, examples of businesses that do NOT qualify include, but are not limited to:

  • A regulated investment company,
  • A real estate investment trust (REIT)
  • One involving services performed in the fields of health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, or brokerage services;
  • Any business of operating a hotel, motel, restaurant, or similar business.
  • Any farming business (including the business of raising or harvesting trees).

What are the Tax Benefits of QSBS?

Two tax provisions apply to gain from the sale or trade of qualified small business stock. Taxpayers may qualify for a tax-free rollover of all or part of the gain, or they may be able to exclude gain from income.

What is Qualified Small Business Stock?

Qualified small business stock is stock that meets all of the following tests:

  1. It must be stock in a C corporation.
  2. It must have been originally issued after August 10, 1993.
  3. The corporation must have total gross assets of $50 million or less at all times after August 9, 1993, and before it issued the stock. Its total gross assets immediately after it issued the stock must also be $50 million or less.
  4. When figuring the corporation’s total gross assets, you must also count the assets of any predecessor of the corporation. In addition, you must treat all corporations that are members of the same parent-subsidiary controlled group as one corporation.
  5. You must have acquired the stock at its original issue, directly or through an underwriter, in exchange for money or other property (not including stock), or as pay for services provided to the corporation (other than services performed as an underwriter of the stock). In certain cases, your stock may also meet this test if you acquired it from another person who met this test, or through a conversion or trade of qualified small business stock that you held.
  6. The corporation must have met the active business test, defined next, and must have been a C corporation during substantially all the time you held the stock.
  7. Within the period beginning two years before and ending two years after the stock was issued, the corporation cannot have bought more than a de minimis amount of its stock from you or a related party.
  8. Within the period beginning one year before and ending one year after the stock was issued, the corporation cannot have bought more than a de minimis amount of its stock from anyone, unless the total value of the stock it bought is five percent or less of the total value of all its stock.

Qualified stock must also meet the active business test and it can’t be an investment vehicle or an inactive business. A corporation meets this test for any period of time if, during that period, both the following are true:

  • It was an eligible corporation, defined below.
  • It used at least 80 percent (by value) of its assets in the active conduct of at least one qualified trade or business.

Questions?

The QSBS exclusion, as with many tax provisions, is complicated. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions or would like more information on this topic.

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Filing an Amended Tax Return

Filing an Amended Tax Return

What should you do if you already filed your federal tax return and then discover a mistake? First of all, don’t worry. In most cases, all you have to do is file an amended tax return. But before you do that, here is what you should be aware of when filing an amended tax return.

Taxpayers should use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to file an amended (corrected) tax return.

You must file the corrected tax return on paper. An amended return cannot be e-filed. If you need to file another schedule or form, don’t forget to attach it to the amended return.

An amended tax return should only be filed to correct errors or make changes to your original tax return. For example, you should amend your return if you need to change your filing status, or correct your income, deductions or credits.

You normally do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors because the IRS automatically makes those changes for you. Also, do not file an amended return because you forgot to attach tax forms, such as W-2s or schedules. The IRS normally will mail you a request asking for those.

Note: Eligible taxpayers who filed a 2015 tax return and claimed a premium tax credit using incorrect information from either the federally facilitated or a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace, generally do not have to file an amended return regardless of the nature of the error, even if additional taxes would be owed. The IRS may contact you to ask for a copy of your corrected Form 1095-A to verify the information.

Nonetheless, you may choose to file an amended return because some taxpayers may find that filing an amended return may reduce their tax owed or give them a larger refund (see below for additional information).

If you are amending more than one tax return, prepare a separate 1040X for each return and mail them to the IRS in separate envelopes. Note the tax year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. You will find the appropriate IRS address to mail your return to in the Form 1040X instructions.

If you are filing an amended tax return to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original tax refund before filing Form 1040X. Amended returns take up to 16 weeks to process. You may cash your original refund check while waiting for the additional refund.

If you owe additional taxes with Form 1040X, file it and pay the tax as soon as possible to minimize interest and penalties. You can use IRS Direct Pay to pay your tax directly from your checking or savings account.

Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original tax return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. For example, the last day for most people to file a 2013 claim for a refund is April 17, 2017. Special rules may apply to certain claims. For more information see the instructions for Form 1040X or call the office.

You can track the status of your amended tax return for the current year three weeks after you file. You can also check the status of amended returns for up to three prior years. To use the “Where’s My Amended Return” tool on the IRS website, just enter your taxpayer identification number (usually your Social Security number), date of birth and zip code. If you have filed amended returns for more than one year, you can select each year individually to check the status of each.

Filing an amended return after receiving a corrected Form 1095-A

If you enrolled in qualifying Marketplace health coverage, then you probably filed a tax return based on a Form 1095-A that you received from the Marketplace.

Some taxpayers may receive a second Form 1095-A because the information on their initial form was incorrect or incomplete. If you filed a 2015 tax return based on the initial Form 1095-A and claimed the premium tax credit using incorrect information from either the federally-facilitated or a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace, you should determine the effect the changes to your form might have on your return. Comparing the two Forms 1095-A can help you assess whether you should file an amended tax return, Form 1040X.

Corrected Form 1095-A

A corrected form generally indicates you previously received a Form 1095-A containing one or more errors.

  • If you have not yet filed your tax return, you should use this new form when completing your tax return.
  • If you have already filed your tax return, you will need to determine the effect the changes to your form might have on your return. Some changes–such as a corrected address–may not affect your tax return or require any action on your part, while others–such as a change in your monthly premium amount–might. Compare the corrected Form 1095-A to the original form to determine the nature of the change. For a detailed list of these changes, see Corrected or Voided Form 1095-A. This information can help you assess whether you should file an amended tax return, Form 1040X. If you are uncertain whether you should amend your tax return, you may want to consult with a tax preparer.
  • If you believe the information on your corrected Form 1095-A is incorrect or you have question about the form, you should contact your Marketplace.

Voided Form 1095-A

A voided form–or letter stating your form was voided–generally indicates you previously received a Form 1095-A that was issued in error. This may happen if you did not complete enrollment in Marketplace coverage. The voided Form 1095-A, as the well as the previously received Form 1095-A, should not be used to file your tax return.

  • If you receive a voided Form 1095-A after you have already filed your tax return and claimed the premium tax credit using the original Form 1095-A that the Marketplace sent in error, you should file an amended return.
  • If you have not yet filed your tax return, don’t use the information on the voided or on the previously received Form 1095-A to figure a premium tax credit on Form 8962.
  • If you had coverage through the Marketplace and you believe they should not have voided your form, you should contact your Marketplace immediately to receive an accurate Form 1095-A.

Please call if you need assistance filing an amended return or have any questions about Form 1040X.

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Minimizing Tax on Mutual Fund Activities

Minimizing Tax on Mutual Fund Activities

Whether you’re new to mutual funds or a seasoned investor who wants to learn more, these tips will help you avoid the tax bite on mutual fund investments.

First, you need to understand how distributions from mutual funds are taxed.

Tax law generally treats mutual fund shareholders as if they directly owned a proportionate share of the fund’s portfolio of securities and you must report as income any mutual fund distributions, whether or not they are reinvested. Thus, all dividends and interest from securities in the portfolio, as well as any capital gains from the sales of securities, are taxed to the shareholders.

Taxable Distributions

There are two types of taxable distributions: (1) ordinary dividends and (2) capital gain distributions.

Ordinary Dividends. Distributions of ordinary dividends, which come from the interest and dividends earned by securities in the fund’s portfolio, represent the net earnings of the fund. They are paid out periodically to shareholders. Like the return on any other investment, mutual fund dividend payments decline or rise from year to year, depending on the income earned by the fund in accordance with its investment policy. These dividend payments are considered ordinary income and must be reported on your tax return.

In 2016 (same as 2015), dividend income that falls in the highest tax bracket (39.6%) is taxed at 20 percent. For the middle tax brackets (25-35%) the dividend tax rate is 15 percent, and for the two lower ordinary income tax brackets of 10% and 15%, the dividend tax rate is zero.

Qualified dividends. Qualified dividends are the ordinary dividends subject to the same 0 or 15 percent maximum tax rate that applies to net capital gain. They are subject to the 15 percent rate if the regular tax rate that would apply is 25 percent or higher; however the highest tax bracket, 39.6%, is taxed at a 20 percent rate. If the regular tax rate that would apply is lower than 25 percent, qualified dividends are subject to the 0 percent rate.

Dividends from foreign corporations are qualified where their stock or ADRs are traded on U.S. exchanges or with IRS approval where the dividends are covered by U.S. tax treaties. Dividends from mutual funds qualify where a mutual fund is receiving qualified dividends and distributing the required proportions thereof.

Capital gain distributions. When gains from the fund’s sales of securities exceed losses, they are distributed to shareholders. As with ordinary dividends, these capital gain distributions vary in amount from year to year. They are treated as long-term capital gain, regardless of how long you have owned your fund shares.

A mutual fund owner may also have capital gains from selling mutual fund shares.

Capital gains rates. The beneficial long-term capital gains rates on sales of mutual fund shares apply only to profits on shares held more than a year before sale. Profit on shares held a year or less before sale is considered ordinary income, but capital gain distributions are long-term regardless of the length of time held before the distribution.

Starting with tax year 2013, long term capital gains are taxed at 20 percent (39.6% tax bracket), 15 percent for the middle tax brackets (25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%), and 0 percent for the 10% and 15% tax brackets.

At tax time, your mutual fund will send you a Form 1099-DIV, which tells you what earnings to report on your income tax return, and how much of it is qualified dividends. Because tax rates on qualified dividends are the same as for capital gains distributions and long-term gains on sales, these items combined in your tax reporting, that is, qualified dividends added to long-term capital gains. Capital losses are netted against capital gains before applying the favorable capital gains rates and losses will not be netted against dividends.

Medicare Tax. Starting with tax year 2013, an additional Medicare tax of 3.8 percent is applied to net investment income for individuals with modified adjusted gross income above $200,000 (single filers) and $250,000 (joint filers).

Minimizing Tax Liability on Mutual Fund Activities

Now that you have a better understanding of how mutual funds are taxed, here are seven tips for minimizing the tax on your mutual fund activities.

1. Keep Track of Reinvested Dividends

Most funds offer you the option of having dividend and capital gain distributions automatically reinvested in the fund–a good way to buy new shares and expand your holdings. While most shareholders take advantage of this service, it is not a way to avoid being taxed. Reinvested ordinary dividends are still taxed (at long-term capital gains rates if qualified), just as if you had received them in cash. Similarly, reinvested capital gain distributions are taxed as long-term capital gain.

Tip: If you reinvest, add the amount reinvested to the “cost basis” of your account, i.e., the amount you paid for your shares. The cost basis of your new shares purchased through automatic reinvesting is easily seen from your fund account statements. This information is important later on when you sell shares.

2. Be Aware That Exchanges of Shares Are Taxable Events

The “exchange privilege,” or the ability to exchange shares of one fund for shares of another, is a popular feature of many mutual fund “families,” i.e., fund organizations that offer a variety of funds. For tax purposes, exchanges are treated as if you had sold your shares in one fund and used the cash to purchase shares in another fund. In other words, you must report any capital gain from the exchange on your return. The same tax rules used for calculating gains and losses when you redeem shares apply when you exchange them.

Note: Gains on these redemptions and exchanges are taxable whether the fund invests in taxable or tax-exempt securities.

3. Do Not Overlook the Advantages of Tax-Exempt Funds

If you are in the higher tax brackets and are seeing your investment profits taxed away, then there is a good alternative to consider: tax-exempt mutual funds. Distributions from such funds that are attributable to interest from state and municipal bonds are exempt from federal income tax (although they may be subject to state tax).

The same is true of distributions from tax-exempt money market funds. These funds also invest in municipal bonds, but only in those that are short-term or close to maturity, the aim being to reduce the fluctuation in NAV that occurs in long-term funds.

Many taxpayers can ease the tax bite by investing in municipal bond funds for example.

Note: Capital gain distributions paid by municipal bond funds (unlike distributions of interest) are not free from federal tax. Most states also tax these capital gain distributions.

Although income from tax-exempt funds is federally tax-exempt, you must still report on your tax return the amount of tax-exempt income you received during the year. This is an information-reporting requirement only and does not convert tax-exempt earnings into taxable income.

Your tax-exempt mutual fund will send you a statement summarizing its distributions for the past year and explaining how to handle tax-exempt dividends on a state-by-state basis.

4. Keep Records of Your Mutual Fund Transactions

It is very important to keep the statements from each mutual fund you own, especially the year-end statement.

By law, mutual funds must send you a record of every transaction in your account, including reinvestments and exchanges of shares. The statement shows the date, amount, and number of full and fractional shares bought or sold. These transactions are also contained in the year-end statement.

In addition, you will receive a year-end Form 1099-B, which reports the sale of fund shares, for any non-IRA mutual fund account in which you sold shares during the year.

Why is recordkeeping so important? When you sell mutual fund shares, you will realize a capital gain or loss in the year the shares are sold. You must pay tax on any capital gain arising from the sale, just as you would from a sale of individual securities. (Losses may be used to offset other gains in the current year and deducted up to an additional $3,000 of ordinary income. Remaining loss may be carried for comparable treatment in later years.)

The amount of the gain or loss is determined by the difference between the cost basis of the shares (generally the original purchase price) and the sale price. Thus, in order to figure the gain or loss on a sale of shares, it is essential to know the cost basis. If you have kept your statements, you will be able to figure this out.

Example: In 2010, you purchased 100 shares of Fund JKL at $10 a share for a total purchase price of $1,000. Your cost basis for each share is $10 (what you paid for the shares). Any fees or commissions paid at the time of purchase are included in the basis, so since you paid an up-front commission of two percent, or $20, on the purchase, your cost basis for each share is $10.20 ($1,020 divided by 100). Let’s say you sell your Fund JKL shares this year for $1,500. Assume there are no adjustments to your $ 1,020 basis, such as basis attributable to shares purchased through reinvestment. On this year’s income tax return, you report a capital gain of $480 ($1,500 minus $1,020).

Note: Commissions or brokerage fees are not deducted separately as investment expenses on your tax return since they are taken into account in your cost basis.

One of the advantages of mutual fund investing is that the fund provides you with all of the records that you need to compute gains and losses–a real plus at tax time. Some funds even provide cost basis information or compute gains and losses for shares sold. That is why it is important to save the statements. However, you are not required to use the fund’s gain or loss computations in your tax reporting.

5. Re-investing Dividends & Capital Gain Distributions when Calculating

Make sure that you do not pay any unnecessary capital gain taxes on the sale of mutual fund shares because you forgot about reinvested amounts. When you reinvest dividends and capital gain distributions to buy more shares, you should add the cost of those shares (that is, the amount invested) to the cost basis of the shares in that account because you have already paid tax on those shares.

Failure to include reinvested dividends and capital gain distributions in your cost basis is a costly mistake.

6. Don’t Forget State Taxation

Many states treat mutual fund distributions the same way the federal government does. There are, however, these areas of different treatment:

  • If your mutual fund invests in U.S. government obligations, states generally exempt from state taxation dividends attributable to federal obligation interest.
  • Most states do not tax income from their own obligations, whether held directly or through mutual funds. On the other hand, the majority of states do tax income from the obligations of other states. Thus, in most states, you will not pay state tax to the extent you receive, through the fund, income from obligations issued by your state or its municipalities.
  • Most states don’t grant reduced rates for capital gains or dividends.

7. Don’t Overlook Possible Tax Credits for Foreign Income

If your fund invests in foreign stocks or bonds, part of the income it distributes may have been subject to foreign tax withholding. If so, you may be entitled to a tax deduction or credit for your pro-rata share of taxes paid. Your fund will provide you with the necessary information.

Tip: Because a tax credit provides a dollar-for-dollar offset against your tax bill, while a deduction reduces the amount of income on which you must pay tax, it is generally advantageous to claim the foreign tax credit. If the foreign tax doesn’t exceed $300 ($600 on a joint return), then you may not need to file IRS form 1116 to claim the credit.

Questions?

If you have any questions about the tax treatment of mutual funds, don’t hesitate to call.

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Tax Implications of Retiring Overseas

Tax Implications of Retiring Overseas

Are you approaching retirement age and wondering where you can retire to make your retirement nest egg last longer? Retiring abroad may be the answer. But first, it’s important to look at the tax implications because not all retirement country destinations are created equal. Here’s what you need to know.

Taxes on Worldwide Income

Leaving the United States does not exempt U.S. citizens from their U.S. tax obligations. While some retirees may not owe any U.S. income tax while living abroad, they must still file a return annually with the IRS. This would be the case even if all of their assets were moved to a foreign country. The bottom line is that you may still be taxed on income regardless of where it is earned.

Unlike most countries, the United States taxes individuals based on citizenship and not residency. As such, every U.S. citizen (and resident alien) must file a tax return reporting worldwide income (including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts) in any given taxable year that exceeds threshold limits for filing.

The filing requirement generally applies even if a taxpayer qualifies for tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion or the foreign tax credit, that substantially reduce or eliminate U.S. tax liability.

Note: These tax benefits are not automatic and are only available if an eligible taxpayer files a U.S. income tax return.

Any income received or deductible expenses paid in foreign currency must be reported on a U.S. return in U.S. dollars. Likewise, any tax payments must be made in U.S. dollars.

In addition, taxpayers who are retired may have to file tax forms in the foreign country in which they reside. You may, however, be able to take a tax credit or a deduction for income taxes you paid to a foreign country. These benefits can reduce your taxes if both countries tax the same income.

Nonresident aliens who receive income from U.S. sources must determine whether they have a U.S. tax obligation. The filing deadline for nonresident aliens is generally April 15 or June 15 depending on sources of income.

Income from Social Security or Pensions

If Social Security is your only income, then your benefits may not be taxable and you may not need to file a federal income tax return. If you receive Social Security you should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount of your benefits. Likewise, if you have pension or annuity income, you should receive a Form 1099-R for each distribution plan.

Retirement income is generally not taxed by other countries. As a U.S. citizen retiring abroad who receives Social Security, for instance, you may owe U.S. taxes on that income, but may not be liable for tax in the country where you’re spending your retirement years.

However, if you receive income from other sources (either U.S. or country of retirement) as well, from a part-time job or self-employment, for example, you may have to pay U.S. taxes on some of your benefits. You may also be required to report and pay taxes on any income earned in the country where you retired.

Each country is different, so consult a local tax professional or one who specializes in expat tax services.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

If you’ve retired overseas, but take on a full-or part-time job or earn income from self-employment, the IRS allows qualifying individuals to exclude all, or part, of their incomes from U.S. income tax by using the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). In 2016, this amount is $101,300.

This means that if you qualify, you won’t pay tax on up to $101,300 of your wages and other foreign earned income in 2016.

Note: Income earned overseas is exempt from taxation only if certain criteria are met such as residing outside of the country for at least 330 days over a 12-month period, or an entire calendar year.

Tax Treaties

The United States has income tax treaties with a number of foreign countries, but these treaties generally don’t exempt residents from their obligation to file a tax return.

Under these treaties, residents (not necessarily citizens) of foreign countries are taxed at a reduced rate, or are exempt from U.S. income taxes on certain items of income they receive from sources within the United States. These reduced rates and exemptions vary among countries and specific items of income.

Treaty provisions are generally reciprocal; that is they apply to both treaty countries. Therefore, a U.S. citizen or resident who receives income from a treaty country and who is subject to taxes imposed by foreign countries may be entitled to certain credits, deductions, exemptions, and reductions in the rate of taxes of those foreign countries.

Affordable Care Act

Starting in 2014, the individual shared responsibility provision calls for each individual to have minimum essential coverage (MEC) for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.

All U.S. citizens are subject to the individual shared responsibility provision. If you are not yet eligible for Medicare, U.S. citizens living abroad are generally subject to the same individual shared responsibility provision as U.S. citizens living in the United States.

However, U.S. citizens or residents living abroad for at least 330 days within a 12 month period are treated as having MEC during those 12 months and thus will not owe a shared responsibility payment for any of those 12 months. Also, U.S. citizens who qualify as a bona fide resident of a foreign country for an entire taxable year are treated as having MEC for that year.

State Taxes

Many states tax resident income as well, so even if you retire abroad, you may still owe state taxes–unless you established residency in a no-tax state before you moved overseas.

Some states honor the provisions of U.S. tax treaties; however, some states do not, therefore it is prudent to consult a tax professional.

Relinquishing U.S. Citizenship

Taxpayers who relinquish their U.S. citizenship or cease to be lawful permanent residents of the United States during any tax year must file a dual-status alien return and attach Form 8854, Initial and Annual Expatriation Statement. A copy of the Form 8854 must also be filed with Internal Revenue Service (Philadelphia, PA 19255-0049), by the due date of the tax return (including extensions).

Note: Giving up your U.S. citizenship doesn’t mean giving up your right to receive social security, pensions, annuities or other retirement income. However, the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to withhold nonresident alien tax from certain Social Security monthly benefits. If you are a nonresident alien receiving social security retirement income, then SSA will withhold a 30 percent flat tax from 85 percent of those benefits unless you qualify for a tax treaty benefit. This results in a withholding of 25.5 percent of your monthly benefit amount.

Consult a Tax Professional Before You Retire

Don’t wait until you’re ready to retire to consult a tax professional. Call the office today and find out what your options are.

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Lost Your Job? There Could Be Tax Consequences

Lost Your Job? There Could Be Tax Consequences

Given current economic conditions, you may be faced with tax questions surrounding a job loss and unemployment issues. Here are some answers:

Q: What if I receive unemployment compensation in 2016?

A: Unemployment compensation you receive under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of a state are considered taxable income and must be reported on your federal tax return. If you received unemployment compensation, you will receive Form 1099-G showing the amount you were paid and any federal income tax you elected to have withheld.

Types of unemployment benefits include:

  • Benefits paid by a state or the District of Columbia from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund
  • Railroad unemployment compensation benefits
  • Disability payments from a government program paid as a substitute for unemployment compensation
  • Trade readjustment allowances under the Trade Act of 1974
  • Unemployment assistance under the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act

You must also include benefits from regular union dues paid to you as an unemployed member of a union in your income. However, other rules apply if you contribute to a special union fund and your contributions are not deductible. If this applies to you, only include in income the amount you received from the fund that is more than your contributions.

Q: Can I have federal income tax withheld?

Yes, you can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment benefits by filling out Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. If you complete the form and give it to the paying office, they will withhold tax at 10 percent of your payments. If you choose not to have tax withheld, you may have to make estimated tax payments throughout the year.

Q: What if I lost my job?

A: The loss of a job may create new tax issues. Severance pay and unemployment compensation are taxable. Payments for any accumulated vacation or sick time are also taxable. You should ensure that enough taxes are withheld from these payments or make estimated tax payments to avoid a big bill at tax time. Public assistance and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) are not taxable.

Q: What if I searched for a job?

A: You may be able to deduct certain expenses you incurred while looking for a new job, even if you did not get a new job. Expenses include travel, resume preparation, and outplacement agency fees. Moving costs for a new job at least 50 miles away from your home may also be deductible.

Q: What if my employer went out of business or into bankruptcy?

A: Your employer must provide you with a W-2 Form showing your wages and withholdings by February 1 (the exact date may vary in a given tax year). You should keep up-to-date records or pay stubs until you receive your Form W-2. If your employer or its representatives fail to provide you with a Form W-2, contact the IRS. They can help by providing you with a substitute Form W-2. If your employer liquidated your 401(k) plan, you have 60 days to roll it over into another qualified retirement plan or IRA.

If you have experienced a job loss and have questions, please call. You need to be prepared for the tax consequences.

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Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs

Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs

The article re QCD says they receive a charitable contribution deduction versus they don’t have to claim as income and then forego the charitable contribution deduction.

If you’re age 70 1/2 or older, you can now take advantage of recent legislation allowing you to avoid paying income tax on IRA withdrawals transferred directly to a qualified charitable organization.

Referred to as Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs), they can also be used to satisfy all or part of your required minimum distribution. Here’s an example:

Let’s say your required minimum distribution in 2016 is $22,000. If you make a qualified charitable distribution of $15,000 for 2016, then you would need to withdraw another $7,000 to meet the amount required for your 2016 required minimum distribution.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) must be taken each year beginning with the year you turn age 70 1/2–whether you are still working or not. The RMD for each year is calculated by dividing the IRA account balance as of December 31 of the prior year by the applicable distribution period or life expectancy. This rule does not apply to your Roth IRAs.

What is a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD)?

Generally, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is an otherwise taxable distribution from an IRA (other than an ongoing SEP or SIMPLE IRA), that is owned by an individual who is age 70 1/2 or over that is paid directly from the IRA to a qualified charity.

What are the Rules?

Unlike most tax-related rules, the rules for QCDs are fairly straightforward:

  • You must be age 70 1/2 or older
  • The QCD must be made from a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, or individual retirement annuity, but not from a simplified employee pension, a simple retirement account or an inherited IRA
  • The QCD must be a direct transfer from the IRA trustee to the charitable organization
  • The organization must be one that qualifies for a charitable income tax deduction of an individual, that is, no private foundations (i.e. that give out grants)
  • The organization must acknowledge the charitable contribution similar to a charitable income tax deduction or donor advised fund

Tax Advantages of QCDs

Generally, taxable IRA distributions must be included in adjusted gross income (AGI)–even if donated to charity. You may be able to take a deduction for a charitable donation, but could be subject to a 50 percent AGI limitation, which means you wouldn’t be able to deduct the full amount in that tax year and might be subject to income tax on the difference.

QCDs bypass this potential problem because they are exempt from taxation–and you get to take the full amount of your QCD as a charitable deduction.

Another tax advantage to IRA withdrawals transferred directly to a qualified charitable organization is that it (the amount withdrawn) doesn’t increase your AGI. An increase in your AGI could, for example, increase your income tax on Social Security income or cause Medicare insurance premiums to increase. A higher AGI could also reduce deduction amounts for say, medical expenses, which are limited to amounts more than 10 percent of AGI (7.5 percent for those 65 and older in 2016).

In addition, because there is in effect, no addition to income on your tax return, you may be able to take the standard deduction (often a higher dollar amount and more beneficial than itemizing) and claim the deduction for a charitable contribution.

The $100,000 limit is an annual amount, so you can take advantage of a QCD for as many years as you wish–and it applies to each spouse’s IRA. As such up to $200,000 ($100,000 per spouse) could be donated in a given tax year and still qualify for the exclusion.

Reporting a QCD on your Income Tax Return

Charitable distributions are reported on Form 1099-R for the calendar year the distribution is made. You should receive Form 1099-R by February 1, 2017. To report a qualified charitable distribution on your Form 1040 tax return, you generally report the full amount of the charitable distribution on the line for IRA distributions. On the line for the taxable amount, enter zero if the full amount was a qualified charitable distribution and enter “QCD” next to this line.

You must also file Form 8606, Nondeductible IRAs, if you made the qualified charitable distribution from a traditional IRA in which you had basis and received a distribution from the IRA during the same year, other than the qualified charitable distribution; or the qualified charitable distribution was made from a Roth IRA.

Questions?

Don’t hesitate to call if you would like more information about qualified charitable distributions or have any questions about IRAs and minimum required distributions for IRAs and how it affects your taxes.

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Tax Planning Strategies to Use This Year

Tax Planning Strategies to Use This Year

Looking to save money on your taxes this year? It’s never too early to start planning ahead using these proven tax planning strategies.

Max Out Your 401(k) or Contribute to an IRA

You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating because it’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of saving money for your retirement.

Many employers offer plans where you can elect to defer a portion of your salary and contribute it to a tax-deferred retirement account. For most companies, these are referred to as 401(k) plans. For many other employers, such as universities, a similar plan called a 403(b) is available. Check with your employer about the availability of such a plan and contribute as much as possible to defer income and accumulate retirement assets.

Tip: Some employers match a portion of employee contributions to such plans. If this is available, you should structure your contributions to receive the maximum employer matching contribution.

If you have income from wages or self-employment income, you can build tax-sheltered investments by contributing to a traditional (pre-tax contributions) or a Roth IRA (after-tax contributions). You may also be able to contribute to a spousal IRA even when your spouse has little or no earned income.

Tip: To get the most from IRA contributions, fund the IRA as early as possible in the year. Also, pay the IRA trustee out of separate funds, not out of the amount in the IRA. Following these two rules will ensure that you get the most tax-deferred earnings possible from your money.

If You Have Your Own Business, Set Up and Contribute to a Retirement Plan

Similarly, if you have your own business, consider setting up and contributing as much as possible to a retirement plan. These are allowed even for a sideline or moonlighting businesses. Several types of plans are available which minimize the paperwork involved in establishing and administering such a plan.

Use the Gift-Tax Exclusion to Shift Income

In 2016, you can give away $14,000 ($28,000 if joined by a spouse) per donee, per year without paying federal gift tax. And, you can give $14,000 to as many donees as you like. The income on these transfers will then be taxed at the donee’s tax rate, which is in many cases lower.

Note: Special rules apply to children under age 18. Also, if you directly pay the medical or educational expenses of the donee, such gifts will not be subject to gift tax.

For gift tax purposes, contributions to Qualified Tuition Programs (Section 529) are treated as completed gifts even though the account owner has the right to withdraw them. As such, they qualify for the up-to-$14,000 annual gift tax exclusion in 2016. One contributing more than $14,000 may elect to treat the gift as made in equal installments over the year of gift and the following four years so that up to $56,000 can be given tax-free in the first year.

Consider Tax-Exempt Municipal Bonds

Interest on state or local municipal bonds is generally exempt from federal income tax and from tax by the issuing state or locality. For that reason, interest paid on such bonds is somewhat less than that paid on commercial bonds of comparable quality. However, for individuals in higher brackets, the interest from municipal bonds will often be greater than from higher paying commercial bonds after reduction for taxes. Gain on sale of municipal bonds is taxable and loss is deductible. Tax-exempt interest is sometimes an element in the computation of other tax items. Interest on loans to buy or carry tax-exempts is non-deductible.

Give Appreciated Assets to Charity

If you’re planning to make a charitable gift, it generally makes more sense to give appreciated long-term capital assets to the charity, instead of selling the assets and giving the charity the after-tax proceeds. Donating the assets instead of the cash prevents your having to pay capital gains tax on the sale, which can result in considerable savings, depending on your tax bracket and the amount of tax that would be due on the sale. Additionally, you can obtain a tax deduction for the fair market value of the property.

Tip: Many taxpayers also give depreciated assets to charity. Deduction is for fair market value; no loss deduction is allowed for depreciation in value of a personal asset. Depending on the item donated, there may be strict valuation rules and deduction limits.

Tip: Taxpayers age 70 1/2 and older can take advantage of tax benefits associated with Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs)–IRA withdrawals that are transferred directly to a qualified charitable organization. See the article, Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs, below, for additional details.

Keep Track of Mileage Driven for Business, Medical or Charitable Purposes

If you drive your car for business, medical or charitable purposes, you may be entitled to a deduction for miles driven. For 2016, it’s 54 cents per mile for business, 19 cents for medical and moving purposes, and 14 cents for service for charitable organizations. You need to keep detailed daily records of the mileage driven for these purposes to substantiate the deduction.

Take Advantage of Employer Benefit Plans Such as Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Spending Accounts (HSAs)

Medical and dental expenses are generally only deductible to the extent they exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). For most individuals, particularly those with high income, this eliminates the possibility for a deduction.

However, you can effectively get a deduction for these items if your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account (sometimes called a cafeteria plan). These plans permit you to redirect a portion of your salary to pay these types of expenses with pre-tax dollars. Another such arrangement is a Health Savings Account. Ask your employer if they provide either of these plans.

If Self-Employed, Take Advantage of Special Deductions

You may be able to expense up to $500,000 in 2016 for qualified equipment purchases for use in your business immediately instead of writing it off over many years. Additionally, self-employed individuals can deduct 100 percent of their health insurance premiums as business expenses. You may also be able to establish a Keogh, SEP or SIMPLE IRA plan, or a Health Savings Account, as mentioned above.

If You’re Self-Employed, Hire Your Child in the Business

If your child is under age 18, he or she is not subject to employment taxes such as FICA and federal unemployment taxes from your unincorporated business (income taxes still apply). In addition, your child may be able to contribute to an IRA using earned income. This will reduce your income for both income and employment tax purposes and shift assets to the child at the same time; however, you cannot hire your child if he or she in under the age of 8 years old.

Take Out a Home-Equity Loan

Most consumer-related interest expense, such as from car loans or credit cards, is not deductible. Interest on a home equity loan, however, can be deductible. It may be advisable to take out a home-equity loan to pay off other nondeductible obligations.

Bunch Your Itemized Deductions

Certain itemized deductions, such as medical or employment related expenses, are only deductible if they exceed a certain amount. It may be advantageous to delay payments in one year and prepay them in the next year to bunch the expenses in one year. This way you stand a better chance of getting a deduction.

A word about proper documentation…

Unfortunately, many taxpayers forgo worthwhile tax credits and deductions because they have neglected to keep proper receipts or records. Keeping adequate records is required by the IRS for employee business expenses, deductible travel and entertainment expenses, and charitable gifts and travel, and more.

But don’t do it just because the IRS says so. Neglecting to track these deductions can lead to overlooking them.

You also need to maintain records regarding your income. If your receive a large tax-free amount, such as a gift or inheritance, make certain to document the item so that the IRS does not later claim that you had unreported income.

It’s never too early to get started on tax planning for 2016 and beyond. Call the office today and find out how you can save money on your taxes this year.

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What to Do if You Haven’t Filed a Tax Return

What to Do if You Haven’t Filed a Tax Return

Filing a past due return may not be as difficult as you think.

Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether full payment can be made with the return. Depending on an individual’s circumstances, a taxpayer filing late may qualify for a payment plan. It is important, however, to know that full payment of taxes upfront saves you money.

Here’s What to Do When Your Return Is Late

Monday, April 18, 2016, was the tax deadline for most taxpayers to file their 2015 tax return. If you didn’t file a tax return or an extension to file but should have, take action now.

First, gather any and all information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed, then call the office.

If you’re owed money, then the sooner you file, the sooner you’ll get your refund. If you owe taxes, you should file and pay as soon as you can, which will stop the interest and penalties that you will owe.

If you owe money but can’t pay the IRS in full, you should pay as much as you can when you file your tax return to minimize penalties and interest.

Payment Options – Ways to Make a Payment

There are several different ways to make a payment on your taxes. Payments can be made by credit card, electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier’s check, or cash. If you pay your federal taxes using a major credit card or debit card, there is no IRS fee for credit or debit card payments, but the processing companies charge a convenience fee or flat fee.

Payment Options – For Those Who Can’t Pay in Full

Taxpayers unable to pay all taxes due on a tax bill are encouraged to pay as much as possible. By paying as much as possible now, the amount of interest and penalties owed will be less than if you do not pay anything at all. Based on individual circumstances, a taxpayer could qualify for an extension of time to pay, an installment agreement, a temporary delay, or an offer in compromise. Please call if you have questions about any of these options.

When it comes to paying your tax bill, it is important to review all your options; the interest rate on a loan or credit card may be lower than the combination of penalties and interest imposed by the Internal Revenue Code. You should pay as much as possible before entering into an installment agreement.

For individuals, IRS Direct Pay is a fast and free way to pay directly from your checking or savings account. Taxpayers who need more time to pay can set up either a short-term payment extension or a monthly payment plan. Most people can set up a payment plan using the Online Payment Agreement tool on IRS.gov.

  • A short-term extension gives a taxpayer an additional 60 to 120 days to pay. No fee is charged, but the late-payment penalty plus interest will apply. Generally, taxpayers will pay less in penalties and interest than if the debt were repaid through an installment agreement over a greater period of time.
  • A monthly payment plan or installment agreement gives a taxpayer more time to pay. However, penalties and interest will continue to be charged on the unpaid portion of the debt throughout the duration of the installment agreement/payment plan.

    Taxpayers who owe $25,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest can apply for and receive immediate notification of approval through an IRS web-based application. Balances over $25,000 require taxpayers to complete a financial statement to determine the monthly payment amount for an installment plan.

    A user fee will also be charged if the installment agreement is approved. The fee, normally $120, is reduced to $52 if taxpayers agree to make their monthly payments electronically through electronic funds withdrawal. The fee is $43 for eligible low-and-moderate-income taxpayers.

  • Starting in 2016, individual taxpayers who do not have a bank account or credit card and need to pay their tax bill using cash, are now able to make a payment at one or more than 7,000 7-Eleven stores nationwide. Individuals wishing to take advantage of this payment option should visit the IRS.gov payments page, select the cash option in the other ways you can pay section and follow the instructions.

Penalties for Filing a Late Tax Return

If you are due a refund there is no penalty if you file a late tax return. If you owe tax, and you failed to file and pay on time, you will most likely owe interest and penalties on the tax you pay late. Here are some facts that you should know about penalties for filing a late return:

Two penalties may apply. One penalty is for filing late and one is for paying late. They can add up fast. Interest accrues on top of the penalties.

Penalty for late filing. If you file your 2015 tax return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is $205 or, if you owe less than $205, 100 percent of the unpaid tax. Otherwise, the penalty can be as much as five percent of your unpaid taxes each month up to a maximum of 25 percent.

Penalty for late payment. The penalty is generally 0.5 percent of your unpaid taxes per month. It can build up to as much as 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

Combined penalty per month. If both the late filing and late payment penalties apply, the maximum amount charged for the two penalties is 5 percent per month.

Late payment penalty may not apply. If you requested an extension of time to file your income tax return by the tax due date and paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe, you may not face a failure-to-pay penalty. However, you must pay the remaining balance by the extended due date. You will owe interest on any taxes you pay after the April 18 due date.

File even if you can’t pay. Filing on time and paying as much as you can keeps your interest and penalties to a minimum. If you can’t pay in full, getting a loan or paying by debit or credit card may be less expensive than owing the IRS. If you do owe the IRS, the sooner you pay your bill the less you will owe.

What Happens If You Don’t File a Past Due Return or Contact the IRS?

It’s important to understand the ramifications of not filing a past due return and the steps that the IRS will take. Taxpayers who continue to not file a required return and fail to respond to IRS requests for a return may be considered for a variety of enforcement actions.

Don’t Wait!

If you haven’t filed a tax return yet, call the office today to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

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What Income is Taxable?

What Income is Taxable?

Are you wondering if there’s a hard and fast rule about what income is taxable and what income is not taxable? The quick answer is that all income is taxable unless the law specifically excludes it. But as you might have guessed, there’s more to it than that.

Taxable income includes any money you receive, such as wages and tips, but it can also include non-cash income from property or services. For example, both parties in a barter exchange must include the fair market value of goods or services received as income on their tax return.

Nontaxable Income

Here are some types of income that are usually not taxable:

  • Gifts and inheritances
  • Child support payments
  • Welfare benefits
  • Damage awards for physical injury or sickness
  • Cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer for an item you buy
  • Reimbursements for qualified adoption expenses

In addition, some types of income are not taxable except under certain conditions, including:

  • Life insurance proceeds paid to you because of the death of the insured person are usually not taxable. However, if you redeem a life insurance policy for cash, any amount that is more than the cost of the policy is taxable.
  • Income from a qualified scholarship is normally not taxable. This means that amounts you use for certain costs, such as tuition and required books, are not taxable. However, amounts you use for room and board are taxable.
  • If you received a state or local income tax refund, the amount may be taxable. You should have received a 2015 Form 1099-G from the agency that made the payment to you. If you didn’t get it by mail, the agency may have provided the form electronically. Contact them to find out how to get the form. Be sure to report any taxable refund you received even if you did not receive Form 1099-G.

Important Reminders about Tip Income

If you get tips on the job from customers, that income is subject to taxes. Here’s what you should keep in mind when it comes to receiving tips on the job:

  • Tips are taxable. You must pay federal income tax on any tips you receive. The value of non-cash tips, such as tickets, passes or other items of value are also subject to income tax.
  • Include all tips on your income tax return. You must include the total of all tips you received during the year on your income tax return. This includes tips directly from customers, tips added to credit cards and your share of tips received under a tip-splitting agreement with other employees.
  • Report tips to your employer. If you receive $20 or more in tips in any one month, from any one job, you must report your tips for that month to your employer. The report should only include cash, check, debit and credit card tips you receive. Your employer is required to withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on the reported tips. Do not report the value of any noncash tips to your employer.
  • Keep a daily log of tips. Use the Employee’s Daily Record of Tips and Report to Employer (IRS Publication 1244), to record your tips.

Bartering Income is Taxable

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Small businesses sometimes barter to get products or services they need. For example, a plumber might trade plumbing work with a dentist for dental services. Typically, there is no exchange of cash.

If you barter, the value of products or services from bartering is taxable income. Here are four facts about bartering that you should be aware of:

1. Barter exchanges. A barter exchange is an organized marketplace where members barter products or services. Some exchanges operate out of an office and others over the Internet. All barter exchanges are required to issue Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions. The exchange must give a copy of the form to its members who barter and file a copy with the IRS.

2. Bartering income. Barter and trade dollars are the same as real dollars for tax purposes and must be reported on a tax return. Both parties must report as income the fair market value of the product or service they get.

3. Tax implications. Bartering is taxable in the year it occurs. The tax rules may vary based on the type of bartering that takes place. Barterers may owe income taxes, self-employment taxes, employment taxes or excise taxes on their bartering income.

4. Reporting rules. How you report bartering on a tax return varies. If you are in a trade or business, you normally report it on Form 1040, Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business.

If you have any questions about taxable and nontaxable income, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

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Estimated Tax Payments: Q & A

Estimated Tax Payments: Q & A

Estimated tax is the method used to pay tax on income that is not subject to withholding. This includes income from self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent, gains from the sale of assets, prizes and awards. You also may have to pay estimated tax if the amount of income tax being withheld from your salary, pension, or other income is not enough. If you do not pay enough by the due date of each payment period you may be charged a penalty even if you are due a refund when you file your tax return.

How do I know if I need to file quarterly individual estimated tax payments?

If you owed additional tax for the prior tax year, you may have to make estimated tax payments for the current tax year. The first estimated payment for 2016 is due April 18, 2016.

If you are filing as a sole proprietor, partner, S corporation shareholder, and/or a self-employed individual, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when you file your return.

If you are filing as a corporation you generally have to make estimated tax payments for your corporation if you expect it to owe tax of $500 or more when you file its return.

If you had a tax liability for the prior year, you may have to pay estimated tax for the current year; however, if you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings.

Note: There are special rules for farmers, fishermen, certain household employers, and certain higher taxpayers.

Who Does Not Have To Pay Estimated Tax

You do not have to pay estimated tax for the current year if you meet all three of the following conditions:

  • You had no tax liability for the prior year
  • You were a U.S. citizen or resident for the whole year
  • Your prior tax year covered a 12-month period

If you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings. To do this, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. There is a special line on Form W-4 for you to enter the additional amount you want your employer to withhold.

You had no tax liability for the prior year if your total tax was zero or you did not have to file an income tax return.

How Do I Figure Estimated Tax?

To figure your estimated tax, you must figure out your expected adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions, and credits for the year. If you estimated your earnings too high, simply complete another Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals worksheet to refigure your estimated tax for the next quarter. If you estimated your earnings too low, again complete another Form 1040-ES worksheet to recalculate your estimated tax for the next quarter.

Try to estimate your income as accurately as you can to avoid penalties due to underpayment. Generally, most taxpayers will avoid this penalty if they owe less than $1,000 in tax after subtracting their withholdings and credits, or if they paid at least 90 percent of the tax for the current year, or 100 percent of the tax shown on the return for the prior year, whichever is smaller.

Tip: When figuring your estimated tax for the current year, it may be helpful to use your income, deductions, and credits for the prior year as a starting point. Use your prior year’s federal tax return as a guide and use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES to figure your estimated tax.

You must make adjustments both for changes in your own situation and for recent changes in the tax law.

When Do I Pay Estimated Taxes?

For estimated tax purposes, the year is divided into four payment periods and each period has a specific payment due date. For the 2016 tax year, these dates are April 18, September 15, June 15, and January 17, 2017. You do not have to pay estimated taxes in January if you file your 2016 tax return by January 31, 2017, and pay the entire balance due with your return.

Note: If you do not pay enough tax by the due date of each of the payment periods, you may be charged a penalty even if you are due a refund when you file your income tax return.

The easiest way for individuals as well as businesses to pay their estimated federal taxes is to use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). Make ALL of your federal tax payments including federal tax deposits (FTDs), installment agreement and estimated tax payments using EFTPS. If it is easier to pay your estimated taxes weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. you can, as long as you have paid enough in by the end of the quarter. Using EFTPS, you can access a history of your payments, so you know how much and when you made your estimated tax payments.

Please call if you are not sure whether you need to make an estimated tax payment or need assistance setting up EFTPS.

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ACA Tax Facts for Individuals and Families

ACA Tax Facts for Individuals and Families

The Affordable Care Act contains two provisions that may affect your tax return this year: the individual shared responsibility provision and the premium tax credit. Here’s what you should know:

Information Forms: 1095-A, 1095-B, and 1095-C

This year marks the first time that certain taxpayers will receive new health-care related information forms that they can use to complete their tax return and then keep with their tax records.

These forms are used to report health coverage information for you, your spouse and any dependents when you file your 2015 individual income tax return in 2016. These forms are also filed with the IRS. Depending upon your specific circumstances, (i.e. whether you receive health insurance from the Health Insurance Marketplace, health coverage providers, or certain employers), you should have received one or more of these forms in early 2016. There are three types of information forms:

Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. The Health Insurance Marketplace sends this form to individuals who enrolled in coverage there, with information about the coverage, who was covered, and when. This is the second year in which the Marketplace is issuing Form 1095-A to enrollees. The deadline for the Marketplace to provide Form 1095-A is February 1, 2016.

Form 1095-B, Health Coverage. Health insurance providers (e.g. health insurance companies) send this form to individuals they cover, with information about who was covered and when.

Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage. Employers that offer health coverage referred to as “self-insured coverage” send this form to individuals they cover, with information about who was covered and when. The deadline for coverage providers to provide Forms 1095-B and employers to provide Form 1095-C is March 31, 2016.

Some taxpayers may not have received a Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C by the time they are ready to file their 2015 tax return. It is not necessary to wait for Forms 1095-B or 1095-C in order to file. Taxpayers may instead rely on other information about their health coverage and employer offer to prepare their returns.

Note: These new forms should not be attached to your income tax return.

Individual Shared Responsibility Provision

The individual shared responsibility provision requires everyone on your tax return (you, your spouse, and dependents) to have qualifying health care coverage for each month of the year or have a coverage exemption. Otherwise, you may be required to make an individual shared responsibility payment.

The key elements of the individual shared responsibility provision are as follows:

  • If you maintain qualifying healthcare coverage for the entire year, you don’t need to do anything more than report that coverage on your federal income tax return by simply checking a box. Qualifying coverage includes most employer-sponsored coverage, coverage obtained through a Health Insurance Marketplace, coverage through most government-sponsored programs, as well as certain other specified health plans.
  • If you go without coverage or experience a gap in coverage, you may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have coverage (see below). If you qualify for an exemption, use Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, to report a coverage exemption granted by the Marketplace or to claim a coverage exemption on your tax return.

    If for any month during the year you don’t have qualifying coverage and you don’t qualify for an exemption, you will have to make an individual shared responsibility payment when you file your federal income tax return.

  • The payment amount for 2015 is the greater of 2 percent of the household income above the taxpayer’s filing threshold, or $325 per adult plus $162.50 per child (limited to a family maximum of $975). This payment is capped at the cost of the national average premium for a bronze level health plan available through Marketplaces that would provide coverage for the taxpayer’s family members that neither had qualifying coverage nor qualify for a coverage exemption.

    The instructions for Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, provide the information needed to calculate the payment that will be reported on your federal income tax return.

Health Coverage Exemptions

Individuals who go without coverage or experience a gap in coverage may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have coverage.

  • You may qualify for an exemption if one of the following applies:
    • You do not have access to affordable coverage
    • You have a one-time gap of less than three consecutive months without coverage
    • You qualify for one of several other exemptions, including a hardship exemption

How you get an exemption depends on the type of exemption. You can obtain some exemptions only from the Marketplace in the area where you live, others only from the IRS when filing your income tax return, and others from either the Marketplace or the IRS.

If you qualify for an exemption, you use Form 8965 to report a coverage exemption granted by the Marketplace or to claim a coverage exemption on your tax return.

Premium Tax Credit

The premium tax credit (PTC) is a credit that helps eligible individuals and families with low or moderate income afford health insurance purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Claiming the premium tax credit may increase your refund or lower the amount of tax that you would otherwise owe.

If you did not get advance credit payments in 2015, you can claim the full benefit of the premium tax credit that you are allowed when you file your tax return. You must file Form 8962 to claim the PTC on your tax return.

More Information

Please call the office is you would like more information about the premium tax credit or the individual shared responsibility payment.

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Last Minute Filing Tips for 2015 Tax Returns

Last Minute Filing Tips for 2015 Tax Returns

Are you one of the millions of Americans who hasn’t filed (or even started) your taxes yet? With the April 18 tax filing deadline quickly approaching, here is some last minute tax advice for you.

1. Stop Procrastinating. Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the very last minute. It takes time to prepare accurate returns and additional information may be needed from you to complete your tax return.

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 18 (April 19, in Maine and Massachusetts). If the clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension, bringing the filing date to October 17, 2016. 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 the office if you need to file an extension or file for late-filing penalty relief.

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.

Remember: To avoid delays, get your tax documents to the office as soon as you can.

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IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2016

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2016

Compiled annually by the IRS, the “Dirty Dozen” is a list of common scams taxpayers may encounter in the coming months. While many of these scams peak during the tax filing season, they may be encountered at any time during the year. Here is this year’s list:

1. Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Taxpayers should use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues because scams can take on many sophisticated forms, according to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Taxpayers should secure personal information by protecting their computers and only giving out Social Security numbers when absolutely necessary.

2. Phone Scams

Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers. In recent weeks, the agency has seen a surge of these phone scams as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things.

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robocalls,” or via a phishing email.

Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

3. Phishing

Phishing schemes using fake emails or websites are used by criminals to try to steal personal information. Typically, criminals pose as a person or organization you trust and/or recognize. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name, or pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider or government agency. These criminals go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages, hoping that victims will take the bait so they can steal the victim’s money, passwords, Social Security number and identity.

Scam emails and websites also can infect your computer with malware without you even knowing it. The malware can give the criminal access to your device, enabling them to access all your sensitive files or track your keyboard strokes, exposing login information.

4. Tax Return Preparer Fraud

About 60 percent of taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but there are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season. Well-intentioned taxpayers can be misled by preparers who don’t understand taxes or who mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to in order to increase their fee.

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

5. Hiding Money or Income Offshore

Through the years, offshore accounts have been used to lure taxpayers into scams and schemes. Numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities and then using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

6. Inflated Refund

Taxpayers should be on the lookout for unscrupulous tax return preparers pushing inflated tax refund claims. Scam artists routinely pose as tax preparers during tax time, luring victims in by promising large federal tax refunds or refunds that people never dreamed they were due in the first place. They might, for example, promise inflated refunds based on fictitious Social Security benefits and false claims for education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or the American Opportunity Tax Credit, among others.

Scammers use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and even word of mouth to throw out a wide net for victims. They may even spread the word through community groups or churches where trust is high. Scammers frequently prey on people such as the elderly or non-English speakers, who may or may not have a filing requirement.

Because taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their returns (even if it was prepared by someone else), those who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.

7. Fake Charities

Taxpayers should be aware that phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. For instance, following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists use a variety of tactics including contacting people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds. They may also attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources.

8. Falsely Padding Deductions

The vast majority of taxpayers file honest and accurate tax returns on time every year. However, each year some taxpayers fail to resist the temptation of fudging their information. That’s why falsely claiming deductions, expenses or credits on tax returns is on the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams list for the 2016 filing season. The IRS warns taxpayers that they should think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions, padding their claimed business expenses or including credits that they are not entitled to receive. Avoid the temptation of falsely inflating deductions or expenses on your return to underpay what you owe and possibly receive larger refunds.

9. Excessive Claims for Business Credits

Improper claims for business credits such as the fuel tax and the research credit are also on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list this year. The fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use or use in farming. Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. Still, the IRS routinely finds unscrupulous preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim the credit to inflate their refunds. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

The research credit is an important feature in the tax code to foster research and experimentation by the private sector; however, the IRS does see a significant amount of misuse of the research credit each year. Improper claims for the research credit generally involve failures to participate in or substantiate qualified research activities and/or satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses.

10. Falsifying Income

This scam involves inflating or including income on a tax return that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income, usually in order to maximize refundable credits. Just like falsely claiming an expense or deduction you did not pay, claiming income you did not earn in order to secure larger refundable credits could have serious repercussions. Well-intentioned taxpayers can be misled by tax preparers who don’t understand taxes or who mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to in order to increase their fee.

Remember: Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Make sure the preparer you hire is ethical and up to the task.

11. Abusive Tax Shelters

Phony tax shelters and structures to avoid paying taxes continues to be a problem and taxpayers should steer clear of these types of schemes as they can end up costing taxpayers more in back taxes, penalties, and interest than they saved in the first place.

Abusive tax schemes have evolved from simple structuring of abusive domestic and foreign trust arrangements into sophisticated strategies that take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit/debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions. For example, multiple flow-through entities are commonly used as part of a taxpayer’s scheme to evade taxes. These schemes may use Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs), International Business Companies (IBCs), foreign financial accounts, offshore credit/debit cards and other similar instruments. They are designed to conceal the true nature and ownership of the taxable income and/or assets.

Trusts also commonly show up in abusive tax structures. They are highlighted here because unscrupulous promoters continue to urge taxpayers to transfer large amounts of assets into trusts. These assets include not only cash and investments but also successful on-going businesses. There are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, but the IRS commonly sees highly questionable transactions. These transactions promise reduced taxable income, inflated deductions for personal expenses, reduced (even to zero) self-employment taxes, and reduced estate or gift transfer taxes. These transactions commonly arise when taxpayers are transferring wealth from one generation to another.

Another abuse involving a legitimate tax structure involves certain small or “micro” captive insurance companies. In the abusive structure, unscrupulous promoters, accountants, or wealth planners persuade the owners of closely held entities to participate in these schemes. The promoters assist the owners to create captive insurance companies onshore or offshore and cause the creation and sale of the captive “insurance” policies to the closely held entities. The promoters manage the entities’ captive insurance companies for substantial fees, assisting taxpayers unsophisticated in insurance, to continue the charade from year to year.

12. Frivolous Tax Arguments

Taxpayers are also warned against using frivolous tax arguments to avoid paying their taxes. Examples include contentions that taxpayers can refuse to pay taxes on religious or moral grounds by invoking the First Amendment or that the only “employees” subject to federal income tax are employees of the federal government; and that only foreign-source income is taxable.

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. These arguments are wrong and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes. The penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a tax scam, don’t hesitate to call.

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Who Should File a 2015 Tax Return?

Who Should File a 2015 Tax Return?

Most people file a tax return because they have to, but even if you don’t, there are times when you should because you might be eligible for a tax refund and not know it. This year, there are a few new rules for taxpayers who must file. The six tax tips below should help you determine whether you’re one of them.

1. General Filing Rules. Whether you need to file a tax return this year depends on a few factors. In most cases, the amount of your income, your filing status, and your age determine if you must file a tax return. For example, if you’re single and 28 years old you must file if your income, was at least $10,300. Other rules may apply if you’re self-employed or if you’re a dependent of another person. There are also other cases when you must file. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.

2. Premium Tax Credit. If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015, you might be eligible for the Premium Tax Credit; however, you will need to file a return to claim the credit.

If you purchased coverage from the Marketplace in 2015 and chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit sent directly to your insurer during the year, you must file a federal tax return. You will reconcile any advance payments with the allowable premium tax credit.

You should have received Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, in February. The new form has information that helps you file your tax return and reconcile any advance payments with the allowable Premium Tax Credit.

3. Tax Withheld or Paid. Did your employer withhold federal income tax from your pay? Did you make estimated tax payments? Did you overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be due a refund. But you have to file a tax return to get it.

4. Earned Income Tax Credit. Did you work and earn less than $53,267 last year? You could receive EITC as a tax refund if you qualify with or without a qualifying child. You may be eligible for up to $6,242. If you qualify, file a tax return to claim it.

5. Additional Child Tax Credit. Do you have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If you don’t get the full credit amount, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit.

6. American Opportunity Credit. The AOTC (up to $2,500 per eligible student) is available for four years of post-secondary education. You or your dependent must have been a student enrolled at least half-time for at least one academic period. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify; however, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim the credit.

Which Tax Form is Right for You?

You can generally use the 1040EZ if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000;
  • Your filing status is single or married filing jointly;
  • You don’t claim dependents; and
  • Your interest income is $1,500 or less.

Note: You can’t use Form 1040EZ to claim the new Premium Tax Credit. You also can’t use this form if you received advance payments of this credit in 2015.

The 1040A may be best for you if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000;
  • You have capital gain distributions;
  • You claim certain tax credits; and
  • You claim adjustments to income for IRA contributions and student loan interest.

You must use the 1040 if:

  • Your taxable income is $100,000 or more;
  • You claim itemized deductions;
  • You report self-employment income; or
  • You report income from sale of a property.

Questions?

Help is just a phone call away. Call or make an appointment now and get the answers you need today.

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Six Overlooked Tax Breaks for Individuals

Six Overlooked Tax Breaks for Individuals

Confused about which credits and deductions you can claim on your 2015 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 last-minute tax extender legislation passed in December, taxpayers filing their 2015 returns can still deduct either state income tax paid or state sales tax paid, whichever is greater.

Here’s how it works. If you bought a big-ticket item like a car or boat in 2015, 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 2014 tax return in 2015, you can include the amount when you itemize your state taxes this year on your 2015 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 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses per dependent.

3. Job Search Expenses

Job search expenses are 100 percent 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 two percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Also, you cannot deduct job search expenses if you are looking for a job for the first time.

4. Student Loan Interest Paid by Parents

Typically, a taxpayer is only able to deduct interest on mortgage and student loans if he or she is liable for the debt; however, if a parent pays back their child’s student loans that 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 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for tax year 2015. What they often don’t realize is which medical expenses can be deducted, such as medical miles (23 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 those premiums 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? Call the office today and make sure you get all of the tax breaks you deserve.

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Energy Tax Credits Expire at the end of 2016

Certain energy-efficient home improvements can cut your energy bills and save you money at tax time; however, these energy-related tax credits expire at the end of 2016. Here are some key facts that you should know about home energy tax credits:

Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit

  • Part of this credit is worth 10 percent of the cost of certain qualified energy-saving items you added to your main home last year. This may include items such as insulation, windows, doors, and roofs.
  • The other part of the credit is not a percentage of the cost. This part of the credit is for the actual cost of certain property. This may include items such as water heaters and heating and air conditioning systems. The credit amount for each type of property has a different dollar limit.
  • This credit has a maximum lifetime limit of $500. You may only use $200 of this limit for windows.
  • Your main home must be located in the U.S. to qualify for the credit.
  • Be sure you have the written certification from the manufacturer that their product qualifies for this tax credit. They usually post it on their website or include it with the product’s packaging. You can rely on it to claim the credit, but do not attach it to your return. Keep it with your tax records.
  • You must place qualifying improvements in service in your principal residence by Dec. 31, 2016.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

  • This tax credit is 30 percent of the cost of alternative energy equipment installed on or in your home.
  • Qualified equipment includes solar hot water heaters, solar electric equipment, wind turbines and fuel cell property.
  • Qualified wind turbine and fuel cell property must be placed into service by Dec. 31, 2016. Hot water heaters and solar electric equipment must be placed into service by Dec. 31, 2021.
  • The tax credit for qualified fuel cell property is limited to $500 for each one-half kilowatt of capacity. The amount for other qualified expenditures does not have a limit. If your credit is more than the tax you owe, you can carry forward the unused portion of this credit to next year’s tax return.
  • The home must be in the U.S. It does not have to be your main home unless the alternative energy equipment is qualified fuel cell property.
  • Use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits, to claim these credits.

Questions?

For more information about this topic please call.

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Tax Due Dates for November 2016

Anytime

Employers – Income Tax Withholding. Ask employees whose withholding allowances will be different in 2017 to fill out a new Form W-4. The 2017 revision of Form W-4 will be available on the IRS website by mid-December.

November 10

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during October, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

November 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

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Tax Tips for Separated or Divorced Individuals

If you are recently separated or divorced, taxes may be the last thing on your mind; however, these events can have a big impact on your wallet at tax time. Alimony, or a name or address change, are just a few items you may need to consider. Here are a few key tax tips to keep in mind:

1. Child Support. Child support payments are not deductible and if you received child support, it is not taxable.

2. Alimony Paid. You can deduct alimony paid to or for a spouse or former spouse under a divorce or separation decree, regardless of whether you itemize deductions. Voluntary payments made outside a divorce or separation decree are not deductible. You must enter your spouse’s Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number on your Form 1040 when you file.

3. Alimony Received. If you get alimony from your spouse or former spouse, it is taxable in the year you get it. Alimony is not subject to tax withholding so you may need to increase the tax you pay during the year to avoid a penalty. To do this, you can make estimated tax payments or increase the amount of tax withheld from your wages.

4. Spousal IRA. If you get a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance by the end of your tax year, you can’t deduct contributions you make to your former spouse’s traditional IRA. You may be able to deduct contributions you make to your own traditional IRA.

5. Name Changes. If you change your name after your divorce, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You can get the form on the Social Security Administration’s website (SSA.gov) or call 800-772-1213 to order it. The name on your tax return must match SSA records. A name mismatch can cause problems in the processing of your return and may delay your refund.

6. Health Care Law Considerations

Special Marketplace Enrollment Period. If you lose health insurance coverage due to divorce, you are still required to have coverage for every month of the year for yourself and the dependents you can claim on your tax return. You may enroll in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during a Special Enrollment Period if you lose coverage due to a divorce.

The Special Enrollment Period (SEP) is defined as a specific length of time outside the yearly Open Enrollment Period when you can sign up for health insurance. You qualify for a Special Enrollment Period if you’ve had certain life events, including losing health coverage, moving, getting married, having a baby, or adopting a child.

If you qualify for the SEP, you generally have up to 60 days following the event to enroll in a plan. If you miss that window, you have to wait until the next Open Enrollment Period to apply.

Changes in Circumstances. If you purchase health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you may get advance payments of the premium tax credit. If you do, you should report changes in circumstances to your Marketplace throughout the year. These changes include a change in marital status, a name change, a change of address, and a change in your income or family size. Reporting these changes will help make sure that you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance. This will also help you avoid getting too much or too little credit in advance.

Shared Policy Allocation. If you divorced or are legally separated during the tax year and are enrolled in the same qualified health plan, you and your former spouse must allocate policy amounts on your separate tax returns to figure your premium tax credit and reconcile any advance payments made on your behalf. Please call the office if you have any questions about the Shared Policy Allocation.

If you need more information about tax rules related to divorce or separation, please call the office.

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Tax Relief for Drought-Stricken Farmers

Farmers and ranchers who previously were forced to sell livestock due to drought, like the drought currently affecting much of the nation, have an extended period of time in which to replace the livestock and defer tax on any gains from the forced sales. The relief applies to all or part of 37 states and Puerto Rico.

The one-year extension of the replacement period generally applies to capital gains realized by eligible farmers and ranchers on sales of livestock held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes due to drought. Sales of other livestock, such as those raised for slaughter or held for sporting purposes, and poultry are not eligible.

Farmers and ranchers in these areas whose drought sale replacement period was scheduled to expire at the end of this tax year, Dec. 31, 2016, in most cases, will now have until the end of their next tax year. Because the normal drought sale replacement period is four years, this extension immediately impacts drought sales that occurred during 2012. But because of previous drought-related extensions affecting some of these localities, the replacement periods for some drought sales before 2012 are also affected. Additional extensions will be granted if severe drought conditions persist.

The IRS is providing this relief to any farm located in a county, parish, city, borough, census area or district, listed as suffering exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions by the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), during any weekly period between Sept. 1, 2015, and Aug. 31, 2016. Any county that borders a county listed by the NDMC also qualifies for this relief.

A taxpayer may determine whether exceptional, extreme, or severe drought is reported for any location in the applicable region by reference to U.S. Drought Monitor maps that are produced on a weekly basis by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

In addition, in September of each year, the IRS publishes a list of counties, districts, cities, boroughs, census areas or parishes (hereinafter “counties”) for which exceptional, extreme, or severe drought was reported during the preceding 12 months. Taxpayers may use this list instead of U.S. Drought Monitor maps to determine whether exceptional, extreme, or severe drought has been reported for any location in the applicable region.

To summarize:

  1. If the drought caused you to sell more livestock than usual, you may be able to defer tax on the extra gains from those sales.
  2. You generally must replace the livestock within a four-year period; however, the IRS has the authority to extend the period if the drought continues. For this reason, the IRS has added an additional year to the replacement year.
  3. The one-year extension of time authorized by the IRS generally applies to certain sales due to drought.
  4. If you are eligible, your gains on sales of livestock that you held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes apply.
  5. Sales of other livestock, such as those you raised for slaughter or held for sporting purposes and poultry, are not eligible.
  6. The IRS relief applies to farms in areas suffering exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions. The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) has listed all or parts of 37 states that qualify for relief (see above). Any county that is contiguous to a county that is on the NDMC’s list also qualifies.
  7. This extension immediately impacts drought sales that occurred during 2012. However, the IRS has granted previous extensions that affect some of these localities. This means that some drought sales before 2012 are also affected. Further, the IRS will grant additional extensions if severe drought conditions persist.

If you have any questions about whether you’re eligible for this particular tax relief, don’t hesitate to call.

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Employers: Terms to Know about Health Coverage

Under the Affordable Care Act, certain employers–known as applicable large employers–are subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions. You might be thinking about these topics as you make plans about 2017 health coverage for your employees.

If you are an employer that is subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions, you may choose either to offer affordable minimum essential coverage that provides minimum value to your full-time employees and their dependents or to potentially owe an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS.

Here are definitions of key terms related to health coverage you might offer to employees:

Affordable coverage: If the lowest cost self-only only health plan is 9.5 percent or less of your full-time employee’s household income, then the coverage is considered affordable. Because you likely will not know your employee’s household income, for purposes of the employer shared responsibility provisions, you can determine whether you offered affordable coverage under various safe harbors based on information available to you as the employer.

Minimum essential coverage: For purposes of reporting by applicable large employers, minimum essential coverage means coverage under an employer-sponsored plan. It does not include fixed indemnity coverage, life insurance or dental or vision coverage.

Minimum value coverage: An employer-sponsored plan provides minimum value if it covers at least 60 percent of the total allowed cost of benefits that are expected to be incurred under the plan.

Help is Just a Phone Call Away

Please call if you have any questions or need more information about the employer shared responsibility provisions.

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Tips for Taxpayers about Charity Travel Expenses

Do you plan to donate your time to charity this year? If travel is part of your charitable giving, for example, driving your personal auto to collect donations from local business, you may be able to these travel expenses on your tax return and lower your tax bill. Here are five tax tips you should know if you travel while giving your services to charity.

1. Qualified Charities. To deduct your costs, your volunteer work must be for a qualified charity. Most groups must apply to the IRS to become qualified. Churches and governments are generally qualified and do not need to apply to the IRS. Ask the group about its status before you donate. You can also use the “Exempt Organizations Select Check” search tool on IRS.gov to check a group’s status or call the office.

2. Out-of-Pocket Expenses. You can’t deduct the value of your services that you give to charity. But you may be able to deduct some out-of-pocket costs you pay to give your services. This can include the cost of travel, but they must be necessary while you are away from home. All out-of-pocket costs must be:

  • Unreimbursed,
  • Directly connected with the services,
  • Expenses you had only because of the services you gave, and
  • Not personal, living or family expenses.

3. Genuine and Substantial Duty. Your charity work has to be real and substantial throughout the trip. You can’t deduct expenses if you only have nominal duties or do not have any duties for significant parts of the trip.

4. Value of Time or Service. You can’t deduct the value of your time or services that you give to charity. This includes income lost while you serve as an unpaid volunteer for a qualified charity.

5. Travel You Can Deduct. The types of expenses that you may be able to deduct include: Air, rail and bus transportation, car expenses, lodging costs, cost of meals, and taxi or other transportation costs between the airport or station and your hotel.

6. Travel You Can’t Deduct. Some types of travel do not qualify for a tax deduction. For example, you can’t deduct your costs if a significant part of the trip involves recreation or vacation.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about travel expenses related to charitable work.

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Tax Tips for Reporting Gambling Income and Losses

Whether you play the lottery, roll the dice, play cards, or bet on the ponies, all of your gambling winnings are taxable and must be reported on your tax return. If you gamble, these tax tips can help you at tax time next year: Here’s what you need to know about figuring gambling income and loss.

1. Gambling income. Income from gambling includes winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races and casinos. It also includes cash and the fair market value of prizes you receive, such as cars and trips and you must report them on your tax return

2. Payer tax form. If you win, you may receive a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings, from the payer. The form reports the amount of your winnings to you and the IRS. The payer issues the form depending on the type of game you played, the amount of winnings, and other factors. You’ll also receive a Form W-2G if the payer withholds federal income tax from your winnings.

3. How to report winnings. You must report all your gambling winnings as income on your federal income tax return. This is true even if you do not receive a Form W-2G. If you’re a casual gambler, report your winnings on the “Other Income” line of your Form 1040, U. S. Individual Income Tax Return.

4. How to deduct losses. You may deduct your gambling losses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. The deduction is limited to the amount of your winnings. You must report your winnings as income and claim your allowable losses separately. You cannot reduce your winnings by your losses and report the difference.

5. Keep gambling receipts. You must keep accurate records of your gambling activity. This includes items such as receipts, tickets or statements. You should also keep a diary or log of your gambling activity. Your records should show your winnings separately from your losses.

If you have questions about gambling income and losses, don’t hesitate to call.

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Tax Due Dates for October 2016

October 11

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during September, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

October 17

Individuals – If you have an automatic 6-month extension to file your income tax return for 2015, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ and pay any tax, interest, and penalties due.

Electing Large Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065-B). This due date applies only if you timely requested a 6-month extension of time to file the return.

Employers Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in September.

Employers Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in September.

October 31

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the third quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until November 10 to file the return.

Certain Small Employers – Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2016 but less than $2,500 for the third quarter.

Employers – Federal Unemployment Tax. Deposit the tax owed through September if more than $500.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Tax Tips for Hobbies that Earn Income

Millions of people enjoy hobbies such as stamp or coin collecting, craft making, and horse breeding, but the IRS may also consider them a source of income. As such, if you engage in a hobby that provides a source of income, you must report that income on your tax return; however, taxpayers (especially business owners) should be aware that the way income from hobbies is reported is different from how you report income from a business. For example, there are special rules and limits for deductions you can claim for a hobby.

Here are five basic tax tips you should know if you get income from your hobby:

Business versus Hobby. There are nine factors to consider to determine if you are conducting business or participating in a hobby. Make sure to base your decision on all the facts and circumstances of your situation. To learn more about these nine factors, please call.

Allowable Hobby Deductions. You may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate. Don’t hesitate to call if you need more information about these rules.

Limits on Expenses. As a general rule, you can only deduct your hobby expenses up to the amount of your hobby income. If your expenses are more than your income, you have a loss from the activity. You can’t deduct that loss from your other income.

How to Deduct Expenses. You must itemize deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your costs may fall into three types of expenses. Special rules apply to each type. Use Schedule A, Itemized Deductions to report these types of expenses.

Use a tax professional. Hobby rules can be complex, but using a tax professional makes filing your tax return easier. If you need have any questions about reporting income from a hobby, please call.

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Keep Track of Miscellaneous Deductions

Miscellaneous deductions such as certain work-related expenses you paid for as an employee can reduce your tax bill, but you must itemize deductions when you file to claim these costs. Many taxpayers claim the standard deduction, but you might pay less tax if you itemize.

Here are some tax tips that may help you reduce your taxes:

Deductions Subject to the Two Percent Limit. You can deduct most miscellaneous costs only if their sum is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). These include expenses such as:

  • Unreimbursed employee expenses.
  • Job search costs for a new job in the same line of work.
  • Work clothes and uniforms required for your job, but not suitable for everyday use.
  • Tools for your job.
  • Union dues.
  • Work-related travel and transportation.
  • The cost you paid to prepare your tax return. These fees include the cost you paid for tax preparation software. They also include any fee you paid for e-filing of your return.

Deductions Not Subject to the Limit. Some deductions are not subject to the two percent limit. They include:

  • Certain casualty and theft losses. In most cases, this rule applies to damaged or stolen property you held for investment. This may include personal property such as works of art, stocks, and bonds.
  • Gambling losses up to the total of your gambling winnings.
  • Losses from Ponzi-type investment schemes.

You claim allowable miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, but keep in mind, however, that there are many expenses that you cannot deduct. For example, you can’t deduct personal living or family expenses.

Need more information about itemizing deductions or help setting up a system to track your itemized deductions? Help is just a phone call away.

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Apps for Tracking Business Mileage

Every business owner, no matter how small, must keep good records. But whether it’s keeping track of mileage, documenting expenses, or separating personal from business use, keeping up with paperwork is a seemingly never ending job.

No matter how good your intentions are in January, the chances are good that by summer that mileage log is looking a bit empty. Even worse, you could be avoiding tracking your mileage altogether–and missing out on tax deductions and credits that could save your business money at tax time.

The good news is that there are a number of phone applications (apps) that could help you track those pesky business miles. Most of these apps are useful for tracking and reporting expenses, mileage and billable time. They use GPS to track mileage, allow you to track receipts, choose the mileage type (Business, Charitable, Medical, Moving, Personal), and produce formatted reports (IRS compliant HTML and CSV tax return reports) that are easy to generate and share with your CPA, EA, or tax advisor.

Here are three popular apps that help you track your business mileage:

1. TripLog – Mileage Log Tracker

Works with: Android and iPhone

What it does: Tracks vehicle mileage and locations using GPS

Useful Features:

  • Automatic start when plugged into power or connected to a Bluetooth device and driving more than five mph
  • Reads your vehicle’s odometer from OBD-II scan tools
  • Syncs data between the web service and multiple mobile devices
  • Supports commercial trucks including per diem allowance, state-by-state mileage for IFTA fuel tax reports, and DEF fuel purchases and gas mileage

2. Track My Mileage

Works with: Android and iPhone

What it does: Keeps track of mileage for business or personal use

Useful Features:

  • Provides mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating your automobile
  • Allows you to group your trips by client
  • Tracks multiple drivers and vehicles tracking
  • Localized and translated into more than 20 languages

3. BizXpenseTracker

Works with: iPhone and iPad

What it does: Tracks mileage, as well as expenses and billable time

Useful Features:

  • Allows you to choose which way you want to track your mileage
  • Remembers Frequent trips
  • Creates reports in PDF format or CSV for importing into Excel
  • Ability to email your reports and photo receipts

Call the office today if you have any questions about using apps that track business mileage or need help choosing the right one for your business needs.

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Five Tips for Starting a Business

When you start a business, you need to know about income taxes, payroll taxes, understanding your tax obligations, and much more. Here are five tips to help you get your business off to a good start:

1. Business Structure. One of the first decisions you need to make is which type of business structure to choose. The most common types are sole proprietor, partnership, and corporation. This is an important step because the type of business you choose will determine which tax forms you file. See, Choosing the Right Business Entity, above.

2. Business Taxes. There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax, and excise tax. In most cases, the types of tax your business pays depends on the type of business structure you set up. You may need to make estimated tax payments. If you do, you can use IRS Direct Pay to make them. It’s the fast, easy and secure way to pay from your checking or savings account.

3. Employer Identification Number (EIN). You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. The easiest way to find out if you need an EIN is to use the search term “do you need an EIN” on the IRS.gov website. If you do need one, contact the office or apply for one online at IRS.gov.

4. Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that you use to determine when to report income and expenses. The two that are most common are the cash and accrual methods, and you must use a consistent method. Under the cash method, you normally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you receive or pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you earn or incur them. This is true even if you get the income or pay the expense in a later year.

5. Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. You’re eligible for the credit if you have fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. The maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

Questions about starting a business?

Don’t hesitate to call the office if you need answers!

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Small Business Health Care Tax Credit: The Facts

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit: The Facts

As a small employer, you may be eligible for a tax credit that lets you keep more of your hard-earned money. It’s called the small business health care tax credit, and it benefits employers that:

  • offer coverage through the small business health options program, also known as the SHOP Marketplace
  • have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees
  • pay an average wage of less than $50,000 a year ($51,800 in 2016 as adjusted for inflation)
  • pay at least half of employee health insurance premiums

Here are five facts about this credit:

  • The maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers.
  • To be eligible for the credit, you must pay premiums on behalf of employees enrolled in a qualified health plan offered through a Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace, or qualify for an exception to this requirement.
  • The credit is available to eligible employers for two consecutive taxable years beginning in 2014 or later. You may be able to amend prior year tax returns to claim the credit for tax years 2010 through 2013 in addition to claiming this credit for those two consecutive years.
  • You can carry the credit back or forward to other tax years if you do not owe tax during the year.
  • You may get both a credit and a deduction for employee premium payments. Since the amount of your health insurance premium payments will be more than the total credit, if you are eligible, you can still claim a business expense deduction for the premiums in excess of the credit.

Contact the office today if you’d like more information about the small business health care tax credit page.

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Tax Due Dates for September 2016

September 12

Employees Who Work for Tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during August, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

September 15

Individuals – Make a payment of your 2016 estimated tax if you are not paying your income tax for the year through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax that way). Use Form 1040-ES. This is the third installment date for estimated tax in 2016.

Corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120 or 1120-A) and pay any tax due. This due date applies only if you made a timely request for an automatic 6-month extension.

S corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. This due date applies only if you made a timely request for an automatic 6-month extension. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S) or a substitute Schedule K-1.

Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1065). This due date applies only if you were given an additional 5-month extension. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) or a substitute Schedule K-1.

Corporations – Deposit the third installment of estimated income tax for 2016. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you make an estimate of your tax for the year.

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in August.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in August.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Bitcoins Treated as Property for Tax Purposes

Bitcoins Treated as Property for Tax Purposes

Many retailers and online businesses now accept virtual currency for sales transactions. Despite IRS issuing a set of FAQs last year regarding virtual currency, the U.S. federal tax implications remain relatively unknown to many retailers. If you’re a retailer who accepts virtual currency such as bitcoins for transactions, here’s what you need to know.

Sometimes, virtual currency such as bitcoins operate like “real” currency, i.e. the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country that is designated as legal tender, circulates, and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance.

But bitcoins do not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. If you’ve been paid in virtual currency, you should be aware that virtual currency is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. In other words, general tax principles that apply to property transactions also apply to transactions using virtual currency. Among other things, this means that:

  • Wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee, must be reported by an employer on a Form W-2, and are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes.
  • Payments using virtual currency made to independent contractors and other service providers are taxable, and self-employment tax rules generally apply. Normally, payers must issue Form 1099.
  • The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer.
  • A payment made using virtual currency is subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.

If you’re a business or individual with questions about virtual currency such as bitcoins, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Understanding the Gift Tax

Understanding the Gift Tax

If you gave money or property to someone as a gift, you may wonder about the federal gift tax. Many gifts are not subject to the gift tax. Here are seven tax tips about gifts and the gift tax.

1. Nontaxable Gifts. The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift. However, there are exceptions to this rule. The following are not taxable gifts:

  • Gifts that do not exceed the annual exclusion for the calendar year,
  • Tuition or medical expenses you paid directly to a medical or educational institution for someone,
  • Gifts to your spouse (for federal tax purposes, the term “spouse” includes individuals of the same sex who are lawfully married),
  • Gifts to a political organization for its use, and
  • Gifts to charities.

2. Annual Exclusion. Most gifts are not subject to the gift tax. For example, there is usually no tax if you make a gift to your spouse or to a charity. If you give a gift to someone else, the gift tax usually does not apply until the value of the gift exceeds the annual exclusion for the year. For 2016, the annual exclusion is $14,000 (same as 2015).

3. No Tax on Recipient. Generally, the person who receives your gift will not have to pay a federal gift tax. That person also does not pay income tax on the value of the gift received.

4. Gifts Not Deductible. Making a gift does not ordinarily affect your federal income tax. You cannot deduct the value of gifts you make (other than deductible charitable contributions).

5. Forgiven and Certain Loans. The gift tax may also apply when you forgive a debt or make a loan that is interest-free or below the market interest rate.

6. Gift-Splitting. In 2016, you and your spouse can give a gift up to $28,000 ($14,000 each) to a third party without making it a taxable gift. You can consider that one-half of the gift be given by you and one-half by your spouse.

7. Filing Requirement. You must file Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return if any of the following apply:

  • You gave gifts to at least one person (other than your spouse) that amount to more than the annual exclusion for the year.
  • You and your spouse are splitting a gift. This is true even if half of the split gift is less than the annual exclusion.
  • You gave someone (other than your spouse) a gift of a future interest that they can’t actually possess, enjoy, or from which they’ll receive income later.
  • You gave your spouse an interest in property that will terminate due to a future event.

Still confused about the gift tax? Please call for assistance.

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Renting Out Your Vacation Home

Renting Out Your Vacation Home

Renting out a vacation property to others can be profitable. If you do this, you must normally report the rental income on your tax return. You may not have to report the rent, however, if the rental period is short and you also use the property as your home. If you’re thinking about renting out your home, here are seven things to keep in mind:

1. Vacation Home. A vacation home can be a house, apartment, condominium, mobile home, boat or similar property.

2. Schedule E. You usually report rental income and rental expenses on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss. Your rental income may also be subject to Net Investment Income Tax.

3. Used as a Home. If the property is “used as a home,” your rental expense deduction is limited. This means your deduction for rental expenses can’t be more than the rent you received. For more information about these rules, please call.

4. Divide Expenses. If you personally use your property and also rent it to others, special rules apply. You must divide your expenses between rental use and personal use. To figure how to divide your costs, you must compare the number of days for each type of use with the total days of use.

5. Personal Use. Personal use may include use by your family. It may also include use by any other property owners or their family. Use by anyone who pays less than a fair rental price is also considered personal use.

6. Schedule A. Report deductible expenses for personal use on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. These may include costs such as mortgage interest, property taxes, and casualty losses.

7. Rented Less than 15 Days. If the property is “used as a home” and you rent it out fewer than 15 days per year, you do not have to report the rental income. In this case, you deduct your qualified expenses on Schedule A.

Please call the office if you have any questions about renting out a vacation home.

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Don’t Wait to File an Extended Return

Don’t Wait to File an Extended Return

If you filed for an extension of time to file your 2015 federal tax return and you also chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit made to your coverage provider, it’s important you file your return sooner rather than later. Here are four things you should know:

1. If you received a six-month extension of time to file, you do not need to wait until the October 17, 2016, due date to file your return and reconcile your advance payments. You can–and should–file as soon as you have all the necessary documentation.

2. You must file to ensure you can continue having advance credit payments paid on your behalf in future years. If you do not file and reconcile your 2015 advance payments of the premium tax credit by the Marketplace’s fall re-enrollment period–even if you filed for an extension–you may not have your eligibility for advance payments of the PTC in 2017 determined for a period of time after you have filed your tax return with Form 8962.

3. Advance payments of the premium tax credit are reviewed in the fall by the Health Insurance Marketplace for the next calendar year as part of their annual re-enrollment and income verification process.

4. Use Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, to reconcile any advance credit payments made on your behalf and to maintain your eligibility for future premium assistance.

Questions?

If you have any questions about filing an extended return, help is just a phone call away.

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Best Filing Status for Married Couples

Best Filing Status for Married Couples

Summer is wedding season. While tax returns and filing status are probably not high on your to-do list, you should be aware that with marriage, come tax changes–such as choosing the best filing status.

After you say, “I do” you’ll have two filing status options to choose from when filing your 2016 tax returns: married filing jointly, or married filing separately.

Married Filing Jointly

If you’re married as of Dec. 31, that’s your marital status for the whole year for tax purposes. You can choose married, filing jointly as your filing status if you are married and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. On a joint return, you report your combined income and deduct your combined allowable expenses. You can file a joint return even if one of you had no income or deductions.

If you and your spouse decide to file a joint return, your tax may be lower than your combined tax for the other filing statuses. Also, your standard deduction (if you do not itemize) may be higher, and you may qualify for tax benefits that do not apply to other filing statuses.

Joint Responsibility. Both of you may be held responsible, jointly and individually, for the tax and any interest or penalty due on your joint return. One spouse may be held responsible for all the tax due even if all the income was earned by the other spouse.

Married Filing Separately

If you are married, you can also choose married filing separately as your filing status. This filing status may benefit you if you want to be responsible only for your own tax or if it results in less tax than filing a joint return.

Call the office if you’re not sure which status to file under. If you and your spouse each have income, your tax will be figured both ways to determine which filing status gives you the lowest combined tax.

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Tax Due Dates for August 2016

August 1

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until August 10 to file the return.

Employers – Federal unemployment tax. Deposit the tax owed through June if more than $500.

Employers – If you maintain an employee benefit plan, such as a pension, profit-sharing, or stock bonus plan, file Form 5500 or 5500-EZ for calendar-year 2015. If you use a fiscal year as your plan year, file the form by the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends.

Certain Small Employers – Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2016 but less than $2,500 for the second quarter.

August 10

Employees Who Work for Tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during July, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

August 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in July.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in July.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

It’s Time for a Premium Tax Credit Checkup

It’s Time for a Premium Tax Credit Checkup

If you or anyone in your family receive advance payments of the premium tax credit, now is a good time to check on whether you need to adjust your premium assistance.

Because advance payments are paid directly to your insurance company (thereby lowering out-of-pocket cost for your health insurance premiums), changes to your income or family size may affect your credit. Therefore, you should report changes that have occurred since the time that you signed up for your health insurance plan.

Changes in circumstances include any of the following and should be reported to your Marketplace when they happen:

  • Increases or decreases in your household income including, lump sum payments; for example, lump sum payment of Social Security benefits
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Other changes affecting the composition of your tax family
  • Gaining or losing eligibility for government sponsored or employer-sponsored health care coverage
  • Moving to a different address

Reporting the changes when they happen helps you to avoid getting too much or too little advance payment of the premium tax credit. Getting too much may mean that you owe additional money or receive a smaller refund when you file your taxes. Getting too little could mean missing out on premium assistance that reduces your out-of-pocket monthly premiums.

Changes in circumstances also may qualify you for a special enrollment period to change or get insurance through the Marketplace. In most cases, if you qualify for the special enrollment period, you generally have 60 days to enroll following the change in circumstances. Information about special enrollment can be found by visiting HealthCare.gov.

You can use the Premium Tax Credit Change Estimator to help you estimate how your premium tax credit will change if your income or family size changes during the year; however, this estimator tool does not report changes in circumstances to your Marketplace. To report changes and to adjust the amount of your advance payments of the premium tax credit you must contact your Health Insurance Marketplace.

Need more information?

Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions about the Premium Tax Credit.

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Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

If you sell your home and make a profit, do you know that the gain may not be taxable? That’s just one key tax rule that you should know. Here are ten facts to keep in mind if you sell your home this year.

1. If you have a capital gain on the sale of your home, you may be able to exclude your gain from tax. This rule may apply if you owned and used it as your main home for at least two out of the five years before the date of sale.

2. There are exceptions to the ownership and use rules. Some exceptions apply to persons with a disability. Some apply to certain members of the military and certain government and Peace Corps workers. For additional details, please call.

3. The maximum amount of gain you can exclude is $250,000. This limit is $500,000 for joint returns. In addition, the Net Investment Income Tax will not apply to the excluded gain.

4. If the gain is not taxable, you may not need to report the sale to the IRS on your tax return.

5. You must report the sale on your tax return if you can’t exclude all or part of the gain. And you must report the sale if you choose not to claim the exclusion. That’s also true if you get Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Keep in mind that if you report the sale you may be subject to the NIIT.

6. Generally, you can exclude the gain from the sale of your main home only once every two years.

7. If you own more than one home, you may only exclude the gain on the sale of your main home. Your main home usually is the home that you live in most of the time.

8. If you claimed the first-time homebuyer credit when you bought the home, special rules apply to the sale.

9. If you sell your main home at a loss, you can’t deduct it.

10. After you sell your home and move, be sure to give your new address to the IRS. You can send the IRS a completed Form 8822, Change of Address, to do this.

Important note about the Premium Tax Credit. If you receive advance payment of the Premium Tax Credit in 2016, it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please call.

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Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction?

Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction?

If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home, provided you meet certain IRS requirements.

1. Generally, in order to claim a business deduction for your home, you must use part of your home exclusively and regularly:

  • as your principal place of business, or

  • as a place to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business, or
  • in any connection with your trade or business where the business portion of your home is a separate structure not attached to your home.

2. For certain storage use, rental use or daycare-facility use, you are required to use the property regularly but not exclusively.

3. Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your deduction for certain expenses will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses.

4. There are special rules for qualified daycare providers and for persons storing business inventory or product samples.

5. If you are an employee, additional rules apply for claiming the home office deduction. For example, the regular and exclusive business use must be for the convenience of your employer.

If you’re not sure whether you qualify for the home office deduction, please contact the office. Help is only a phone call away.

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Deducting Moving Expenses

Deducting Moving Expenses

If you’ve moved–or are planning to move–this year to start a new job you may be able to deduct certain moving-related expenses on your tax return. You may also be able to deduct these expenses even if you kept the same job but moved to a different location.

1. Expenses must be close to the time you start work. Generally, you can consider moving expenses that you incurred within one year of the date you first report to work at a new job location.

2. Distance Test. Your move meets the distance test if your new main job location is at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your previous main job location was from your former home. For example, if your old main job location was three miles from your former home, your new main job location must be at least 53 miles from that former home.

3. Time Test. Upon arriving in the general area of your new job location, you must work full-time for at least 39 weeks during the first year at your new job location. Self-employed individuals must meet this test, and they must also work full time for a total of at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months upon arriving in the general area of their new job location. If your income tax return is due before you have satisfied this requirement, you can still deduct your allowable moving expenses if you expect to meet the time test. There are some special rules and exceptions to these general rules. Please call if you’d like more information.

4. Travel. You can deduct lodging expenses (but not meals) for yourself and household members while moving from your former home to your new home. You can also deduct transportation expenses, including airfare, vehicle mileage, parking fees and tolls you pay, but you can only deduct one trip per person.

5. Household goods. You can deduct the cost of packing, crating and transporting your household goods and personal property, including the cost of shipping household pets. You may be able to include the cost of storing and insuring these items while in transit.

6. Utilities. You can deduct the costs of connecting or disconnecting utilities.

7. Nondeductible expenses. You cannot deduct the following moving-related expenses: any part of the purchase price of your new home, car tags, a driver’s license renewal, costs of buying or selling a home, expenses of entering into or breaking a lease, or security deposits and storage charges, except those incurred in transit and for foreign moves.

8. Form. You can deduct only those expenses that are reasonable for the circumstances of your move.

9. Reimbursed expenses. If your employer reimburses you for the costs of a move for which you took a deduction, the reimbursement may have to be included as income on your tax return.

10. Update your address. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive mail from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about deducting moving expenses or need help figuring out the amount of your deduction for moving expenses.

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Tax Tips for Members of the Military

Tax Tips for Members of the Military

Special tax benefits apply to members of the U. S. Armed Forces. For example, some types of pay are not taxable, and special rules may apply to some tax deductions, credits, and deadlines. Here are ten of those benefits:

1. Deadline Extensions. Some members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. If this applies to you, you can get automatic extensions of time to file your tax return and to pay your taxes. For example, service members stationed abroad have extra time (until June 15) to file a federal income tax return. Those serving in a combat zone have even longer, typically until 180 days after they leave the combat zone. They may also qualify to delay payment of income tax due before or during their period of service. Please call the office for details, including how to request relief.

2. Combat Pay Exclusion. If you serve in a combat zone, certain combat pay you receive is not taxable. You won’t need to show the pay on your tax return because combat pay isn’t included in the wages reported on your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Service in support of a combat zone may qualify for this exclusion.

3. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). If you get nontaxable combat pay, you may choose to include it to figure your EITC. You would make this choice if it increases your credit. Even if you do, the combat pay stays nontaxable.

4. Moving Expense Deduction. You may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs. This applies if the move is due to a permanent change of station. Use Form 3903, Moving Expenses

5. Uniform Deduction. You can deduct the costs of certain uniforms that regulations prohibit you from wearing while off duty. This includes the costs of purchase and upkeep. You must reduce your deduction by any allowance you get for these costs.

6. Signing Joint Returns. Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return. If your spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, you may be able to sign for your spouse. In other cases when your spouse is absent, you may need a power of attorney to file a joint return.

7. Reservists’ Travel Deduction. If you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves, you may deduct certain costs of travel on your tax return. This applies to the unreimbursed costs of travel to perform your reserve duties that are more than 100 miles away from home.

8. Nontaxable ROTC Allowances. Active duty ROTC pay, such as pay for summer advanced camp, is taxable. But some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to educational and subsistence allowances.

9. Civilian Life. If you leave the military and look for work, you may be able to deduct some job hunting expenses. You may be able to include the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.

10. Retirement Savings. Low-and moderate-income service members who contribute to an IRA or 401(k)-type retirement plan, such as the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, can often claim the saver’s credit, also known as the retirement savings contributions credit, on Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

Getting Tax Help

Although most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season, you may need to contact an accounting professional during other times of the year. Don’t hesitate to contact the office with any questions you have about your taxes–no matter what time of the year it is.

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Tax Due Dates for July 2016

July 11

Employees Who Work for Tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during June, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

July 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in June.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in June.

August 1

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until August 10 to file the return.

Employers – Federal unemployment tax. Deposit the tax owed through June if more than $500.

Employers – If you maintain an employee benefit plan, such as a pension, profit-sharing, or stock bonus plan, file Form 5500 or 5500-EZ for calendar-year 2015. If you use a fiscal year as your plan year, file the form by the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends.

Certain Small Employers – Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2016 but less than $2,500 for the second quarter.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Education Tax Credits Help You Pay for College


Education Tax Credits Help You Pay for College

Are you planning to pay for college in 2016? If so, money you paid for higher education can mean tax savings on your tax return when you file next year. If you, your spouse or your dependent took post-high school coursework last year, you may be able to take advantage of education credits that can help you with the cost of higher education. Taking advantage of these education tax credits can mean tax savings on your federal tax return by reducing the amount of tax you owe. Here are some important facts you should know about education tax credits.

American Opportunity Tax Credit:

  • You may be able to claim up to $2,500 per eligible student.
  • The credit applies to the first four years at an eligible college or vocational school.
  • It reduces the amount of tax you owe. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may receive up to $1,000 as a refund.
  • It is available for students earning a degree or other recognized credential.
  • The credit applies to students going to school at least half-time for at least one academic period that started during the tax year.
  • Costs that apply to the credit include the cost of tuition, books and required fees and supplies.

Lifetime Learning Credit:

  • The credit is limited to $2,000 per tax return, per year.
  • The credit applies to all years of higher education. This includes classes for learning or improving job skills.
  • The credit is limited to the amount of your taxes.
  • Costs that apply to the credit include the cost of tuition, required fees, books, supplies and equipment that you must buy from the school.

The Tuition and Fees Deduction is:

  • Claimed as an adjustment to income.
  • Claimed whether or not you itemize.
  • Limited to tuition and certain related expenses required for enrollment or attendance at eligible schools.
  • Worth up to $4,000.

The following applies to all three credits and deductions as well:

  • The credits apply to an eligible student. Eligible students include you, your spouse or a dependent that you list on your tax return.
  • You must file Form 1040A or Form 1040 and complete Form 8863, Education Credits, to claim these credits on your tax return.
  • Your school should give you a Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, by February 1, 2017, showing expenses for the year. This form contains helpful information needed to complete Form 8863. The amounts shown in Boxes 1 and 2 of the form may be different than what you actually paid. For example, the form may not include the cost of books that qualify for the credit.
  • You can’t claim either credit if someone else claims you as a dependent.
  • You can’t claim either AOTC or LLC and the Tuition and Fees Deduction for the same student or for the same expense, in the same year.
  • The credits are subject to income limits that could reduce the amount you can claim on your return.
  • Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool at IRS.gov to see if you’re eligible to claim these education tax credits.

Even if you can’t take advantage of any of these tax credits, there could be other education-related tax benefits that you can claim. Call the office if you have any questions.

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Who Can Represent You Before the IRS?


Who Can Represent You Before the IRS?

Many people use a tax professional to prepare their taxes. Tax professionals with an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) can prepare a return for a fee. If you choose a tax pro, you should know who can represent you before the IRS. There are new rules this year, so the IRS wants you to know who can represent you and when they can represent you.

Representation rights, also known as practice rights, fall into two categories:

  • Unlimited Representation
  • Limited Representation

Unlimited representation rights allow a credentialed tax practitioner to represent you before the IRS on any tax matter. This is true no matter who prepared your return. Credentialed tax professionals who have unlimited representation rights include:

  • Enrolled agents
  • Certified Public Accountants
  • Attorneys

Limited representation rights authorize the tax professional to represent you if, and only if, they prepared and signed the return. They can do this only before IRS revenue agents, customer service representatives and similar IRS employees. They cannot represent clients whose returns they did not prepare. They cannot represent clients regarding appeals or collection issues even if they did prepare the return in question. For returns filed after Dec. 31, 2015, the only tax return preparers with limited representation rights are Annual Filing Season Program Participants.

The Annual Filing Season Program is a voluntary program. Non-credentialed tax return preparers who aim for a higher level of professionalism are encouraged to participate.

Other tax return preparers have limited representation rights, but only for returns filed before Jan. 1, 2016. Keep these changes in mind and choose wisely when you select a tax return preparer.

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Six Facts About Charitable Donations

Six Facts About Charitable Donations

If you give money or goods to a charity in 2016, you may be able to claim a deduction on your federal tax return. Here are six important facts you should know about charitable donations.

1. Qualified Charities. You must donate to a qualified charity. Gifts to individuals, political organizations or candidates are not deductible. An exception to this rule is contributions under the Slain Officer Family Support Act of 2015. To check the status of a charity, use the IRS Select Check tool found on IRS.gov.

2. Itemize Deductions. To deduct your contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions. File Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, with your federal tax return.

3. Benefit in Return. If you get something in return for your donation, you may have to reduce your deduction. You can only deduct the amount of your gift that is more than the value of what you got in return. Examples of benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to an event or other goods and services.

4. Type of Donation. If you give property instead of cash, your deduction amount is normally limited to the item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price you would get if you sold the property on the open market. If you donate used clothing and household items, they generally must be in good condition, or better, to be deductible. Special rules apply to cars, boats and other types of property donations.

5. Form to File and Records to Keep. You must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, for all noncash gifts totaling more than $500 for the year. If you need to prepare a Form 8283, you can prepare and e-file your tax return for free using IRS Free File. The type of records you must keep depends on the amount and type of your donation. To learn more about what records to keep please call the office.

6. Donations of $250 or More. If you donated cash or goods of $250 or more, you must have a written statement from the charity. It must show the amount of the donation and a description of any property given. It must also say whether you received any goods or services in exchange for the gift.

Questions about deducting charitable donations? Call the office anytime. We’re here to help.

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Start Planning Now for Next Year’s Taxes

Start Planning Now for Next Year’s Taxes

You may be tempted to forget about your taxes once you’ve filed your tax return, but did you know that if you start your tax planning now, you may be able to avoid a tax surprise when you file next year?

That’s right. Now is a good time to set up a system so you can keep your tax records safe and easy to find. Here are five tips to give you a leg up on next year’s taxes:

1. Take action when life changes occur. Some life events such as a change in marital status or the birth of a child can change the amount of tax you pay. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer. Call if you need help filling out the form.

2. Report changes in circumstances to the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you enroll in insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2016, you should report changes in circumstances to the Marketplace when they happen. Reporting events such as changes in your income or family size helps you avoid getting too much or too little financial assistance in advance.

3. Keep records safe. Print and keep a copy of your 2015 tax return and supporting records together in a safe place. This includes W-2 Forms, Forms 1099, bank records and records of your family’s health care insurance coverage. If you ever need your tax return or records, it will be easier for you to get them. For example, you may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid for college. You should use your tax return as a guide when you do your taxes next year.

4. Stay organized. Make tax time easier on everyone by having your family place tax records in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records when you file your return next year.

5. Consider itemizing. You may be able to lower your taxes if you itemize deductions instead of taking the standard deduction. Owning a home, paying medical expenses and qualified donations to charity could mean more tax savings. A list of deductions is found in the instructions for Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. As always, if you have any questions please call.

Ready to save money on your taxes?

Planning now can pay off with savings at tax time next year. Call today and get a jump start on next year’s taxes.

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What to do if you get a Letter from the IRS

What to do if you get a Letter from the IRS

Each year, the IRS mails millions of notices and letters to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. If you receive correspondence from the IRS here’s what to do:

Don’t panic. You can usually deal with a notice simply by responding to it. Most IRS notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts.

Each notice has specific instructions, so read your notice carefully because it will tell you what you need to do.

Your notice will likely be about changes to your account, taxes you owe or a payment request. However, your notice may ask you for more information about a specific issue.

If your notice says that the IRS changed or corrected your tax return, review the information and compare it with your original return. If you agree with the notice, you usually don’t need to reply unless it gives you other instructions or you need to make a payment.

If you don’t agree with the notice, you need to respond. Write a letter that explains why you disagree and include information and documents you want the IRS to consider. Mail your response with the contact stub at the bottom of the notice to

Tax Tips for Students with a Summer Job

Tax Tips for Students with a Summer Job

Is your child a student with a summer job? Here’s what you should know about the income your child earns over the summer.

  1. All taxpayers fill out a W-4 when starting a new job. This form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. Taxpayers with multiple summer jobs will want to make sure all their employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover their total income tax liability. If you have any questions about whether your child’s withholding is correct, please call the office.
  2. Whether your child is working as a waiter or a camp counselor, he or she may receive tips as part of their summer income. All tip income is taxable and is, therefore, subject to federal income tax.
  3. Many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. If this is your child’s situation, keep in mind that earnings received from self-employment are also subject to income tax. This includes income from odd jobs such as babysitting and lawn mowing.
  4. If your child has net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment or church employee income of $108.28, he or she also has to pay self-employment tax. This tax pays for benefits under the Social Security system. Social Security and Medicare benefits are available to individuals who are self-employed just as they are to wage earners who have Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from their wages. The self-employment tax is figured on Form 1040, Schedule SE.
  5. Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay–such as pay received during summer advanced camp–is taxable.
  6. Special rules apply to services performed as a newspaper carrier or distributor. As direct seller, your child is treated as being self-employed for federal tax purposes if the following conditions are met:
    • Your child is in the business of delivering newspapers.
    • All pay for these services directly relates to sales rather than to the number of hours worked.
    • Delivery services are performed under a written contract which states that your child will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.
  7. Generally however, newspaper carriers or distributors under age 18 are not subject to self-employment tax.

A summer work schedule is sometimes a patchwork of odd jobs, which makes for confusion come tax time. Contact the office if you have any questions at all about income your child earned this summer season.

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A Name Change Could Affect your Taxes

A Name Change Could Affect your Taxes

Did you know that a name change could impact your taxes? Here’s what you need to know:

1. Report Name Changes. Did you get married and are now using your new spouse’s last name or hyphenate your last name? Did you divorce and go back to using your former last name? In either case, you should notify the SSA of your name change. That way, your new name on your IRS records will match up with your SSA records. A mismatch could unexpectedly increase a tax bill or reduce the size of any refund.

2. Make Dependent’s Name Change. Notify the SSA if your dependent had a name change. For example, this could apply if you adopted a child and the child’s last name changed. If you adopted a child who does not have a Social Security number, you may use an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on your tax return. An ATIN is a temporary number. You can apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS.

3. Get a New Card. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, to notify SSA of your name change. You can get the form onSSA.gov or call 800-772-1213 to order it. Your new card will show your new name with the same SSN you had before.

4. Report Changes in Circumstances when they happen. If you enrolled in health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace you may receive the benefit of advance payments of the premium tax credit. These are paid directly to your insurance company to lower your monthly premium. Report changes in circumstances, such as a name change, a new address and a change in your income or family size to your Marketplace when they happen throughout the year. Reporting the changes will help you avoid getting too much or too little advance payment of the premium tax credit.

If you have any questions related to IRS requirements regarding a name change, please call.

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Tax Tips for Deducting Losses from a Disaster

Tax Tips for Deducting Losses from a Disaster

If you suffer damage to your home or personal property, you may be able to deduct the losses you incur on your federal income tax return. Here are 10 tax tips you should know about regarding casualty loss deductions:

1. Casualty loss. You may be able to deduct losses based on the damage done to your property during a disaster. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event. This may include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It can also include losses from fires, accidents, thefts or vandalism.

2. Normal wear and tear. A casualty loss does not include losses from normal wear and tear. It does not include progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

3. Covered by insurance. If you insured your property, you must file a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss. If you don’t, you cannot deduct the loss as a casualty or theft. You must reduce your loss by the amount of the reimbursement you received or expect to receive.

4. When to deduct. As a general rule, you must deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have a choice of when to deduct the loss. You can choose to deduct the loss on your return for the year the loss occurred or on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year. Claiming a disaster loss on the prior year’s return may result in a lower tax for that year, often producing a refund.

5. Amount of loss. You figure the amount of your loss using the following steps:

  • Determine your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty. For property you buy, your basis is usually its cost to you. For property you acquire in some other way, such as inheriting it or getting it as a gift, you must figure your basis in another way. Please call if you have any questions.
  • Determine the decrease in fair market value, or FMV, of the property as a result of the casualty. FMV is the price for which you could sell your property to a willing buyer. The decrease in FMV is the difference between the property’s FMV immediately before and immediately after the casualty.
  • Subtract any insurance or other reimbursements you received or expect to receive from the smaller of those two amounts.

6. $100 rule. After you have figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It does not matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

7. 10 percent rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.

8. Future income. Do not consider the loss of future profits or income due to the casualty as you figure your loss.

9. Form 4684. Complete Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts, to report your casualty loss on your federal tax return. You claim the deductible amount on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

10. Business or income property. Some of the casualty loss rules for business or income property are different than the rules for property held for personal use.

Please call if you have any questions about deducting casualty losses from a disaster.

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What is the Additional Medicare Tax?

What is the Additional Medicare Tax?

Some taxpayers may be required to pay an Additional Medicare Tax if their income exceeds certain limits. Here are some things that you should know about this tax:

1. Tax Rate. The Additional Medicare Tax rate is 0.9 percent.

2. Income Subject to Tax. The tax applies to the amount of certain income that is more than a threshold amount. The types of income include your Medicare wages, self-employment income, and railroad retirement (RRTA) compensation. If you’re not sure if you have income subject to these rules, please call the office.

3. Threshold Amount. You base your threshold amount on your filing status. If you are married and file a joint return, you must combine your spouse’s wages, compensation or self-employment income with yours. Use the combined total to determine if your income exceeds your threshold. The threshold amounts are:

  • Married filing jointly: $250,000
  • Married filing separately: $125,000
  • Single: $200,000
  • Head of household: $200,000

3. Withholding/Estimated Tax. Employers must withhold this tax from your wages or compensation when they pay you more than $200,000 in a calendar year. If you are self-employed you should include this tax when you figure your estimated tax liability.

4. Underpayment of Estimated Tax. If you had too little tax withheld, or did not pay enough estimated tax, you may owe an estimated tax penalty. For more on this, please call.

5. Form 8959. If you owe this tax, file Form 8959, Additional Medicare Tax, with your tax return. You also report any Additional Medicare Tax withheld by your employer on Form 8959.

Questions?

If you have any questions about the Additional Medicare Tax, help is just a phone call away.

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Tips for Deducting Medical and Dental Expenses

Tips for Deducting Medical and Dental Expenses

If you, your spouse or dependents have significant medical or dental costs in 2016, you may be able to deduct those expenses when you file your tax return next year. Here are eight things you should know about medical and dental expenses and other benefits.

1. You must itemize. You can only claim medical expenses that you paid for in 2016, and only if you itemize on Schedule A on Form 1040. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t claim these expenses.

2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct all the qualified medical costs that you paid for during the year. However, you can only deduct the amount that is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. The AGI threshold is still 7.5 percent of your AGI if you or your spouse is age 65 or older. This exception applies through December 31, 2016.

3. Expenses must have been paid in 2016. You can include medical and dental expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided. Be sure to save your receipts and keep good records to substantiate your expenses.

4. You can’t deduct reimbursed expenses. Your total medical expenses for the year must be reduced by any reimbursement. Costs reimbursed by insurance or other sources do not qualify for a deduction. Normally, it makes no difference if you receive the reimbursement or if it is paid directly to the doctor or hospital.

5. Whose expenses qualify. You may include qualified medical expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply to divorced or separated parents, taxpayers with a multiple support agreement, or those with a qualifying relative who is not your child.

6. Types of expenses that qualify. You can deduct expenses primarily paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body. For drugs, you can only deduct prescription medication and insulin. You can also include premiums for medical, dental and certain long-term care insurance in your expenses. And, you can also include lactation supplies.

7. Transportation costs may qualify. You may deduct transportation costs primarily for and essential to medical care that qualifies as a medical expense, including fares for a taxi, bus, train, plane or ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical transportation, you can deduct actual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and oil, or you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical expenses, which is 19 cents per mile for 2016.

8. No double benefit. You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical and dental expenses you paid for with funds from your Health Savings Accounts (HAS) or Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA). Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free. This rule prevents two tax benefits for the same expense.

Please call if you need help figuring out what qualifies as a medical or dental expense.

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Tax Due Dates for May 2016

May 2

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until May 10 to file the return.

May 10

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during April, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

May 16

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Nine Facts about the Adoption Tax Credit

Nine Facts about the Adoption Tax Credit

If you adopting a child this year, you may qualify for a tax credit. Here are nine things you should know about the adoption credit.

1. Credit or Exclusion. The credit is nonrefundable. This means that the credit may reduce your tax to zero. If the credit is more than your tax, you can’t get any additional amount as a refund. If your employer helped pay for the adoption through a written qualified adoption assistance program, you may qualify to exclude that amount from tax.

2. Maximum Benefit. The maximum adoption tax credit and exclusion for 2016 is $13,460 per child.

3. Credit Carryover. If your credit is more than your tax, you can carry any unused credit forward. This means that if you have an unused credit in 2016, you can use it to reduce your taxes for 2017. You can do this for up to five years, or until you fully use the credit, whichever comes first.

4. Eligible Child. An eligible child is an individual under age 18 or a person who is physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself.

5. Qualified Expenses. Adoption expenses must be directly related to the adoption of the child and be reasonable and necessary. Types of expenses that can qualify include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and travel.

6. Domestic or Foreign Adoptions. In most cases, you can claim the credit whether the adoption is domestic or foreign. However, the timing rules for which expenses to include differ between the two types of adoption.

7. Special Needs Child. If you adopted an eligible U.S. child with special needs and the adoption is final, a special rule applies. You may be able to take the tax credit even if you didn’t pay any qualified adoption expenses.

8. No Double Benefit. Depending on the adoption’s cost, you may be able to claim both the tax credit and the exclusion. However, you can’t claim both a credit and exclusion for the same expenses. This rule prevents you from claiming both tax benefits for the same expense.

9. Income Limits. The credit and exclusion are subject to income limitations. The limits may reduce or eliminate the amount you can claim depending on the amount of your income.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about the adoption tax credit.

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Five Things you Should Know about the AMT

Five Things you Should Know about the AMT

You may not know about the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) because you’ve never had to pay it before. However, your income may have changed and you may be required to pay it when you file your 2016 tax return next year. The AMT is an income tax imposed at nearly a flat rate on an adjusted amount of taxable income above a certain threshold. If you have a higher income, you may be subject to the AMT.

Here are five facts you should know about the AMT:

1. Know when the AMT applies. You may have to pay the AMT if your taxable income, plus certain adjustments, is more than your AMT exemption amount. Your filing status and income define the amount of your exemption. In most cases, if your income is below this amount, you will not owe the AMT.

2. Know exemption amounts. The 2016 AMT exemption amounts are:

  • $53,900 if you are Single or Head of Household.
  • $83,800 if you are Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er).
  • $41,900 if you are Married Filing Separately.

You will reduce your AMT exemption if your income is more than a certain amount.

3. Use a qualified tax professional. Keep in mind that the AMT rules are complex. The best way to prepare and file your tax return is to use a qualified tax professional.

4. AMT Assistant Tool. Use the AMT Assistant tool on the IRS website to quickly find out if you will need to pay the tax.

5. Use the right forms. Usually, if you owe the AMT, you must file Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax — Individuals. Some taxpayers who owe the AMT can file Form 1040A and use the AMT Worksheet in the instructions.

Wondering if the AMT affects you this year? Give the office a call today and find out.

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Tax Tips for Children with Investment Income

Tax Tips for Children with Investment Income

Special tax rules may apply to some children who receive investment income. The rules may affect the amount of tax and how to report the income. Here are five important points to keep in mind if your child has investment income this year:

1. Investment Income. Investment income generally includes interest, dividends and capital gains. It also includes other unearned income, such as from a trust.

2. Parent’s Tax Rate. If your child’s total investment income is more than $2,100 then your tax rate may apply to part of that income instead of your child’s tax rate. See the instructions for Form 8615, Tax for Certain Children Who Have Unearned Income.

3. Parent’s Return. You may be able to include your child’s investment income on your tax return if it was more than $1,050 but less than $10,500 for the year. If you make this choice, then your child will not have to file his or her own return. See Form 8814, Parents’ Election to Report Child’s Interest and Dividends, for more information.

4. Child’s Return. If your child’s investment income was $10,500 or more in 2016 then the child must file their own return. File Form 8615 with the child’s federal tax return next April.

5. Net Investment Income Tax. Your child may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax if they must file Form 8615. Use Form 8960, Net Investment Income Tax, to figure this tax.

Questions?

Please call if you have any questions about your child’s investment income.

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Employee Business Expenses

Employee Business Expenses

If you pay for work-related expenses out of your own pocket, you may be able to deduct those costs. In most cases, you can claim allowable expenses if you itemize on IRS Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You can deduct the amount that is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income. Here are five other facts you should know:

1. Ordinary and Necessary. You can only deduct unreimbursed expenses that are ordinary and necessary to your work as an employee. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate and helpful to your business.

2. Expense Examples. Some costs that you may be able to deduct include:

  • Required work clothes or uniforms not appropriate for everyday use.
  • Supplies and tools you use on the job.
  • Business use of your car.
  • Business meals and entertainment.
  • Business travel away from home.
  • Business use of your home.
  • Work-related education.

This list is not all-inclusive. Special rules apply if your employer reimbursed you for your expenses. To learn more call the office or check out Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. You should also refer to Publication 463,Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses.

3. Forms to Use. In most cases, you report your expenses on Form 2106 or Form 2106-EZ. After you figure your allowable expenses, you then list the total on Schedule A as a miscellaneous deduction.

4. Educator Expenses. If you are a K-12 teacher, you may be able to deduct up to $250 of certain expenses you pay in 2016. These may include books, supplies, equipment and other materials used in the classroom. Claim this deduction as an adjustment on your return, rather than an itemized deduction. For more on this topic, please call.

5. Keep Records. You must keep records to prove the expenses you deduct so that you can prepare a complete and accurate income tax return. The law doesn’t require any special form of records; however, you should keep all receipts, canceled checks or other proof of payment, and any other records to support any deductions or credits you claim. If you file a claim for refund, you must be able to prove by your records that you have overpaid your tax. For what records to keep, see Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax.

Please call the office if you have any questions about employee expenses or need help setting up a recordkeeping system to document your expenses.

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Tax Tips for the Self-Employed

Tax Tips for the Self-Employed

If you are a self-employed, you normally carry on a trade or business. Sole proprietors and independent contractors are two types of self-employment. If this applies to you, there are a few basic things you should know about how your income affects your federal tax return. If you’re self-employed, here are six important tax tips you should know about:

  • Self-Employment Income. Self-employment can include income you received for part-time work. This is in addition to income from your regular job.
  • Schedule C or C-EZ. You must file a Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, or Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business, with your Form 1040. You may use Schedule C-EZ if you had expenses less than $5,000 and meet certain other conditions. Please call if you are not sure whether you can use this form.
  • Self-Employment Tax. If you made a profit, you may have to pay self-employment tax as well as income tax. Self-employment tax includes Social Security and Medicare taxes. Use Schedule SE, Self-Employment Tax, to figure the tax. If you owe this tax, attach the schedule to your federal tax return.
  • Estimated Tax. You may need to make estimated tax payments. These payments are typically made on income that is not subject to withholding. You usually pay estimated taxes in four annual installments. If you do not pay enough tax throughout the year, you may owe a penalty. See, Estimated Tax Payments – Q & A, above, for more information about estimated tax payments.
  • Allowable Deductions. You can deduct expenses that you paid to run your business that are both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and proper for your trade or business.
  • When to Deduct. In most cases, you can deduct expenses in the same year you paid, or incurred them. However, you must ‘capitalize’ some costs. This means you can deduct part of the cost over a number of years.

Questions about self-employment taxes? Help is just a phone call away.

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Tax Due Dates for April 2016

April 11

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during March, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

April 18

Individuals – File an income tax return for 2015 (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return or you can get an extension by phone if you pay part or all of your estimate of income tax due with a credit card. Then file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by October 17.

Household Employers – If you paid cash wages of $1,900 or more in 2015 to a household employee, file Schedule H (Form 1040) with your income tax return and report any employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2014 or 2015 to household employees. Also report any income tax you withheld for your household employees.

Individuals – If you are not paying your 2016 income tax through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax during the year that way), pay the first installment of your 2016 estimated tax. Use Form 1040-ES.

Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065). Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065), Partner’s Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 5-month extension of time to file the return and provide Schedule K-1 or a substitute Schedule K-1, file Form 7004. Then file Form 1065 by September 15.

Electing Large Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065-B). If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004. Then file Form 1065-B by October 17. March 15 was the due date for furnishing the Schedules K-1 to the partners.

Corporations – Deposit the first installment of estimated income tax for 2016. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you estimate your tax for the year.

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

May 2

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until May 10 to file the return.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Cut your Tax Bill with Home Energy Credits

Cut your Tax Bill with Home Energy Credits

Did you know that it’s possible to trim your tax bill and save on your energy bills with certain home improvements? Here are some key facts you should know about home energy tax credits:

Non-Business Energy Property Credit

  • Part of this credit is worth 10 percent of the cost of certain qualified energy-saving items you added to your main home last year. This may include items such as insulation, windows, doors and roofs.
  • The other part of the credit is not a percentage of the cost. It is for the actual cost of certain property. This may include items like water heaters and heating and air conditioning systems. The credit amount for each type of property has a different dollar limit.
  • This credit has a maximum lifetime limit of $500. You may only use $200 of this limit for windows.
  • Your main home must be located in the U.S. to qualify for the credit.
  • Be sure you have the written certification from the manufacturer that their product qualifies for this tax credit. It is usually posted on the manufacturer’s website or included with the product’s packaging. You can use this information to claim the credit, but do not attach it to your return. Keep it with your tax records.
  • You may claim the credit on your 2015 tax return as long as you haven’t exceeded the lifetime limit in past years. Under current law, this credit is available through Dec. 31, 2016.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

  • This tax credit is 30 percent of the cost of alternative energy equipment installed on or in your home.
  • Qualified equipment includes solar hot water heaters, solar electric equipment, wind turbines and fuel cell property.
  • There is no dollar limit on the credit for most types of property. If your credit is more than the tax you owe, you can carry forward the unused portion of this credit to next year’s tax return.
  • The home must be in the U.S. It does not have to be your main home unless the alternative energy equipment is qualified fuel cell property.
  • This credit is available through 2016.

To claim these credits use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits. If you would like more information on this topic, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

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Parents: Don’t Miss Out on These Tax Savers

Parents: Don’t Miss Out on These Tax Savers

If you have children, you may be able to reduce the amount of taxes owed for the year using tax credits and deductions. Here are several tax benefits you might be able to take advantage of when you file your federal tax return:

  • Dependents. In most cases, you can claim your child as a dependent. You can deduct $4,000 for each dependent you are entitled to claim. You must reduce this amount if your income is above certain limits.
  • Child Tax Credit. You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your qualifying children under the age of 17. The maximum credit is $1,000 per child. If you get less than the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit. You may be able to claim this credit if you paid for the care of one or more qualifying persons. Dependent children under age 13 are among those who qualify. You must have paid for care so that you could work or look for work.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit. You may qualify for EITC if you worked but earned less than $53,267 last year. You can get up to $6,242 in EITC. You may qualify for the EITC with or without children.
  • Adoption Credit. You may be able to claim a tax credit for certain costs you paid to adopt a child.
  • Education Tax Credits. An education credit can help you with the cost of higher education. Two credits are available–The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit–and they may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may get a refund. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify; however, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim these credits.
  • Student Loan Interest. You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan. You can claim this benefit even if you do not itemize your deductions.
  • Self-employed Health Insurance Deduction. If you were self-employed and paid for health insurance, you may be able to deduct premiums you paid during the year. This may include the cost to cover your children under age 27, even if they are not your dependent. Please call the office for additional details.

Do not hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions about these and any other tax credits and deductions that you are entitled to under federal and state tax codes.

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Ten Facts About Capital Gains and Losses

Ten Facts About Capital Gains and Losses

Did you know that almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset? Capital assets include a home, household furnishings, and stocks and bonds held in a personal account.

When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you paid for the asset and its sales price is known as a capital gain or capital loss. Here are ten facts you should know about how gains and losses can affect your federal income tax return.

1. Capital Assets. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset including property such as your home or car, as well as investment property, such as stocks and bonds.

2. Gains and Losses. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis and the amount you get when you sell an asset. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset. You must report all capital gains on your tax return.

3. Net Investment Income Tax. You may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) on your capital gains if your income is above certain amounts. The rate of this tax is 3.8 percent. For additional information about the NIIT, please call the office.

4. Deductible Losses. You can deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You cannot deduct losses on the sale of property that you hold for personal use.

5. Limit on Losses. If your capital losses are more than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return to reduce other income, such as wages. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year or $1,500 if you are married and file a separate return.

6. Carryover Losses. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry it over to next year’s tax return.

7. Long and Short Term. Capital gains and losses are treated as either long-term or short-term, depending on how long you held the property. If you hold the property more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

8. Net Capital Gain. If your long-term gains are more than your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a net capital gain. Subtract any short-term losses from the net capital gain to calculate the net capital gain you must report.

9. Tax Rate. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain depend on your income but are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. The maximum tax rate on a net capital gain is 20 percent. However, for most taxpayers a zero or 15 percent rate will apply. A 25 or 28 percent tax rate can also apply to certain types of net capital gain such as unrecaptured Sec. 1250 gains (25 percent) and collectibles (28 percent).

10. Forms to File. You often will need to file Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, with your federal tax return to report your gains and losses. You also need to file Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses, with your tax return.

Please call the office if you need more information about reporting capital gains and losses.

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Exemptions and Dependents: Top Ten Tax Facts

Exemptions and Dependents: Top Ten Tax Facts

Most people can claim an exemption on their tax return. It can lower your taxable income, which in most cases, that reduces the amount of tax you owe for the year. Here are eight tax facts about exemptions to help you file your tax return.

1. Exemptions Cut Income. There are two types of exemptions. The first type is a personal exemption. The second type is an exemption for a dependent. You can usually deduct $4,000 for each exemption you claim on your 2015 tax return.

2. Personal Exemptions. You can usually claim an exemption for yourself. If you’re married and file a joint return, you can claim one for your spouse, too. If you file a separate return, you can claim an exemption for your spouse only if your spouse:

  • Had no gross income,
  • Is not filing a tax return, and
  • Was not the dependent of another taxpayer.

3. Exemptions for Dependents. You can usually claim an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is either your child or a relative who meets a set of tests. You can’t claim your spouse as a dependent. You must list the Social Security number of each dependent you claim on your tax return. To learn more about these rules, please call the office.

4. Report Health Care Coverage. The health care law requires you to report certain health insurance information for you and your family. The individual shared responsibility provision requires you and each member of your family to either:

  • Have qualifying health insurance, called minimum essential coverage, or
  • Have an exemption from this coverage requirement, or
  • Make a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2015 tax return.

Please call if you’d like more information about these rules.

5. Some People Don’t Qualify. You normally may not claim married persons as dependents if they file a joint return with their spouse. There are some exceptions to this rule.

6. Dependents May Have to File. A person who you can claim as your dependent may have to file their own tax return. This depends on certain factors, like total income, whether they are married and if they owe certain taxes.

7. No Exemption on Dependent’s Return. If you can claim a person as a dependent, that person can’t claim a personal exemption on his or her own tax return. This is true even if you don’t actually claim that person on your tax return. This rule applies because you can claim that person as your dependent.

8. Exemption Phase-Out. The $4,000 per exemption is subject to income limits. This rule may reduce or eliminate the amount you can claim based on the amount of your income.

Questions? Help is just a phone call away!

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Tax Due Dates for March 2016

March 10

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during February, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

March 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

S Corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S), Shareholder’s Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

Electing large partnerships – Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065-B), Partner’s Share of Income (Loss) From an Electing Large Partnership. This due date applies even if the partnership requests an extension of time to file the Form 7004.

S Corporation Election – File Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation, to choose to be treated as an S corporation beginning with calendar year 2016. If Form 2553 is filed late, S treatment will begin with calendar year 2017.

March 31

Electronic filing of Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, and W-2G – File Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, or W-2G with the IRS. This due date applies only. The due date for giving the recipient these forms generally remains February 1.

For information about filing Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, or W-2G electronically, see Publication 1220, Specifications for Electronic Filing of Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, 5498, and W-2G.

Electronic filing of Forms W-2 – File copies of all the Forms W-2 you issued for 2015. This due date applies only if you electronically file. Otherwise see February 29. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains February 1.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Choosing the Correct Filing Status

Choosing the Correct Filing Status

It’s important to use the right filing status when you file your tax return because the filing status you choose can affect the amount of tax you owe for the year. It may even determine if you must file a tax return. Keep in mind that your marital status on Dec. 31 is your status for the whole year. Sometimes more than one filing status may apply to you. If that happens, choose the one that allows you to pay the least amount of tax.

The easiest and most accurate way to file your tax return is to consult a tax professional who is able to choose the right filing status based on your circumstances. Here’s a list of the five filing statuses:

1. Single. This status normally applies if you aren’t married. It applies if you are divorced or legally separated under state law.

2. Married Filing Jointly. If you’re married, you and your spouse can file a joint tax return. If your spouse died in 2015, you can often file a joint return for that year.

3. Married Filing Separately. A married couple can choose to file two separate tax returns. This may benefit you if it results in less tax owed than if you file a joint tax return. You may want to prepare your taxes both ways before you choose. You can also use it if you want to be responsible only for your own tax.

4. Head of Household. In most cases, this status applies if you are not married, but there are some special rules. For example, you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for yourself and a qualifying person. Don’t choose this status by mistake. Be sure to check all the rules.

5. Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. This status may apply to you if your spouse died during 2013 or 2014 and you have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about filing your tax return this year.

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It’s Not Too Late to Make a 2015 IRA Contribution

It’s Not Too Late to Make a 2015 IRA Contribution

If you haven’t contributed funds to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) for tax year 2015, or if you’ve put in less than the maximum allowed, you still have time to do so. You can contribute to either a traditional or Roth IRA until the April 18th due date, not including extensions.

Be sure to tell the IRA trustee that the contribution is for 2015. Otherwise, the trustee may report the contribution as being for 2016 when they get your funds.

Generally, you can contribute up to $5,500 of your earnings for tax year 2015 (up to $6,500 if you are age 50 or older in 2015). You can fund a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA (if you qualify), or both, but your total contributions cannot be more than these amounts.

Traditional IRA: You may be able to take a tax deduction for the contributions to a traditional IRA, depending on your income and whether you or your spouse, if filing jointly, are covered by an employer’s pension plan.

Roth IRA: You cannot deduct Roth IRA contributions, but the earnings on a Roth IRA may be tax-free if you meet the conditions for a qualified distribution.

Each year, the IRS announces the cost of living adjustments and limitation for retirement savings plans.

Saving for retirement should be part of everyone’s financial plan and it’s important to review your retirement goals every year in order to maximize savings. If you need help with your retirement plans, give the office a call.

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The Individual Shared Responsibility Provision

The Individual Shared Responsibility Provision

The individual shared responsibility provision requires that you and each member of your family have qualifying health insurance, a health coverage exemption, or make a payment for any months without coverage or an exemption when you file. If you, your spouse and dependents had health insurance coverage all year, you will indicate this by simply checking a box on your tax return.

In most cases, the shared responsibility payment reduces your refund. If you are not claiming a refund, the payment will increase the amount you owe on your tax return. Here are some basic facts about the individual shared responsibility provision.

What is the individual shared responsibility provision?

The individual shared responsibility provision calls for each individual to have qualifying healthcare coverage–known as minimum essential coverage–for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.

Who is subject to the individual shared responsibility provision?

The provision applies to individuals of all ages, including children. The adult or married couple who can claim a child or another individual as a dependent for federal income tax purposes is responsible for making the shared responsibility payment if the dependent does not have coverage or an exemption.

How do I get a health coverage exemption?

You can claim most exemptions when you file your tax return. There are certain exemptions that you can obtain only from the Marketplace in advance. You can obtain some exemptions from the Marketplace or by claiming them on your tax return. You will claim or report coverage exemptions on Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, and attach it to Form 1040, Form 1040A, or Form 1040EZ. You can file any of these forms electronically. For any month that you or your dependents do not have coverage or qualify for an exemption, you will have to make a shared responsibility payment

What do I need to do if I am required to make a payment with my tax return?

If you have to make an individual shared responsibility payment, you will need to use the worksheets found in the instructions to Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, to figure the shared responsibility payment amount due. You only make a payment for the months you did not have coverage or qualify for a coverage exemption. If you need assistance, please call.

What happens if I owe an individual shared responsibility payment, but I cannot afford to make the payment when filing my tax return?

The law prohibits the IRS from using liens or levies to collect any individual shared responsibility payment and they routinely work with taxpayers who owe amounts they cannot afford to pay. However, if you owe a shared responsibility payment, the IRS may offset that liability against any tax refund that may be due to you.

Please call the office if you would like more information about the individual shared responsibility provision.

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Tax Tips

Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as athorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. If desired, wewould be pleased to perform the requisite research and provide you with a detailed written analysis. Such an engagement may be the subject of a separateengagement letter that would define the scope and limits of the desired consultation services.

Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

There are a number of end of year tax planning strategies that businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2016. Here are a few of them:

Deferring Income

Businesses using the cash method of accounting can defer income into 2017 by delaying end-of-year invoices so payment is not received until 2017. Businesses using the accrual method can defer income by postponing delivery of goods or services until January 2017.

Purchase New Business Equipment

Section 179 Expensing. Business should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2016 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $500,000 for the first $2,010,000 million of property placed in service by December 31, 2016. Keep in mind that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed net taxable business income. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2.01 million threshold and eliminated above amounts exceeding $2.5 million.

Bonus Depreciation. Businesses are able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and placed in service during 2015, 2016 and 2017. However, the bonus depreciation is reduced to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.

Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.

Note: Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.

Please contact the office if you have any questions regarding qualified property.

Timing. If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here’s a simplified explanation:

Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include “conventions” or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.

  1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as “placed in service” (or “disposed of”) at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

  2. Example: You buy a $40,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

  3. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40 percent of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.

  4. The mid-month convention:This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

  5. If you’re planning on buying equipment for your business, call the office and speak to a tax professional who can help you figure out the best time to buy that equipment and take full advantage of these tax rules.

Other Year-End Moves to Take Advantage Of

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Small business employers with 25 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees (average annual wages of $52,000 in 2016) may qualify for a tax credit to help pay for employees’ health insurance. The credit is 50 percent (35 percent for non-profits).

Business Energy Investment Tax Credit. Business energy investment tax credits are still available for eligible systems placed in service on or before December 31, 2016, and businesses that want to take advantage of these tax credits can still do so.

Business energy credits include solar energy systems (passive solar and solar pool-heating systems excluded), fuel cells and microturbines, and an increased credit amount for fuel cells. The extended tax provision also established new credits for small wind-energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. Utilities are allowed to use the credits as well.

Repair Regulations. Where possible, end of year repairs and expenses should be deducted immediately, rather than capitalized and depreciated. Small businesses lacking applicable financial statements (AFS) are able to take advantage of de minimis safe harbor by electing to deduct smaller purchases ($2,500 or less per purchase or per invoice). Businesses with applicable financial statements are able to deduct $5,000. Small business with gross receipts of $10 million or less can also take advantage of safe harbor for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to eligible buildings. Please call if you would like more information on this topic.

Partnership or S-Corporation Basis. Partners or S corporation shareholders in entities that have a loss for 2016 can deduct that loss only up to their basis in the entity. However, they can take steps to increase their basis to allow a larger deduction. Basis in the entity can be increased by lending the entity money or making a capital contribution by the end of the entity’s tax year.

Caution: Remember that by increasing basis, you’re putting more of your funds at risk. Consider whether the loss signals further troubles ahead.

Section 199 Deduction. Businesses with manufacturing activities could qualify for a Section 199 domestic production activities deduction. By accelerating salaries or bonuses attributable to domestic production gross receipts in the last quarter of 2016, businesses can increase the amount of this deduction. Please call to find out how your business can take advantage of Section 199.

Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2016. Call today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.

Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders.

Budgets. Every business, whether small or large should have a budget. The need for a business budget may seem obvious, but many companies overlook this critical business planning tool.

A budget is extremely effective in making sure your business has adequate cash flow and in ensuring financial success. Once the budget has been created, then monthly actual revenue amounts can be compared to monthly budgeted amounts. If actual revenues fall short of budgeted revenues, expenses must generally be cut.

Tip: Year-end is the best time for business owners to meet with their accountants to budget revenues and expenses for the following year.

If you need help developing a budget for your business, don’t hesitate to call.

Call a Tax Professional First

These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2016. If you’d like more information about tax planning for 2017, please call to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.

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When Disaster Strikes

Special tax law provisions may help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. With hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters affecting so many homeowners and businesses throughout the US this year, here is some useful information about disaster-related tax relief that taxpayers should know about:

Immediate relief. If you have damaged or lost property in a location declared by the President as a major disaster area, you may be able to get some money back from the IRS right now. Please call the office for more information.

Tax filing and penalty relief. The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Thus, taxpayers need not contact the IRS to get this relief. However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

Taxpayers who live outside the disaster area. In addition, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. This also includes workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization. Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you need assistance with this.

Disaster-related losses. Individuals and businesses who suffer uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2016 return normally filed next year), or the return for the prior year (2015).

Retirement plan hardship distributions. Finally, employees and certain members of their families who live or work in disaster area localities affected by Hurricane Matthew who participate in employee sponsored retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b) tax-sheltered annuities, and state and local government employees with 457(b) deferred-compensation plans may be eligible to take loans and hardship distributions without incurring the 10 percent early withdrawal tax penalty.

Tax Relief Specifically for Victims of Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew victims in much of North Carolina and parts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida have until March 15, 2017, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments. This includes an additional filing extension for those with valid extensions that were due on October 17, 2016.

This expanded relief applies to any area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for either individual assistance or public assistance. In addition, taxpayers in counties that are added later to the disaster area will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief.

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on October 4, 2016. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until March 15, 2017, to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. This includes the January 17 deadline for making quarterly estimated tax payments.

For individual tax filers, it also includes 2015 income tax returns that received a tax-filing extension until October 17, 2016. However, because tax payments related to these 2015 returns were originally due on April 18, 2016, those are not eligible for this relief.

A variety of business tax deadlines are also affected including the October 31 and January 31 deadlines for quarterly payroll and excise tax returns. It also includes the special March 1 deadline that applies to farmers and fishermen who choose to forgo making quarterly estimated tax payments.

In addition, the IRS is waiving late-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due on or after October 4 and before October 19 if the deposits are made by October 19, 2016.

Ready to Help

Please call the office if you have any questions about the impact of a natural disaster on your tax situation or need assistance figuring out what you need to do next.

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The Overtime Rule: What Employers Need to Know

Approximately 4.2 million employees are expected to benefit from the new overtime rule that goes into effect on December 1, 2016. Here’s what employers need to know about the new overtime regulations.

What is the Overtime Rule?

The final overtime rule raises the salary threshold for overtime eligibility from $455/week to $913 ($47,476 per year). What this means for employers is that if you have an employee that makes less than $47,476 ($913 a week), then he or she automatically qualifies for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week.

In accordance with the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) employers are required to pay at least a minimum wage for up to 40 hours per week and to pay overtime for hours in excess of 40; however, many workers with at least some managerial duties who make between $23,660 and $47,476 are currently considered “exempt” from overtime pay. The Final Overtime Rule is, among other things, intended to make sure that these workers are adequately compensated, ensuring all employees that make less than $47,476 ($913 a week) automatically qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week.

What is the Effective Date?

Starting December 1, 2016, regular employees paid $913 per week will be eligible for overtime time for any works worked in excess of 40 hours effective on that date. Further, the exemption salary threshold for highly compensated employees (more on this below) rises to $134,004 per year. Exempt employees are not subject to overtime pay.

Future automatic updates to salary threshold amounts will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020. The Department of Labor will publish all updated rates in the Federal Register at least 150 days before their effective date, and also post them on the Wage and Hour Division’s website.

Are all Businesses Affected by the new Overtime Regulations?

All businesses are affected by the overtime regulations; however, because the overtime regulations fall under the FLSA, only businesses with gross annual sales of $500,000 or that are engaged in interstate commerce must comply with the new overtime rule.

How does the new Overtime Rule affect a Highly Compensated Employee (HCE)?

The Final Rule sets the HCE total annual compensation level equal to the 90th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004 annually).

To be exempt as an HCE, an employee must also receive at least the new standard salary amount of $913 per week on a salary or fee basis and pass a minimal duties test. The HCE annual compensation level set in this Final Rule brings this threshold more in line with the level established in 2004 and will avoid the unintended exemption of large numbers of employees in high-wage areas who are clearly not performing EAP (executive, administrative, and professional) duties.

Are Commissions or Bonuses Included in the Salary Calculation?

Up to 10 percent of total compensation meeting the salary threshold amount can be in the form of bonuses or commissions. Prior to the new rule, employers were not permitted to count these forms of compensation toward meeting the minimum salary threshold for overtime.

Employers will now be able to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments such as including commissions to satisfy up to 10 percent of the standard salary level. However, for employers to credit non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments toward a portion of the standard salary level test, payments must be paid on at least a quarterly basis. It is the employer’s discretion when the quarter will begin (i.e. not necessarily a calendar quarter).

Example: You pay an employee $821.70 per week and s/he also receives a bonus of $1,186.90 every quarter. The base pay plus the bonus ($91.30 x 13 weeks in a quarter) is equivalent to paying your employee a salary of $913 per week.

The Final Rule also allows an employer to make a “catch-up” payment. Catch-up payments are made when an employee doesn’t meet their sales quota in a given quarter (and doesn’t earn their expected quarterly commission) but exceeds a sales quota during the next quarter. In this case, an employer is able to make a catch-up payment and avoid paying overtime compensation.

Example: Let’s say your employee typically earns a commission of at least $1,500 every 13 weeks (quarter). You pay the employee a weekly salary of $821.70 (90 percent) and anticipate applying the 10 percent bonus commission ($91.30) toward the total salary requirement of $913 per week. However, the employee doesn’t meet his sales quota and only earns a commission of $1,000 or $76.92 per week, which is $14.38 less than required to meet the $913 per week requirement. In this example, employers are allowed to make a catch-up payment in the next quarter of $186.94 ($14.38 x 13 weeks) to maintain the employee’s exempt from overtime status.

Nondiscretionary bonuses. A form of compensation promised to employees, for example, to induce them to work more efficiently or to remain with the company.

Discretionary bonuses. The decision to award the bonus and the payment amount is at the employer’s sole discretion. For example, a previously unannounced holiday bonus qualifies as a discretionary bonus, because the bonus is entirely at the discretion of the employer, and therefore could not satisfy any portion of the standard salary threshold level of $913 per week.

Note: For businesses that pay employees large bonuses the amount attributable toward the standard salary level is capped at 10 percent of the required salary amount.

Non-discretionary bonuses and commissions continue to count toward the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees ($134,004) as long as the HCE receives at least the full standard salary amount each pay period ($913).

What are my Options as an Employer?

While the new overtime regulations don’t specify exactly what actions employers need to take, there are a number of ways that employers can comply such as:

  • Increasing workers’ salaries so they are exempt from the overtime salary threshold
  • Paying the mandatory time-and-a-half for overtime hours in excess of 40 hours per week
  • Limiting workers to 40-hour work weeks so there is no overtime
  • Reducing base salaries, but keep overtime pay with the goal of keeping weekly pay the same
  • Using a combination of the above

Are you Ready for the new Overtime Rule?

The best way to prepare for the new overtime rule is to understand how it works and how it will affect your business and your employees. Please call the office if you have any questions or need assistance complying with the new regulations.

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ACA Requirements for Employers

The health care law contains tax provisions that affect employers. The size and structure of a workforce–small or large–helps determine which parts of the law apply to which employers. Calculating the number of employees is especially important for employers that have close to 50 employees or whose workforce fluctuates during the year.

Two parts of the Affordable Care Act apply only to applicable large employers. These are the employer shared responsibility provisions and the employer information reporting provisions for offers of minimum essential coverage.

The number of employees an employer has during the current year determines whether it is an applicable large employer (ALE) for the following year. For example, you will use information about the size of your workforce during 2016 to determine if your organization is an ALE for 2017.

Applicable large employers are generally those with 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalent employees. Under the employer shared responsibility provision, ALEs are required to offer their full-time employees and dependents affordable coverage that provides minimum value. Employers with fewer than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees are not applicable large employers.

Who is a Full-time Employee?

There are many additional rules on determining who is a full-time employee, including what counts as hours of service, but in general:

  • A full-time employee is an employee who is employed on average, per month, at least 30 hours of service per week, or at least 130 hours of service in a calendar month.
  • A full-time equivalent employee is a combination of employees, each of whom individually is not a full-time employee, but who, in combination, are equivalent to a full-time employee.
  • An aggregated group is commonly owned or otherwise related or affiliated employers, which must combine their employees to determine their workforce size.

Figuring the Size of the Workforce

To determine your workforce size for a year, you add your total number of full-time employees for each month of the prior calendar year to the total number of full-time equivalent employees for each calendar month of the prior calendar year and divide that total number by 12. If the result is 50 or more employees, you are an applicable large employer.

Employers with Fewer than 50 Employees

If an employer has fewer than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on average during the prior year, the employer is not an ALE for the current calendar year. Therefore, the employer is not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions or the employer information reporting provisions for the current year.

Information Reporting (Including Self-Insured Employers)

All providers of health coverage, including employers that provide self-insured coverage, must file annual returns with the IRS reporting information about the coverage and about each covered individual. The coverage is reported on a Form 1095-B, Health Coverage and the employer must also furnish a copy of Form 1095-B to the employee.

Tax Credits

Certain employers may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit if they:

  1. cover at least 50 percent of employees’ premium costs
  2. have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees with average annual wages of less than $52,000 in 2016 (indexed for inflation)
  3. purchase their coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program.

Employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees or full-time equivalent employees are not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions.

Employers with 50 or More Employees

Information Reporting

All employers including applicable large employers that provide self-insured health coverage must file an annual return for individuals they cover, and provide a statement to responsible individuals.

Applicable large employers must file an annual return–and provide a statement to each full-time employee–reporting whether they offered health insurance, and if so, what insurance they offered their employees.

ALEs are required to furnish a statement to each full-time employee that includes the same information provided to the IRS by January 31, 2017. ALEs that file 250 or more information returns during the calendar year must file the returns electronically.

Employer Shared Responsibility Payment

ALEs are subject to the employer shared responsibility payment if at least one full-time employee receives the premium tax credit and any one these conditions apply. The ALE:

  • failed to offer coverage to full-time employees and their dependents
  • offered coverage that was not affordable
  • offered coverage that did not provide a minimum level of coverage

Questions? Don’t hesitate to call for assistance.

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Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

Tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing income and accelerating deductions, as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning.

General tax planning strategies that taxpayers might consider include the following:

  • Sell 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 2016 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 2017.

  • Prepay deductible expenses such as charitable contributions and medical expenses this year using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken based on when the expense was charged on the credit card, not when the bill was paid.

    For example, if you charge a medical expense in December but pay the bill in January, assuming it’s an eligible medical expense, it can be taken as a deduction on your 2016 tax return.

  • 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 2017. Exercising this 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 to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Accelerating Income and Deductions

Accelerating income into 2016 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 Net Investment Income Tax (see below).

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 2016, 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 percent 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.

Tip: 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.

Tip: 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.

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 2017, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.

  • It may be beneficial to pay 2017 tuition in 2016 to take full advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an above-the-line deduction worth up to $2,500 per student to cover the cost of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year. Forty percent of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, which means you can get it even if you owe no tax.

  • Try to bunch “threshold” expenses, such as medical and dental expenses–10 percent of AGI (adjusted gross income)–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.

    Note: The temporary exemption of 7.5 percent for individuals age 65 and older and their spouses ends on through December 31, 2016.

    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.

Health Care Law

If you haven’t signed up for health insurance this year, do so now and avoid or reduce any penalty you might be subject to. Depending on your income, you may be able to claim the premium tax credit that reduces your premium payment or reduces your tax obligations, as long as you meet certain requirements. You can choose to get the credit immediately or receive it as a refund when you file your taxes next spring. Please contact the office if you need assistance with this.

Additional Medicare Tax

Taxpayers whose income exceeds certain threshold amounts ($200,000 single filers and $250,000 married filing jointly) are liable for an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on their tax returns, but may request that their employers withhold additional income tax from their pay to be applied against their tax liability when filing their 2016 tax return next April.

High net worth individuals should consider contributing to Roth IRAs and 401(k) because distributions are not subject to the Medicare Tax.

If you’re a taxpayer close to the threshold for the Medicare Tax, it might make sense to switch Roth retirement contributions to a traditional IRA plan, thereby avoiding the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax as well (more about the NIIT below).

Alternate Minimum Tax

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exemption “patch,” which was made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012, is indexed for inflation and it’s important not to overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2016 and 2017.

Items that may affect AMT include deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions. Please call if you’re not sure whether AMT applies to you.

Note: AMT exemption amounts for 2016 are as follows:

  • $53,900 for single and head of household filers,

  • $83,800 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers,

  • $41,900 for married people filing separately.

Charitable Contributions

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 your charitable contributions–including travel expenses such as mileage–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.

Investment Gains and Losses

This year, and in the coming years, investment decisions are likely to be more about managing capital gains than about minimizing taxes per se. For example, taxpayers below threshold amounts in 2016 might want to take gains; whereas taxpayers above threshold amounts might want to take losses.

Caution: In recent years, extreme fluctuations in the stock market have been commonplace. Don’t assume that a down market means investment losses. Your cost basis may be low if you’ve held the stock for a long time.

If your tax bracket is either 10 or 15 percent (married couples making less than $75,300 or single filers making less than $37,650), then you might want to take advantage of the zero percent tax rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains. If you fall into the highest tax bracket (39.6 percent), the maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains is capped at 20 percent for tax years 2013 and beyond.

Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term capital gains, which are usually taxed at a much higher tax rate than long-term gains–up to 39.6 percent in 2016 for high-income earners ($415,050 single filers, $466,950 married filing jointly).

Where feasible, reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000.

Tip: As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.

Tip: After selling a securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. This is known as the “Wash Rule Sale.” If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., and ETF or another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.

Tip: If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free; your original investment is restored, and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).

Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

The Net Investment Income Tax, which went into effect in 2013, is a 3.8 percent tax that is applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains for earners above certain threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly). Short-term capital gains are subject to ordinary income tax rates as well as the 3.8 percent NIIT. This information is something to think about as you plan your long-term investments. Business income is not considered subject to the NIIT provided the individual business owner materially participates in the business.

Please call if you need assistance with any of your long term tax planning goals.

Mutual Fund Investments

Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the next year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.

Example: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund at the end of 2016. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends, and in late December of 2016, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.

Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund’s long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.

The mutual fund’s distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as “ordinary dividends” that don’t qualify for relief.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date.

Tip: To find out a fund’s ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.

Please call if you’d like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.

Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax

The federal gift and estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $5.45 million, is set to increase to $5.49 million in 2017. ATRA set the maximum estate tax rate set at 40 percent.

Gift Tax. For many, sound estate planning begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor’s assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.

Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $14,000 a year per donee.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn’t carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2016, you must make your gift by December 31.

Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $28,000 ($14,000 each). Though what’s given may come from either you or your spouse or both of you, both of you must consent to such “split gifts.”

Gifts of “future interests,” assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don’t qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.

Tip: If you’re considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift’s true value when given.

You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings and built-in gain on sale.

Gift tax returns for 2016 are due the same date as your income tax return. Returns are required for gifts over $14,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $14,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $14,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not “adequately disclosed.”

Tip: Call if you’re considering making a gift of property whose value isn’t unquestionably less than $14,000.

Income earned on investments you give to children or other family members are generally taxed to them, not to you. In the case of dividends paid on stock given to your children, they may qualify for the reduced child tax rate, generally 10 percent, where the first $1,050 in investment income is exempt from tax and the next $1,050 is subject to a child’s tax rate of 10 percent (0 percent tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends).

Caution: In 2016, investment income for a child (under age 18 at the end of the tax year or a full-time student under age 24) that is in excess of $2,100 is taxed at the parent’s tax rate.

Other Year-End Moves

Retirement Plan Contributions. Maximize your retirement plan contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don’t already have one. It doesn’t actually need to be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year’s return.

If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($18,000 for 2016), plus an additional catch-up contribution of $6,000 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this and income restrictions don’t apply.

If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $5,500 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.

Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.

In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the excess over 10 percent of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later that are not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.

To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2016, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,300 for single coverage or $2,600 for a family.

Summary

These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact the office for assistance with implementing these and other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable to your particular situation.

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Lending Money to a Friend? It Pays to Plan Ahead

Lending money to a cash-strapped friend or family member is a noble and generous offer that just might make a difference. But before you hand over the cash, you need to plan ahead to avoid tax complications for yourself down the road.

Take a look at this example: Let’s say you decide to loan $5,000 to your daughter who’s been out of work for over a year and is having difficulty keeping up with the mortgage payments on her condo. While you may be tempted to charge an interest rate of zero percent, you should resist the temptation.

Here’s why:

When you make an interest-free loan to someone, you will be subject to “below-market interest rules.” IRS rules state that you need to calculate imaginary interest payments from the borrower. These imaginary interest payments are then payable to you, and you will need to pay taxes on these interest payments when you file a tax return. To complicate matters further, if the imaginary interest payments exceed $14,000 for the year, there may be adverse gift and estate tax consequences.

Exception: The IRS lets you ignore the rules for small loans ($10,000 or less), as long as the aggregate loan amounts to a single borrower are less than $10,000, and the borrower doesn’t use the loan proceeds to buy or carry income-producing assets.

As was mentioned above, if you don’t charge any interest, or charge interest that is below market rate (more on this below), then the IRS might consider your loan a gift, especially if there is no formal documentation (i.e. written agreement with payment schedule), and you go to make a nonbusiness bad debt deduction if the borrower defaults on the loan–or the IRS decides to audit you and decides your loan is really a gift.

Formal documentation generally refers to a written promissory note that includes the interest rate, a repayment schedule showing dates and amounts for all principal and interest, and security or collateral for the loan, such as a residence (see below). Make sure that all parties sign the note so that it’s legally binding.

As long as you charge an interest rate that is at least equal to the applicable federal rate (AFR) approved by the Internal Revenue Service, you can avoid tax complications and unfavorable tax consequences.

AFRs for term loans that is, loans with a defined repayment schedule, are updated monthly by the IRS and published in the IRS Bulletin. AFRs are based on the bond market, which changes frequently. For term loans, use the AFR published in the same month that you make the loan. The AFR is a fixed rate for the duration of the loan.

Any interest income that you make from the term loan is included on your Form 1040. In general, the borrower, who in this example is your daughter, cannot deduct interest paid, but there is one exception: if the loan is secured by her home, then the interest can be deducted as qualified residence interest–as long as the promissory note for the loan was secured by the residence.

If you have any questions about the tax implications of loaning a friend or family member money, don’t hesitate to call.

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Eight Ways Children Lower your Taxes

Got kids? They may have an impact on your tax situation. If you have children, here are eight tax credits and deductions that can help lower your tax burden.

  1. Dependents: In most cases, a child can be claimed as a dependent in the year they were born. Be sure to let the office know if your family size has increased this year. You may be able to claim the child as a dependent this year.

  2. Child Tax Credit: You may be able to take this credit on your tax return for each of your children under age 17. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. The Additional Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit and may give you a refund even if you do not owe any tax.

  3. Child and Dependent Care Credit: You may be able to claim this credit if you pay someone to care for your child under age 13 while you work or look for work. Be sure to keep track of your child care expenses so we can claim this credit accurately.

  4. Earned Income Tax Credit: The EITC is a benefit for certain people who work and have earned income from wages, self-employment, or farming. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may also give you a refund.

  5. Adoption Credit: You may be able to take a tax credit for qualifying expenses paid to adopt a child.

  6. Coverdell Education Savings Account: This savings account is used to pay qualified expenses at an eligible educational institution. Contributions are not deductible; however, qualified distributions generally are tax-free.

  7. Higher Education Credits: Education tax credits can help offset the costs of education. The American Opportunity and the Lifetime Learning Credit are education credits that reduce your federal income tax dollar for dollar, unlike a deduction, which reduces your taxable income.

  8. Student Loan Interest: You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income, so you do not need to itemize your deductions.

As you can see, having children can make a big impact on your tax profile. Make sure that you’re getting the appropriate credits and deductions by speaking to a tax professional today.

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Cash Flow Management: the Secret to Success

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any small business. Some business experts even say that a healthy cash flow is more important than your business’s ability to deliver its goods and services.

While that might seem counterintuitive, consider this: if you fail to satisfy a customer and lose that customer’s business, you can always work harder to please the next customer. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or employees, you are out of business!

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow, simply defined, is the movement of money in and out of your business; these movements are called inflow and outflow. Inflows for your business primarily come from the sale of goods or services to your customers but keep in mind that inflow only occurs when you make a cash sale or collect on receivables. It is the cash that counts! Other examples of cash inflows are borrowed funds, income derived from sales of assets, and investment income from interest.

Outflows for your business are generally the result of paying expenses. Examples of cash outflows include paying employee wages, purchasing inventory or raw materials, purchasing fixed assets, operating costs, paying back loans, and paying taxes.

Note: A tax and accounting professional is the best person to help you learn how your cash flow statement works. He or she can prepare your cash flow statement and explain where the numbers come from. If you need help, don’t hesitate to call.

Cash Flow versus Profit

While they might seem similar, profit and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat broad and only looks at income and expenses over a certain period, say a fiscal quarter. Profit is a useful figure for calculating your taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Cash flow, on the other hand, is a more dynamic tool focusing on the day-to-day operations of a business owner. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. But more important, it is concerned with the times at which the movement of the money takes place.

In theory, even profitable companies can go bankrupt. It would take a lot of negligence and total disregard for cash flow, but it is possible. Consider how the difference between profit and cash flow relate to your business.

Example: If your retail business bought a $1,000 item and turned around to sell it for $2,000, then you have made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before you collect on the account? Your retail business may still show a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during that six-month period? You may not have the cash to pay the bills despite the profits you earned on the sale. Furthermore, this cash flow gap may cause you to miss other profit opportunities, damage your credit rating, and force you to take out loans and create debt. If this mistake is repeated enough times, you may go bankrupt.

Analyzing your Cash Flow

The sooner you learn how to manage your cash flow, the better your chances of survival. Furthermore, you will be able to protect your company’s short-term reputation as well as position it for long-term success.

The first step toward taking control of your company’s cash flow is to analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and outflows. A thorough analysis of these components will reveal problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps in your business. Narrowing, or even closing, these gaps is the key to cash flow management.

Some of the most important components to examine are:

  • Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An accounts receivable balance sheet is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts, the more negative the effect on your cash flow.

  • Credit terms. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers’ promise to pay for their purchases. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. A simple way to improve cash flow is to get customers to pay their bills more quickly.

  • Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy – neither too strict nor too generous – is crucial for a healthy cash flow.

  • Inventory. Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows. Too many business owners buy inventory based on hopes and dreams instead of what they can realistically sell. Keep your inventory as low as possible.

  • Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable at some point in the near future – “near” meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit, you’d have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, examine your payables schedule.

Some cash flow gaps are created intentionally. For example, a business may purchase extra inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts, accelerate cash outflows to take advantage of significant trade discounts or spend extra cash to expand its line of business.

For other businesses, cash flow gaps are unavoidable. Take, for example, a company that experiences seasonal fluctuations in its line of business. This business may normally have cash flow gaps during its slow season and then later fill the gaps with cash surpluses from the peak part of its season. Cash flow gaps are often filled by external financing sources. Revolving lines of credit, bank loans, and trade credit are just a few of the external financing options available that you may want to discuss with us.

Monitoring and managing your cash flow is important for the vitality of your business. The first signs of financial woe appear in your cash flow statement, giving you time to recognize a forthcoming problem and plan a strategy to deal with it. Furthermore, with periodic cash flow
analysis, you can head off those unpleasant financial glitches by recognizing which aspects of your business have the potential to cause cash flow gaps.

Make sure your business has adequate funds to cover day-to-day expenses.

If you need help analyzing and managing your cash flow more effectively, please call the office.

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IRS Warns of Fake Tax Bill Emails

Numerous reports of scammers sending fraudulent CP2000 Notices for tax-year 2015 have been received by the IRS, resulting in an investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The notice relates to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and requests information regarding 2014 coverage. It also includes a request for payment of unpaid taxes.

Here’s what taxpayers need to know:

What is a CP2000 Notice?

A CP2000 Notice is generated by the IRS Automated Underreporter Program when income reported from third-party sources (such as an employer) does not match the income reported on the tax return. It provides extensive instructions to taxpayers about what to do if they agree or disagree that additional tax is owed.

Commonly mailed to taxpayers through the United States Postal Service, a CP2000 Notice is never sent as part of an email to taxpayers.

What to watch out for:

Taxpayers and tax professionals should be on guard against fake emails purporting to contain an IRS tax bill related to the Affordable Care Act. Generally, the scam involves an email that includes the fake CP2000 notice as an attachment.

Indicators that the CP2000 Notice you received is a scam include the following:

  • Notices are sent electronically, even though the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or through social media platforms;
  • The CP2000 notices appear to be issued from an Austin, Texas, address;
  • The underreported issue is related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requesting information regarding 2014 coverage;
  • The payment voucher lists the letter number as 105C.

The fraudulent CP2000 Notice includes a payment request that taxpayers mail a check made out to “I.R.S.” and sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a Post Office Box address. This is in addition to a “payment” link within the email itself. In addition, if taxpayers are unable to pay, it provides instructions for payment options such as installment payments.

Unlike the fake version a real CP2000 Notice provides extensive instructions to taxpayers about what to do if they agree or disagree that additional tax is owed. A real notice also requests that checks be made out to “United States Treasury.”

To determine if a CP2000 Notice that you received in the mail is real, go to the IRS website and use the search term, “Understanding Your CP2000 Notice.” You will see an image of a real notice.

IRS Impersonation Scams

IRS impersonation scams take many forms: threatening telephone calls, phishing emails, and demanding letters. Anyone who receives this scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and then immediately delete it from their email account.

Taxpayers should always beware of any unsolicited email purported to be from the IRS or any unknown source. Never open an attachment or click on a link within an email sent by an unknown person or a source you do not know.

What you should do:

Individuals with questions about a notice or letter they receive from the IRS can generally do a keyword search for “Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter” on the IRS.gov website and view explanations and images of common correspondence.

Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions about IRS notices or letters you have received in the mail or otherwise.

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Choosing the Right Business Entity

When you decide to start a business, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is choosing the right business entity. It’s a decision that impacts many things–from the amount of taxes you pay to how much paperwork you have to deal with and what type of personal liability you face.

Forms of Business

The most common forms of business are Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), and Corporations (C-Corporations). Federal tax law also recognizes another business form called the S-Corporation. While state law controls the formation of your business, federal tax law controls how your business is taxed.

What to Consider

Businesses fall under one of two federal tax systems:

1. Taxation of both the entity itself on the income it earns and the owners on dividends or other profit participation the owners receive from the business. C-Corporations fall under this system of federal taxation.

2. “Pass through” taxation. This type of entity (also called a “flow-through” entity) is not taxed, but its owners are each taxed (more or less) on their proportionate shares of the entity’s income. Pass-through entities include:

  • Sole Proprietorships
  • Partnerships, of various types
  • Limited liability companies (LLCs)
  • “S-Corporations” (S-Corps), as distinguished from C-corporations (C-Corps)

The first major consideration when choosing a business entity is whether to choose one that has two levels of tax on income or one that is a pass-through entity with only one level directly on the owners.

The second consideration, which has more to do with business considerations rather than tax considerations, is the limitation of liability (protecting your assets from claims of business creditors).

Let’s take a general look at each of the options more closely:

Types of Business Entities

Sole Proprietorships

The most common (and easiest) form of business organization is the sole proprietorship. Defined as any unincorporated business owned entirely by one individual, a sole proprietor can operate any kind of business (full or part-time) as long as it is not a hobby or an investment. In general, the owner is also personally liable for all financial obligations and debts of the business.

Note: If you are the sole member of a domestic limited liability company (LLC), you are not a sole proprietor if you elect to treat the LLC as a corporation.

Types of businesses that operate as sole proprietorships include retail shops, farmers, large companies with employees, home-based businesses and one-person consulting firms.

As a sole proprietor, your net business income or loss is combined with your other income and deductions and taxed at individual rates on your personal tax return. Because sole proprietors do not have taxes withheld from their business income, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to make a profit. Also, as a sole proprietor, you must also pay self-employment tax on the net income reported.

Partnerships

A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the business.

There are two types of partnerships: Ordinary partnerships, called “general partnerships,” and limited partnerships that limit liability for some partners but not others. Both general and limited partnerships are treated as pass-through entities under federal tax law, but there are some relatively minor differences in tax treatment between general and limited partners.

For example, general partners must pay self-employment tax on their net earnings from self-employment assigned to them from the partnership. Net earnings from self-employment include an individual’s share, distributed or not, of income or loss from any trade or business carried on by a partnership. Limited partners are subject to self-employment tax only on guaranteed payments, such as professional fees for services rendered.

Partners are not employees of the partnership and do not pay any income tax at the partnership level. Partnerships report income and expenses from its operation and pass the information to the individual partners (hence the pass-through designation).

Because taxes are not withheld from any distributions partners generally need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if they expect to make a profit. Partners must report their share of partnership income even if a distribution is not made. Each partner reports his share of the partnership net profit or loss on his or her personal tax return.

Limited Liability Companies (LLC)

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a business structure allowed by state statute. Each state is different, so it’s important to check the regulations in the state you plan to do business in. Owners of an LLC are called members, which may include individuals, corporations, other LLCs and foreign entities. Most states also permit “single member” LLCs, i.e. those having only one owner.

Depending on elections made by the LLC and the number of members, the IRS treats an LLC as either a corporation, partnership, or as part of the LLC’s owner’s tax return. A domestic LLC with at least two members is classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.

An LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes (but as a separate entity for purposes of employment tax and certain excise taxes), unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.

C-Corporations

In forming a corporation, prospective shareholders exchange money, property, or both, for the corporation’s capital stock. A corporation conducts business, realizes net income or loss, pays taxes and distributes profits to shareholders.

A corporate structure is more complex than other business structures. When you form a corporation, you create a separate tax-paying entity. The profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends. This creates a double tax.

The corporation does not get a tax deduction when it distributes dividends to shareholders. Earnings distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends are taxed at individual tax rates on their personal tax returns. Shareholders cannot deduct any loss of the corporation.

If you organize your business as a corporation, generally are not personally liable for the debts of the corporation, although there may be exceptions under state law.

S-Corporations

An S-corporation has the same corporate structure as a standard corporation; however, its owners have elected to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S-corporations generally have limited liability.

Generally, an S-Corporation is exempt from federal income tax other than tax on certain capital gains and passive income. It is treated in the same way as a partnership, in that generally taxes are not paid at the corporate level. S-Corporations may be taxed under state tax law as regular corporations, or in some other way.

Shareholders must pay tax on their share of corporate income, regardless of whether it is actually distributed. Flow-through of income and losses is reported on their personal tax returns and they are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates, allowing S-Corporations to avoid double taxation on the corporate income.

To qualify for S-Corporation status, the corporation must meet a number of requirements. Please call if you would like more information about which requirements must be met to form an S-Corporation.

Professional Guidance

When making a decision about which type of business entity to choose each business owner must decide which one best meets his or her needs. One form of business entity is not necessarily better than any other and obtaining the advice of a tax professional is critical. If you need assistance figuring out which business entity is best for your business, don’t hesitate to call.

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Tax Records: Which Ones to Toss and When

Tax Records: Which Ones to Toss and When

Now is a great time to clean out that growing mountain of financial papers and tax documents that clutter your home and office. Here’s what you need to keep and what you can throw out.

Let’s start with your “safety zone,” the IRS statute of limitations. This limits the number of years during which the IRS can audit your tax returns. Once that period has expired, the IRS is legally prohibited from even asking you questions about those returns.

The concept behind it is that after a period of years, records are lost or misplaced, and memory isn’t as accurate as we would hope. There’s a need for finality. Once the statute of limitations has expired, the IRS can’t go after you for additional taxes, but you can’t go after the IRS for additional refunds, either.

The Three-Year Rule

For assessment of additional taxes, the statute of limitation runs generally three years from the date you file your return. If you’re looking for an additional refund, the limitations period is generally the later of three years from the date you filed the original return or two years from the date you paid the tax. There are some exceptions:

  • If you don’t report all your income, and the unreported amount is more than 25 percent of the gross income actually shown on your return, the limitation period is six years.

  • If you’ve claimed a loss from a worthless security, the limitation period is extended to seven years.

  • If you file a “fraudulent” return or don’t file at all, the limitations period doesn’t apply. In fact, the IRS can go after you at any time.

  • If you’re deciding what records you need or want to keep, you have to ask what your chances are of an audit. A tax audit is an IRS verification of items of income and deductions on your return. So you should keep records to support those items until the statute of limitations runs out.

Assuming that you’ve filed on time and paid what you should, you only have to keep your tax records for three years, but some records have to be kept longer than that.

Remember, the three-year rule relates to the information on your tax return. But, some of that information may relate to transactions more than three years old.

Here’s a checklist of the documents you should hold on to:

  1. Capital gains and losses. Your gain is reduced by your basis – your cost (including all commissions) plus, with mutual funds, any reinvested dividends, and capital gains. But you may have bought that stock five years ago, and you’ve been reinvesting those dividends and capital gains over the last decade. And don’t forget those stock splits.

    You don’t ever want to throw these records away until after you sell the securities. And then if you’re audited, you’ll have to prove those numbers. Therefore, you’ll need to keep those records for at least three years after you file the return reporting their sales.

  2. Expenses on your home. Cost records for your house and any improvements should be kept until the home is sold. It’s just good practice, even though most homeowners won’t face any tax problems. That’s because profit of less than $250,000 on your home ($500,000 on a joint return) isn’t subject to capital gains tax.

    If the profit is more than $250,000 ($500,000 joint filers) or if you don’t qualify for the full gain exclusion, then you’re going to need those records for another three years after that return is filed. Most homeowners probably won’t face that issue, but of course, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  3. Business records. Business records can become a nightmare. Non-residential real property is depreciated over a period of 39 years. You could be audited on the depreciation up to three years after you file the return for the 39th year. That’s a long time to hold onto receipts, but you may need to validate those numbers.

  4. Employment, bank, and brokerage statements. Keep all your W-2s, 1099s, brokerage, and bank statements to prove income until three years after you file. And don’t even think about dumping checks, receipts, mileage logs, tax diaries, and other documentation that substantiate your expenses.

  5. Tax returns. Keep copies of your tax returns as well. You can’t rely on the IRS to actually have a copy of your old returns. As a general rule, you should keep tax records for six years. The bottom line is that you’ve got to keep those records until they can no longer affect your tax return, plus the three-year statute of limitations.

  6. Social Security records. You will need to keep some records for Social Security purposes, so check with the Social Security Administration each year to confirm that your payments have been appropriately credited. If they’re wrong, you’ll need your W-2 or copies of your Schedule C (if self-employed) to prove the right amount. Don’t dispose of those records until after you’ve validated those contributions.

    Contact the office by phone or email if you have any questions about which tax and financial records you need to keep this year.

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Small Business: Deductions for Charitable Giving

Small Business: Deductions for Charitable Giving

Tax breaks for charitable giving aren’t limited to individuals, your small business can benefit as well. If you own a small to medium size business and are committed to giving back to the community through charitable giving, here’s what you should know.

1. Verify that the Organization is a Qualified Charity.

Once you’ve identified a charity, you’ll need to make sure it is a qualified charitable organization under the IRS. Qualified organizations must meet specific requirements as well as IRS criteria and are often referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations. Note that not all tax-exempt organizations are 501(c)(3) status, however.

There are two ways to verify whether a charity is qualified: use the IRS online search tool or ask the charity to send you a copy of their IRS determination letter confirming their exempt status.

2. Make Sure the Deduction is Eligible

Not all deductions are created equal. In order to take the deduction on a tax return, you need to make sure it qualifies. Charitable giving includes the following: cash donations, sponsorship of local charity events, in-kind contributions such as property such as inventory or equipment.

Lobbying. A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks the loss of its tax-exempt status. As such, you cannot claim a charitable deduction (or business expense) for amounts paid to an organization if both of the following apply.

  • The organization conducts lobbying activities on matters of direct financial interest to your business.
  • A principal purpose of your contribution is to avoid the rules discussed earlier that prohibit a business deduction for lobbying expenses.

Further, if a tax-exempt organization, other than a section 501(c)(3) organization, provides you with a notice on the part of dues that is allocable to nondeductible lobbying and political expenses, you cannot deduct that part of the dues.

3. Understand the Limitations

Sole proprietors, partners in a partnership, or shareholders in an S-corporation may be able to deduct charitable contributions made by their business on Schedule A (Form 1040). Corporations (other than S-corporations) can deduct charitable contributions on their income tax returns, subject to limitations.

Note: Cash payments to an organization, charitable or otherwise, may be deductible as business expenses if the payments are not charitable contributions or gifts and are directly related to your business. Likewise, if the payments are charitable contributions or gifts, you cannot deduct them as business expenses.

Sole Proprietorships

As a sole proprietor (or single-member LLC), you file your business taxes using Schedule C of individual tax form 1040. Your business does not make charitable contributions separately. Charitable contributions are deducted using Schedule A, and you must itemize in order to take the deductions.

Partnerships

Partnerships do not pay income taxes. Rather, the income and expenses (including deductions for charitable contributions) are passed on to the partners on each partner’s individual Schedule K-1. If the partnership makes a charitable contribution, then each partner takes a percentage share of the deduction on his or her personal tax return. For example, if the partnership has four equal partners and donates a total of $2,000 to a qualified charitable organization in 2016, each partner can claim a $500 charitable deductions on his or her 2016 tax return.

Note: A donation of cash or property reduces the value of the partnership. For example, if a partnership donates office equipment to a qualified charity, the office equipment is no longer owned by the partnership and the total value of the partnership is reduced. Therefore, each partner’s share of the total value of the partnership is reduced accordingly.

S-Corporations

S-Corporations are similar to Partnerships, with each shareholder receiving a Schedule K-1 showing the amount of charitable contribution.

C-Corporations

Unlike sole proprietors, Partnerships and S-corporations, C-Corporations are separate entities from their owners. As such, a corporation can make charitable contributions and take deductions for those contributions.

4. Categorize Donations

Each category of donation has its own criteria with regard to whether it’s deductible and to what extent. For example, mileage and travel expenses related to services performed for the charitable organization are deductible but time spent on volunteering your services is not. Here’s another example: As a board member, your duties may include hosting fundraising events. While the time you spend as a board member is not deductible, expenses related to hosting the fundraiser such as stationery for invitations and telephone costs related to the event are deductible.

Generally, you can deduct up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income. Non-cash donations of more than $500 require completion of Form 8283, which is attached to your tax return. In addition, contributions are only deductible in the tax year in which they’re made.

5. Keep Good Records

The types of records you must keep vary according to the type of donation (cash, non-cash, out of pocket expenses when donating your services) and the importance of keeping good records cannot be overstated.

Ask for–and make sure you receive–a letter from any organizations stating that said organization received a contribution from your business. You should also keep canceled checks, bank and credit card statements, and payroll deduction records as proof or your donation. Further, the IRS requires proof of payment and an acknowledgement letter for donations of $250 or more.

If you’re a small business owner, don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about charitable donations.

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Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

Tax planning is the process of looking at various tax options to determine when, whether, and how to conduct business transactions to reduce or eliminate tax liability.

Many small business owners ignore tax planning. They don’t even think about their taxes until it’s time to meet with their CPAs, EAs, or tax advisors but tax planning is an ongoing process and good tax advice is a valuable commodity. It is to your benefit to review your income and expenses monthly and meet with your CPA, EA, or tax advisor quarterly to analyze how you can take full advantage of the provisions, credits, and deductions that are legally available to you.

Although tax avoidance planning is legal, tax evasion – the reduction of tax through deceit, subterfuge, or concealment – is not. Frequently what sets tax evasion apart from tax avoidance is the IRS’s finding that there was fraudulent intent on the part of the business owner. The following are four of the areas the IRS examiners commonly focus on as pointing to possible fraud:

  1. Failure to report substantial amounts of income such as a shareholder’s failure to report dividends or a store owner’s failure to report a portion of the daily business receipts.
  2. Claims for fictitious or improper deductions on a return such as a sales representative’s substantial overstatement of travel expenses or a taxpayer’s claim of a large deduction for charitable contributions when no verification exists.
  3. Accounting irregularities such as a business’s failure to keep adequate records or a discrepancy between amounts reported on a corporation’s return and amounts reported on its financial statements.
  4. Improper allocation of income to a related taxpayer who is in a lower tax bracket such as where a corporation makes distributions to the controlling shareholder’s children.

Tax Planning Strategies

Countless tax planning strategies are available to small business owners. Some are aimed at the owner’s individual tax situation and some at the business itself, but regardless of how simple or how complex a tax strategy is, it will be based on structuring the strategy to accomplish one or more of these often overlapping goals:

  • Reducing the amount of taxable income
  • Lowering your tax rate
  • Controlling the time when the tax must be paid
  • Claiming any available tax credits
  • Controlling the effects of the Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Avoiding the most common tax planning mistakes

In order to plan effectively, you’ll need to estimate your personal and business income for the next few years. This is necessary because many tax planning strategies will save tax dollars at one income level, but will create a larger tax bill at other income levels. You will want to avoid having the “right” tax plan made “wrong” by erroneous income projections. Once you know what your approximate income will be, you can take the next step: estimating your tax bracket.

The effort to come up with crystal-ball estimates may be difficult and by its very nature will be inexact. On the other hand, you should already be projecting your sales revenues, income, and cash flow for general business planning purposes. The better your estimates are, the better the odds that your tax planning efforts will succeed.

Maximizing Business Entertainment Expenses

Entertainment expenses are legitimate deductions that can lower your tax bill and save you money, provided you follow certain guidelines.

In order to qualify as a deduction, business must be discussed before, during, or after the meal and the surroundings must be conducive to a business discussion. For instance, a small, quiet restaurant would be an ideal location for a business dinner. A nightclub would not. Be careful of locations that include ongoing floor shows or other distracting events that inhibit business discussions. Prime distractions are theater locations, ski trips, golf courses, sports events, and hunting trips.

The IRS allows up to a 50 percent deduction on entertainment expenses, but you must keep good records and the business meal must be arranged with the purpose of conducting specific business. Bon appetite!

Important Business Automobile Deductions

If you use your car for business such as visiting clients or going to business meetings away from your regular workplace you may be able to take certain deductions for the cost of operating and maintaining your vehicle. You can deduct car expenses by taking either the standard mileage rate or using actual expenses. In 2016, the mileage reimbursement rate is 54 cents per business mile (57 cents per mile in 2015).

If you own two cars, another way to increase deductions is to include both cars in your deductions. This works because business miles driven is determined by business use. To figure business use, divide the business miles driven by the total miles driven. This strategy can result in significant deductions.

Whichever method you decide to use to take the deduction, always be sure to keep accurate records such as a mileage log and receipts. If you need assistance figuring out which method is best for your business, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

Increase Your Bottom Line When You Work At Home

The home office deduction is quite possibly one of the most difficult deductions ever to come around the block. Yet, there are so many tax advantages it becomes worth the navigational trouble. Here are a few tips for home office deductions that can make tax season significantly less traumatic for those of you with a home office.

Try prominently displaying your home business phone number and address on business cards, have business guests sign a guest log book when they visit your office, deduct long-distance phone charges, keep a time and work activity log, retain receipts and paid invoices. Keeping these receipts makes it so much easier to determine percentages of deductions later on in the year.

Section 179 expensing for tax year 2016 allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over time, up to $500,000, with a cap of $2,000,000 worth of qualified business property that you purchase during the year. The key word is “purchase.” Equipment can be new or used and includes certain software. All home office depreciable equipment meets the qualification. Some deductions can be taken whether or not you qualify for the home office deduction itself.

If you’re ready to meet with a tax professional to discuss tax planning strategies for your business, call the office today.

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Deducting Business-Related Car Expenses

Deducting Business-Related Car Expenses

Whether you’re self-employed or an employee, if you use a car for business, you get the benefit of tax deductions.

There are two choices for claiming deductions:

  1. Deduct the actual business-related costs of gas, oil, lubrication, repairs, tires, supplies, parking, tolls, drivers’ salaries, and depreciation.

  2. Use the standard mileage deduction in 2016 and simply multiply 54 cents by the number of business miles traveled during the year. Your actual parking fees and tolls are deducted separately under this method.

Which Method Is Better?

For some taxpayers, using the standard mileage rate produces a larger deduction. Others fare better tax-wise by deducting actual expenses.

Tip: The actual cost method allows you to claim accelerated depreciation on your car, subject to limits and restrictions not discussed here.

The standard mileage amount includes an allowance for depreciation. Opting for the standard mileage method allows you to bypass certain limits and restrictions and is simpler– but it’s often less advantageous in dollar terms.

Caution: The standard rate may understate your costs, especially if you use the car 100 percent for business, or close to that percentage.

Generally, the standard mileage method benefits taxpayers who have less expensive cars or who travel a large number of business miles.

How to Make Tax Time Easier

Keep careful records of your travel expenses and record your mileage in a logbook. If you don’t know the number of miles driven and the total amount you spent on the car, your tax advisor won’t be able to determine which of the two options is more advantageous for you at tax time.

Furthermore, the tax law requires that you keep travel expense records and that you show business versus personal use on your tax return. If you use the actual cost method for your auto deductions, you must keep receipts.

Tip: Consider using a separate credit card for business, to simplify your recordkeeping.

Tip: You can also deduct the interest you pay to finance a business-use car if you’re self-employed.

Note: Self-employed individuals and employees who use their cars for business can deduct auto expenses if they either (1) don’t get reimbursed, or (2) are reimbursed under an employer’s “non-accountable” reimbursement plan. In the case of employees, expenses are deductible to the extent that auto expenses (together with other “miscellaneous itemized deductions”) exceed 2 percent of adjusted gross income.

Call today and find out which deduction method is best for your business-use car.

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Identity Theft and Your Taxes

Identity Theft and Your Taxes

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. It presents challenges to individuals, businesses, organizations and government agencies, including the IRS.

Learning that you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event and you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity. In many cases, the IRS may be the first to let you know you’re a victim of ID theft after you try to file your taxes.

The IRS is working hard to stop identity theft using a strategy of prevention, detection, and victim assistance. In 2015, the IRS stopped 1.4 million confirmed ID theft returns and protected $8.7 billion. In the past couple of years, more than 2,000 people have been convicted of filing fraudulent ID theft returns. And, in 2014, the IRS stopped more than $15 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. Additionally, as the IRS improves its processing filters, the agency has also been able to halt more suspicious returns before they are processed.

Here’s what you should know about identity theft:

1. Protect your Records. Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN on them. Only provide your SSN (social Security Number) if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Protect your personal information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for all of your Internet accounts.

2. Don’t Fall for Scams. Criminals often try to impersonate your bank, credit card company, and even the IRS in order to steal your personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid those fake emails and texts.

3. Beware of Threatening Phone Calls. Correspondence from the IRS is always in the form of a letter in the mail. The IRS will not call you threatening a lawsuit, arrest, or to demand an immediate tax payment using a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.

As schools around the nation re-open, it is important for taxpayers to be particularly aware of a new scam going after students and parents. In this latest scheme, telephone scammers have been targeting students and parents and demanding payments for non-existent taxes, such as the “Federal Student Tax.”

People should be on the lookout for IRS impersonators calling students and demanding that they wire money immediately to pay a fake “federal student tax.” If the person does not comply, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested.

4. Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement. If you cannot e-file your return because a tax return already was filed using your SSN, consider the following steps:

  • File your taxes by paper and pay any taxes owed.
  • File an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. You may include it with your paper return.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant.
  • Contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account.

5. Complete an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit (see below). Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by filing on paper.

6. IRS Notices and Letters. If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with your SSN, it may send you a letter asking you to verify your identity by calling a special number or visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is to protect you from tax-related identity theft.

7. IP PINs. If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, he or she will be issued an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. Each year, you will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.

8. Data Breaches. If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind that not every data breach results in identity theft. Furthermore, not every identity theft case involves taxes. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.

9. Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can report it on the IRS.gov website.

10. IRS Options. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online at IRS.gov. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.

If you have any questions about identity theft and your taxes, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Charitable Contributions of Property

Charitable Contributions of Property

If you contribute property to a qualified organization, the amount of your charitable contribution is generally the fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution. However, if the property fits into one of the categories discussed here, the amount of your deduction must be decreased. As with many aspects of tax law, the rules are quite complex. If you’re considering a charitable contribution of property, here’s what you need to know:

After discussing how to determine the fair market value of something you donate, we’ll discuss the following categories of charitable gifts of property:

  • Contributions subject to special rules
  • Property that has decreased in value;
  • Property that has increased in value;
  • Food Inventory.
  • Bargain Sales.

Determining Fair Market Value

Fair market value is the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all of the relevant facts.

Used Clothing and Household Items.

The fair market value of used clothing and used household goods, such as furniture and furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens, and other similar items is typically the price that buyers of used items actually pay clothing stores, such as consignment or thrift shops. Be prepared to support your valuation of other household items, which must be in good used condition unless valued at more than $500 by a qualified appraisal, with photographs, canceled checks, receipts from your purchase of the items, or other evidence.

Cars, Boats, and Aircraft

The FMV of a donated car, boat, or airplane is generally the amount listed in a used vehicle pricing guide for a private party sale, not the dealer retail value, of a similar vehicle. The FMV may be less than that, however, if the vehicle has engine trouble, body damage, high mileage, or any type of excessive wear.

Except for inexpensive small boats, the valuation of boats should be based on an appraisal by a marine surveyor because the physical condition is so critical to the value.

If you donate a qualified vehicle to a qualified organization, and you claim a deduction of more than $500, you can deduct the smaller of the gross proceeds from the sale of the vehicle by the organization or the vehicle’s fair market value on the date of the contribution. If the vehicle’s fair market value was more than your cost or other basis, you may have to reduce the fair market value to figure the deductible amount.

Paintings, Antiques, and Other Objects of Art.

Deductions for contributions of paintings, antiques, and other objects of art should be supported by a written appraisal from a qualified and reputable source unless the deduction is $5,000 or less.

  1. Art valued at $20,000 or more. If you claim a deduction of $20,000 or more for donations of art, you must attach a complete copy of the signed appraisal to your return. For individual objects valued at $20,000 or more, a photograph of a size and quality fully showing the object, preferably an 8 x 10-inch color photograph or a color transparency no smaller than 4 x 5 inches, must be provided upon request.
  2. Art valued at $50,000 or more. If you donate an item of art that has been appraised at $50,000 or more, you can request a Statement of Value for that item from the IRS. You must request the statement before filing the tax return that reports the donation.

Contributions Subject to Special Rules

Special rules apply if you contribute:

  • Clothing or household items,
  • A car, boat, or airplane,
  • Taxidermy property,
  • Property subject to a debt,
  • A partial interest in property,
  • A fractional interest in tangible personal property,
  • A qualified conservation contribution,
  • A future interest in tangible personal property,
  • Inventory from your business, or
  • A patent or other intellectual property.

Donating Property That Has Decreased in Value

If you contribute property with a fair market value that is less than your basis in it (generally, less than what you paid for it), your deduction is limited to its fair market value. You cannot claim a deduction for the difference between the property’s basis and its fair market value. Common examples of property that decreases in value include clothing, furniture, appliances, and cars.

Donating Property That Has Increased in Value

If you contribute property with a fair market value that is more than your basis in it, you may have to reduce the fair market value by the amount of appreciation (increase in value) when you figure your deduction. Again, your basis in the property is generally what you paid for it. Different rules apply to figuring your deduction, depending on whether the property is Ordinary income property, Capital gain property, or Ordinary Income Property.

Ordinary Income Property

Property is ordinary income property if its sale at fair market value on the date it was contributed would have resulted in ordinary income or in short-term capital gain. Examples of ordinary income property are inventory, works of art created by the donor, manuscripts prepared by the donor, and capital assets held 1 year or less.

Equipment or other property used in a trade or business is considered ordinary income property to the extent of any gain that would have been treated as ordinary income under the tax law, had the property been sold at its fair market value at the time of contribution.

Capital Gain Property

Property is capital gain property if its sale at fair market value on the date of the contribution would have resulted in a long-term capital gain. Capital gain property includes capital assets held more than 1 year.

Capital assets. Capital assets include most items of property that you own and use for personal purposes or investment. Examples of capital assets are stocks, bonds, jewelry, coin or stamp collections, and cars or furniture used for personal purposes. For purposes of figuring your charitable contribution, capital assets also include certain real property and depreciable property used in your trade or business and, generally, held more than 1 year.

Real property. Real property is land and generally, anything that is built on, growing on, or attached to land.

Depreciable property. Depreciable property is property used in business or held for the production of income and for which a depreciation deduction is allowed.

Ordinary or capital gain income included in gross income. You do not reduce your charitable contribution if you include the ordinary or capital gain income in your gross income in the same year as the contribution. This may happen when you transfer installment or discount obligations or when you assign income to a charitable organization.

Food Inventory

Special rules apply to certain donations of food inventory to a qualified organization. Please call if you would like information about donations of food inventory.

Bargain Sales

A bargain sale of property to a qualified organization (a sale or exchange for less than the property’s fair market value) is partly a charitable contribution and partly a sale or exchange. The part of the bargain sale that is a sale or exchange may result in a taxable gain.

Seek advice from a tax professional.

Stiff penalties may be assessed by the IRS if you overstate the value or adjusted basis of donated property. If you’re considering a charitable contribution of property, don’t hesitate to call the office to speak with a qualified tax professional.

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Tax-Free Savings for College

Tax-Free Savings for College

According to a recent study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, researchers found that over a lifetime, the average U.S. college graduate will earn at least $800,000 more than the average high school graduate–even after taking into consideration the cost of college tuition and the four years of lost wages it entails. Despite this, most people still feel that a college education is worth the investment.

That said, however, the need to set money aside for their child’s education often weighs heavily on parents. Fortunately, there are two savings plans available to help parents save money as well as provide certain tax benefits. Let’s take a closer look.

The two most popular college savings programs are the Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs) or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Whichever one you choose, try to start when your child is young. The sooner you begin saving, the less money you will have to put away each year.

Example: Suppose you have one child, age six months, and you estimate that you’ll need $120,000 to finance his college education 18 years from now. If you start putting away money immediately, you’ll need to save $3,500 per year for 18 years (assuming an after-tax return of 7 percent). On the other hand, if you put off saving until your son is six years old, you’ll have to save almost double that amount every year for 12 years.

How Much Will College Cost?

College is expensive, and proper planning can lessen the financial squeeze considerably–especially if you start when your child is young. According to the College Board, average published tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased 2.9 percent before adjusting for inflation, rising from $9,145 in 2014-15 to $9,410 in 2015-16.

Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions increased 3.6 percent before adjusting for inflation, rising from $31,283 in 2014-15 to $32,405 in 2015-16. Undergraduates received an average of $14,210 in financial aid in 2014-15, including $8,170 in grants from all sources, $4,800 in federal loans, $1,170 in education tax credits and deductions, and $70 in Federal Work-Study.

Saving with Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs)

Qualified Tuition Programs, also known as 529 plans, are often the best choice for many families. Every state now has a program allowing persons to prepay for future higher education, with tax relief. There are two basic plan types, with many variations among them:

  1. The prepaid education arrangement. With this type of plan, one is essentially buying future education at today’s costs, by buying education credits or certificates. This is the older type of program and tends to limit the student’s choice to schools within the state; however, private colleges and universities often offer this type of arrangement.

  2. Education Savings Account (ESA). With an ESA, contributions are made to an account to be used for future higher education.

Tip: When approaching state programs, one must distinguish between what the federal tax law allows and what an individual state’s program may impose.

You may open a 529 plan in any state, but when buying prepaid tuition credits (less popular than savings accounts), you will want to know what institutions the credits will be applied to.

Unlike certain other tax-favored higher education programs, such as the American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) and Lifetime Learning Credit, federal tax law doesn’t limit the benefit to tuition, but can also extend it to room, board, and books (individual state programs could be narrower).

The two key individual parties to the program are the Designated Beneficiary (the student-to-be) and the Account Owner, who is entitled to choose and change the beneficiary and who is normally the principal contributor to the program.

There are no income limits on who may be an account owner. There’s only one designated beneficiary per account. Thus, a parent with three college-bound children might set up three accounts. Some state programs don’t allow the same person to be both beneficiary and account owner.

Tax Rules Relating to Qualified Tuition Programs

Income Tax. Contributions made by an account owner or other contributor are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes, but earnings on contributions do grow tax-free while in the program.

Distributions from the fund are tax-free to the extent used for qualified higher education expenses. Distributions used otherwise are taxable to the extent of the portion which represents earnings.

A distribution may be tax-free even though the student is claiming an American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) or Lifetime Learning Credit, or tax-free treatment for a Coverdell ESA distribution, provided the programs aren’t covering the same specific expenses.

Distribution for a purpose other than qualified education is taxable to the one getting the distribution. In addition, a 10 percent penalty must be imposed on the taxable portion of the distribution, which is comparable to the 10 percent penalty in Coverdell ESAs.

The account owner may change the beneficiary designation from one to another in the same family. Funds in the account roll over tax-free for the benefit of the new beneficiary.

Tip: In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) added expenses for computer technology/equipment or Internet access to the list of qualifying expenses. Software designed for sports, games, or hobbies does not qualify, unless it is predominantly educational in nature. In general, however, expenses for computer technology are not considered qualified expenses.

Gift Tax. For gift tax purposes, contributions are treated as completed gifts even though the account owner has the right to withdraw them. Thus they qualify for the up-to-$14,000 annual gift tax exclusion in 2016 (same as 2015). One contributing more than $14,000 may elect to treat the gift as made in equal installments over the year of the gift and the following four years so that up to $56,000 can be given tax-free in the first year.

However, a rollover from one beneficiary to another in a younger generation is treated as a gift from the first beneficiary, an odd result for an act the “giver” may have had nothing to do with.

Estate Tax. Funds in the account at the designated beneficiary’s death are included in the beneficiary’s estate, another odd result, since those funds may not be available to pay the tax.

Funds in the account at the account owner’s death are not included in the owner’s estate, except for a portion thereof where the gift tax exclusion installment election is made for gifts over $14,000. For example, if the account owner made the election for a gift of $56,000 in 2016, a part of that gift is included in the estate if he or she dies within five years.

Tip: A Qualified Tuition Program can be an especially attractive estate-planning move for grandparents. There are no income limits, and the account owner giving up to $56,000 avoids gift tax and estate tax by living five years after the gift, yet has the power to change the beneficiary.

State Tax. State tax rules are all over the map. Some reflect the federal rules; some reflect quite different rules. For specifics of each state’s program, see College Savings Plans Network (CSPN). If you need assistance with this, please contact us.

Saving with Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

You can contribute up to $2,000 in 2016 to a Coverdell Education Savings account (a Section 530 program formerly known as an Education IRA) for a child under 18. These contributions are not tax deductible but grow tax-free until withdrawn. Contributions for any year, for example, 2016 can be made through the (unextended) due date for the return for that year (April 17, 2017). There is no adjustment for inflation; therefore the $2,000 contribution limit is expected to remain at $2,000.

Only cash can be contributed to a Coverdell ESA, and you cannot contribute to the account after the child reaches his or her 18th birthday.

The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if they are less than a beneficiary’s qualified education expenses at an eligible institution. This benefit applies to higher education expenses as well as to elementary and secondary education expenses.

Anyone can establish and contribute to a Coverdell ESA, including the child. An account may be established for as many children as you wish; however, the amount contributed during the year to each account cannot exceed $2,000. The child need not be a dependent, and in fact, does not even need to be related to you. The maximum contribution amount in 2016 for each child is subject to a phase-out limitation with a modified AGI between $190,000 and $220,000 for joint filers and $95,000 and $110,000 for single filers.

A 6 percent excise tax (to be paid by the beneficiary) applies to excess contributions. These are amounts in excess of the applicable contribution limit ($2,000 or phase out amount) and contributions for a year that amounts are contributed to a Qualified Tuition Program for the same child. The 6 percent tax continues for each year the excess contribution stays in the Coverdell ESA.

Exceptions. The excise tax does not apply if excess contributions made during 2016 (and any earnings on them) are distributed before the first day of the sixth month of the following tax year (June 1, 2017, for a calendar year taxpayer). However, you must include the distributed earnings in gross income for the year in which the excess contribution was made. The excise tax does not apply to any rollover contribution.

The child must be named (designated as beneficiary) in the Coverdell document, but the beneficiary can be changed to another family member–to a sibling for example when the first beneficiary gets a scholarship or drops out. Funds can also be rolled over tax-free from one child’s account to another child’s account. Funds must be distributed not later than 30 days after the beneficiary’s 30th birthday (or 20 days after the beneficiary’s death if earlier). For “special needs” beneficiaries the age limits (no contributions after age 18, distribution by age 30) don’t apply.

Withdrawals are taxable to the person who gets the money, with these major exceptions: Only the earnings portion is taxable (the contributions come back tax-free). Also, even that part isn’t taxable income, as long as the amount withdrawn does not exceed a child’s “qualified higher education expenses” for that year.

The definition of “qualified higher education expenses” includes room and board and books, as well as tuition. In figuring whether withdrawals exceed qualified expenses, expenses are reduced by certain scholarships and by amounts for which tax credits are allowed. If the amount withdrawn for the year exceeds the education expenses for the year, the excess is partly taxable under a complex formula. A different formula is used if the sum of withdrawals from a Coverdell ESA and from the Qualified Tuition Program exceeds education expenses.

As the person who sets up the Coverdell ESA, you may change the beneficiary (the child who will get the funds) or roll the funds over to the account of a new beneficiary, tax-free, if the new beneficiary is a member of your family. But funds you take back (for example, withdrawal in a year when there are no qualified higher education expenses, because the child is not enrolled in higher education) are taxable to you, to the extent of earnings on your contributions, and you will generally have to pay an additional 10 percent tax on the taxable amount. However, you won’t owe tax on earnings on amounts contributed that are returned to you by June 1 of the year following contribution.

Professional Guidance

Considering the wide differences among state plans, federal and state tax issues, and the dollar amounts at stake, please call the office before getting started with any type of college savings plan.

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The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider

The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider

More than 52 percent of businesses today are home-based. Every day, people are striking out and achieving economic and creative independence by turning their skills into dollars. Garages, basements, and attics are being transformed into the corporate headquarters of the newest entrepreneurs–home-based businesspeople.

And, with technological advances in smartphones, tablets, and iPads as well as rising demand for “service-oriented” businesses, the opportunities seem to be endless.

Is a Home-Based Business Right for You?

Choosing a home business is like choosing a spouse or partner: Think carefully before starting the business. Instead of plunging right in, take the time to learn as much about the market for any product or service as you can. Before you invest any time, effort, or money take a few moments to answer the following questions:

  • Can you describe in detail the business you plan on establishing?
  • What will be your product or service?
  • Is there a demand for your product or service?
  • Can you identify the target market for your product or service?
  • Do you have the talent and expertise needed to compete successfully?

Before you dive head first into a home-based business, it’s essential that you know why you are doing it and how you will do it. To succeed, your business must be based on something greater than a desire to be your own boss, and involves an honest assessment of your own personality, an understanding of what’s involved, and a lot of hard work. You have to be willing to plan ahead and make improvements and adjustments along the way.

While there are no “best” or “right” reasons for starting a home-based business, it is vital to have a very clear idea of what you are getting into and why. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a self-starter?
  • Can you stick to business if you’re working at home?
  • Do you have the necessary self-discipline to maintain schedules?
  • Can you deal with the isolation of working from home?

Working under the same roof that your family lives under may not prove to be as easy as it seems. It is important that you work in a professional environment. If at all possible, you should set up a separate office in your home. You must consider whether your home has space for a business and whether you can successfully run the business from your home. If so, you may qualify for a tax break called the home office deduction. For more information see the article, Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction? below.

Compliance with Laws and Regulations

A home-based business is subject to many of the same laws and regulations affecting other businesses, and you will be responsible for complying with them. There are some general areas to watch out for, but be sure to consult an attorney and your state department of labor to find out which laws and regulations will affect your business.

Zoning

Be aware of your city’s zoning regulations. If your business operates in violation of them, you could be fined or closed down.

Restrictions on Certain Goods

Certain products may not be produced in the home. Most states outlaw home production of fireworks, drugs, poisons, sanitary or medical products, and toys. Some states also prohibit home-based businesses from making food, drink, or clothing.

Registration and Accounting Requirements

You may need the following:

  • Work certificate or a license from the state (your business’s name may also need to be registered with the state)
  • Sales tax number
  • Separate business telephone
  • Separate business bank account

If your business has employees, you are responsible for withholding income, social security, and Medicare taxes, as well as complying with minimum wage and employee health and safety laws.

Planning Techniques

Money fuels all businesses. With a little planning, you’ll find that you can avoid most financial difficulties. When drawing up a financial plan, don’t worry about using estimates. The process of thinking through these questions helps develop your business skills and leads to solid financial planning.

Estimating Start-Up Costs

To estimate your start-up costs include all initial expenses such as fees, licenses, permits, telephone deposit, tools, office equipment and promotional expenses.

In addition, business experts say you should not expect a profit for the first eight to ten months, so be sure to give yourself enough of a cushion if you need it.

Projecting Operating Expenses

Include salaries, utilities, office supplies, loan payments, taxes, legal services and insurance premiums, and don’t forget to include your normal living expenses. Your business must not only meet its own needs but make sure it meets yours as well.

Projecting Income

It is essential that you know how to estimate your sales on a daily and monthly basis. From the sales estimates, you can develop projected income statements, break-even points, and cash-flow statements. Use your marketing research to estimate initial sales volume.

Determining Cash Flow

Working capital–not profits–pays your bills. Even though your assets may look great on the balance sheet, if your cash is tied up in receivables or equipment, your business is technically insolvent. In other words, you’re broke.

Make a list of all anticipated expenses and projected income for each week and month. If you see a cash-flow crisis developing, cut back on everything but the necessities.

If a home-based business is in your future, then a tax professional can help. Don’t hesitate to call if you need assistance setting up your business or making sure you have the proper documentation in place to satisfy the IRS.

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Five Ways to Improve Your Financial Situation

Five Ways to Improve Your Financial Situation

If you are having trouble paying your debts, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Doing nothing leads to much larger problems in the future, whether it’s a bad credit record or bankruptcy resulting in the loss of assets and even your home. If you’re in financial trouble, then here are some steps to take to avoid financial ruin in the future.

If you’ve accumulated a large amount of debt and are having difficulty paying your bills each month, now is the time to take action–before the bill collectors start calling.

1. Review each debt. Make sure that the debt creditors claim you owe is really what you owe and that the amount is correct. If you dispute a debt, first contact the creditor directly to resolve your questions. If you still have questions about the debt, contact your state or local consumer protection office or, in cases of serious creditor abuse, your state Attorney General.

2. Contact your creditors. Let your creditors know you are having difficulty making your payments. Tell them why you are having trouble–perhaps it is because you recently lost your job or have unexpected medical bills. Try to work out an acceptable payment schedule with your creditors. Most are willing to work with you and will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness.

Tip: Most automobile financing agreements permit your creditor to repossess your car any time you are in default, with no advance notice. If your car is repossessed you may have to pay the full balance due on the loan, as well as towing and storage costs, to get it back. Do not wait until you are in default. Try to solve the problem with your creditor when you realize you will not be able to meet your payments. It may be better to sell the car yourself and pay off your debt than to incur the added costs of repossession.

3. Budget your expenses. Create a spending plan that allows you to reduce your debts and itemize necessary expenses (such as housing and healthcare) and optional expenses (such as entertainment and vacation travel). Stick to the plan.

4. Try to reduce your expenses. Cut out any unnecessary spending such as eating out and purchasing expensive entertainment. Consider taking public transportation or using a car sharing service rather than owning a car. Clip coupons, purchase generic products at the supermarket and avoid impulse purchases. Above all, stop incurring new debt. Leave your credit cards at home. Pay for all purchases in cash or use a debit card instead of a credit card.

5. Pay down and consolidate your debts. Withdrawing savings from low-interest accounts to settle high-rate loans or credit card debt usually makes sense. In addition, there are a number of ways to pay off high-interest loans, such as credit cards, by getting a refinancing or consolidation loan, such as a second mortgage.

Tip: Selling off a second car not only provides cash but also reduces insurance and other maintenance expenses.

Caution: Be wary of any loan consolidations or other refinancing that actually increase interest owed, or require payments of points or large fees.

Caution: Second mortgages greatly increase the risk that you may lose your home.

You can regain financial health if you act responsibly. But don’t wait until bankruptcy court is your only option. If you’re having financial troubles, don’t hesitate to call.

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Seven Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

Seven Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in running your own business is staying on top of your numerous obligations to federal, state, and local tax agencies. Tax codes seem to be in a constant state of flux and increasingly complicated.

The old legal saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is perhaps most often applied in tax settings and it is safe to assume that a tax auditor presenting an assessment of additional taxes, penalties, and interest will not look kindly on an “I didn’t know I was required to do that” claim.

On the flip side, it is surprising how many small businesses actually overpay their taxes, neglecting to take deductions they’re legally entitled to that can help them lower their tax bill.

Preparing your taxes and strategizing as to how to keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year. Your best course of action to save time, frustration, money, and an auditor knocking on your door, is to have a professional accountant handle your taxes.

Tax professionals have years of experience with tax preparation, regularly attend tax seminars, read scores of journals, magazines, and monthly tax tips, among other things, to correctly interpret the changing tax code.

When it comes to tax planning for small businesses, the complexity of tax law generates a lot of folklore and misinformation that also leads to costly mistakes. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the more common small business tax misperceptions.

1. All Start-Up Costs are Immediately Deductible

Business start-up costs refer to expenses incurred before you actually begin operating your business. Business start-up costs include both start-up and organizational costs and vary depending on the type of business. Examples of these types of costs include advertising, travel, surveys, and training. These start-up and organizational costs are generally called capital expenditures.

Costs for a particular asset (such as machinery or office equipment) are recovered through depreciation or Section 179 expensing. When you start a business, you can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs.

You can also elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs paid or incurred. Business start-up and organizational costs are generally capital expenditures. However, you can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs paid or incurred. The $5,000 deduction is reduced by the amount your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized.

2. Overpaying the IRS Makes you “Audit Proof.”

The IRS doesn’t care if you pay the right amount of taxes or overpay your taxes. They do care if you pay less than you owe and you can’t substantiate your deductions. Even if you overpay in one area, the IRS will still hit you with interest and penalties if you underpay in another. It is never a good idea to knowingly or unknowingly overpay the IRS. The best way to “Audit Proof” yourself is to properly document your expenses and make sure you are getting good advice from a tax professional.

3. Being Incorporated Enables you to take more Deductions.

Self-employed individuals (sole proprietors and S Corps) qualify for many of the same deductions that incorporated businesses do, and for many small businesses, being incorporated is an unnecessary expense and burden. Start-ups can spend thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees to set up a corporation, only to discover soon thereafter that they need to change their name or move the company in a different direction. In addition, plenty of small business owners who incorporate don’t make money for the first few years and find themselves saddled with minimum corporate tax payments and no income.

4. The Home Office Deduction is a Red Flag for an Audit.

While it used to be a red flag, this is no longer true–as long as you keep excellent records that satisfy IRS requirements. Because of the proliferation of home offices, tax officials cannot possibly audit all tax returns containing the home office deduction. In other words, there is no need to fear an audit just because you take the home office deduction. A high deduction-to-income ratio, however, may raise a red flag and lead to an audit.

5. If you don’t take the Home Office Deduction, Business Expenses are not Deductible.

You are still eligible to take deductions for business supplies, business-related phone bills, travel expenses, printing, wages paid to employees or contract workers, depreciation of equipment used for your business, and other expenses related to running a home-based business, whether or not you take the home office deduction.

6. Requesting an Extension on your Taxes is an Extension to Pay Taxes.

Wrong. Extensions enable you to extend your filing date only. Penalties and interest begin accruing from the date your taxes are due.

7. Part-time Business Owners Cannot Set Up Self-employed Pensions.

If you start up a company while you have a salaried position complete with a 401K plan, you can still set up a SEP-IRA for your business and take the deduction.

A tax headache is only one mistake away.

Whether it’s a missed estimated tax payment or filing deadline, an improperly claimed deduction, or incomplete records, understanding how the tax system works is beneficial to any business owner. And, even if you delegate the tax preparation to someone else, you are still liable for the accuracy of your tax returns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Five Tips for Safeguarding Your Records

Five Tips for Safeguarding Your Records

Some natural disasters are more common in the summer, but major events such as hurricanes, tornadoes and fires can strike at any time. It’s always a good idea to plan for what to do in case of a disaster. Here are some basic steps you can take right now to prepare:

1. Backup Records Electronically. Many people receive bank statements by email. This is a good way to secure your records. You can also scan tax records and insurance policies onto an electronic format. You can use an external hard drive, CD or DVD to store important records. Be sure you back up your files and keep them in a safe place. If a disaster strikes your home, it may also affect a wide area. If that happens you may not be able to retrieve your records.

2. Document Valuables. Take photos or videos of the contents of your home or business. These visual records can help you prove the value of your lost items. They may help with insurance claims or casualty loss deductions on your tax return. You should store them with a friend or relative who lives out of the area. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584, which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings.

3. Update Emergency Plans. Review your emergency plans every year. Personal and business situations change over time as do preparedness needs, so update them when your situation changes. Make sure you have a way to get severe weather information and have a plan for what to do if threatening weather approaches. In addition, when employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.

4. Get Copies of Tax Returns or Transcripts. Use Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, to replace lost or destroyed tax returns or need information from your return. You can also file Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return. If you need assistance filling this form out, please call.

5. Check on Fiduciary Bonds.
Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

If you fall victim to a disaster, Help is just a phone call away. Don’t hesitate to call the office regarding any disaster-related tax questions or issues you might have.

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The Best Financial Tool for Business Owners

The Best Financial Tool for Business Owners

What if there were a tool that helped you create crystal-clear plans, provided you with continual feedback about how well your plan was working, and that told you exactly what’s working and what isn’t?

Well, there is such a tool. It’s called the Budget vs. Actual Report and it’s exactly what you need to be able to consistently make smart business decisions to keep your business on track for success.

Clarifying Your Plan

The clearer you are about your business goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. Creating a budget forces you to examine the details of your goals, as well as how even a single business decision affects all other aspects of your company’s operations.

Example: Let’s say that you want to grow your sales by 15 percent this year.

Does that mean you need to hire another salesperson? When will the business start to see new sales from this person? Do you need to set up an office for them? New phone line? Buy them a computer? Do you need to do more advertising? How much more will you spend? When will you see the return on your advertising expenditure?

Navigating the Ship

Once you clarify your goals, then you start making business decisions to help you reach your desired outcome. Some of those decisions will be great and give you better than expected results, but others might not.

This is when the Budget vs. Actual Report becomes an effective management tool. When you compare your budgeted sales and expenses to your actual results, you see exactly how far off you might be with regard to your budget, goals, and plans.

Sometimes you need to adjust your plan (budget) and sometimes you need to focus more attention to areas of your business that are not performing as well as you planned. Either way, you are gleaning valuable insights into your business.

It’s like sailing a boat. You may be off-course most of the time, but having a clear goal and making many adjustments helps you reach your destination.

Just Do It

We often know what we need to do but don’t take the necessary action. It may seem like a huge hassle to create a budget and then create a Budget vs. Actual Report every month, but as with any new skill, it does get easier.

Turn your dreams into reality. Give the office a call and let a tax and accounting professional guide you through the budgeting process.

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Paying off Debt the Smart Way

Paying off Debt the Smart Way

Between mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans, most people are in debt. While being debt-free is a worthwhile goal, most people need to focus on managing their debt first since it’s likely to be there for most of their life.

Handled wisely, however, that debt won’t be an albatross around your neck. You don’t need to shell out your hard-earned money because of
exorbitant interest rates or always feel like you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. You can pay off debt the smart way, while at the same time, saving money to pay it off even faster.

Assess the Situation

First, assess the depth of your debt. Write it down using pencil and paper or use a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel. You can also use a bookkeeping program such as Quicken. Include every instance you can think of where a company has given you something in advance of payment, including your mortgage, car payment(s), credit cards, tax liens, student loans, and payments on electronics or other household items through a store.

Record the day the debt began and when it will end (if possible), the interest rate you’re paying, and what your payments typically are. Next, add it all up–as painful as that might be. Try not to be discouraged! Remember, you’re going to break this down into manageable chunks while finding extra money to help pay it down.

Identify High-Cost Debt

Yes, some debts are more expensive than others. Unless you’re getting payday loans (which you shouldn’t be), the worst offenders are probably your credit cards. Here’s how to deal with them.

  • Don’t use them. Don’t cut them up, but put them in a drawer and only access them in an emergency.

  • Identify the card with the highest interest and pay off as much as you can every month. Pay minimums on the others. When that one’s paid off, work on the card with the next highest rate.

  • Don’t close existing cards or open any new ones. It won’t help your credit rating, and in fact, will only hurt it.

  • Pay on time, absolutely every time. One late payment these days can lower your FICO score.

  • Go over your credit-card statements with a fine-tooth comb. Are you still being charged for that travel club you’ve never used? Look for line items you don’t need.

  • Call your credit card companies and ask them nicely if they would lower your interest rates. It does work sometimes!

Save, Save, Save

Do whatever you can to retire debt. Consider taking a second job and using that income only for higher payments on your financial obligations. Substitute free family activities for high-cost ones. Sell high-value items that you can live without.

Do Away with Unnecessary Items to Reduce Debt Load

Do you really need the 200-channel cable option or that satellite dish on your roof? You’ll be surprised at what you don’t miss. How about magazine subscriptions? They’re not terribly expensive, but every penny counts. It’s nice to have a library of books, but consider visiting the public library or half-price bookstores until your debt is under control.

Never, Ever Miss a Payment

Not only are you retiring debt, but you’re also building a stellar credit rating. If you ever move or buy another car, you’ll want to
get the lowest rate possible. A blemish-free payment record will help with that. Besides, credit card companies can be quick to raise
interest rates because of one late payment. A completely missed one is even more serious.

Pay with Cash

To avoid increasing debt load, make it a habit to pay for everything you purchase with cash. If you don’t have the cash for it, you probably don’t need it. You’ll feel better about what you do have if you know it’s owned free and clear.

Shop wisely, and Use the Savings to Pay down Your Debt

If your family is large enough to warrant it, invest $30 or $40 and join a store like Sam’s or Costco–and use it. Shop there first, then at
the grocery store. Change brands if you have to and swallow your pride. If you’re concerned about buying organic, rest assured that even at places like Costco you will have many options. Use coupons religiously. Calculate the money you’re saving and slap it on your debt.

Each of these steps, taken alone, probably doesn’t seem like much, but if you adopt as many as you can, you’ll watch your debt decrease every month. If you need help managing debt, please call for assistance.

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Tax Compliance Issues for Nonprofit Organizations

Tax Compliance Issues for Nonprofit Organizations

Whether you’ve just started a nonprofit, recently submitted your organization’s first Form 990, or are the executive director, it’s important not to lose sight of your obligations under federal and state tax laws. From annual filing and reporting requirements to taxes on business income and payroll compliance, here’s a quick look at what nonprofits need to know about tax compliance.

Annual Filing and Reporting Requirements: Form 990

Once you’ve applied for and received tax-exempt status under (Section 501(c)(3) and filed Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and received your exemption letter from the IRS, your organization is officially a nonprofit, and is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3). Tax exempt status refers to exemption from federal income tax on income related to the organization’s mission, as well as the ability to receive tax-deductible contributions from donors.

The next step is to comply with annual filing and reporting requirements, specifically, Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.

Generally, tax-exempt organizations are required to file annual returns. If an organization does not file a required return or files late, the IRS may assess penalties. In addition, if an organization does not file as required for three consecutive years, it automatically loses its tax-exempt status.

Note: Certain organizations such as churches (including church-affiliated organizations and schools operated by a religious order) as well as organizations affiliated with a governmental unit are not required to file Form 990. Refer to your IRS exemption letter if you’re not sure.

There are four different Forms 990; which form an organization must file generally depends on its gross receipts. Forms 990-EZ or 990 are used for organizations with gross receipts of less than $200,000 and with total assets of less than $500,000. Form 990 is used for nonprofits with gross receipts greater than or equal to $200,000 or total assets greater than or equal to $500,000.

When gross receipts are less than or equal to $50,000, certain small organizations may file an annual electronic notice, the Form 990-N (e-Postcard); however, organizations eligible to file the e-Postcard may choose to file a full return. Private foundations file Form 990-PF regardless of financial status.

Form 990 is submitted to the IRS five and a half months after the end of an organization’s calendar year. For example, for nonprofits whose calendar year ends on December 31st, the initial return due date for Form 990 is May 15. If a due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the due date is delayed until the next business day.

Extended due dates of three and six months are available for Forms 990; however, for Form 990-N the due date is the “initial return due date,” e.g. May 15 and extended due dates do not apply.

NOTE: Unlike individual tax returns filed with the IRS, which may be postmarked on April 15, Forms 990 must be received (not postmarked) by the IRS before the May 15 due date.

Unrelated Business Income Taxes (UBIT)

Unrelated business income is defined as income from a trade or business which is regularly carried on and is not substantially related to the charitable, educational, or other purpose that is the basis of the organization’s exemption.

While it may come as a surprise to some, nearly all tax-exempt organizations are required to pay taxes on unrelated business income, which might include proceeds from an annual holiday card sale or souvenirs related to an educational exhibit in support of the nonprofit’s mission.

If the IRS determines that a nonprofit is significantly underreporting income from unrelated business activities, it may lose its tax-exempt status.

Employment and Payroll Compliance

Similar to for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations must comply with both federal and state payroll reporting requirements. Federal tax withholding, social security taxes, and Medicare taxes must be deposited through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (“EFTPS”), and the organization must file Form 941 on a quarterly basis. Nonprofits are also required to report reimbursements to employees for out-of-pocket expenses; however, nonprofits that create an accountable reimbursement plan or ARP that meets IRS guidelines are able to avoid these reporting requirements.

State Tax Compliance

Most nonprofit organizations incorporate before applying to the IRS for tax exempt status. As such, they must comply with state laws such as annual or periodic registrations. Each state has different laws, but in general, nonprofit organizations must update basic contact information including mailing address, names of responsible parties, and registered agents. Some states require that charitable organizations apply for sales/use or property tax exemptions as well.

Further, charitable organizations that solicit donations in a particular state are subject to state solicitation laws that require the nonprofit to register with the state(s) and to report on the nonprofit’s fundraising activities. For nonprofits that solicit donations from residents in more than one state, compliance is often challenging. Organizations that fail to register are subject to hefty penalties.

Stay Informed

These are just a few of the tax-compliance issues facing nonprofit organizations. If you have any questions, would like more information, or need help setting up an accountable reimbursement plan that meets IRS requirements, please call.

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Selling your Business

Selling your Business

There are many reasons to sell a business. Maybe you’re in ill health or ready to retire. Or you’re tired of working all the time and now that the business is profitable you’re ready to cash in. Whatever the reason, selling a small to medium sized business is a complex venture and many business owners are not aware of the tax consequences.

If you’re thinking about selling your business the first step is to consult a competent tax professional. You will need to make sure your financials in order, obtain an accurate business valuation to determine how much your business is worth (and what the listing price might be), and develop a tax planning strategy to minimizes capital gains and other taxes in order to maximize your profits from the sale.

Accurate Financial Statements

The importance of preparing your business financials before listing your business for sale cannot be overstated. Whether you use a business broker or word of mouth, rest assured that potential buyers will scrutinize every aspect of your business. Not being able to quickly produce financial statements, current and prior years’ balance sheets, profit and loss statements, tax returns, equipment lists, product inventories, and property appraisals and lease agreements may lead to loss of the sale.

Business Valuation

Many business owners have no idea what their business is worth; some may underestimate whereas others overestimate–sometimes significantly. Obtaining a third party business valuation allows business owners to set a price that is realistic for potential buyers, while achieving maximum value.

Tax Consequences of Selling

As a business owner you probably think of your business as a single entity sold as a lump sum. The IRS however, views a business as a collection of assets. Profit from the sale of these assets (i.e. your business) may be subject to short and long-term capital gains tax, depreciation recapture of Section 1245 and Section 1250 real property, and federal and state income taxes.

For IRS purposes each asset sold must be classified as capital assets, depreciable property used in the business, real property used in the business, goodwill, or property held for sale to customers, such as inventory or stock in trade. Assets are considered tangible (real estate, machinery, and inventory) or intangible (goodwill or trade name).

The gain (or loss) on each asset sold is figured separately. For instance, the sale of capital assets results in capital gain or loss whereas the sale of inventory results in ordinary income or loss, with each taxed accordingly.

Depreciable property

Section 1231 gains and losses are the taxable gains and losses from Section 1231 transactions such as sales or exchanges of real property or depreciable personal property held longer than one year. Their treatment as ordinary or capital depends on whether you have a net gain or a net loss from all your Section 1231 transactions.

When you dispose of depreciable property (Section 1245 property or Section 1250 property) at a gain, you may have to recognize all or part of the gain as ordinary income under the depreciation recapture rules. Any remaining gain is a Section 1231 gain.

Business structure

Your business structure (i.e. business entity) also affects the way your business is taxed when it is sold. Sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) are considered “pass-through” entities and each asset is sold separately. As such there is more flexibility when structuring a sale to benefit both the buyer and seller in terms of tax consequences.

C-corporations and S-corporations have different entity structures and sale of assets and stock are subject to more complex regulations.

For example, when assets of a C-corporation are sold, the seller is taxed twice. The corporation pays tax on any gains realized when the assets are sold, and shareholders pay capital gains tax when the corporation is dissolved. However, when a C-corporation sells stock the seller only pays capital gains tax on the profit from the sale, which is generally at the long-term capital gains tax rate. S-corporations are taxed similarly to partnerships in that there is no double taxation when assets are sold. Income (or loss) flows through shareholders, who report it on their individual tax returns.

Need help?

As you can see, selling a business involves complicated federal and state tax rules and regulations. If you’re thinking of selling your business in the near future don’t hesitate to call the office and schedule a consultation with a tax and accounting professional.

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Tax Breaks for Hiring New Employees

Tax Breaks for Hiring New Employees

If you’re thinking about hiring new employees this year, you won’t want to miss out on these tax breaks.

1. Work Opportunity Credit

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit for employers that hire employees from the following targeted groups of individuals:

  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Food Stamp Recipient
  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Recipient
  • Qualified Veterans
  • Qualified Ex-Felons, Pardoned, Paroled or Work Release Individuals
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Referrals
  • Qualified Summer Youths
  • Qualified Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Recipients
  • Qualified Individuals living within an Empowerment Zone or Rural Renewal Community
  • Long Term Family Assistance Recipient (TANF) (formerly known as Welfare to Work)

The tax credit (a maximum of $9,600) is taken as a general business credit on Form 3800 and is applied against tax liability on business income. It is limited to the amount of the business income tax liability or social security tax owed. Normal carry-back and carry-forward rules apply.

For qualified tax-exempt organizations, the credit is limited to the amount of employer social security tax owed on wages paid to all employees for the period the credit is claimed.

Also, an employer must obtain certification that an individual is a member of the targeted group before the employer may claim the credit.

Note: The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) retroactively allows eligible employers to claim the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for all targeted group employee categories that were in effect prior to the enactment of the PATH Act, if the individual began or begins work for the employer after December 31, 2014 and before January 1, 2020.

For tax-exempt employers, the PATH Act retroactively allows them to claim the WOTC for qualified veterans who begin work for the employer after December 31, 2014, and before January 1, 2020.

2. Empowerment Zones

This tax credit provides businesses with an incentive to hire individuals who live and work (either full-time or part-time) in a federally designated Empowerment Zone (EZ). The credit is equal to 20 percent of the first $15,000 (up to $3,000) in wages earned in a taxable year if the employee lives and works in an empowerment zone (urban or rural). This credit can be combined with state enterprise zone credits as well.

Note: The PATH Act extended the tax credit retroactively to apply to the period from January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2016.

3. Disabled Access Credit and the Barrier Removal Tax Deduction

Employers that hire disabled workers might also be able to take advantage of two additional tax credits in addition to the WOTC.

The Disabled Access Credit is a non-refundable credit for small businesses that incur expenditures for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities. An eligible small business is one that earned $1 million or less or had no more than 30 full-time employees in the previous year; they may take the credit each and every year they incur access expenditures. Eligible expenditures include amounts paid or incurred to:

1. Remove barriers that prevent a business from being accessible to or usable by individuals with disabilities;

2. Provide qualified interpreters or other methods of making audio materials available to hearing-impaired individuals;

3. Provide qualified readers, taped texts, and other methods of making visual materials available to individuals with visual impairments; or

4. Acquire or modify equipment or devices for individuals with disabilities.

The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction encourages businesses of any size to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the mobility of persons with disabilities and the elderly. Businesses may claim a deduction of up to $15,000 a year for qualified expenses for items that normally must be capitalized. Businesses claim the deduction by listing it as a separate expense on their income tax return.

Businesses may use the Disabled Tax Credit and the architectural/transportation tax deduction together in the same tax year if the expenses meet the requirements of both sections. To use both, the deduction is equal to the difference between the total expenditures and the amount of the credit claimed.

4. Indian Employment Credit

The Indian Employment Credit provides businesses with an incentive to hire certain individuals (enrolled members of an Indian tribe or the spouse of an enrolled member) who live on or near an Indian reservation. The business does not have to be in an empowerment zone or enterprise community to qualify for the credit, which offsets the business’s federal tax liability.

The credit is 20 percent of the excess of the current qualified wages and qualified employee health insurance costs (not to exceed $20,000) over the sum of the corresponding amounts that were paid or incurred during the calendar year of 1993 (not a typo).

5. State Tax Credits

Many states use tax credits and deductions as incentives for hiring and job growth. Employers are eligible for these credits and deductions when they create new jobs and hire employees that meet certain requirements. Examples include the New Employment Credit (NEC) in California and Empire Zone tax credits in New York.

Wondering what tax breaks your business qualifies for?

Help is just a phone call away!

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Tips for Taxpayers with Foreign Income

Tips for Taxpayers with Foreign Income

If you are living or working outside the United States, you generally must file and pay your tax in the same way as people living in the U.S. This includes people with dual citizenship.

In addition, U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts exceeding certain thresholds may be required to file Form 114, known as the “FBAR” as well as Form 8938, also referred to as “FATCA.”

Note: FBAR is not a tax form, but is due to the Treasury Department by June 30, 2016, and must be filed electronically through the BSA E-Filing System website. Starting in tax years after December 31, 2015, the FBAR will be due on April 15 and may be extended to October 15.

FATCA (Form 8938) is submitted on the tax due date (including extensions, if any,) of your income tax return.

Here’s what else you need to know about reporting foreign income:

1. Report Worldwide Income. By law, Americans living abroad, as well as many non-U.S. citizens, must file a U.S. income tax return and report any worldwide income. Some key tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion, are only available to those who file U.S. returns.

2. Report Foreign Accounts and Assets. Federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts.

3. File Required Tax Forms. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to file Schedule B, Interest and Ordinary Dividends, with their tax returns. Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

Some taxpayers may need to file additional forms with the Treasury Department such as Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets or FinCEN Form 114 (formerly TD F 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”).

FBAR. Taxpayers with foreign accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2015 (or 2016) must file a Treasury Department FinCEN Form 114 (formerly TD F 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”).

Form 8938. Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds:

  • If the total value is at or below $50,000 at the end of the tax year, there is no reporting requirement for the year, unless the total value was more than $75,000 at any time during the tax year
  • Taxpayers who do not have to file an income tax return for the tax year do not have to file Form 8938, regardless of the value of their specified foreign financial assets.

The threshold is higher for individuals who live outside the United States and thresholds are different for married and single taxpayers. In addition, penalties apply for failure to file accurately.

Please contact the office if you need additional information about thresholds for reporting, what constitutes a specified foreign financial asset, how to determine the total value of relevant assets, what assets are exempted and what information must be provided.

Note: An individual may have to file both forms, and separate penalties may apply for failure to file each form.

4. Review the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. Many Americans who live and work abroad qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion when they file their tax return. This means taxpayers who qualify will not pay taxes on up to $101,300 of their wages and other foreign earned income they received in 2016 ($100,800 in 2015). Please contact the office if you have any questions about foreign earned income exclusion.

5. Don’t Overlook Credits and Deductions. Taxpayers may be able to take either a credit or a deduction for income taxes paid to a foreign country. This benefit reduces the taxes these taxpayers pay in situations where both the U.S. and another country tax the same income. However, you cannot claim the additional child tax credit if you file Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income or Form 2555-EZ, Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

6. Automatic Extension. U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad on April 18, 2016, qualified for an automatic two-month extension (until June 15) to file their 2015 federal income tax returns. The extension of time to file also applies to those serving in the military outside the U.S. Taxpayers must attach a statement to their returns explaining why they qualify for the extension. Please call if you haven’t filed a 2015 tax return.

7. Get Tax Help. If you’re a taxpayer or resident alien living abroad that needs help with tax filing issues, IRS notices, and tax bills, or have questions about foreign earned income and offshore financial assets in a bank or brokerage account, don’t hesitate to call.

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Qualified Small Business Stock Exclusion

Qualified Small Business Stock Exclusion

As the driving force in today’s economy, small businesses benefit from numerous tax breaks in the tax code. One of these, the Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS), was just made permanent, thanks to the passage of the PATH Act (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015). If you’re a small business investor, here’s what you need to know about this often overlooked tax break.

What is the Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS) Exclusion?

Sometimes referred to as Section 1202 (after Section 1202 of the Internal Revenue Code, PATH made permanent for taxpayers (excluding corporations) the exclusion of 100 percent of the gain on the sale or exchange of qualified small business stock (QSBS) acquired after September 27, 2010, that is held longer than five years.

Further, QSBS gain excluded from income is not subject to 3.8 percent Obamacare tax on “Net Investment Income” from capital gains (and other investment income) on high-income taxpayers.

The definition of a qualified small business under the IRS varies; however, examples of businesses that do NOT qualify include, but are not limited to:

  • A regulated investment company,
  • A real estate investment trust (REIT)
  • One involving services performed in the fields of health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, or brokerage services;
  • Any business of operating a hotel, motel, restaurant, or similar business.
  • Any farming business (including the business of raising or harvesting trees).

What are the Tax Benefits of QSBS?

Two tax provisions apply to gain from the sale or trade of qualified small business stock. Taxpayers may qualify for a tax-free rollover of all or part of the gain, or they may be able to exclude gain from income.

What is Qualified Small Business Stock?

Qualified small business stock is stock that meets all of the following tests:

  1. It must be stock in a C corporation.
  2. It must have been originally issued after August 10, 1993.
  3. The corporation must have total gross assets of $50 million or less at all times after August 9, 1993, and before it issued the stock. Its total gross assets immediately after it issued the stock must also be $50 million or less.
  4. When figuring the corporation’s total gross assets, you must also count the assets of any predecessor of the corporation. In addition, you must treat all corporations that are members of the same parent-subsidiary controlled group as one corporation.
  5. You must have acquired the stock at its original issue, directly or through an underwriter, in exchange for money or other property (not including stock), or as pay for services provided to the corporation (other than services performed as an underwriter of the stock). In certain cases, your stock may also meet this test if you acquired it from another person who met this test, or through a conversion or trade of qualified small business stock that you held.
  6. The corporation must have met the active business test, defined next, and must have been a C corporation during substantially all the time you held the stock.
  7. Within the period beginning two years before and ending two years after the stock was issued, the corporation cannot have bought more than a de minimis amount of its stock from you or a related party.
  8. Within the period beginning one year before and ending one year after the stock was issued, the corporation cannot have bought more than a de minimis amount of its stock from anyone, unless the total value of the stock it bought is five percent or less of the total value of all its stock.

Qualified stock must also meet the active business test and it can’t be an investment vehicle or an inactive business. A corporation meets this test for any period of time if, during that period, both the following are true:

  • It was an eligible corporation, defined below.
  • It used at least 80 percent (by value) of its assets in the active conduct of at least one qualified trade or business.

Questions?

The QSBS exclusion, as with many tax provisions, is complicated. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions or would like more information on this topic.

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Filing an Amended Tax Return

Filing an Amended Tax Return

What should you do if you already filed your federal tax return and then discover a mistake? First of all, don’t worry. In most cases, all you have to do is file an amended tax return. But before you do that, here is what you should be aware of when filing an amended tax return.

Taxpayers should use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to file an amended (corrected) tax return.

You must file the corrected tax return on paper. An amended return cannot be e-filed. If you need to file another schedule or form, don’t forget to attach it to the amended return.

An amended tax return should only be filed to correct errors or make changes to your original tax return. For example, you should amend your return if you need to change your filing status, or correct your income, deductions or credits.

You normally do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors because the IRS automatically makes those changes for you. Also, do not file an amended return because you forgot to attach tax forms, such as W-2s or schedules. The IRS normally will mail you a request asking for those.

Note: Eligible taxpayers who filed a 2015 tax return and claimed a premium tax credit using incorrect information from either the federally facilitated or a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace, generally do not have to file an amended return regardless of the nature of the error, even if additional taxes would be owed. The IRS may contact you to ask for a copy of your corrected Form 1095-A to verify the information.

Nonetheless, you may choose to file an amended return because some taxpayers may find that filing an amended return may reduce their tax owed or give them a larger refund (see below for additional information).

If you are amending more than one tax return, prepare a separate 1040X for each return and mail them to the IRS in separate envelopes. Note the tax year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. You will find the appropriate IRS address to mail your return to in the Form 1040X instructions.

If you are filing an amended tax return to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original tax refund before filing Form 1040X. Amended returns take up to 16 weeks to process. You may cash your original refund check while waiting for the additional refund.

If you owe additional taxes with Form 1040X, file it and pay the tax as soon as possible to minimize interest and penalties. You can use IRS Direct Pay to pay your tax directly from your checking or savings account.

Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original tax return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. For example, the last day for most people to file a 2013 claim for a refund is April 17, 2017. Special rules may apply to certain claims. For more information see the instructions for Form 1040X or call the office.

You can track the status of your amended tax return for the current year three weeks after you file. You can also check the status of amended returns for up to three prior years. To use the “Where’s My Amended Return” tool on the IRS website, just enter your taxpayer identification number (usually your Social Security number), date of birth and zip code. If you have filed amended returns for more than one year, you can select each year individually to check the status of each.

Filing an amended return after receiving a corrected Form 1095-A

If you enrolled in qualifying Marketplace health coverage, then you probably filed a tax return based on a Form 1095-A that you received from the Marketplace.

Some taxpayers may receive a second Form 1095-A because the information on their initial form was incorrect or incomplete. If you filed a 2015 tax return based on the initial Form 1095-A and claimed the premium tax credit using incorrect information from either the federally-facilitated or a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace, you should determine the effect the changes to your form might have on your return. Comparing the two Forms 1095-A can help you assess whether you should file an amended tax return, Form 1040X.

Corrected Form 1095-A

A corrected form generally indicates you previously received a Form 1095-A containing one or more errors.

  • If you have not yet filed your tax return, you should use this new form when completing your tax return.
  • If you have already filed your tax return, you will need to determine the effect the changes to your form might have on your return. Some changes–such as a corrected address–may not affect your tax return or require any action on your part, while others–such as a change in your monthly premium amount–might. Compare the corrected Form 1095-A to the original form to determine the nature of the change. For a detailed list of these changes, see Corrected or Voided Form 1095-A. This information can help you assess whether you should file an amended tax return, Form 1040X. If you are uncertain whether you should amend your tax return, you may want to consult with a tax preparer.
  • If you believe the information on your corrected Form 1095-A is incorrect or you have question about the form, you should contact your Marketplace.

Voided Form 1095-A

A voided form–or letter stating your form was voided–generally indicates you previously received a Form 1095-A that was issued in error. This may happen if you did not complete enrollment in Marketplace coverage. The voided Form 1095-A, as the well as the previously received Form 1095-A, should not be used to file your tax return.

  • If you receive a voided Form 1095-A after you have already filed your tax return and claimed the premium tax credit using the original Form 1095-A that the Marketplace sent in error, you should file an amended return.
  • If you have not yet filed your tax return, don’t use the information on the voided or on the previously received Form 1095-A to figure a premium tax credit on Form 8962.
  • If you had coverage through the Marketplace and you believe they should not have voided your form, you should contact your Marketplace immediately to receive an accurate Form 1095-A.

Please call if you need assistance filing an amended return or have any questions about Form 1040X.

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Minimizing Tax on Mutual Fund Activities

Minimizing Tax on Mutual Fund Activities

Whether you’re new to mutual funds or a seasoned investor who wants to learn more, these tips will help you avoid the tax bite on mutual fund investments.

First, you need to understand how distributions from mutual funds are taxed.

Tax law generally treats mutual fund shareholders as if they directly owned a proportionate share of the fund’s portfolio of securities and you must report as income any mutual fund distributions, whether or not they are reinvested. Thus, all dividends and interest from securities in the portfolio, as well as any capital gains from the sales of securities, are taxed to the shareholders.

Taxable Distributions

There are two types of taxable distributions: (1) ordinary dividends and (2) capital gain distributions.

Ordinary Dividends. Distributions of ordinary dividends, which come from the interest and dividends earned by securities in the fund’s portfolio, represent the net earnings of the fund. They are paid out periodically to shareholders. Like the return on any other investment, mutual fund dividend payments decline or rise from year to year, depending on the income earned by the fund in accordance with its investment policy. These dividend payments are considered ordinary income and must be reported on your tax return.

In 2016 (same as 2015), dividend income that falls in the highest tax bracket (39.6%) is taxed at 20 percent. For the middle tax brackets (25-35%) the dividend tax rate is 15 percent, and for the two lower ordinary income tax brackets of 10% and 15%, the dividend tax rate is zero.

Qualified dividends. Qualified dividends are the ordinary dividends subject to the same 0 or 15 percent maximum tax rate that applies to net capital gain. They are subject to the 15 percent rate if the regular tax rate that would apply is 25 percent or higher; however the highest tax bracket, 39.6%, is taxed at a 20 percent rate. If the regular tax rate that would apply is lower than 25 percent, qualified dividends are subject to the 0 percent rate.

Dividends from foreign corporations are qualified where their stock or ADRs are traded on U.S. exchanges or with IRS approval where the dividends are covered by U.S. tax treaties. Dividends from mutual funds qualify where a mutual fund is receiving qualified dividends and distributing the required proportions thereof.

Capital gain distributions. When gains from the fund’s sales of securities exceed losses, they are distributed to shareholders. As with ordinary dividends, these capital gain distributions vary in amount from year to year. They are treated as long-term capital gain, regardless of how long you have owned your fund shares.

A mutual fund owner may also have capital gains from selling mutual fund shares.

Capital gains rates. The beneficial long-term capital gains rates on sales of mutual fund shares apply only to profits on shares held more than a year before sale. Profit on shares held a year or less before sale is considered ordinary income, but capital gain distributions are long-term regardless of the length of time held before the distribution.

Starting with tax year 2013, long term capital gains are taxed at 20 percent (39.6% tax bracket), 15 percent for the middle tax brackets (25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%), and 0 percent for the 10% and 15% tax brackets.

At tax time, your mutual fund will send you a Form 1099-DIV, which tells you what earnings to report on your income tax return, and how much of it is qualified dividends. Because tax rates on qualified dividends are the same as for capital gains distributions and long-term gains on sales, these items combined in your tax reporting, that is, qualified dividends added to long-term capital gains. Capital losses are netted against capital gains before applying the favorable capital gains rates and losses will not be netted against dividends.

Medicare Tax. Starting with tax year 2013, an additional Medicare tax of 3.8 percent is applied to net investment income for individuals with modified adjusted gross income above $200,000 (single filers) and $250,000 (joint filers).

Minimizing Tax Liability on Mutual Fund Activities

Now that you have a better understanding of how mutual funds are taxed, here are seven tips for minimizing the tax on your mutual fund activities.

1. Keep Track of Reinvested Dividends

Most funds offer you the option of having dividend and capital gain distributions automatically reinvested in the fund–a good way to buy new shares and expand your holdings. While most shareholders take advantage of this service, it is not a way to avoid being taxed. Reinvested ordinary dividends are still taxed (at long-term capital gains rates if qualified), just as if you had received them in cash. Similarly, reinvested capital gain distributions are taxed as long-term capital gain.

Tip: If you reinvest, add the amount reinvested to the “cost basis” of your account, i.e., the amount you paid for your shares. The cost basis of your new shares purchased through automatic reinvesting is easily seen from your fund account statements. This information is important later on when you sell shares.

2. Be Aware That Exchanges of Shares Are Taxable Events

The “exchange privilege,” or the ability to exchange shares of one fund for shares of another, is a popular feature of many mutual fund “families,” i.e., fund organizations that offer a variety of funds. For tax purposes, exchanges are treated as if you had sold your shares in one fund and used the cash to purchase shares in another fund. In other words, you must report any capital gain from the exchange on your return. The same tax rules used for calculating gains and losses when you redeem shares apply when you exchange them.

Note: Gains on these redemptions and exchanges are taxable whether the fund invests in taxable or tax-exempt securities.

3. Do Not Overlook the Advantages of Tax-Exempt Funds

If you are in the higher tax brackets and are seeing your investment profits taxed away, then there is a good alternative to consider: tax-exempt mutual funds. Distributions from such funds that are attributable to interest from state and municipal bonds are exempt from federal income tax (although they may be subject to state tax).

The same is true of distributions from tax-exempt money market funds. These funds also invest in municipal bonds, but only in those that are short-term or close to maturity, the aim being to reduce the fluctuation in NAV that occurs in long-term funds.

Many taxpayers can ease the tax bite by investing in municipal bond funds for example.

Note: Capital gain distributions paid by municipal bond funds (unlike distributions of interest) are not free from federal tax. Most states also tax these capital gain distributions.

Although income from tax-exempt funds is federally tax-exempt, you must still report on your tax return the amount of tax-exempt income you received during the year. This is an information-reporting requirement only and does not convert tax-exempt earnings into taxable income.

Your tax-exempt mutual fund will send you a statement summarizing its distributions for the past year and explaining how to handle tax-exempt dividends on a state-by-state basis.

4. Keep Records of Your Mutual Fund Transactions

It is very important to keep the statements from each mutual fund you own, especially the year-end statement.

By law, mutual funds must send you a record of every transaction in your account, including reinvestments and exchanges of shares. The statement shows the date, amount, and number of full and fractional shares bought or sold. These transactions are also contained in the year-end statement.

In addition, you will receive a year-end Form 1099-B, which reports the sale of fund shares, for any non-IRA mutual fund account in which you sold shares during the year.

Why is recordkeeping so important? When you sell mutual fund shares, you will realize a capital gain or loss in the year the shares are sold. You must pay tax on any capital gain arising from the sale, just as you would from a sale of individual securities. (Losses may be used to offset other gains in the current year and deducted up to an additional $3,000 of ordinary income. Remaining loss may be carried for comparable treatment in later years.)

The amount of the gain or loss is determined by the difference between the cost basis of the shares (generally the original purchase price) and the sale price. Thus, in order to figure the gain or loss on a sale of shares, it is essential to know the cost basis. If you have kept your statements, you will be able to figure this out.

Example: In 2010, you purchased 100 shares of Fund JKL at $10 a share for a total purchase price of $1,000. Your cost basis for each share is $10 (what you paid for the shares). Any fees or commissions paid at the time of purchase are included in the basis, so since you paid an up-front commission of two percent, or $20, on the purchase, your cost basis for each share is $10.20 ($1,020 divided by 100). Let’s say you sell your Fund JKL shares this year for $1,500. Assume there are no adjustments to your $ 1,020 basis, such as basis attributable to shares purchased through reinvestment. On this year’s income tax return, you report a capital gain of $480 ($1,500 minus $1,020).

Note: Commissions or brokerage fees are not deducted separately as investment expenses on your tax return since they are taken into account in your cost basis.

One of the advantages of mutual fund investing is that the fund provides you with all of the records that you need to compute gains and losses–a real plus at tax time. Some funds even provide cost basis information or compute gains and losses for shares sold. That is why it is important to save the statements. However, you are not required to use the fund’s gain or loss computations in your tax reporting.

5. Re-investing Dividends & Capital Gain Distributions when Calculating

Make sure that you do not pay any unnecessary capital gain taxes on the sale of mutual fund shares because you forgot about reinvested amounts. When you reinvest dividends and capital gain distributions to buy more shares, you should add the cost of those shares (that is, the amount invested) to the cost basis of the shares in that account because you have already paid tax on those shares.

Failure to include reinvested dividends and capital gain distributions in your cost basis is a costly mistake.

6. Don’t Forget State Taxation

Many states treat mutual fund distributions the same way the federal government does. There are, however, these areas of different treatment:

  • If your mutual fund invests in U.S. government obligations, states generally exempt from state taxation dividends attributable to federal obligation interest.
  • Most states do not tax income from their own obligations, whether held directly or through mutual funds. On the other hand, the majority of states do tax income from the obligations of other states. Thus, in most states, you will not pay state tax to the extent you receive, through the fund, income from obligations issued by your state or its municipalities.
  • Most states don’t grant reduced rates for capital gains or dividends.

7. Don’t Overlook Possible Tax Credits for Foreign Income

If your fund invests in foreign stocks or bonds, part of the income it distributes may have been subject to foreign tax withholding. If so, you may be entitled to a tax deduction or credit for your pro-rata share of taxes paid. Your fund will provide you with the necessary information.

Tip: Because a tax credit provides a dollar-for-dollar offset against your tax bill, while a deduction reduces the amount of income on which you must pay tax, it is generally advantageous to claim the foreign tax credit. If the foreign tax doesn’t exceed $300 ($600 on a joint return), then you may not need to file IRS form 1116 to claim the credit.

Questions?

If you have any questions about the tax treatment of mutual funds, don’t hesitate to call.

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Tax Implications of Retiring Overseas

Tax Implications of Retiring Overseas

Are you approaching retirement age and wondering where you can retire to make your retirement nest egg last longer? Retiring abroad may be the answer. But first, it’s important to look at the tax implications because not all retirement country destinations are created equal. Here’s what you need to know.

Taxes on Worldwide Income

Leaving the United States does not exempt U.S. citizens from their U.S. tax obligations. While some retirees may not owe any U.S. income tax while living abroad, they must still file a return annually with the IRS. This would be the case even if all of their assets were moved to a foreign country. The bottom line is that you may still be taxed on income regardless of where it is earned.

Unlike most countries, the United States taxes individuals based on citizenship and not residency. As such, every U.S. citizen (and resident alien) must file a tax return reporting worldwide income (including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts) in any given taxable year that exceeds threshold limits for filing.

The filing requirement generally applies even if a taxpayer qualifies for tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion or the foreign tax credit, that substantially reduce or eliminate U.S. tax liability.

Note: These tax benefits are not automatic and are only available if an eligible taxpayer files a U.S. income tax return.

Any income received or deductible expenses paid in foreign currency must be reported on a U.S. return in U.S. dollars. Likewise, any tax payments must be made in U.S. dollars.

In addition, taxpayers who are retired may have to file tax forms in the foreign country in which they reside. You may, however, be able to take a tax credit or a deduction for income taxes you paid to a foreign country. These benefits can reduce your taxes if both countries tax the same income.

Nonresident aliens who receive income from U.S. sources must determine whether they have a U.S. tax obligation. The filing deadline for nonresident aliens is generally April 15 or June 15 depending on sources of income.

Income from Social Security or Pensions

If Social Security is your only income, then your benefits may not be taxable and you may not need to file a federal income tax return. If you receive Social Security you should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount of your benefits. Likewise, if you have pension or annuity income, you should receive a Form 1099-R for each distribution plan.

Retirement income is generally not taxed by other countries. As a U.S. citizen retiring abroad who receives Social Security, for instance, you may owe U.S. taxes on that income, but may not be liable for tax in the country where you’re spending your retirement years.

However, if you receive income from other sources (either U.S. or country of retirement) as well, from a part-time job or self-employment, for example, you may have to pay U.S. taxes on some of your benefits. You may also be required to report and pay taxes on any income earned in the country where you retired.

Each country is different, so consult a local tax professional or one who specializes in expat tax services.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

If you’ve retired overseas, but take on a full-or part-time job or earn income from self-employment, the IRS allows qualifying individuals to exclude all, or part, of their incomes from U.S. income tax by using the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). In 2016, this amount is $101,300.

This means that if you qualify, you won’t pay tax on up to $101,300 of your wages and other foreign earned income in 2016.

Note: Income earned overseas is exempt from taxation only if certain criteria are met such as residing outside of the country for at least 330 days over a 12-month period, or an entire calendar year.

Tax Treaties

The United States has income tax treaties with a number of foreign countries, but these treaties generally don’t exempt residents from their obligation to file a tax return.

Under these treaties, residents (not necessarily citizens) of foreign countries are taxed at a reduced rate, or are exempt from U.S. income taxes on certain items of income they receive from sources within the United States. These reduced rates and exemptions vary among countries and specific items of income.

Treaty provisions are generally reciprocal; that is they apply to both treaty countries. Therefore, a U.S. citizen or resident who receives income from a treaty country and who is subject to taxes imposed by foreign countries may be entitled to certain credits, deductions, exemptions, and reductions in the rate of taxes of those foreign countries.

Affordable Care Act

Starting in 2014, the individual shared responsibility provision calls for each individual to have minimum essential coverage (MEC) for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.

All U.S. citizens are subject to the individual shared responsibility provision. If you are not yet eligible for Medicare, U.S. citizens living abroad are generally subject to the same individual shared responsibility provision as U.S. citizens living in the United States.

However, U.S. citizens or residents living abroad for at least 330 days within a 12 month period are treated as having MEC during those 12 months and thus will not owe a shared responsibility payment for any of those 12 months. Also, U.S. citizens who qualify as a bona fide resident of a foreign country for an entire taxable year are treated as having MEC for that year.

State Taxes

Many states tax resident income as well, so even if you retire abroad, you may still owe state taxes–unless you established residency in a no-tax state before you moved overseas.

Some states honor the provisions of U.S. tax treaties; however, some states do not, therefore it is prudent to consult a tax professional.

Relinquishing U.S. Citizenship

Taxpayers who relinquish their U.S. citizenship or cease to be lawful permanent residents of the United States during any tax year must file a dual-status alien return and attach Form 8854, Initial and Annual Expatriation Statement. A copy of the Form 8854 must also be filed with Internal Revenue Service (Philadelphia, PA 19255-0049), by the due date of the tax return (including extensions).

Note: Giving up your U.S. citizenship doesn’t mean giving up your right to receive social security, pensions, annuities or other retirement income. However, the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to withhold nonresident alien tax from certain Social Security monthly benefits. If you are a nonresident alien receiving social security retirement income, then SSA will withhold a 30 percent flat tax from 85 percent of those benefits unless you qualify for a tax treaty benefit. This results in a withholding of 25.5 percent of your monthly benefit amount.

Consult a Tax Professional Before You Retire

Don’t wait until you’re ready to retire to consult a tax professional. Call the office today and find out what your options are.

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Lost Your Job? There Could Be Tax Consequences

Lost Your Job? There Could Be Tax Consequences

Given current economic conditions, you may be faced with tax questions surrounding a job loss and unemployment issues. Here are some answers:

Q: What if I receive unemployment compensation in 2016?

A: Unemployment compensation you receive under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of a state are considered taxable income and must be reported on your federal tax return. If you received unemployment compensation, you will receive Form 1099-G showing the amount you were paid and any federal income tax you elected to have withheld.

Types of unemployment benefits include:

  • Benefits paid by a state or the District of Columbia from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund
  • Railroad unemployment compensation benefits
  • Disability payments from a government program paid as a substitute for unemployment compensation
  • Trade readjustment allowances under the Trade Act of 1974
  • Unemployment assistance under the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act

You must also include benefits from regular union dues paid to you as an unemployed member of a union in your income. However, other rules apply if you contribute to a special union fund and your contributions are not deductible. If this applies to you, only include in income the amount you received from the fund that is more than your contributions.

Q: Can I have federal income tax withheld?

Yes, you can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment benefits by filling out Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. If you complete the form and give it to the paying office, they will withhold tax at 10 percent of your payments. If you choose not to have tax withheld, you may have to make estimated tax payments throughout the year.

Q: What if I lost my job?

A: The loss of a job may create new tax issues. Severance pay and unemployment compensation are taxable. Payments for any accumulated vacation or sick time are also taxable. You should ensure that enough taxes are withheld from these payments or make estimated tax payments to avoid a big bill at tax time. Public assistance and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) are not taxable.

Q: What if I searched for a job?

A: You may be able to deduct certain expenses you incurred while looking for a new job, even if you did not get a new job. Expenses include travel, resume preparation, and outplacement agency fees. Moving costs for a new job at least 50 miles away from your home may also be deductible.

Q: What if my employer went out of business or into bankruptcy?

A: Your employer must provide you with a W-2 Form showing your wages and withholdings by February 1 (the exact date may vary in a given tax year). You should keep up-to-date records or pay stubs until you receive your Form W-2. If your employer or its representatives fail to provide you with a Form W-2, contact the IRS. They can help by providing you with a substitute Form W-2. If your employer liquidated your 401(k) plan, you have 60 days to roll it over into another qualified retirement plan or IRA.

If you have experienced a job loss and have questions, please call. You need to be prepared for the tax consequences.

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Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs

Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs

The article re QCD says they receive a charitable contribution deduction versus they don’t have to claim as income and then forego the charitable contribution deduction.

If you’re age 70 1/2 or older, you can now take advantage of recent legislation allowing you to avoid paying income tax on IRA withdrawals transferred directly to a qualified charitable organization.

Referred to as Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs), they can also be used to satisfy all or part of your required minimum distribution. Here’s an example:

Let’s say your required minimum distribution in 2016 is $22,000. If you make a qualified charitable distribution of $15,000 for 2016, then you would need to withdraw another $7,000 to meet the amount required for your 2016 required minimum distribution.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) must be taken each year beginning with the year you turn age 70 1/2–whether you are still working or not. The RMD for each year is calculated by dividing the IRA account balance as of December 31 of the prior year by the applicable distribution period or life expectancy. This rule does not apply to your Roth IRAs.

What is a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD)?

Generally, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is an otherwise taxable distribution from an IRA (other than an ongoing SEP or SIMPLE IRA), that is owned by an individual who is age 70 1/2 or over that is paid directly from the IRA to a qualified charity.

What are the Rules?

Unlike most tax-related rules, the rules for QCDs are fairly straightforward:

  • You must be age 70 1/2 or older
  • The QCD must be made from a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, or individual retirement annuity, but not from a simplified employee pension, a simple retirement account or an inherited IRA
  • The QCD must be a direct transfer from the IRA trustee to the charitable organization
  • The organization must be one that qualifies for a charitable income tax deduction of an individual, that is, no private foundations (i.e. that give out grants)
  • The organization must acknowledge the charitable contribution similar to a charitable income tax deduction or donor advised fund

Tax Advantages of QCDs

Generally, taxable IRA distributions must be included in adjusted gross income (AGI)–even if donated to charity. You may be able to take a deduction for a charitable donation, but could be subject to a 50 percent AGI limitation, which means you wouldn’t be able to deduct the full amount in that tax year and might be subject to income tax on the difference.

QCDs bypass this potential problem because they are exempt from taxation–and you get to take the full amount of your QCD as a charitable deduction.

Another tax advantage to IRA withdrawals transferred directly to a qualified charitable organization is that it (the amount withdrawn) doesn’t increase your AGI. An increase in your AGI could, for example, increase your income tax on Social Security income or cause Medicare insurance premiums to increase. A higher AGI could also reduce deduction amounts for say, medical expenses, which are limited to amounts more than 10 percent of AGI (7.5 percent for those 65 and older in 2016).

In addition, because there is in effect, no addition to income on your tax return, you may be able to take the standard deduction (often a higher dollar amount and more beneficial than itemizing) and claim the deduction for a charitable contribution.

The $100,000 limit is an annual amount, so you can take advantage of a QCD for as many years as you wish–and it applies to each spouse’s IRA. As such up to $200,000 ($100,000 per spouse) could be donated in a given tax year and still qualify for the exclusion.

Reporting a QCD on your Income Tax Return

Charitable distributions are reported on Form 1099-R for the calendar year the distribution is made. You should receive Form 1099-R by February 1, 2017. To report a qualified charitable distribution on your Form 1040 tax return, you generally report the full amount of the charitable distribution on the line for IRA distributions. On the line for the taxable amount, enter zero if the full amount was a qualified charitable distribution and enter “QCD” next to this line.

You must also file Form 8606, Nondeductible IRAs, if you made the qualified charitable distribution from a traditional IRA in which you had basis and received a distribution from the IRA during the same year, other than the qualified charitable distribution; or the qualified charitable distribution was made from a Roth IRA.

Questions?

Don’t hesitate to call if you would like more information about qualified charitable distributions or have any questions about IRAs and minimum required distributions for IRAs and how it affects your taxes.

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Tax Planning Strategies to Use This Year

Tax Planning Strategies to Use This Year

Looking to save money on your taxes this year? It’s never too early to start planning ahead using these proven tax planning strategies.

Max Out Your 401(k) or Contribute to an IRA

You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating because it’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of saving money for your retirement.

Many employers offer plans where you can elect to defer a portion of your salary and contribute it to a tax-deferred retirement account. For most companies, these are referred to as 401(k) plans. For many other employers, such as universities, a similar plan called a 403(b) is available. Check with your employer about the availability of such a plan and contribute as much as possible to defer income and accumulate retirement assets.

Tip: Some employers match a portion of employee contributions to such plans. If this is available, you should structure your contributions to receive the maximum employer matching contribution.

If you have income from wages or self-employment income, you can build tax-sheltered investments by contributing to a traditional (pre-tax contributions) or a Roth IRA (after-tax contributions). You may also be able to contribute to a spousal IRA even when your spouse has little or no earned income.

Tip: To get the most from IRA contributions, fund the IRA as early as possible in the year. Also, pay the IRA trustee out of separate funds, not out of the amount in the IRA. Following these two rules will ensure that you get the most tax-deferred earnings possible from your money.

If You Have Your Own Business, Set Up and Contribute to a Retirement Plan

Similarly, if you have your own business, consider setting up and contributing as much as possible to a retirement plan. These are allowed even for a sideline or moonlighting businesses. Several types of plans are available which minimize the paperwork involved in establishing and administering such a plan.

Use the Gift-Tax Exclusion to Shift Income

In 2016, you can give away $14,000 ($28,000 if joined by a spouse) per donee, per year without paying federal gift tax. And, you can give $14,000 to as many donees as you like. The income on these transfers will then be taxed at the donee’s tax rate, which is in many cases lower.

Note: Special rules apply to children under age 18. Also, if you directly pay the medical or educational expenses of the donee, such gifts will not be subject to gift tax.

For gift tax purposes, contributions to Qualified Tuition Programs (Section 529) are treated as completed gifts even though the account owner has the right to withdraw them. As such, they qualify for the up-to-$14,000 annual gift tax exclusion in 2016. One contributing more than $14,000 may elect to treat the gift as made in equal installments over the year of gift and the following four years so that up to $56,000 can be given tax-free in the first year.

Consider Tax-Exempt Municipal Bonds

Interest on state or local municipal bonds is generally exempt from federal income tax and from tax by the issuing state or locality. For that reason, interest paid on such bonds is somewhat less than that paid on commercial bonds of comparable quality. However, for individuals in higher brackets, the interest from municipal bonds will often be greater than from higher paying commercial bonds after reduction for taxes. Gain on sale of municipal bonds is taxable and loss is deductible. Tax-exempt interest is sometimes an element in the computation of other tax items. Interest on loans to buy or carry tax-exempts is non-deductible.

Give Appreciated Assets to Charity

If you’re planning to make a charitable gift, it generally makes more sense to give appreciated long-term capital assets to the charity, instead of selling the assets and giving the charity the after-tax proceeds. Donating the assets instead of the cash prevents your having to pay capital gains tax on the sale, which can result in considerable savings, depending on your tax bracket and the amount of tax that would be due on the sale. Additionally, you can obtain a tax deduction for the fair market value of the property.

Tip: Many taxpayers also give depreciated assets to charity. Deduction is for fair market value; no loss deduction is allowed for depreciation in value of a personal asset. Depending on the item donated, there may be strict valuation rules and deduction limits.

Tip: Taxpayers age 70 1/2 and older can take advantage of tax benefits associated with Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs)–IRA withdrawals that are transferred directly to a qualified charitable organization. See the article, Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs, below, for additional details.

Keep Track of Mileage Driven for Business, Medical or Charitable Purposes

If you drive your car for business, medical or charitable purposes, you may be entitled to a deduction for miles driven. For 2016, it’s 54 cents per mile for business, 19 cents for medical and moving purposes, and 14 cents for service for charitable organizations. You need to keep detailed daily records of the mileage driven for these purposes to substantiate the deduction.

Take Advantage of Employer Benefit Plans Such as Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Spending Accounts (HSAs)

Medical and dental expenses are generally only deductible to the extent they exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). For most individuals, particularly those with high income, this eliminates the possibility for a deduction.

However, you can effectively get a deduction for these items if your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account (sometimes called a cafeteria plan). These plans permit you to redirect a portion of your salary to pay these types of expenses with pre-tax dollars. Another such arrangement is a Health Savings Account. Ask your employer if they provide either of these plans.

If Self-Employed, Take Advantage of Special Deductions

You may be able to expense up to $500,000 in 2016 for qualified equipment purchases for use in your business immediately instead of writing it off over many years. Additionally, self-employed individuals can deduct 100 percent of their health insurance premiums as business expenses. You may also be able to establish a Keogh, SEP or SIMPLE IRA plan, or a Health Savings Account, as mentioned above.

If You’re Self-Employed, Hire Your Child in the Business

If your child is under age 18, he or she is not subject to employment taxes such as FICA and federal unemployment taxes from your unincorporated business (income taxes still apply). In addition, your child may be able to contribute to an IRA using earned income. This will reduce your income for both income and employment tax purposes and shift assets to the child at the same time; however, you cannot hire your child if he or she in under the age of 8 years old.

Take Out a Home-Equity Loan

Most consumer-related interest expense, such as from car loans or credit cards, is not deductible. Interest on a home equity loan, however, can be deductible. It may be advisable to take out a home-equity loan to pay off other nondeductible obligations.

Bunch Your Itemized Deductions

Certain itemized deductions, such as medical or employment related expenses, are only deductible if they exceed a certain amount. It may be advantageous to delay payments in one year and prepay them in the next year to bunch the expenses in one year. This way you stand a better chance of getting a deduction.

A word about proper documentation…

Unfortunately, many taxpayers forgo worthwhile tax credits and deductions because they have neglected to keep proper receipts or records. Keeping adequate records is required by the IRS for employee business expenses, deductible travel and entertainment expenses, and charitable gifts and travel, and more.

But don’t do it just because the IRS says so. Neglecting to track these deductions can lead to overlooking them.

You also need to maintain records regarding your income. If your receive a large tax-free amount, such as a gift or inheritance, make certain to document the item so that the IRS does not later claim that you had unreported income.

It’s never too early to get started on tax planning for 2016 and beyond. Call the office today and find out how you can save money on your taxes this year.

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What to Do if You Haven’t Filed a Tax Return

What to Do if You Haven’t Filed a Tax Return

Filing a past due return may not be as difficult as you think.

Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether full payment can be made with the return. Depending on an individual’s circumstances, a taxpayer filing late may qualify for a payment plan. It is important, however, to know that full payment of taxes upfront saves you money.

Here’s What to Do When Your Return Is Late

Monday, April 18, 2016, was the tax deadline for most taxpayers to file their 2015 tax return. If you didn’t file a tax return or an extension to file but should have, take action now.

First, gather any and all information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed, then call the office.

If you’re owed money, then the sooner you file, the sooner you’ll get your refund. If you owe taxes, you should file and pay as soon as you can, which will stop the interest and penalties that you will owe.

If you owe money but can’t pay the IRS in full, you should pay as much as you can when you file your tax return to minimize penalties and interest.

Payment Options – Ways to Make a Payment

There are several different ways to make a payment on your taxes. Payments can be made by credit card, electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier’s check, or cash. If you pay your federal taxes using a major credit card or debit card, there is no IRS fee for credit or debit card payments, but the processing companies charge a convenience fee or flat fee.

Payment Options – For Those Who Can’t Pay in Full

Taxpayers unable to pay all taxes due on a tax bill are encouraged to pay as much as possible. By paying as much as possible now, the amount of interest and penalties owed will be less than if you do not pay anything at all. Based on individual circumstances, a taxpayer could qualify for an extension of time to pay, an installment agreement, a temporary delay, or an offer in compromise. Please call if you have questions about any of these options.

When it comes to paying your tax bill, it is important to review all your options; the interest rate on a loan or credit card may be lower than the combination of penalties and interest imposed by the Internal Revenue Code. You should pay as much as possible before entering into an installment agreement.

For individuals, IRS Direct Pay is a fast and free way to pay directly from your checking or savings account. Taxpayers who need more time to pay can set up either a short-term payment extension or a monthly payment plan. Most people can set up a payment plan using the Online Payment Agreement tool on IRS.gov.

  • A short-term extension gives a taxpayer an additional 60 to 120 days to pay. No fee is charged, but the late-payment penalty plus interest will apply. Generally, taxpayers will pay less in penalties and interest than if the debt were repaid through an installment agreement over a greater period of time.
  • A monthly payment plan or installment agreement gives a taxpayer more time to pay. However, penalties and interest will continue to be charged on the unpaid portion of the debt throughout the duration of the installment agreement/payment plan.

    Taxpayers who owe $25,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest can apply for and receive immediate notification of approval through an IRS web-based application. Balances over $25,000 require taxpayers to complete a financial statement to determine the monthly payment amount for an installment plan.

    A user fee will also be charged if the installment agreement is approved. The fee, normally $120, is reduced to $52 if taxpayers agree to make their monthly payments electronically through electronic funds withdrawal. The fee is $43 for eligible low-and-moderate-income taxpayers.

  • Starting in 2016, individual taxpayers who do not have a bank account or credit card and need to pay their tax bill using cash, are now able to make a payment at one or more than 7,000 7-Eleven stores nationwide. Individuals wishing to take advantage of this payment option should visit the IRS.gov payments page, select the cash option in the other ways you can pay section and follow the instructions.

Penalties for Filing a Late Tax Return

If you are due a refund there is no penalty if you file a late tax return. If you owe tax, and you failed to file and pay on time, you will most likely owe interest and penalties on the tax you pay late. Here are some facts that you should know about penalties for filing a late return:

Two penalties may apply. One penalty is for filing late and one is for paying late. They can add up fast. Interest accrues on top of the penalties.

Penalty for late filing. If you file your 2015 tax return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is $205 or, if you owe less than $205, 100 percent of the unpaid tax. Otherwise, the penalty can be as much as five percent of your unpaid taxes each month up to a maximum of 25 percent.

Penalty for late payment. The penalty is generally 0.5 percent of your unpaid taxes per month. It can build up to as much as 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

Combined penalty per month. If both the late filing and late payment penalties apply, the maximum amount charged for the two penalties is 5 percent per month.

Late payment penalty may not apply. If you requested an extension of time to file your income tax return by the tax due date and paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe, you may not face a failure-to-pay penalty. However, you must pay the remaining balance by the extended due date. You will owe interest on any taxes you pay after the April 18 due date.

File even if you can’t pay. Filing on time and paying as much as you can keeps your interest and penalties to a minimum. If you can’t pay in full, getting a loan or paying by debit or credit card may be less expensive than owing the IRS. If you do owe the IRS, the sooner you pay your bill the less you will owe.

What Happens If You Don’t File a Past Due Return or Contact the IRS?

It’s important to understand the ramifications of not filing a past due return and the steps that the IRS will take. Taxpayers who continue to not file a required return and fail to respond to IRS requests for a return may be considered for a variety of enforcement actions.

Don’t Wait!

If you haven’t filed a tax return yet, call the office today to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

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What Income is Taxable?

What Income is Taxable?

Are you wondering if there’s a hard and fast rule about what income is taxable and what income is not taxable? The quick answer is that all income is taxable unless the law specifically excludes it. But as you might have guessed, there’s more to it than that.

Taxable income includes any money you receive, such as wages and tips, but it can also include non-cash income from property or services. For example, both parties in a barter exchange must include the fair market value of goods or services received as income on their tax return.

Nontaxable Income

Here are some types of income that are usually not taxable:

  • Gifts and inheritances
  • Child support payments
  • Welfare benefits
  • Damage awards for physical injury or sickness
  • Cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer for an item you buy
  • Reimbursements for qualified adoption expenses

In addition, some types of income are not taxable except under certain conditions, including:

  • Life insurance proceeds paid to you because of the death of the insured person are usually not taxable. However, if you redeem a life insurance policy for cash, any amount that is more than the cost of the policy is taxable.
  • Income from a qualified scholarship is normally not taxable. This means that amounts you use for certain costs, such as tuition and required books, are not taxable. However, amounts you use for room and board are taxable.
  • If you received a state or local income tax refund, the amount may be taxable. You should have received a 2015 Form 1099-G from the agency that made the payment to you. If you didn’t get it by mail, the agency may have provided the form electronically. Contact them to find out how to get the form. Be sure to report any taxable refund you received even if you did not receive Form 1099-G.

Important Reminders about Tip Income

If you get tips on the job from customers, that income is subject to taxes. Here’s what you should keep in mind when it comes to receiving tips on the job:

  • Tips are taxable. You must pay federal income tax on any tips you receive. The value of non-cash tips, such as tickets, passes or other items of value are also subject to income tax.
  • Include all tips on your income tax return. You must include the total of all tips you received during the year on your income tax return. This includes tips directly from customers, tips added to credit cards and your share of tips received under a tip-splitting agreement with other employees.
  • Report tips to your employer. If you receive $20 or more in tips in any one month, from any one job, you must report your tips for that month to your employer. The report should only include cash, check, debit and credit card tips you receive. Your employer is required to withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on the reported tips. Do not report the value of any noncash tips to your employer.
  • Keep a daily log of tips. Use the Employee’s Daily Record of Tips and Report to Employer (IRS Publication 1244), to record your tips.

Bartering Income is Taxable

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Small businesses sometimes barter to get products or services they need. For example, a plumber might trade plumbing work with a dentist for dental services. Typically, there is no exchange of cash.

If you barter, the value of products or services from bartering is taxable income. Here are four facts about bartering that you should be aware of:

1. Barter exchanges. A barter exchange is an organized marketplace where members barter products or services. Some exchanges operate out of an office and others over the Internet. All barter exchanges are required to issue Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions. The exchange must give a copy of the form to its members who barter and file a copy with the IRS.

2. Bartering income. Barter and trade dollars are the same as real dollars for tax purposes and must be reported on a tax return. Both parties must report as income the fair market value of the product or service they get.

3. Tax implications. Bartering is taxable in the year it occurs. The tax rules may vary based on the type of bartering that takes place. Barterers may owe income taxes, self-employment taxes, employment taxes or excise taxes on their bartering income.

4. Reporting rules. How you report bartering on a tax return varies. If you are in a trade or business, you normally report it on Form 1040, Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business.

If you have any questions about taxable and nontaxable income, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

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Estimated Tax Payments: Q & A

Estimated Tax Payments: Q & A

Estimated tax is the method used to pay tax on income that is not subject to withholding. This includes income from self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent, gains from the sale of assets, prizes and awards. You also may have to pay estimated tax if the amount of income tax being withheld from your salary, pension, or other income is not enough. If you do not pay enough by the due date of each payment period you may be charged a penalty even if you are due a refund when you file your tax return.

How do I know if I need to file quarterly individual estimated tax payments?

If you owed additional tax for the prior tax year, you may have to make estimated tax payments for the current tax year. The first estimated payment for 2016 is due April 18, 2016.

If you are filing as a sole proprietor, partner, S corporation shareholder, and/or a self-employed individual, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when you file your return.

If you are filing as a corporation you generally have to make estimated tax payments for your corporation if you expect it to owe tax of $500 or more when you file its return.

If you had a tax liability for the prior year, you may have to pay estimated tax for the current year; however, if you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings.

Note: There are special rules for farmers, fishermen, certain household employers, and certain higher taxpayers.

Who Does Not Have To Pay Estimated Tax

You do not have to pay estimated tax for the current year if you meet all three of the following conditions:

  • You had no tax liability for the prior year
  • You were a U.S. citizen or resident for the whole year
  • Your prior tax year covered a 12-month period

If you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings. To do this, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. There is a special line on Form W-4 for you to enter the additional amount you want your employer to withhold.

You had no tax liability for the prior year if your total tax was zero or you did not have to file an income tax return.

How Do I Figure Estimated Tax?

To figure your estimated tax, you must figure out your expected adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions, and credits for the year. If you estimated your earnings too high, simply complete another Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals worksheet to refigure your estimated tax for the next quarter. If you estimated your earnings too low, again complete another Form 1040-ES worksheet to recalculate your estimated tax for the next quarter.

Try to estimate your income as accurately as you can to avoid penalties due to underpayment. Generally, most taxpayers will avoid this penalty if they owe less than $1,000 in tax after subtracting their withholdings and credits, or if they paid at least 90 percent of the tax for the current year, or 100 percent of the tax shown on the return for the prior year, whichever is smaller.

Tip: When figuring your estimated tax for the current year, it may be helpful to use your income, deductions, and credits for the prior year as a starting point. Use your prior year’s federal tax return as a guide and use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES to figure your estimated tax.

You must make adjustments both for changes in your own situation and for recent changes in the tax law.

When Do I Pay Estimated Taxes?

For estimated tax purposes, the year is divided into four payment periods and each period has a specific payment due date. For the 2016 tax year, these dates are April 18, September 15, June 15, and January 17, 2017. You do not have to pay estimated taxes in January if you file your 2016 tax return by January 31, 2017, and pay the entire balance due with your return.

Note: If you do not pay enough tax by the due date of each of the payment periods, you may be charged a penalty even if you are due a refund when you file your income tax return.

The easiest way for individuals as well as businesses to pay their estimated federal taxes is to use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). Make ALL of your federal tax payments including federal tax deposits (FTDs), installment agreement and estimated tax payments using EFTPS. If it is easier to pay your estimated taxes weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. you can, as long as you have paid enough in by the end of the quarter. Using EFTPS, you can access a history of your payments, so you know how much and when you made your estimated tax payments.

Please call if you are not sure whether you need to make an estimated tax payment or need assistance setting up EFTPS.

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ACA Tax Facts for Individuals and Families

ACA Tax Facts for Individuals and Families

The Affordable Care Act contains two provisions that may affect your tax return this year: the individual shared responsibility provision and the premium tax credit. Here’s what you should know:

Information Forms: 1095-A, 1095-B, and 1095-C

This year marks the first time that certain taxpayers will receive new health-care related information forms that they can use to complete their tax return and then keep with their tax records.

These forms are used to report health coverage information for you, your spouse and any dependents when you file your 2015 individual income tax return in 2016. These forms are also filed with the IRS. Depending upon your specific circumstances, (i.e. whether you receive health insurance from the Health Insurance Marketplace, health coverage providers, or certain employers), you should have received one or more of these forms in early 2016. There are three types of information forms:

Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. The Health Insurance Marketplace sends this form to individuals who enrolled in coverage there, with information about the coverage, who was covered, and when. This is the second year in which the Marketplace is issuing Form 1095-A to enrollees. The deadline for the Marketplace to provide Form 1095-A is February 1, 2016.

Form 1095-B, Health Coverage. Health insurance providers (e.g. health insurance companies) send this form to individuals they cover, with information about who was covered and when.

Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage. Employers that offer health coverage referred to as “self-insured coverage” send this form to individuals they cover, with information about who was covered and when. The deadline for coverage providers to provide Forms 1095-B and employers to provide Form 1095-C is March 31, 2016.

Some taxpayers may not have received a Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C by the time they are ready to file their 2015 tax return. It is not necessary to wait for Forms 1095-B or 1095-C in order to file. Taxpayers may instead rely on other information about their health coverage and employer offer to prepare their returns.

Note: These new forms should not be attached to your income tax return.

Individual Shared Responsibility Provision

The individual shared responsibility provision requires everyone on your tax return (you, your spouse, and dependents) to have qualifying health care coverage for each month of the year or have a coverage exemption. Otherwise, you may be required to make an individual shared responsibility payment.

The key elements of the individual shared responsibility provision are as follows:

  • If you maintain qualifying healthcare coverage for the entire year, you don’t need to do anything more than report that coverage on your federal income tax return by simply checking a box. Qualifying coverage includes most employer-sponsored coverage, coverage obtained through a Health Insurance Marketplace, coverage through most government-sponsored programs, as well as certain other specified health plans.
  • If you go without coverage or experience a gap in coverage, you may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have coverage (see below). If you qualify for an exemption, use Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, to report a coverage exemption granted by the Marketplace or to claim a coverage exemption on your tax return.

    If for any month during the year you don’t have qualifying coverage and you don’t qualify for an exemption, you will have to make an individual shared responsibility payment when you file your federal income tax return.

  • The payment amount for 2015 is the greater of 2 percent of the household income above the taxpayer’s filing threshold, or $325 per adult plus $162.50 per child (limited to a family maximum of $975). This payment is capped at the cost of the national average premium for a bronze level health plan available through Marketplaces that would provide coverage for the taxpayer’s family members that neither had qualifying coverage nor qualify for a coverage exemption.

    The instructions for Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, provide the information needed to calculate the payment that will be reported on your federal income tax return.

Health Coverage Exemptions

Individuals who go without coverage or experience a gap in coverage may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have coverage.

  • You may qualify for an exemption if one of the following applies:
    • You do not have access to affordable coverage
    • You have a one-time gap of less than three consecutive months without coverage
    • You qualify for one of several other exemptions, including a hardship exemption

How you get an exemption depends on the type of exemption. You can obtain some exemptions only from the Marketplace in the area where you live, others only from the IRS when filing your income tax return, and others from either the Marketplace or the IRS.

If you qualify for an exemption, you use Form 8965 to report a coverage exemption granted by the Marketplace or to claim a coverage exemption on your tax return.

Premium Tax Credit

The premium tax credit (PTC) is a credit that helps eligible individuals and families with low or moderate income afford health insurance purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Claiming the premium tax credit may increase your refund or lower the amount of tax that you would otherwise owe.

If you did not get advance credit payments in 2015, you can claim the full benefit of the premium tax credit that you are allowed when you file your tax return. You must file Form 8962 to claim the PTC on your tax return.

More Information

Please call the office is you would like more information about the premium tax credit or the individual shared responsibility payment.

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Last Minute Filing Tips for 2015 Tax Returns

Last Minute Filing Tips for 2015 Tax Returns

Are you one of the millions of Americans who hasn’t filed (or even started) your taxes yet? With the April 18 tax filing deadline quickly approaching, here is some last minute tax advice for you.

1. Stop Procrastinating. Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the very last minute. It takes time to prepare accurate returns and additional information may be needed from you to complete your tax return.

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 18 (April 19, in Maine and Massachusetts). If the clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension, bringing the filing date to October 17, 2016. 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 the office if you need to file an extension or file for late-filing penalty relief.

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.

Remember: To avoid delays, get your tax documents to the office as soon as you can.

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IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2016

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2016

Compiled annually by the IRS, the “Dirty Dozen” is a list of common scams taxpayers may encounter in the coming months. While many of these scams peak during the tax filing season, they may be encountered at any time during the year. Here is this year’s list:

1. Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Taxpayers should use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues because scams can take on many sophisticated forms, according to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Taxpayers should secure personal information by protecting their computers and only giving out Social Security numbers when absolutely necessary.

2. Phone Scams

Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers. In recent weeks, the agency has seen a surge of these phone scams as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things.

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robocalls,” or via a phishing email.

Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

3. Phishing

Phishing schemes using fake emails or websites are used by criminals to try to steal personal information. Typically, criminals pose as a person or organization you trust and/or recognize. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name, or pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider or government agency. These criminals go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages, hoping that victims will take the bait so they can steal the victim’s money, passwords, Social Security number and identity.

Scam emails and websites also can infect your computer with malware without you even knowing it. The malware can give the criminal access to your device, enabling them to access all your sensitive files or track your keyboard strokes, exposing login information.

4. Tax Return Preparer Fraud

About 60 percent of taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but there are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season. Well-intentioned taxpayers can be misled by preparers who don’t understand taxes or who mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to in order to increase their fee.

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

5. Hiding Money or Income Offshore

Through the years, offshore accounts have been used to lure taxpayers into scams and schemes. Numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities and then using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

6. Inflated Refund

Taxpayers should be on the lookout for unscrupulous tax return preparers pushing inflated tax refund claims. Scam artists routinely pose as tax preparers during tax time, luring victims in by promising large federal tax refunds or refunds that people never dreamed they were due in the first place. They might, for example, promise inflated refunds based on fictitious Social Security benefits and false claims for education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or the American Opportunity Tax Credit, among others.

Scammers use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and even word of mouth to throw out a wide net for victims. They may even spread the word through community groups or churches where trust is high. Scammers frequently prey on people such as the elderly or non-English speakers, who may or may not have a filing requirement.

Because taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their returns (even if it was prepared by someone else), those who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.

7. Fake Charities

Taxpayers should be aware that phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. For instance, following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists use a variety of tactics including contacting people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds. They may also attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources.

8. Falsely Padding Deductions

The vast majority of taxpayers file honest and accurate tax returns on time every year. However, each year some taxpayers fail to resist the temptation of fudging their information. That’s why falsely claiming deductions, expenses or credits on tax returns is on the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams list for the 2016 filing season. The IRS warns taxpayers that they should think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions, padding their claimed business expenses or including credits that they are not entitled to receive. Avoid the temptation of falsely inflating deductions or expenses on your return to underpay what you owe and possibly receive larger refunds.

9. Excessive Claims for Business Credits

Improper claims for business credits such as the fuel tax and the research credit are also on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list this year. The fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use or use in farming. Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. Still, the IRS routinely finds unscrupulous preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim the credit to inflate their refunds. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

The research credit is an important feature in the tax code to foster research and experimentation by the private sector; however, the IRS does see a significant amount of misuse of the research credit each year. Improper claims for the research credit generally involve failures to participate in or substantiate qualified research activities and/or satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses.

10. Falsifying Income

This scam involves inflating or including income on a tax return that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income, usually in order to maximize refundable credits. Just like falsely claiming an expense or deduction you did not pay, claiming income you did not earn in order to secure larger refundable credits could have serious repercussions. Well-intentioned taxpayers can be misled by tax preparers who don’t understand taxes or who mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to in order to increase their fee.

Remember: Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Make sure the preparer you hire is ethical and up to the task.

11. Abusive Tax Shelters

Phony tax shelters and structures to avoid paying taxes continues to be a problem and taxpayers should steer clear of these types of schemes as they can end up costing taxpayers more in back taxes, penalties, and interest than they saved in the first place.

Abusive tax schemes have evolved from simple structuring of abusive domestic and foreign trust arrangements into sophisticated strategies that take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit/debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions. For example, multiple flow-through entities are commonly used as part of a taxpayer’s scheme to evade taxes. These schemes may use Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs), International Business Companies (IBCs), foreign financial accounts, offshore credit/debit cards and other similar instruments. They are designed to conceal the true nature and ownership of the taxable income and/or assets.

Trusts also commonly show up in abusive tax structures. They are highlighted here because unscrupulous promoters continue to urge taxpayers to transfer large amounts of assets into trusts. These assets include not only cash and investments but also successful on-going businesses. There are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, but the IRS commonly sees highly questionable transactions. These transactions promise reduced taxable income, inflated deductions for personal expenses, reduced (even to zero) self-employment taxes, and reduced estate or gift transfer taxes. These transactions commonly arise when taxpayers are transferring wealth from one generation to another.

Another abuse involving a legitimate tax structure involves certain small or “micro” captive insurance companies. In the abusive structure, unscrupulous promoters, accountants, or wealth planners persuade the owners of closely held entities to participate in these schemes. The promoters assist the owners to create captive insurance companies onshore or offshore and cause the creation and sale of the captive “insurance” policies to the closely held entities. The promoters manage the entities’ captive insurance companies for substantial fees, assisting taxpayers unsophisticated in insurance, to continue the charade from year to year.

12. Frivolous Tax Arguments

Taxpayers are also warned against using frivolous tax arguments to avoid paying their taxes. Examples include contentions that taxpayers can refuse to pay taxes on religious or moral grounds by invoking the First Amendment or that the only “employees” subject to federal income tax are employees of the federal government; and that only foreign-source income is taxable.

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. These arguments are wrong and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes. The penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a tax scam, don’t hesitate to call.

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Who Should File a 2015 Tax Return?

Who Should File a 2015 Tax Return?

Most people file a tax return because they have to, but even if you don’t, there are times when you should because you might be eligible for a tax refund and not know it. This year, there are a few new rules for taxpayers who must file. The six tax tips below should help you determine whether you’re one of them.

1. General Filing Rules. Whether you need to file a tax return this year depends on a few factors. In most cases, the amount of your income, your filing status, and your age determine if you must file a tax return. For example, if you’re single and 28 years old you must file if your income, was at least $10,300. Other rules may apply if you’re self-employed or if you’re a dependent of another person. There are also other cases when you must file. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.

2. Premium Tax Credit. If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015, you might be eligible for the Premium Tax Credit; however, you will need to file a return to claim the credit.

If you purchased coverage from the Marketplace in 2015 and chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit sent directly to your insurer during the year, you must file a federal tax return. You will reconcile any advance payments with the allowable premium tax credit.

You should have received Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, in February. The new form has information that helps you file your tax return and reconcile any advance payments with the allowable Premium Tax Credit.

3. Tax Withheld or Paid. Did your employer withhold federal income tax from your pay? Did you make estimated tax payments? Did you overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be due a refund. But you have to file a tax return to get it.

4. Earned Income Tax Credit. Did you work and earn less than $53,267 last year? You could receive EITC as a tax refund if you qualify with or without a qualifying child. You may be eligible for up to $6,242. If you qualify, file a tax return to claim it.

5. Additional Child Tax Credit. Do you have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If you don’t get the full credit amount, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit.

6. American Opportunity Credit. The AOTC (up to $2,500 per eligible student) is available for four years of post-secondary education. You or your dependent must have been a student enrolled at least half-time for at least one academic period. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify; however, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim the credit.

Which Tax Form is Right for You?

You can generally use the 1040EZ if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000;
  • Your filing status is single or married filing jointly;
  • You don’t claim dependents; and
  • Your interest income is $1,500 or less.

Note: You can’t use Form 1040EZ to claim the new Premium Tax Credit. You also can’t use this form if you received advance payments of this credit in 2015.

The 1040A may be best for you if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000;
  • You have capital gain distributions;
  • You claim certain tax credits; and
  • You claim adjustments to income for IRA contributions and student loan interest.

You must use the 1040 if:

  • Your taxable income is $100,000 or more;
  • You claim itemized deductions;
  • You report self-employment income; or
  • You report income from sale of a property.

Questions?

Help is just a phone call away. Call or make an appointment now and get the answers you need today.

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Six Overlooked Tax Breaks for Individuals

Six Overlooked Tax Breaks for Individuals

Confused about which credits and deductions you can claim on your 2015 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 last-minute tax extender legislation passed in December, taxpayers filing their 2015 returns can still deduct either state income tax paid or state sales tax paid, whichever is greater.

Here’s how it works. If you bought a big-ticket item like a car or boat in 2015, 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 2014 tax return in 2015, you can include the amount when you itemize your state taxes this year on your 2015 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 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses per dependent.

3. Job Search Expenses

Job search expenses are 100 percent 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 two percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Also, you cannot deduct job search expenses if you are looking for a job for the first time.

4. Student Loan Interest Paid by Parents

Typically, a taxpayer is only able to deduct interest on mortgage and student loans if he or she is liable for the debt; however, if a parent pays back their child’s student loans that 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 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for tax year 2015. What they often don’t realize is which medical expenses can be deducted, such as medical miles (23 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 those premiums 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? Call the office today and make sure you get all of the tax breaks you deserve.

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Energy Tax Credits Expire at the end of 2016

Certain energy-efficient home improvements can cut your energy bills and save you money at tax time; however, these energy-related tax credits expire at the end of 2016. Here are some key facts that you should know about home energy tax credits:

Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit

  • Part of this credit is worth 10 percent of the cost of certain qualified energy-saving items you added to your main home last year. This may include items such as insulation, windows, doors, and roofs.
  • The other part of the credit is not a percentage of the cost. This part of the credit is for the actual cost of certain property. This may include items such as water heaters and heating and air conditioning systems. The credit amount for each type of property has a different dollar limit.
  • This credit has a maximum lifetime limit of $500. You may only use $200 of this limit for windows.
  • Your main home must be located in the U.S. to qualify for the credit.
  • Be sure you have the written certification from the manufacturer that their product qualifies for this tax credit. They usually post it on their website or include it with the product’s packaging. You can rely on it to claim the credit, but do not attach it to your return. Keep it with your tax records.
  • You must place qualifying improvements in service in your principal residence by Dec. 31, 2016.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

  • This tax credit is 30 percent of the cost of alternative energy equipment installed on or in your home.
  • Qualified equipment includes solar hot water heaters, solar electric equipment, wind turbines and fuel cell property.
  • Qualified wind turbine and fuel cell property must be placed into service by Dec. 31, 2016. Hot water heaters and solar electric equipment must be placed into service by Dec. 31, 2021.
  • The tax credit for qualified fuel cell property is limited to $500 for each one-half kilowatt of capacity. The amount for other qualified expenditures does not have a limit. If your credit is more than the tax you owe, you can carry forward the unused portion of this credit to next year’s tax return.
  • The home must be in the U.S. It does not have to be your main home unless the alternative energy equipment is qualified fuel cell property.
  • Use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits, to claim these credits.

Questions?

For more information about this topic please call.

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Tax Due Dates for November 2016

Anytime

Employers – Income Tax Withholding. Ask employees whose withholding allowances will be different in 2017 to fill out a new Form W-4. The 2017 revision of Form W-4 will be available on the IRS website by mid-December.

November 10

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during October, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

November 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

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Tax Tips for Separated or Divorced Individuals

If you are recently separated or divorced, taxes may be the last thing on your mind; however, these events can have a big impact on your wallet at tax time. Alimony, or a name or address change, are just a few items you may need to consider. Here are a few key tax tips to keep in mind:

1. Child Support. Child support payments are not deductible and if you received child support, it is not taxable.

2. Alimony Paid. You can deduct alimony paid to or for a spouse or former spouse under a divorce or separation decree, regardless of whether you itemize deductions. Voluntary payments made outside a divorce or separation decree are not deductible. You must enter your spouse’s Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number on your Form 1040 when you file.

3. Alimony Received. If you get alimony from your spouse or former spouse, it is taxable in the year you get it. Alimony is not subject to tax withholding so you may need to increase the tax you pay during the year to avoid a penalty. To do this, you can make estimated tax payments or increase the amount of tax withheld from your wages.

4. Spousal IRA. If you get a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance by the end of your tax year, you can’t deduct contributions you make to your former spouse’s traditional IRA. You may be able to deduct contributions you make to your own traditional IRA.

5. Name Changes. If you change your name after your divorce, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You can get the form on the Social Security Administration’s website (SSA.gov) or call 800-772-1213 to order it. The name on your tax return must match SSA records. A name mismatch can cause problems in the processing of your return and may delay your refund.

6. Health Care Law Considerations

Special Marketplace Enrollment Period. If you lose health insurance coverage due to divorce, you are still required to have coverage for every month of the year for yourself and the dependents you can claim on your tax return. You may enroll in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during a Special Enrollment Period if you lose coverage due to a divorce.

The Special Enrollment Period (SEP) is defined as a specific length of time outside the yearly Open Enrollment Period when you can sign up for health insurance. You qualify for a Special Enrollment Period if you’ve had certain life events, including losing health coverage, moving, getting married, having a baby, or adopting a child.

If you qualify for the SEP, you generally have up to 60 days following the event to enroll in a plan. If you miss that window, you have to wait until the next Open Enrollment Period to apply.

Changes in Circumstances. If you purchase health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you may get advance payments of the premium tax credit. If you do, you should report changes in circumstances to your Marketplace throughout the year. These changes include a change in marital status, a name change, a change of address, and a change in your income or family size. Reporting these changes will help make sure that you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance. This will also help you avoid getting too much or too little credit in advance.

Shared Policy Allocation. If you divorced or are legally separated during the tax year and are enrolled in the same qualified health plan, you and your former spouse must allocate policy amounts on your separate tax returns to figure your premium tax credit and reconcile any advance payments made on your behalf. Please call the office if you have any questions about the Shared Policy Allocation.

If you need more information about tax rules related to divorce or separation, please call the office.

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Tax Relief for Drought-Stricken Farmers

Farmers and ranchers who previously were forced to sell livestock due to drought, like the drought currently affecting much of the nation, have an extended period of time in which to replace the livestock and defer tax on any gains from the forced sales. The relief applies to all or part of 37 states and Puerto Rico.

The one-year extension of the replacement period generally applies to capital gains realized by eligible farmers and ranchers on sales of livestock held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes due to drought. Sales of other livestock, such as those raised for slaughter or held for sporting purposes, and poultry are not eligible.

Farmers and ranchers in these areas whose drought sale replacement period was scheduled to expire at the end of this tax year, Dec. 31, 2016, in most cases, will now have until the end of their next tax year. Because the normal drought sale replacement period is four years, this extension immediately impacts drought sales that occurred during 2012. But because of previous drought-related extensions affecting some of these localities, the replacement periods for some drought sales before 2012 are also affected. Additional extensions will be granted if severe drought conditions persist.

The IRS is providing this relief to any farm located in a county, parish, city, borough, census area or district, listed as suffering exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions by the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), during any weekly period between Sept. 1, 2015, and Aug. 31, 2016. Any county that borders a county listed by the NDMC also qualifies for this relief.

A taxpayer may determine whether exceptional, extreme, or severe drought is reported for any location in the applicable region by reference to U.S. Drought Monitor maps that are produced on a weekly basis by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

In addition, in September of each year, the IRS publishes a list of counties, districts, cities, boroughs, census areas or parishes (hereinafter “counties”) for which exceptional, extreme, or severe drought was reported during the preceding 12 months. Taxpayers may use this list instead of U.S. Drought Monitor maps to determine whether exceptional, extreme, or severe drought has been reported for any location in the applicable region.

To summarize:

  1. If the drought caused you to sell more livestock than usual, you may be able to defer tax on the extra gains from those sales.
  2. You generally must replace the livestock within a four-year period; however, the IRS has the authority to extend the period if the drought continues. For this reason, the IRS has added an additional year to the replacement year.
  3. The one-year extension of time authorized by the IRS generally applies to certain sales due to drought.
  4. If you are eligible, your gains on sales of livestock that you held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes apply.
  5. Sales of other livestock, such as those you raised for slaughter or held for sporting purposes and poultry, are not eligible.
  6. The IRS relief applies to farms in areas suffering exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions. The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) has listed all or parts of 37 states that qualify for relief (see above). Any county that is contiguous to a county that is on the NDMC’s list also qualifies.
  7. This extension immediately impacts drought sales that occurred during 2012. However, the IRS has granted previous extensions that affect some of these localities. This means that some drought sales before 2012 are also affected. Further, the IRS will grant additional extensions if severe drought conditions persist.

If you have any questions about whether you’re eligible for this particular tax relief, don’t hesitate to call.

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Employers: Terms to Know about Health Coverage

Under the Affordable Care Act, certain employers–known as applicable large employers–are subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions. You might be thinking about these topics as you make plans about 2017 health coverage for your employees.

If you are an employer that is subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions, you may choose either to offer affordable minimum essential coverage that provides minimum value to your full-time employees and their dependents or to potentially owe an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS.

Here are definitions of key terms related to health coverage you might offer to employees:

Affordable coverage: If the lowest cost self-only only health plan is 9.5 percent or less of your full-time employee’s household income, then the coverage is considered affordable. Because you likely will not know your employee’s household income, for purposes of the employer shared responsibility provisions, you can determine whether you offered affordable coverage under various safe harbors based on information available to you as the employer.

Minimum essential coverage: For purposes of reporting by applicable large employers, minimum essential coverage means coverage under an employer-sponsored plan. It does not include fixed indemnity coverage, life insurance or dental or vision coverage.

Minimum value coverage: An employer-sponsored plan provides minimum value if it covers at least 60 percent of the total allowed cost of benefits that are expected to be incurred under the plan.

Help is Just a Phone Call Away

Please call if you have any questions or need more information about the employer shared responsibility provisions.

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Tips for Taxpayers about Charity Travel Expenses

Do you plan to donate your time to charity this year? If travel is part of your charitable giving, for example, driving your personal auto to collect donations from local business, you may be able to these travel expenses on your tax return and lower your tax bill. Here are five tax tips you should know if you travel while giving your services to charity.

1. Qualified Charities. To deduct your costs, your volunteer work must be for a qualified charity. Most groups must apply to the IRS to become qualified. Churches and governments are generally qualified and do not need to apply to the IRS. Ask the group about its status before you donate. You can also use the “Exempt Organizations Select Check” search tool on IRS.gov to check a group’s status or call the office.

2. Out-of-Pocket Expenses. You can’t deduct the value of your services that you give to charity. But you may be able to deduct some out-of-pocket costs you pay to give your services. This can include the cost of travel, but they must be necessary while you are away from home. All out-of-pocket costs must be:

  • Unreimbursed,
  • Directly connected with the services,
  • Expenses you had only because of the services you gave, and
  • Not personal, living or family expenses.

3. Genuine and Substantial Duty. Your charity work has to be real and substantial throughout the trip. You can’t deduct expenses if you only have nominal duties or do not have any duties for significant parts of the trip.

4. Value of Time or Service. You can’t deduct the value of your time or services that you give to charity. This includes income lost while you serve as an unpaid volunteer for a qualified charity.

5. Travel You Can Deduct. The types of expenses that you may be able to deduct include: Air, rail and bus transportation, car expenses, lodging costs, cost of meals, and taxi or other transportation costs between the airport or station and your hotel.

6. Travel You Can’t Deduct. Some types of travel do not qualify for a tax deduction. For example, you can’t deduct your costs if a significant part of the trip involves recreation or vacation.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about travel expenses related to charitable work.

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Tax Tips for Reporting Gambling Income and Losses

Whether you play the lottery, roll the dice, play cards, or bet on the ponies, all of your gambling winnings are taxable and must be reported on your tax return. If you gamble, these tax tips can help you at tax time next year: Here’s what you need to know about figuring gambling income and loss.

1. Gambling income. Income from gambling includes winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races and casinos. It also includes cash and the fair market value of prizes you receive, such as cars and trips and you must report them on your tax return

2. Payer tax form. If you win, you may receive a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings, from the payer. The form reports the amount of your winnings to you and the IRS. The payer issues the form depending on the type of game you played, the amount of winnings, and other factors. You’ll also receive a Form W-2G if the payer withholds federal income tax from your winnings.

3. How to report winnings. You must report all your gambling winnings as income on your federal income tax return. This is true even if you do not receive a Form W-2G. If you’re a casual gambler, report your winnings on the “Other Income” line of your Form 1040, U. S. Individual Income Tax Return.

4. How to deduct losses. You may deduct your gambling losses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. The deduction is limited to the amount of your winnings. You must report your winnings as income and claim your allowable losses separately. You cannot reduce your winnings by your losses and report the difference.

5. Keep gambling receipts. You must keep accurate records of your gambling activity. This includes items such as receipts, tickets or statements. You should also keep a diary or log of your gambling activity. Your records should show your winnings separately from your losses.

If you have questions about gambling income and losses, don’t hesitate to call.

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Tax Due Dates for October 2016

October 11

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during September, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

October 17

Individuals – If you have an automatic 6-month extension to file your income tax return for 2015, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ and pay any tax, interest, and penalties due.

Electing Large Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065-B). This due date applies only if you timely requested a 6-month extension of time to file the return.

Employers Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in September.

Employers Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in September.

October 31

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the third quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until November 10 to file the return.

Certain Small Employers – Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2016 but less than $2,500 for the third quarter.

Employers – Federal Unemployment Tax. Deposit the tax owed through September if more than $500.

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Tax Tips for Hobbies that Earn Income

Millions of people enjoy hobbies such as stamp or coin collecting, craft making, and horse breeding, but the IRS may also consider them a source of income. As such, if you engage in a hobby that provides a source of income, you must report that income on your tax return; however, taxpayers (especially business owners) should be aware that the way income from hobbies is reported is different from how you report income from a business. For example, there are special rules and limits for deductions you can claim for a hobby.

Here are five basic tax tips you should know if you get income from your hobby:

Business versus Hobby. There are nine factors to consider to determine if you are conducting business or participating in a hobby. Make sure to base your decision on all the facts and circumstances of your situation. To learn more about these nine factors, please call.

Allowable Hobby Deductions. You may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate. Don’t hesitate to call if you need more information about these rules.

Limits on Expenses. As a general rule, you can only deduct your hobby expenses up to the amount of your hobby income. If your expenses are more than your income, you have a loss from the activity. You can’t deduct that loss from your other income.

How to Deduct Expenses. You must itemize deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your costs may fall into three types of expenses. Special rules apply to each type. Use Schedule A, Itemized Deductions to report these types of expenses.

Use a tax professional. Hobby rules can be complex, but using a tax professional makes filing your tax return easier. If you need have any questions about reporting income from a hobby, please call.

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Keep Track of Miscellaneous Deductions

Miscellaneous deductions such as certain work-related expenses you paid for as an employee can reduce your tax bill, but you must itemize deductions when you file to claim these costs. Many taxpayers claim the standard deduction, but you might pay less tax if you itemize.

Here are some tax tips that may help you reduce your taxes:

Deductions Subject to the Two Percent Limit. You can deduct most miscellaneous costs only if their sum is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). These include expenses such as:

  • Unreimbursed employee expenses.
  • Job search costs for a new job in the same line of work.
  • Work clothes and uniforms required for your job, but not suitable for everyday use.
  • Tools for your job.
  • Union dues.
  • Work-related travel and transportation.
  • The cost you paid to prepare your tax return. These fees include the cost you paid for tax preparation software. They also include any fee you paid for e-filing of your return.

Deductions Not Subject to the Limit. Some deductions are not subject to the two percent limit. They include:

  • Certain casualty and theft losses. In most cases, this rule applies to damaged or stolen property you held for investment. This may include personal property such as works of art, stocks, and bonds.
  • Gambling losses up to the total of your gambling winnings.
  • Losses from Ponzi-type investment schemes.

You claim allowable miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, but keep in mind, however, that there are many expenses that you cannot deduct. For example, you can’t deduct personal living or family expenses.

Need more information about itemizing deductions or help setting up a system to track your itemized deductions? Help is just a phone call away.

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Apps for Tracking Business Mileage

Every business owner, no matter how small, must keep good records. But whether it’s keeping track of mileage, documenting expenses, or separating personal from business use, keeping up with paperwork is a seemingly never ending job.

No matter how good your intentions are in January, the chances are good that by summer that mileage log is looking a bit empty. Even worse, you could be avoiding tracking your mileage altogether–and missing out on tax deductions and credits that could save your business money at tax time.

The good news is that there are a number of phone applications (apps) that could help you track those pesky business miles. Most of these apps are useful for tracking and reporting expenses, mileage and billable time. They use GPS to track mileage, allow you to track receipts, choose the mileage type (Business, Charitable, Medical, Moving, Personal), and produce formatted reports (IRS compliant HTML and CSV tax return reports) that are easy to generate and share with your CPA, EA, or tax advisor.

Here are three popular apps that help you track your business mileage:

1. TripLog – Mileage Log Tracker

Works with: Android and iPhone

What it does: Tracks vehicle mileage and locations using GPS

Useful Features:

  • Automatic start when plugged into power or connected to a Bluetooth device and driving more than five mph
  • Reads your vehicle’s odometer from OBD-II scan tools
  • Syncs data between the web service and multiple mobile devices
  • Supports commercial trucks including per diem allowance, state-by-state mileage for IFTA fuel tax reports, and DEF fuel purchases and gas mileage

2. Track My Mileage

Works with: Android and iPhone

What it does: Keeps track of mileage for business or personal use

Useful Features:

  • Provides mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating your automobile
  • Allows you to group your trips by client
  • Tracks multiple drivers and vehicles tracking
  • Localized and translated into more than 20 languages

3. BizXpenseTracker

Works with: iPhone and iPad

What it does: Tracks mileage, as well as expenses and billable time

Useful Features:

  • Allows you to choose which way you want to track your mileage
  • Remembers Frequent trips
  • Creates reports in PDF format or CSV for importing into Excel
  • Ability to email your reports and photo receipts

Call the office today if you have any questions about using apps that track business mileage or need help choosing the right one for your business needs.

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Five Tips for Starting a Business

When you start a business, you need to know about income taxes, payroll taxes, understanding your tax obligations, and much more. Here are five tips to help you get your business off to a good start:

1. Business Structure. One of the first decisions you need to make is which type of business structure to choose. The most common types are sole proprietor, partnership, and corporation. This is an important step because the type of business you choose will determine which tax forms you file. See, Choosing the Right Business Entity, above.

2. Business Taxes. There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax, and excise tax. In most cases, the types of tax your business pays depends on the type of business structure you set up. You may need to make estimated tax payments. If you do, you can use IRS Direct Pay to make them. It’s the fast, easy and secure way to pay from your checking or savings account.

3. Employer Identification Number (EIN). You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. The easiest way to find out if you need an EIN is to use the search term “do you need an EIN” on the IRS.gov website. If you do need one, contact the office or apply for one online at IRS.gov.

4. Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that you use to determine when to report income and expenses. The two that are most common are the cash and accrual methods, and you must use a consistent method. Under the cash method, you normally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you receive or pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you earn or incur them. This is true even if you get the income or pay the expense in a later year.

5. Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. You’re eligible for the credit if you have fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. The maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

Questions about starting a business?

Don’t hesitate to call the office if you need answers!

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Small Business Health Care Tax Credit: The Facts

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit: The Facts

As a small employer, you may be eligible for a tax credit that lets you keep more of your hard-earned money. It’s called the small business health care tax credit, and it benefits employers that:

  • offer coverage through the small business health options program, also known as the SHOP Marketplace
  • have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees
  • pay an average wage of less than $50,000 a year ($51,800 in 2016 as adjusted for inflation)
  • pay at least half of employee health insurance premiums

Here are five facts about this credit:

  • The maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers.
  • To be eligible for the credit, you must pay premiums on behalf of employees enrolled in a qualified health plan offered through a Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace, or qualify for an exception to this requirement.
  • The credit is available to eligible employers for two consecutive taxable years beginning in 2014 or later. You may be able to amend prior year tax returns to claim the credit for tax years 2010 through 2013 in addition to claiming this credit for those two consecutive years.
  • You can carry the credit back or forward to other tax years if you do not owe tax during the year.
  • You may get both a credit and a deduction for employee premium payments. Since the amount of your health insurance premium payments will be more than the total credit, if you are eligible, you can still claim a business expense deduction for the premiums in excess of the credit.

Contact the office today if you’d like more information about the small business health care tax credit page.

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Tax Due Dates for September 2016

September 12

Employees Who Work for Tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during August, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

September 15

Individuals – Make a payment of your 2016 estimated tax if you are not paying your income tax for the year through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax that way). Use Form 1040-ES. This is the third installment date for estimated tax in 2016.

Corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120 or 1120-A) and pay any tax due. This due date applies only if you made a timely request for an automatic 6-month extension.

S corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. This due date applies only if you made a timely request for an automatic 6-month extension. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S) or a substitute Schedule K-1.

Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1065). This due date applies only if you were given an additional 5-month extension. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) or a substitute Schedule K-1.

Corporations – Deposit the third installment of estimated income tax for 2016. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you make an estimate of your tax for the year.

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in August.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in August.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Bitcoins Treated as Property for Tax Purposes

Bitcoins Treated as Property for Tax Purposes

Many retailers and online businesses now accept virtual currency for sales transactions. Despite IRS issuing a set of FAQs last year regarding virtual currency, the U.S. federal tax implications remain relatively unknown to many retailers. If you’re a retailer who accepts virtual currency such as bitcoins for transactions, here’s what you need to know.

Sometimes, virtual currency such as bitcoins operate like “real” currency, i.e. the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country that is designated as legal tender, circulates, and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance.

But bitcoins do not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. If you’ve been paid in virtual currency, you should be aware that virtual currency is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. In other words, general tax principles that apply to property transactions also apply to transactions using virtual currency. Among other things, this means that:

  • Wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee, must be reported by an employer on a Form W-2, and are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes.
  • Payments using virtual currency made to independent contractors and other service providers are taxable, and self-employment tax rules generally apply. Normally, payers must issue Form 1099.
  • The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer.
  • A payment made using virtual currency is subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.

If you’re a business or individual with questions about virtual currency such as bitcoins, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Understanding the Gift Tax

Understanding the Gift Tax

If you gave money or property to someone as a gift, you may wonder about the federal gift tax. Many gifts are not subject to the gift tax. Here are seven tax tips about gifts and the gift tax.

1. Nontaxable Gifts. The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift. However, there are exceptions to this rule. The following are not taxable gifts:

  • Gifts that do not exceed the annual exclusion for the calendar year,
  • Tuition or medical expenses you paid directly to a medical or educational institution for someone,
  • Gifts to your spouse (for federal tax purposes, the term “spouse” includes individuals of the same sex who are lawfully married),
  • Gifts to a political organization for its use, and
  • Gifts to charities.

2. Annual Exclusion. Most gifts are not subject to the gift tax. For example, there is usually no tax if you make a gift to your spouse or to a charity. If you give a gift to someone else, the gift tax usually does not apply until the value of the gift exceeds the annual exclusion for the year. For 2016, the annual exclusion is $14,000 (same as 2015).

3. No Tax on Recipient. Generally, the person who receives your gift will not have to pay a federal gift tax. That person also does not pay income tax on the value of the gift received.

4. Gifts Not Deductible. Making a gift does not ordinarily affect your federal income tax. You cannot deduct the value of gifts you make (other than deductible charitable contributions).

5. Forgiven and Certain Loans. The gift tax may also apply when you forgive a debt or make a loan that is interest-free or below the market interest rate.

6. Gift-Splitting. In 2016, you and your spouse can give a gift up to $28,000 ($14,000 each) to a third party without making it a taxable gift. You can consider that one-half of the gift be given by you and one-half by your spouse.

7. Filing Requirement. You must file Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return if any of the following apply:

  • You gave gifts to at least one person (other than your spouse) that amount to more than the annual exclusion for the year.
  • You and your spouse are splitting a gift. This is true even if half of the split gift is less than the annual exclusion.
  • You gave someone (other than your spouse) a gift of a future interest that they can’t actually possess, enjoy, or from which they’ll receive income later.
  • You gave your spouse an interest in property that will terminate due to a future event.

Still confused about the gift tax? Please call for assistance.

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Renting Out Your Vacation Home

Renting Out Your Vacation Home

Renting out a vacation property to others can be profitable. If you do this, you must normally report the rental income on your tax return. You may not have to report the rent, however, if the rental period is short and you also use the property as your home. If you’re thinking about renting out your home, here are seven things to keep in mind:

1. Vacation Home. A vacation home can be a house, apartment, condominium, mobile home, boat or similar property.

2. Schedule E. You usually report rental income and rental expenses on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss. Your rental income may also be subject to Net Investment Income Tax.

3. Used as a Home. If the property is “used as a home,” your rental expense deduction is limited. This means your deduction for rental expenses can’t be more than the rent you received. For more information about these rules, please call.

4. Divide Expenses. If you personally use your property and also rent it to others, special rules apply. You must divide your expenses between rental use and personal use. To figure how to divide your costs, you must compare the number of days for each type of use with the total days of use.

5. Personal Use. Personal use may include use by your family. It may also include use by any other property owners or their family. Use by anyone who pays less than a fair rental price is also considered personal use.

6. Schedule A. Report deductible expenses for personal use on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. These may include costs such as mortgage interest, property taxes, and casualty losses.

7. Rented Less than 15 Days. If the property is “used as a home” and you rent it out fewer than 15 days per year, you do not have to report the rental income. In this case, you deduct your qualified expenses on Schedule A.

Please call the office if you have any questions about renting out a vacation home.

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Don’t Wait to File an Extended Return

Don’t Wait to File an Extended Return

If you filed for an extension of time to file your 2015 federal tax return and you also chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit made to your coverage provider, it’s important you file your return sooner rather than later. Here are four things you should know:

1. If you received a six-month extension of time to file, you do not need to wait until the October 17, 2016, due date to file your return and reconcile your advance payments. You can–and should–file as soon as you have all the necessary documentation.

2. You must file to ensure you can continue having advance credit payments paid on your behalf in future years. If you do not file and reconcile your 2015 advance payments of the premium tax credit by the Marketplace’s fall re-enrollment period–even if you filed for an extension–you may not have your eligibility for advance payments of the PTC in 2017 determined for a period of time after you have filed your tax return with Form 8962.

3. Advance payments of the premium tax credit are reviewed in the fall by the Health Insurance Marketplace for the next calendar year as part of their annual re-enrollment and income verification process.

4. Use Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, to reconcile any advance credit payments made on your behalf and to maintain your eligibility for future premium assistance.

Questions?

If you have any questions about filing an extended return, help is just a phone call away.

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Best Filing Status for Married Couples

Best Filing Status for Married Couples

Summer is wedding season. While tax returns and filing status are probably not high on your to-do list, you should be aware that with marriage, come tax changes–such as choosing the best filing status.

After you say, “I do” you’ll have two filing status options to choose from when filing your 2016 tax returns: married filing jointly, or married filing separately.

Married Filing Jointly

If you’re married as of Dec. 31, that’s your marital status for the whole year for tax purposes. You can choose married, filing jointly as your filing status if you are married and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. On a joint return, you report your combined income and deduct your combined allowable expenses. You can file a joint return even if one of you had no income or deductions.

If you and your spouse decide to file a joint return, your tax may be lower than your combined tax for the other filing statuses. Also, your standard deduction (if you do not itemize) may be higher, and you may qualify for tax benefits that do not apply to other filing statuses.

Joint Responsibility. Both of you may be held responsible, jointly and individually, for the tax and any interest or penalty due on your joint return. One spouse may be held responsible for all the tax due even if all the income was earned by the other spouse.

Married Filing Separately

If you are married, you can also choose married filing separately as your filing status. This filing status may benefit you if you want to be responsible only for your own tax or if it results in less tax than filing a joint return.

Call the office if you’re not sure which status to file under. If you and your spouse each have income, your tax will be figured both ways to determine which filing status gives you the lowest combined tax.

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Tax Due Dates for August 2016

August 1

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until August 10 to file the return.

Employers – Federal unemployment tax. Deposit the tax owed through June if more than $500.

Employers – If you maintain an employee benefit plan, such as a pension, profit-sharing, or stock bonus plan, file Form 5500 or 5500-EZ for calendar-year 2015. If you use a fiscal year as your plan year, file the form by the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends.

Certain Small Employers – Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2016 but less than $2,500 for the second quarter.

August 10

Employees Who Work for Tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during July, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

August 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in July.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in July.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

It’s Time for a Premium Tax Credit Checkup

It’s Time for a Premium Tax Credit Checkup

If you or anyone in your family receive advance payments of the premium tax credit, now is a good time to check on whether you need to adjust your premium assistance.

Because advance payments are paid directly to your insurance company (thereby lowering out-of-pocket cost for your health insurance premiums), changes to your income or family size may affect your credit. Therefore, you should report changes that have occurred since the time that you signed up for your health insurance plan.

Changes in circumstances include any of the following and should be reported to your Marketplace when they happen:

  • Increases or decreases in your household income including, lump sum payments; for example, lump sum payment of Social Security benefits
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Other changes affecting the composition of your tax family
  • Gaining or losing eligibility for government sponsored or employer-sponsored health care coverage
  • Moving to a different address

Reporting the changes when they happen helps you to avoid getting too much or too little advance payment of the premium tax credit. Getting too much may mean that you owe additional money or receive a smaller refund when you file your taxes. Getting too little could mean missing out on premium assistance that reduces your out-of-pocket monthly premiums.

Changes in circumstances also may qualify you for a special enrollment period to change or get insurance through the Marketplace. In most cases, if you qualify for the special enrollment period, you generally have 60 days to enroll following the change in circumstances. Information about special enrollment can be found by visiting HealthCare.gov.

You can use the Premium Tax Credit Change Estimator to help you estimate how your premium tax credit will change if your income or family size changes during the year; however, this estimator tool does not report changes in circumstances to your Marketplace. To report changes and to adjust the amount of your advance payments of the premium tax credit you must contact your Health Insurance Marketplace.

Need more information?

Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions about the Premium Tax Credit.

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Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

If you sell your home and make a profit, do you know that the gain may not be taxable? That’s just one key tax rule that you should know. Here are ten facts to keep in mind if you sell your home this year.

1. If you have a capital gain on the sale of your home, you may be able to exclude your gain from tax. This rule may apply if you owned and used it as your main home for at least two out of the five years before the date of sale.

2. There are exceptions to the ownership and use rules. Some exceptions apply to persons with a disability. Some apply to certain members of the military and certain government and Peace Corps workers. For additional details, please call.

3. The maximum amount of gain you can exclude is $250,000. This limit is $500,000 for joint returns. In addition, the Net Investment Income Tax will not apply to the excluded gain.

4. If the gain is not taxable, you may not need to report the sale to the IRS on your tax return.

5. You must report the sale on your tax return if you can’t exclude all or part of the gain. And you must report the sale if you choose not to claim the exclusion. That’s also true if you get Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Keep in mind that if you report the sale you may be subject to the NIIT.

6. Generally, you can exclude the gain from the sale of your main home only once every two years.

7. If you own more than one home, you may only exclude the gain on the sale of your main home. Your main home usually is the home that you live in most of the time.

8. If you claimed the first-time homebuyer credit when you bought the home, special rules apply to the sale.

9. If you sell your main home at a loss, you can’t deduct it.

10. After you sell your home and move, be sure to give your new address to the IRS. You can send the IRS a completed Form 8822, Change of Address, to do this.

Important note about the Premium Tax Credit. If you receive advance payment of the Premium Tax Credit in 2016, it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please call.

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Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction?

Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction?

If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home, provided you meet certain IRS requirements.

1. Generally, in order to claim a business deduction for your home, you must use part of your home exclusively and regularly:

  • as your principal place of business, or

  • as a place to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business, or
  • in any connection with your trade or business where the business portion of your home is a separate structure not attached to your home.

2. For certain storage use, rental use or daycare-facility use, you are required to use the property regularly but not exclusively.

3. Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your deduction for certain expenses will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses.

4. There are special rules for qualified daycare providers and for persons storing business inventory or product samples.

5. If you are an employee, additional rules apply for claiming the home office deduction. For example, the regular and exclusive business use must be for the convenience of your employer.

If you’re not sure whether you qualify for the home office deduction, please contact the office. Help is only a phone call away.

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Deducting Moving Expenses

Deducting Moving Expenses

If you’ve moved–or are planning to move–this year to start a new job you may be able to deduct certain moving-related expenses on your tax return. You may also be able to deduct these expenses even if you kept the same job but moved to a different location.

1. Expenses must be close to the time you start work. Generally, you can consider moving expenses that you incurred within one year of the date you first report to work at a new job location.

2. Distance Test. Your move meets the distance test if your new main job location is at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your previous main job location was from your former home. For example, if your old main job location was three miles from your former home, your new main job location must be at least 53 miles from that former home.

3. Time Test. Upon arriving in the general area of your new job location, you must work full-time for at least 39 weeks during the first year at your new job location. Self-employed individuals must meet this test, and they must also work full time for a total of at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months upon arriving in the general area of their new job location. If your income tax return is due before you have satisfied this requirement, you can still deduct your allowable moving expenses if you expect to meet the time test. There are some special rules and exceptions to these general rules. Please call if you’d like more information.

4. Travel. You can deduct lodging expenses (but not meals) for yourself and household members while moving from your former home to your new home. You can also deduct transportation expenses, including airfare, vehicle mileage, parking fees and tolls you pay, but you can only deduct one trip per person.

5. Household goods. You can deduct the cost of packing, crating and transporting your household goods and personal property, including the cost of shipping household pets. You may be able to include the cost of storing and insuring these items while in transit.

6. Utilities. You can deduct the costs of connecting or disconnecting utilities.

7. Nondeductible expenses. You cannot deduct the following moving-related expenses: any part of the purchase price of your new home, car tags, a driver’s license renewal, costs of buying or selling a home, expenses of entering into or breaking a lease, or security deposits and storage charges, except those incurred in transit and for foreign moves.

8. Form. You can deduct only those expenses that are reasonable for the circumstances of your move.

9. Reimbursed expenses. If your employer reimburses you for the costs of a move for which you took a deduction, the reimbursement may have to be included as income on your tax return.

10. Update your address. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive mail from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about deducting moving expenses or need help figuring out the amount of your deduction for moving expenses.

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Tax Tips for Members of the Military

Tax Tips for Members of the Military

Special tax benefits apply to members of the U. S. Armed Forces. For example, some types of pay are not taxable, and special rules may apply to some tax deductions, credits, and deadlines. Here are ten of those benefits:

1. Deadline Extensions. Some members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. If this applies to you, you can get automatic extensions of time to file your tax return and to pay your taxes. For example, service members stationed abroad have extra time (until June 15) to file a federal income tax return. Those serving in a combat zone have even longer, typically until 180 days after they leave the combat zone. They may also qualify to delay payment of income tax due before or during their period of service. Please call the office for details, including how to request relief.

2. Combat Pay Exclusion. If you serve in a combat zone, certain combat pay you receive is not taxable. You won’t need to show the pay on your tax return because combat pay isn’t included in the wages reported on your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Service in support of a combat zone may qualify for this exclusion.

3. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). If you get nontaxable combat pay, you may choose to include it to figure your EITC. You would make this choice if it increases your credit. Even if you do, the combat pay stays nontaxable.

4. Moving Expense Deduction. You may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs. This applies if the move is due to a permanent change of station. Use Form 3903, Moving Expenses

5. Uniform Deduction. You can deduct the costs of certain uniforms that regulations prohibit you from wearing while off duty. This includes the costs of purchase and upkeep. You must reduce your deduction by any allowance you get for these costs.

6. Signing Joint Returns. Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return. If your spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, you may be able to sign for your spouse. In other cases when your spouse is absent, you may need a power of attorney to file a joint return.

7. Reservists’ Travel Deduction. If you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves, you may deduct certain costs of travel on your tax return. This applies to the unreimbursed costs of travel to perform your reserve duties that are more than 100 miles away from home.

8. Nontaxable ROTC Allowances. Active duty ROTC pay, such as pay for summer advanced camp, is taxable. But some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to educational and subsistence allowances.

9. Civilian Life. If you leave the military and look for work, you may be able to deduct some job hunting expenses. You may be able to include the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.

10. Retirement Savings. Low-and moderate-income service members who contribute to an IRA or 401(k)-type retirement plan, such as the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, can often claim the saver’s credit, also known as the retirement savings contributions credit, on Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

Getting Tax Help

Although most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season, you may need to contact an accounting professional during other times of the year. Don’t hesitate to contact the office with any questions you have about your taxes–no matter what time of the year it is.

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Tax Due Dates for July 2016

July 11

Employees Who Work for Tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during June, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

July 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in June.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in June.

August 1

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until August 10 to file the return.

Employers – Federal unemployment tax. Deposit the tax owed through June if more than $500.

Employers – If you maintain an employee benefit plan, such as a pension, profit-sharing, or stock bonus plan, file Form 5500 or 5500-EZ for calendar-year 2015. If you use a fiscal year as your plan year, file the form by the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends.

Certain Small Employers – Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2016 but less than $2,500 for the second quarter.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Education Tax Credits Help You Pay for College


Education Tax Credits Help You Pay for College

Are you planning to pay for college in 2016? If so, money you paid for higher education can mean tax savings on your tax return when you file next year. If you, your spouse or your dependent took post-high school coursework last year, you may be able to take advantage of education credits that can help you with the cost of higher education. Taking advantage of these education tax credits can mean tax savings on your federal tax return by reducing the amount of tax you owe. Here are some important facts you should know about education tax credits.

American Opportunity Tax Credit:

  • You may be able to claim up to $2,500 per eligible student.
  • The credit applies to the first four years at an eligible college or vocational school.
  • It reduces the amount of tax you owe. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may receive up to $1,000 as a refund.
  • It is available for students earning a degree or other recognized credential.
  • The credit applies to students going to school at least half-time for at least one academic period that started during the tax year.
  • Costs that apply to the credit include the cost of tuition, books and required fees and supplies.

Lifetime Learning Credit:

  • The credit is limited to $2,000 per tax return, per year.
  • The credit applies to all years of higher education. This includes classes for learning or improving job skills.
  • The credit is limited to the amount of your taxes.
  • Costs that apply to the credit include the cost of tuition, required fees, books, supplies and equipment that you must buy from the school.

The Tuition and Fees Deduction is:

  • Claimed as an adjustment to income.
  • Claimed whether or not you itemize.
  • Limited to tuition and certain related expenses required for enrollment or attendance at eligible schools.
  • Worth up to $4,000.

The following applies to all three credits and deductions as well:

  • The credits apply to an eligible student. Eligible students include you, your spouse or a dependent that you list on your tax return.
  • You must file Form 1040A or Form 1040 and complete Form 8863, Education Credits, to claim these credits on your tax return.
  • Your school should give you a Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, by February 1, 2017, showing expenses for the year. This form contains helpful information needed to complete Form 8863. The amounts shown in Boxes 1 and 2 of the form may be different than what you actually paid. For example, the form may not include the cost of books that qualify for the credit.
  • You can’t claim either credit if someone else claims you as a dependent.
  • You can’t claim either AOTC or LLC and the Tuition and Fees Deduction for the same student or for the same expense, in the same year.
  • The credits are subject to income limits that could reduce the amount you can claim on your return.
  • Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool at IRS.gov to see if you’re eligible to claim these education tax credits.

Even if you can’t take advantage of any of these tax credits, there could be other education-related tax benefits that you can claim. Call the office if you have any questions.

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Who Can Represent You Before the IRS?


Who Can Represent You Before the IRS?

Many people use a tax professional to prepare their taxes. Tax professionals with an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) can prepare a return for a fee. If you choose a tax pro, you should know who can represent you before the IRS. There are new rules this year, so the IRS wants you to know who can represent you and when they can represent you.

Representation rights, also known as practice rights, fall into two categories:

  • Unlimited Representation
  • Limited Representation

Unlimited representation rights allow a credentialed tax practitioner to represent you before the IRS on any tax matter. This is true no matter who prepared your return. Credentialed tax professionals who have unlimited representation rights include:

  • Enrolled agents
  • Certified Public Accountants
  • Attorneys

Limited representation rights authorize the tax professional to represent you if, and only if, they prepared and signed the return. They can do this only before IRS revenue agents, customer service representatives and similar IRS employees. They cannot represent clients whose returns they did not prepare. They cannot represent clients regarding appeals or collection issues even if they did prepare the return in question. For returns filed after Dec. 31, 2015, the only tax return preparers with limited representation rights are Annual Filing Season Program Participants.

The Annual Filing Season Program is a voluntary program. Non-credentialed tax return preparers who aim for a higher level of professionalism are encouraged to participate.

Other tax return preparers have limited representation rights, but only for returns filed before Jan. 1, 2016. Keep these changes in mind and choose wisely when you select a tax return preparer.

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Six Facts About Charitable Donations

Six Facts About Charitable Donations

If you give money or goods to a charity in 2016, you may be able to claim a deduction on your federal tax return. Here are six important facts you should know about charitable donations.

1. Qualified Charities. You must donate to a qualified charity. Gifts to individuals, political organizations or candidates are not deductible. An exception to this rule is contributions under the Slain Officer Family Support Act of 2015. To check the status of a charity, use the IRS Select Check tool found on IRS.gov.

2. Itemize Deductions. To deduct your contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions. File Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, with your federal tax return.

3. Benefit in Return. If you get something in return for your donation, you may have to reduce your deduction. You can only deduct the amount of your gift that is more than the value of what you got in return. Examples of benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to an event or other goods and services.

4. Type of Donation. If you give property instead of cash, your deduction amount is normally limited to the item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price you would get if you sold the property on the open market. If you donate used clothing and household items, they generally must be in good condition, or better, to be deductible. Special rules apply to cars, boats and other types of property donations.

5. Form to File and Records to Keep. You must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, for all noncash gifts totaling more than $500 for the year. If you need to prepare a Form 8283, you can prepare and e-file your tax return for free using IRS Free File. The type of records you must keep depends on the amount and type of your donation. To learn more about what records to keep please call the office.

6. Donations of $250 or More. If you donated cash or goods of $250 or more, you must have a written statement from the charity. It must show the amount of the donation and a description of any property given. It must also say whether you received any goods or services in exchange for the gift.

Questions about deducting charitable donations? Call the office anytime. We’re here to help.

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Start Planning Now for Next Year’s Taxes

Start Planning Now for Next Year’s Taxes

You may be tempted to forget about your taxes once you’ve filed your tax return, but did you know that if you start your tax planning now, you may be able to avoid a tax surprise when you file next year?

That’s right. Now is a good time to set up a system so you can keep your tax records safe and easy to find. Here are five tips to give you a leg up on next year’s taxes:

1. Take action when life changes occur. Some life events such as a change in marital status or the birth of a child can change the amount of tax you pay. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer. Call if you need help filling out the form.

2. Report changes in circumstances to the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you enroll in insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2016, you should report changes in circumstances to the Marketplace when they happen. Reporting events such as changes in your income or family size helps you avoid getting too much or too little financial assistance in advance.

3. Keep records safe. Print and keep a copy of your 2015 tax return and supporting records together in a safe place. This includes W-2 Forms, Forms 1099, bank records and records of your family’s health care insurance coverage. If you ever need your tax return or records, it will be easier for you to get them. For example, you may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid for college. You should use your tax return as a guide when you do your taxes next year.

4. Stay organized. Make tax time easier on everyone by having your family place tax records in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records when you file your return next year.

5. Consider itemizing. You may be able to lower your taxes if you itemize deductions instead of taking the standard deduction. Owning a home, paying medical expenses and qualified donations to charity could mean more tax savings. A list of deductions is found in the instructions for Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. As always, if you have any questions please call.

Ready to save money on your taxes?

Planning now can pay off with savings at tax time next year. Call today and get a jump start on next year’s taxes.

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What to do if you get a Letter from the IRS

What to do if you get a Letter from the IRS

Each year, the IRS mails millions of notices and letters to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. If you receive correspondence from the IRS here’s what to do:

Don’t panic. You can usually deal with a notice simply by responding to it. Most IRS notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts.

Each notice has specific instructions, so read your notice carefully because it will tell you what you need to do.

Your notice will likely be about changes to your account, taxes you owe or a payment request. However, your notice may ask you for more information about a specific issue.

If your notice says that the IRS changed or corrected your tax return, review the information and compare it with your original return. If you agree with the notice, you usually don’t need to reply unless it gives you other instructions or you need to make a payment.

If you don’t agree with the notice, you need to respond. Write a letter that explains why you disagree and include information and documents you want the IRS to consider. Mail your response with the contact stub at the bottom of the notice to

Tax Tips for Students with a Summer Job

Tax Tips for Students with a Summer Job

Is your child a student with a summer job? Here’s what you should know about the income your child earns over the summer.

  1. All taxpayers fill out a W-4 when starting a new job. This form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. Taxpayers with multiple summer jobs will want to make sure all their employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover their total income tax liability. If you have any questions about whether your child’s withholding is correct, please call the office.
  2. Whether your child is working as a waiter or a camp counselor, he or she may receive tips as part of their summer income. All tip income is taxable and is, therefore, subject to federal income tax.
  3. Many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. If this is your child’s situation, keep in mind that earnings received from self-employment are also subject to income tax. This includes income from odd jobs such as babysitting and lawn mowing.
  4. If your child has net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment or church employee income of $108.28, he or she also has to pay self-employment tax. This tax pays for benefits under the Social Security system. Social Security and Medicare benefits are available to individuals who are self-employed just as they are to wage earners who have Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from their wages. The self-employment tax is figured on Form 1040, Schedule SE.
  5. Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay–such as pay received during summer advanced camp–is taxable.
  6. Special rules apply to services performed as a newspaper carrier or distributor. As direct seller, your child is treated as being self-employed for federal tax purposes if the following conditions are met:
    • Your child is in the business of delivering newspapers.
    • All pay for these services directly relates to sales rather than to the number of hours worked.
    • Delivery services are performed under a written contract which states that your child will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.
  7. Generally however, newspaper carriers or distributors under age 18 are not subject to self-employment tax.

A summer work schedule is sometimes a patchwork of odd jobs, which makes for confusion come tax time. Contact the office if you have any questions at all about income your child earned this summer season.

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A Name Change Could Affect your Taxes

A Name Change Could Affect your Taxes

Did you know that a name change could impact your taxes? Here’s what you need to know:

1. Report Name Changes. Did you get married and are now using your new spouse’s last name or hyphenate your last name? Did you divorce and go back to using your former last name? In either case, you should notify the SSA of your name change. That way, your new name on your IRS records will match up with your SSA records. A mismatch could unexpectedly increase a tax bill or reduce the size of any refund.

2. Make Dependent’s Name Change. Notify the SSA if your dependent had a name change. For example, this could apply if you adopted a child and the child’s last name changed. If you adopted a child who does not have a Social Security number, you may use an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on your tax return. An ATIN is a temporary number. You can apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS.

3. Get a New Card. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, to notify SSA of your name change. You can get the form onSSA.gov or call 800-772-1213 to order it. Your new card will show your new name with the same SSN you had before.

4. Report Changes in Circumstances when they happen. If you enrolled in health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace you may receive the benefit of advance payments of the premium tax credit. These are paid directly to your insurance company to lower your monthly premium. Report changes in circumstances, such as a name change, a new address and a change in your income or family size to your Marketplace when they happen throughout the year. Reporting the changes will help you avoid getting too much or too little advance payment of the premium tax credit.

If you have any questions related to IRS requirements regarding a name change, please call.

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Tax Tips for Deducting Losses from a Disaster

Tax Tips for Deducting Losses from a Disaster

If you suffer damage to your home or personal property, you may be able to deduct the losses you incur on your federal income tax return. Here are 10 tax tips you should know about regarding casualty loss deductions:

1. Casualty loss. You may be able to deduct losses based on the damage done to your property during a disaster. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event. This may include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It can also include losses from fires, accidents, thefts or vandalism.

2. Normal wear and tear. A casualty loss does not include losses from normal wear and tear. It does not include progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

3. Covered by insurance. If you insured your property, you must file a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss. If you don’t, you cannot deduct the loss as a casualty or theft. You must reduce your loss by the amount of the reimbursement you received or expect to receive.

4. When to deduct. As a general rule, you must deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have a choice of when to deduct the loss. You can choose to deduct the loss on your return for the year the loss occurred or on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year. Claiming a disaster loss on the prior year’s return may result in a lower tax for that year, often producing a refund.

5. Amount of loss. You figure the amount of your loss using the following steps:

  • Determine your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty. For property you buy, your basis is usually its cost to you. For property you acquire in some other way, such as inheriting it or getting it as a gift, you must figure your basis in another way. Please call if you have any questions.
  • Determine the decrease in fair market value, or FMV, of the property as a result of the casualty. FMV is the price for which you could sell your property to a willing buyer. The decrease in FMV is the difference between the property’s FMV immediately before and immediately after the casualty.
  • Subtract any insurance or other reimbursements you received or expect to receive from the smaller of those two amounts.

6. $100 rule. After you have figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It does not matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

7. 10 percent rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.

8. Future income. Do not consider the loss of future profits or income due to the casualty as you figure your loss.

9. Form 4684. Complete Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts, to report your casualty loss on your federal tax return. You claim the deductible amount on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

10. Business or income property. Some of the casualty loss rules for business or income property are different than the rules for property held for personal use.

Please call if you have any questions about deducting casualty losses from a disaster.

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What is the Additional Medicare Tax?

What is the Additional Medicare Tax?

Some taxpayers may be required to pay an Additional Medicare Tax if their income exceeds certain limits. Here are some things that you should know about this tax:

1. Tax Rate. The Additional Medicare Tax rate is 0.9 percent.

2. Income Subject to Tax. The tax applies to the amount of certain income that is more than a threshold amount. The types of income include your Medicare wages, self-employment income, and railroad retirement (RRTA) compensation. If you’re not sure if you have income subject to these rules, please call the office.

3. Threshold Amount. You base your threshold amount on your filing status. If you are married and file a joint return, you must combine your spouse’s wages, compensation or self-employment income with yours. Use the combined total to determine if your income exceeds your threshold. The threshold amounts are:

  • Married filing jointly: $250,000
  • Married filing separately: $125,000
  • Single: $200,000
  • Head of household: $200,000

3. Withholding/Estimated Tax. Employers must withhold this tax from your wages or compensation when they pay you more than $200,000 in a calendar year. If you are self-employed you should include this tax when you figure your estimated tax liability.

4. Underpayment of Estimated Tax. If you had too little tax withheld, or did not pay enough estimated tax, you may owe an estimated tax penalty. For more on this, please call.

5. Form 8959. If you owe this tax, file Form 8959, Additional Medicare Tax, with your tax return. You also report any Additional Medicare Tax withheld by your employer on Form 8959.

Questions?

If you have any questions about the Additional Medicare Tax, help is just a phone call away.

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Tips for Deducting Medical and Dental Expenses

Tips for Deducting Medical and Dental Expenses

If you, your spouse or dependents have significant medical or dental costs in 2016, you may be able to deduct those expenses when you file your tax return next year. Here are eight things you should know about medical and dental expenses and other benefits.

1. You must itemize. You can only claim medical expenses that you paid for in 2016, and only if you itemize on Schedule A on Form 1040. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t claim these expenses.

2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct all the qualified medical costs that you paid for during the year. However, you can only deduct the amount that is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. The AGI threshold is still 7.5 percent of your AGI if you or your spouse is age 65 or older. This exception applies through December 31, 2016.

3. Expenses must have been paid in 2016. You can include medical and dental expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided. Be sure to save your receipts and keep good records to substantiate your expenses.

4. You can’t deduct reimbursed expenses. Your total medical expenses for the year must be reduced by any reimbursement. Costs reimbursed by insurance or other sources do not qualify for a deduction. Normally, it makes no difference if you receive the reimbursement or if it is paid directly to the doctor or hospital.

5. Whose expenses qualify. You may include qualified medical expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply to divorced or separated parents, taxpayers with a multiple support agreement, or those with a qualifying relative who is not your child.

6. Types of expenses that qualify. You can deduct expenses primarily paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body. For drugs, you can only deduct prescription medication and insulin. You can also include premiums for medical, dental and certain long-term care insurance in your expenses. And, you can also include lactation supplies.

7. Transportation costs may qualify. You may deduct transportation costs primarily for and essential to medical care that qualifies as a medical expense, including fares for a taxi, bus, train, plane or ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical transportation, you can deduct actual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and oil, or you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical expenses, which is 19 cents per mile for 2016.

8. No double benefit. You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical and dental expenses you paid for with funds from your Health Savings Accounts (HAS) or Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA). Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free. This rule prevents two tax benefits for the same expense.

Please call if you need help figuring out what qualifies as a medical or dental expense.

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Tax Due Dates for May 2016

May 2

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until May 10 to file the return.

May 10

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during April, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

May 16

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Nine Facts about the Adoption Tax Credit

Nine Facts about the Adoption Tax Credit

If you adopting a child this year, you may qualify for a tax credit. Here are nine things you should know about the adoption credit.

1. Credit or Exclusion. The credit is nonrefundable. This means that the credit may reduce your tax to zero. If the credit is more than your tax, you can’t get any additional amount as a refund. If your employer helped pay for the adoption through a written qualified adoption assistance program, you may qualify to exclude that amount from tax.

2. Maximum Benefit. The maximum adoption tax credit and exclusion for 2016 is $13,460 per child.

3. Credit Carryover. If your credit is more than your tax, you can carry any unused credit forward. This means that if you have an unused credit in 2016, you can use it to reduce your taxes for 2017. You can do this for up to five years, or until you fully use the credit, whichever comes first.

4. Eligible Child. An eligible child is an individual under age 18 or a person who is physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself.

5. Qualified Expenses. Adoption expenses must be directly related to the adoption of the child and be reasonable and necessary. Types of expenses that can qualify include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and travel.

6. Domestic or Foreign Adoptions. In most cases, you can claim the credit whether the adoption is domestic or foreign. However, the timing rules for which expenses to include differ between the two types of adoption.

7. Special Needs Child. If you adopted an eligible U.S. child with special needs and the adoption is final, a special rule applies. You may be able to take the tax credit even if you didn’t pay any qualified adoption expenses.

8. No Double Benefit. Depending on the adoption’s cost, you may be able to claim both the tax credit and the exclusion. However, you can’t claim both a credit and exclusion for the same expenses. This rule prevents you from claiming both tax benefits for the same expense.

9. Income Limits. The credit and exclusion are subject to income limitations. The limits may reduce or eliminate the amount you can claim depending on the amount of your income.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about the adoption tax credit.

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Five Things you Should Know about the AMT

Five Things you Should Know about the AMT

You may not know about the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) because you’ve never had to pay it before. However, your income may have changed and you may be required to pay it when you file your 2016 tax return next year. The AMT is an income tax imposed at nearly a flat rate on an adjusted amount of taxable income above a certain threshold. If you have a higher income, you may be subject to the AMT.

Here are five facts you should know about the AMT:

1. Know when the AMT applies. You may have to pay the AMT if your taxable income, plus certain adjustments, is more than your AMT exemption amount. Your filing status and income define the amount of your exemption. In most cases, if your income is below this amount, you will not owe the AMT.

2. Know exemption amounts. The 2016 AMT exemption amounts are:

  • $53,900 if you are Single or Head of Household.
  • $83,800 if you are Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er).
  • $41,900 if you are Married Filing Separately.

You will reduce your AMT exemption if your income is more than a certain amount.

3. Use a qualified tax professional. Keep in mind that the AMT rules are complex. The best way to prepare and file your tax return is to use a qualified tax professional.

4. AMT Assistant Tool. Use the AMT Assistant tool on the IRS website to quickly find out if you will need to pay the tax.

5. Use the right forms. Usually, if you owe the AMT, you must file Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax — Individuals. Some taxpayers who owe the AMT can file Form 1040A and use the AMT Worksheet in the instructions.

Wondering if the AMT affects you this year? Give the office a call today and find out.

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Tax Tips for Children with Investment Income

Tax Tips for Children with Investment Income

Special tax rules may apply to some children who receive investment income. The rules may affect the amount of tax and how to report the income. Here are five important points to keep in mind if your child has investment income this year:

1. Investment Income. Investment income generally includes interest, dividends and capital gains. It also includes other unearned income, such as from a trust.

2. Parent’s Tax Rate. If your child’s total investment income is more than $2,100 then your tax rate may apply to part of that income instead of your child’s tax rate. See the instructions for Form 8615, Tax for Certain Children Who Have Unearned Income.

3. Parent’s Return. You may be able to include your child’s investment income on your tax return if it was more than $1,050 but less than $10,500 for the year. If you make this choice, then your child will not have to file his or her own return. See Form 8814, Parents’ Election to Report Child’s Interest and Dividends, for more information.

4. Child’s Return. If your child’s investment income was $10,500 or more in 2016 then the child must file their own return. File Form 8615 with the child’s federal tax return next April.

5. Net Investment Income Tax. Your child may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax if they must file Form 8615. Use Form 8960, Net Investment Income Tax, to figure this tax.

Questions?

Please call if you have any questions about your child’s investment income.

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Employee Business Expenses

Employee Business Expenses

If you pay for work-related expenses out of your own pocket, you may be able to deduct those costs. In most cases, you can claim allowable expenses if you itemize on IRS Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You can deduct the amount that is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income. Here are five other facts you should know:

1. Ordinary and Necessary. You can only deduct unreimbursed expenses that are ordinary and necessary to your work as an employee. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate and helpful to your business.

2. Expense Examples. Some costs that you may be able to deduct include:

  • Required work clothes or uniforms not appropriate for everyday use.
  • Supplies and tools you use on the job.
  • Business use of your car.
  • Business meals and entertainment.
  • Business travel away from home.
  • Business use of your home.
  • Work-related education.

This list is not all-inclusive. Special rules apply if your employer reimbursed you for your expenses. To learn more call the office or check out Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. You should also refer to Publication 463,Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses.

3. Forms to Use. In most cases, you report your expenses on Form 2106 or Form 2106-EZ. After you figure your allowable expenses, you then list the total on Schedule A as a miscellaneous deduction.

4. Educator Expenses. If you are a K-12 teacher, you may be able to deduct up to $250 of certain expenses you pay in 2016. These may include books, supplies, equipment and other materials used in the classroom. Claim this deduction as an adjustment on your return, rather than an itemized deduction. For more on this topic, please call.

5. Keep Records. You must keep records to prove the expenses you deduct so that you can prepare a complete and accurate income tax return. The law doesn’t require any special form of records; however, you should keep all receipts, canceled checks or other proof of payment, and any other records to support any deductions or credits you claim. If you file a claim for refund, you must be able to prove by your records that you have overpaid your tax. For what records to keep, see Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax.

Please call the office if you have any questions about employee expenses or need help setting up a recordkeeping system to document your expenses.

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Tax Tips for the Self-Employed

Tax Tips for the Self-Employed

If you are a self-employed, you normally carry on a trade or business. Sole proprietors and independent contractors are two types of self-employment. If this applies to you, there are a few basic things you should know about how your income affects your federal tax return. If you’re self-employed, here are six important tax tips you should know about:

  • Self-Employment Income. Self-employment can include income you received for part-time work. This is in addition to income from your regular job.
  • Schedule C or C-EZ. You must file a Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, or Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business, with your Form 1040. You may use Schedule C-EZ if you had expenses less than $5,000 and meet certain other conditions. Please call if you are not sure whether you can use this form.
  • Self-Employment Tax. If you made a profit, you may have to pay self-employment tax as well as income tax. Self-employment tax includes Social Security and Medicare taxes. Use Schedule SE, Self-Employment Tax, to figure the tax. If you owe this tax, attach the schedule to your federal tax return.
  • Estimated Tax. You may need to make estimated tax payments. These payments are typically made on income that is not subject to withholding. You usually pay estimated taxes in four annual installments. If you do not pay enough tax throughout the year, you may owe a penalty. See, Estimated Tax Payments – Q & A, above, for more information about estimated tax payments.
  • Allowable Deductions. You can deduct expenses that you paid to run your business that are both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and proper for your trade or business.
  • When to Deduct. In most cases, you can deduct expenses in the same year you paid, or incurred them. However, you must ‘capitalize’ some costs. This means you can deduct part of the cost over a number of years.

Questions about self-employment taxes? Help is just a phone call away.

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Tax Due Dates for April 2016

April 11

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during March, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

April 18

Individuals – File an income tax return for 2015 (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return or you can get an extension by phone if you pay part or all of your estimate of income tax due with a credit card. Then file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by October 17.

Household Employers – If you paid cash wages of $1,900 or more in 2015 to a household employee, file Schedule H (Form 1040) with your income tax return and report any employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2014 or 2015 to household employees. Also report any income tax you withheld for your household employees.

Individuals – If you are not paying your 2016 income tax through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax during the year that way), pay the first installment of your 2016 estimated tax. Use Form 1040-ES.

Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065). Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065), Partner’s Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 5-month extension of time to file the return and provide Schedule K-1 or a substitute Schedule K-1, file Form 7004. Then file Form 1065 by September 15.

Electing Large Partnerships – File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065-B). If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004. Then file Form 1065-B by October 17. March 15 was the due date for furnishing the Schedules K-1 to the partners.

Corporations – Deposit the first installment of estimated income tax for 2016. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you estimate your tax for the year.

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

May 2

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 in full and on time, you have until May 10 to file the return.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Cut your Tax Bill with Home Energy Credits

Cut your Tax Bill with Home Energy Credits

Did you know that it’s possible to trim your tax bill and save on your energy bills with certain home improvements? Here are some key facts you should know about home energy tax credits:

Non-Business Energy Property Credit

  • Part of this credit is worth 10 percent of the cost of certain qualified energy-saving items you added to your main home last year. This may include items such as insulation, windows, doors and roofs.
  • The other part of the credit is not a percentage of the cost. It is for the actual cost of certain property. This may include items like water heaters and heating and air conditioning systems. The credit amount for each type of property has a different dollar limit.
  • This credit has a maximum lifetime limit of $500. You may only use $200 of this limit for windows.
  • Your main home must be located in the U.S. to qualify for the credit.
  • Be sure you have the written certification from the manufacturer that their product qualifies for this tax credit. It is usually posted on the manufacturer’s website or included with the product’s packaging. You can use this information to claim the credit, but do not attach it to your return. Keep it with your tax records.
  • You may claim the credit on your 2015 tax return as long as you haven’t exceeded the lifetime limit in past years. Under current law, this credit is available through Dec. 31, 2016.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

  • This tax credit is 30 percent of the cost of alternative energy equipment installed on or in your home.
  • Qualified equipment includes solar hot water heaters, solar electric equipment, wind turbines and fuel cell property.
  • There is no dollar limit on the credit for most types of property. If your credit is more than the tax you owe, you can carry forward the unused portion of this credit to next year’s tax return.
  • The home must be in the U.S. It does not have to be your main home unless the alternative energy equipment is qualified fuel cell property.
  • This credit is available through 2016.

To claim these credits use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits. If you would like more information on this topic, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

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Parents: Don’t Miss Out on These Tax Savers

Parents: Don’t Miss Out on These Tax Savers

If you have children, you may be able to reduce the amount of taxes owed for the year using tax credits and deductions. Here are several tax benefits you might be able to take advantage of when you file your federal tax return:

  • Dependents. In most cases, you can claim your child as a dependent. You can deduct $4,000 for each dependent you are entitled to claim. You must reduce this amount if your income is above certain limits.
  • Child Tax Credit. You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your qualifying children under the age of 17. The maximum credit is $1,000 per child. If you get less than the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit. You may be able to claim this credit if you paid for the care of one or more qualifying persons. Dependent children under age 13 are among those who qualify. You must have paid for care so that you could work or look for work.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit. You may qualify for EITC if you worked but earned less than $53,267 last year. You can get up to $6,242 in EITC. You may qualify for the EITC with or without children.
  • Adoption Credit. You may be able to claim a tax credit for certain costs you paid to adopt a child.
  • Education Tax Credits. An education credit can help you with the cost of higher education. Two credits are available–The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit–and they may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may get a refund. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify; however, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim these credits.
  • Student Loan Interest. You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan. You can claim this benefit even if you do not itemize your deductions.
  • Self-employed Health Insurance Deduction. If you were self-employed and paid for health insurance, you may be able to deduct premiums you paid during the year. This may include the cost to cover your children under age 27, even if they are not your dependent. Please call the office for additional details.

Do not hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions about these and any other tax credits and deductions that you are entitled to under federal and state tax codes.

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Ten Facts About Capital Gains and Losses

Ten Facts About Capital Gains and Losses

Did you know that almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset? Capital assets include a home, household furnishings, and stocks and bonds held in a personal account.

When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you paid for the asset and its sales price is known as a capital gain or capital loss. Here are ten facts you should know about how gains and losses can affect your federal income tax return.

1. Capital Assets. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset including property such as your home or car, as well as investment property, such as stocks and bonds.

2. Gains and Losses. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis and the amount you get when you sell an asset. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset. You must report all capital gains on your tax return.

3. Net Investment Income Tax. You may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) on your capital gains if your income is above certain amounts. The rate of this tax is 3.8 percent. For additional information about the NIIT, please call the office.

4. Deductible Losses. You can deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You cannot deduct losses on the sale of property that you hold for personal use.

5. Limit on Losses. If your capital losses are more than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return to reduce other income, such as wages. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year or $1,500 if you are married and file a separate return.

6. Carryover Losses. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry it over to next year’s tax return.

7. Long and Short Term. Capital gains and losses are treated as either long-term or short-term, depending on how long you held the property. If you hold the property more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

8. Net Capital Gain. If your long-term gains are more than your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a net capital gain. Subtract any short-term losses from the net capital gain to calculate the net capital gain you must report.

9. Tax Rate. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain depend on your income but are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. The maximum tax rate on a net capital gain is 20 percent. However, for most taxpayers a zero or 15 percent rate will apply. A 25 or 28 percent tax rate can also apply to certain types of net capital gain such as unrecaptured Sec. 1250 gains (25 percent) and collectibles (28 percent).

10. Forms to File. You often will need to file Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, with your federal tax return to report your gains and losses. You also need to file Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses, with your tax return.

Please call the office if you need more information about reporting capital gains and losses.

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Exemptions and Dependents: Top Ten Tax Facts

Exemptions and Dependents: Top Ten Tax Facts

Most people can claim an exemption on their tax return. It can lower your taxable income, which in most cases, that reduces the amount of tax you owe for the year. Here are eight tax facts about exemptions to help you file your tax return.

1. Exemptions Cut Income. There are two types of exemptions. The first type is a personal exemption. The second type is an exemption for a dependent. You can usually deduct $4,000 for each exemption you claim on your 2015 tax return.

2. Personal Exemptions. You can usually claim an exemption for yourself. If you’re married and file a joint return, you can claim one for your spouse, too. If you file a separate return, you can claim an exemption for your spouse only if your spouse:

  • Had no gross income,
  • Is not filing a tax return, and
  • Was not the dependent of another taxpayer.

3. Exemptions for Dependents. You can usually claim an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is either your child or a relative who meets a set of tests. You can’t claim your spouse as a dependent. You must list the Social Security number of each dependent you claim on your tax return. To learn more about these rules, please call the office.

4. Report Health Care Coverage. The health care law requires you to report certain health insurance information for you and your family. The individual shared responsibility provision requires you and each member of your family to either:

  • Have qualifying health insurance, called minimum essential coverage, or
  • Have an exemption from this coverage requirement, or
  • Make a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2015 tax return.

Please call if you’d like more information about these rules.

5. Some People Don’t Qualify. You normally may not claim married persons as dependents if they file a joint return with their spouse. There are some exceptions to this rule.

6. Dependents May Have to File. A person who you can claim as your dependent may have to file their own tax return. This depends on certain factors, like total income, whether they are married and if they owe certain taxes.

7. No Exemption on Dependent’s Return. If you can claim a person as a dependent, that person can’t claim a personal exemption on his or her own tax return. This is true even if you don’t actually claim that person on your tax return. This rule applies because you can claim that person as your dependent.

8. Exemption Phase-Out. The $4,000 per exemption is subject to income limits. This rule may reduce or eliminate the amount you can claim based on the amount of your income.

Questions? Help is just a phone call away!

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Tax Due Dates for March 2016

March 10

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during February, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

March 15

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

S Corporations – File a 2015 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S), Shareholder’s Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

Electing large partnerships – Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065-B), Partner’s Share of Income (Loss) From an Electing Large Partnership. This due date applies even if the partnership requests an extension of time to file the Form 7004.

S Corporation Election – File Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation, to choose to be treated as an S corporation beginning with calendar year 2016. If Form 2553 is filed late, S treatment will begin with calendar year 2017.

March 31

Electronic filing of Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, and W-2G – File Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, or W-2G with the IRS. This due date applies only. The due date for giving the recipient these forms generally remains February 1.

For information about filing Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, or W-2G electronically, see Publication 1220, Specifications for Electronic Filing of Forms 1097, 1098, 1099, 3921, 3922, 5498, and W-2G.

Electronic filing of Forms W-2 – File copies of all the Forms W-2 you issued for 2015. This due date applies only if you electronically file. Otherwise see February 29. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains February 1.

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Copyright © 2016 All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

Choosing the Correct Filing Status

Choosing the Correct Filing Status

It’s important to use the right filing status when you file your tax return because the filing status you choose can affect the amount of tax you owe for the year. It may even determine if you must file a tax return. Keep in mind that your marital status on Dec. 31 is your status for the whole year. Sometimes more than one filing status may apply to you. If that happens, choose the one that allows you to pay the least amount of tax.

The easiest and most accurate way to file your tax return is to consult a tax professional who is able to choose the right filing status based on your circumstances. Here’s a list of the five filing statuses:

1. Single. This status normally applies if you aren’t married. It applies if you are divorced or legally separated under state law.

2. Married Filing Jointly. If you’re married, you and your spouse can file a joint tax return. If your spouse died in 2015, you can often file a joint return for that year.

3. Married Filing Separately. A married couple can choose to file two separate tax returns. This may benefit you if it results in less tax owed than if you file a joint tax return. You may want to prepare your taxes both ways before you choose. You can also use it if you want to be responsible only for your own tax.

4. Head of Household. In most cases, this status applies if you are not married, but there are some special rules. For example, you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for yourself and a qualifying person. Don’t choose this status by mistake. Be sure to check all the rules.

5. Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. This status may apply to you if your spouse died during 2013 or 2014 and you have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about filing your tax return this year.

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It’s Not Too Late to Make a 2015 IRA Contribution

It’s Not Too Late to Make a 2015 IRA Contribution

If you haven’t contributed funds to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) for tax year 2015, or if you’ve put in less than the maximum allowed, you still have time to do so. You can contribute to either a traditional or Roth IRA until the April 18th due date, not including extensions.

Be sure to tell the IRA trustee that the contribution is for 2015. Otherwise, the trustee may report the contribution as being for 2016 when they get your funds.

Generally, you can contribute up to $5,500 of your earnings for tax year 2015 (up to $6,500 if you are age 50 or older in 2015). You can fund a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA (if you qualify), or both, but your total contributions cannot be more than these amounts.

Traditional IRA: You may be able to take a tax deduction for the contributions to a traditional IRA, depending on your income and whether you or your spouse, if filing jointly, are covered by an employer’s pension plan.

Roth IRA: You cannot deduct Roth IRA contributions, but the earnings on a Roth IRA may be tax-free if you meet the conditions for a qualified distribution.

Each year, the IRS announces the cost of living adjustments and limitation for retirement savings plans.

Saving for retirement should be part of everyone’s financial plan and it’s important to review your retirement goals every year in order to maximize savings. If you need help with your retirement plans, give the office a call.

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The Individual Shared Responsibility Provision

The Individual Shared Responsibility Provision

The individual shared responsibility provision requires that you and each member of your family have qualifying health insurance, a health coverage exemption, or make a payment for any months without coverage or an exemption when you file. If you, your spouse and dependents had health insurance coverage all year, you will indicate this by simply checking a box on your tax return.

In most cases, the shared responsibility payment reduces your refund. If you are not claiming a refund, the payment will increase the amount you owe on your tax return. Here are some basic facts about the individual shared responsibility provision.

What is the individual shared responsibility provision?

The individual shared responsibility provision calls for each individual to have qualifying healthcare coverage–known as minimum essential coverage–for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.

Who is subject to the individual shared responsibility provision?

The provision applies to individuals of all ages, including children. The adult or married couple who can claim a child or another individual as a dependent for federal income tax purposes is responsible for making the shared responsibility payment if the dependent does not have coverage or an exemption.

How do I get a health coverage exemption?

You can claim most exemptions when you file your tax return. There are certain exemptions that you can obtain only from the Marketplace in advance. You can obtain some exemptions from the Marketplace or by claiming them on your tax return. You will claim or report coverage exemptions on Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, and attach it to Form 1040, Form 1040A, or Form 1040EZ. You can file any of these forms electronically. For any month that you or your dependents do not have coverage or qualify for an exemption, you will have to make a shared responsibility payment

What do I need to do if I am required to make a payment with my tax return?

If you have to make an individual shared responsibility payment, you will need to use the worksheets found in the instructions to Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, to figure the shared responsibility payment amount due. You only make a payment for the months you did not have coverage or qualify for a coverage exemption. If you need assistance, please call.

What happens if I owe an individual shared responsibility payment, but I cannot afford to make the payment when filing my tax return?

The law prohibits the IRS from using liens or levies to collect any individual shared responsibility payment and they routinely work with taxpayers who owe amounts they cannot afford to pay. However, if you owe a shared responsibility payment, the IRS may offset that liability against any tax refund that may be due to you.

Please call the office if you would like more information about the individual shared responsibility provision.

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Feature Articles

Tax Tips

Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as athorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. If desired, wewould be pleased to perform the requisite research and provide you with a detailed written analysis. Such an engagement may be the subject of a separateengagement letter that would define the scope and limits of the desired consultation services.

Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

There are a number of end of year tax planning strategies that businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2016. Here are a few of them:

Deferring Income

Businesses using the cash method of accounting can defer income into 2017 by delaying end-of-year invoices so payment is not received until 2017. Businesses using the accrual method can defer income by postponing delivery of goods or services until January 2017.

Purchase New Business Equipment

Section 179 Expensing. Business should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2016 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $500,000 for the first $2,010,000 million of property placed in service by December 31, 2016. Keep in mind that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed net taxable business income. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2.01 million threshold and eliminated above amounts exceeding $2.5 million.

Bonus Depreciation. Businesses are able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and placed in service during 2015, 2016 and 2017. However, the bonus depreciation is reduced to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.

Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.

Note: Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.

Please contact the office if you have any questions regarding qualified property.

Timing. If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here’s a simplified explanation:

Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include “conventions” or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.

  1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as “placed in service” (or “disposed of”) at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

  2. Example: You buy a $40,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

  3. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40 percent of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.

  4. The mid-month convention:This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

  5. If you’re planning on buying equipment for your business, call the office and speak to a tax professional who can help you figure out the best time to buy that equipment and take full advantage of these tax rules.

Other Year-End Moves to Take Advantage Of

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Small business employers with 25 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees (average annual wages of $52,000 in 2016) may qualify for a tax credit to help pay for employees’ health insurance. The credit is 50 percent (35 percent for non-profits).

Business Energy Investment Tax Credit. Business energy investment tax credits are still available for eligible systems placed in service on or before December 31, 2016, and businesses that want to take advantage of these tax credits can still do so.

Business energy credits include solar energy systems (passive solar and solar pool-heating systems excluded), fuel cells and microturbines, and an increased credit amount for fuel cells. The extended tax provision also established new credits for small wind-energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. Utilities are allowed to use the credits as well.

Repair Regulations. Where possible, end of year repairs and expenses should be deducted immediately, rather than capitalized and depreciated. Small businesses lacking applicable financial statements (AFS) are able to take advantage of de minimis safe harbor by electing to deduct smaller purchases ($2,500 or less per purchase or per invoice). Businesses with applicable financial statements are able to deduct $5,000. Small business with gross receipts of $10 million or less can also take advantage of safe harbor for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to eligible buildings. Please call if you would like more information on this topic.

Partnership or S-Corporation Basis. Partners or S corporation shareholders in entities that have a loss for 2016 can deduct that loss only up to their basis in the entity. However, they can take steps to increase their basis to allow a larger deduction. Basis in the entity can be increased by lending the entity money or making a capital contribution by the end of the entity’s tax year.

Caution: Remember that by increasing basis, you’re putting more of your funds at risk. Consider whether the loss signals further troubles ahead.

Section 199 Deduction. Businesses with manufacturing activities could qualify for a Section 199 domestic production activities deduction. By accelerating salaries or bonuses attributable to domestic production gross receipts in the last quarter of 2016, businesses can increase the amount of this deduction. Please call to find out how your business can take advantage of Section 199.

Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2016. Call today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.

Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders.

Budgets. Every business, whether small or large should have a budget. The need for a business budget may seem obvious, but many companies overlook this critical business planning tool.

A budget is extremely effective in making sure your business has adequate cash flow and in ensuring financial success. Once the budget has been created, then monthly actual revenue amounts can be compared to monthly budgeted amounts. If actual revenues fall short of budgeted revenues, expenses must generally be cut.

Tip: Year-end is the best time for business owners to meet with their accountants to budget revenues and expenses for the following year.

If you need help developing a budget for your business, don’t hesitate to call.

Call a Tax Professional First

These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2016. If you’d like more information about tax planning for 2017, please call to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.

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When Disaster Strikes

Special tax law provisions may help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. With hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters affecting so many homeowners and businesses throughout the US this year, here is some useful information about disaster-related tax relief that taxpayers should know about:

Immediate relief. If you have damaged or lost property in a location declared by the President as a major disaster area, you may be able to get some money back from the IRS right now. Please call the office for more information.

Tax filing and penalty relief. The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Thus, taxpayers need not contact the IRS to get this relief. However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

Taxpayers who live outside the disaster area. In addition, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. This also includes workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization. Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you need assistance with this.

Disaster-related losses. Individuals and businesses who suffer uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2016 return normally filed next year), or the return for the prior year (2015).

Retirement plan hardship distributions. Finally, employees and certain members of their families who live or work in disaster area localities affected by Hurricane Matthew who participate in employee sponsored retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b) tax-sheltered annuities, and state and local government employees with 457(b) deferred-compensation plans may be eligible to take loans and hardship distributions without incurring the 10 percent early withdrawal tax penalty.

Tax Relief Specifically for Victims of Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew victims in much of North Carolina and parts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida have until March 15, 2017, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments. This includes an additional filing extension for those with valid extensions that were due on October 17, 2016.

This expanded relief applies to any area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for either individual assistance or public assistance. In addition, taxpayers in counties that are added later to the disaster area will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief.

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on October 4, 2016. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until March 15, 2017, to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. This includes the January 17 deadline for making quarterly estimated tax payments.

For individual tax filers, it also includes 2015 income tax returns that received a tax-filing extension until October 17, 2016. However, because tax payments related to these 2015 returns were originally due on April 18, 2016, those are not eligible for this relief.

A variety of business tax deadlines are also affected including the October 31 and January 31 deadlines for quarterly payroll and excise tax returns. It also includes the special March 1 deadline that applies to farmers and fishermen who choose to forgo making quarterly estimated tax payments.

In addition, the IRS is waiving late-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due on or after October 4 and before October 19 if the deposits are made by October 19, 2016.

Ready to Help

Please call the office if you have any questions about the impact of a natural disaster on your tax situation or need assistance figuring out what you need to do next.

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The Overtime Rule: What Employers Need to Know

Approximately 4.2 million employees are expected to benefit from the new overtime rule that goes into effect on December 1, 2016. Here’s what employers need to know about the new overtime regulations.

What is the Overtime Rule?

The final overtime rule raises the salary threshold for overtime eligibility from $455/week to $913 ($47,476 per year). What this means for employers is that if you have an employee that makes less than $47,476 ($913 a week), then he or she automatically qualifies for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week.

In accordance with the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) employers are required to pay at least a minimum wage for up to 40 hours per week and to pay overtime for hours in excess of 40; however, many workers with at least some managerial duties who make between $23,660 and $47,476 are currently considered “exempt” from overtime pay. The Final Overtime Rule is, among other things, intended to make sure that these workers are adequately compensated, ensuring all employees that make less than $47,476 ($913 a week) automatically qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week.

What is the Effective Date?

Starting December 1, 2016, regular employees paid $913 per week will be eligible for overtime time for any works worked in excess of 40 hours effective on that date. Further, the exemption salary threshold for highly compensated employees (more on this below) rises to $134,004 per year. Exempt employees are not subject to overtime pay.

Future automatic updates to salary threshold amounts will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020. The Department of Labor will publish all updated rates in the Federal Register at least 150 days before their effective date, and also post them on the Wage and Hour Division’s website.

Are all Businesses Affected by the new Overtime Regulations?

All businesses are affected by the overtime regulations; however, because the overtime regulations fall under the FLSA, only businesses with gross annual sales of $500,000 or that are engaged in interstate commerce must comply with the new overtime rule.

How does the new Overtime Rule affect a Highly Compensated Employee (HCE)?

The Final Rule sets the HCE total annual compensation level equal to the 90th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004 annually).

To be exempt as an HCE, an employee must also receive at least the new standard salary amount of $913 per week on a salary or fee basis and pass a minimal duties test. The HCE annual compensation level set in this Final Rule brings this threshold more in line with the level established in 2004 and will avoid the unintended exemption of large numbers of employees in high-wage areas who are clearly not performing EAP (executive, administrative, and professional) duties.

Are Commissions or Bonuses Included in the Salary Calculation?

Up to 10 percent of total compensation meeting the salary threshold amount can be in the form of bonuses or commissions. Prior to the new rule, employers were not permitted to count these forms of compensation toward meeting the minimum salary threshold for overtime.

Employers will now be able to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments such as including commissions to satisfy up to 10 percent of the standard salary level. However, for employers to credit non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments toward a portion of the standard salary level test, payments must be paid on at least a quarterly basis. It is the employer’s discretion when the quarter will begin (i.e. not necessarily a calendar quarter).

Example: You pay an employee $821.70 per week and s/he also receives a bonus of $1,186.90 every quarter. The base pay plus the bonus ($91.30 x 13 weeks in a quarter) is equivalent to paying your employee a salary of $913 per week.

The Final Rule also allows an employer to make a “catch-up” payment. Catch-up payments are made when an employee doesn’t meet their sales quota in a given quarter (and doesn’t earn their expected quarterly commission) but exceeds a sales quota during the next quarter. In this case, an employer is able to make a catch-up payment and avoid paying overtime compensation.

Example: Let’s say your employee typically earns a commission of at least $1,500 every 13 weeks (quarter). You pay the employee a weekly salary of $821.70 (90 percent) and anticipate applying the 10 percent bonus commission ($91.30) toward the total salary requirement of $913 per week. However, the employee doesn’t meet his sales quota and only earns a commission of $1,000 or $76.92 per week, which is $14.38 less than required to meet the $913 per week requirement. In this example, employers are allowed to make a catch-up payment in the next quarter of $186.94 ($14.38 x 13 weeks) to maintain the employee’s exempt from overtime status.

Nondiscretionary bonuses. A form of compensation promised to employees, for example, to induce them to work more efficiently or to remain with the company.

Discretionary bonuses. The decision to award the bonus and the payment amount is at the employer’s sole discretion. For example, a previously unannounced holiday bonus qualifies as a discretionary bonus, because the bonus is entirely at the discretion of the employer, and therefore could not satisfy any portion of the standard salary threshold level of $913 per week.

Note: For businesses that pay employees large bonuses the amount attributable toward the standard salary level is capped at 10 percent of the required salary amount.

Non-discretionary bonuses and commissions continue to count toward the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees ($134,004) as long as the HCE receives at least the full standard salary amount each pay period ($913).

What are my Options as an Employer?

While the new overtime regulations don’t specify exactly what actions employers need to take, there are a number of ways that employers can comply such as:

  • Increasing workers’ salaries so they are exempt from the overtime salary threshold
  • Paying the mandatory time-and-a-half for overtime hours in excess of 40 hours per week
  • Limiting workers to 40-hour work weeks so there is no overtime
  • Reducing base salaries, but keep overtime pay with the goal of keeping weekly pay the same
  • Using a combination of the above

Are you Ready for the new Overtime Rule?

The best way to prepare for the new overtime rule is to understand how it works and how it will affect your business and your employees. Please call the office if you have any questions or need assistance complying with the new regulations.

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ACA Requirements for Employers

The health care law contains tax provisions that affect employers. The size and structure of a workforce–small or large–helps determine which parts of the law apply to which employers. Calculating the number of employees is especially important for employers that have close to 50 employees or whose workforce fluctuates during the year.

Two parts of the Affordable Care Act apply only to applicable large employers. These are the employer shared responsibility provisions and the employer information reporting provisions for offers of minimum essential coverage.

The number of employees an employer has during the current year determines whether it is an applicable large employer (ALE) for the following year. For example, you will use information about the size of your workforce during 2016 to determine if your organization is an ALE for 2017.

Applicable large employers are generally those with 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalent employees. Under the employer shared responsibility provision, ALEs are required to offer their full-time employees and dependents affordable coverage that provides minimum value. Employers with fewer than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees are not applicable large employers.

Who is a Full-time Employee?

There are many additional rules on determining who is a full-time employee, including what counts as hours of service, but in general:

  • A full-time employee is an employee who is employed on average, per month, at least 30 hours of service per week, or at least 130 hours of service in a calendar month.
  • A full-time equivalent employee is a combination of employees, each of whom individually is not a full-time employee, but who, in combination, are equivalent to a full-time employee.
  • An aggregated group is commonly owned or otherwise related or affiliated employers, which must combine their employees to determine their workforce size.

Figuring the Size of the Workforce

To determine your workforce size for a year, you add your total number of full-time employees for each month of the prior calendar year to the total number of full-time equivalent employees for each calendar month of the prior calendar year and divide that total number by 12. If the result is 50 or more employees, you are an applicable large employer.

Employers with Fewer than 50 Employees

If an employer has fewer than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on average during the prior year, the employer is not an ALE for the current calendar year. Therefore, the employer is not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions or the employer information reporting provisions for the current year.

Information Reporting (Including Self-Insured Employers)

All providers of health coverage, including employers that provide self-insured coverage, must file annual returns with the IRS reporting information about the coverage and about each covered individual. The coverage is reported on a Form 1095-B, Health Coverage and the employer must also furnish a copy of Form 1095-B to the employee.

Tax Credits

Certain employers may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit if they:

  1. cover at least 50 percent of employees’ premium costs
  2. have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees with average annual wages of less than $52,000 in 2016 (indexed for inflation)
  3. purchase their coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program.

Employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees or full-time equivalent employees are not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions.

Employers with 50 or More Employees

Information Reporting

All employers including applicable large employers that provide self-insured health coverage must file an annual return for individuals they cover, and provide a statement to responsible individuals.

Applicable large employers must file an annual return–and provide a statement to each full-time employee–reporting whether they offered health insurance, and if so, what insurance they offered their employees.

ALEs are required to furnish a statement to each full-time employee that includes the same information provided to the IRS by January 31, 2017. ALEs that file 250 or more information returns during the calendar year must file the returns electronically.

Employer Shared Responsibility Payment

ALEs are subject to the employer shared responsibility payment if at least one full-time employee receives the premium tax credit and any one these conditions apply. The ALE:

  • failed to offer coverage to full-time employees and their dependents
  • offered coverage that was not affordable
  • offered coverage that did not provide a minimum level of coverage

Questions? Don’t hesitate to call for assistance.

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Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

Tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing income and accelerating deductions, as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning.

General tax planning strategies that taxpayers might consider include the following:

  • Sell 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 2016 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 2017.

  • Prepay deductible expenses such as charitable contributions and medical expenses this year using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken based on when the expense was charged on the credit card, not when the bill was paid.

    For example, if you charge a medical expense in December but pay the bill in January, assuming it’s an eligible medical expense, it can be taken as a deduction on your 2016 tax return.

  • 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 2017. Exercising this 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 to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Accelerating Income and Deductions

Accelerating income into 2016 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 Net Investment Income Tax (see below).

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 2016, 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 percent 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.

Tip: 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.

Tip: 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.

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 2017, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.

  • It may be beneficial to pay 2017 tuition in 2016 to take full advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an above-the-line deduction worth up to $2,500 per student to cover the cost of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year. Forty percent of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, which means you can get it even if you owe no tax.

  • Try to bunch “threshold” expenses, such as medical and dental expenses–10 percent of AGI (adjusted gross income)–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.

    Note: The temporary exemption of 7.5 percent for individuals age 65 and older and their spouses ends on through December 31, 2016.

    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.

Health Care Law

If you haven’t signed up for health insurance this year, do so now and avoid or reduce any penalty you might be subject to. Depending on your income, you may be able to claim the premium tax credit that reduces your premium payment or reduces your tax obligations, as long as you meet certain requirements. You can choose to get the credit immediately or receive it as a refund when you file your taxes next spring. Please contact the office if you need assistance with this.

Additional Medicare Tax

Taxpayers whose income exceeds certain threshold amounts ($200,000 single filers and $250,000 married filing jointly) are liable for an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on their tax returns, but may request that their employers withhold additional income tax from their pay to be applied against their tax liability when filing their 2016 tax return next April.

High net worth individuals should consider contributing to Roth IRAs and 401(k) because distributions are not subject to the Medicare Tax.

If you’re a taxpayer close to the threshold for the Medicare Tax, it might make sense to switch Roth retirement contributions to a traditional IRA plan, thereby avoiding the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax as well (more about the NIIT below).

Alternate Minimum Tax

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exemption “patch,” which was made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012, is indexed for inflation and it’s important not to overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2016 and 2017.

Items that may affect AMT include deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions. Please call if you’re not sure whether AMT applies to you.

Note: AMT exemption amounts for 2016 are as follows:

  • $53,900 for single and head of household filers,

  • $83,800 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers,

  • $41,900 for married people filing separately.

Charitable Contributions

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 your charitable contributions–including travel expenses such as mileage–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.

Investment Gains and Losses

This year, and in the coming years, investment decisions are likely to be more about managing capital gains than about minimizing taxes per se. For example, taxpayers below threshold amounts in 2016 might want to take gains; whereas taxpayers above threshold amounts might want to take losses.

Caution: In recent years, extreme fluctuations in the stock market have been commonplace. Don’t assume that a down market means investment losses. Your cost basis may be low if you’ve held the stock for a long time.

If your tax bracket is either 10 or 15 percent (married couples making less than $75,300 or single filers making less than $37,650), then you might want to take advantage of the zero percent tax rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains. If you fall into the highest tax bracket (39.6 percent), the maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains is capped at 20 percent for tax years 2013 and beyond.

Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term capital gains, which are usually taxed at a much higher tax rate than long-term gains–up to 39.6 percent in 2016 for high-income earners ($415,050 single filers, $466,950 married filing jointly).

Where feasible, reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000.

Tip: As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.

Tip: After selling a securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. This is known as the “Wash Rule Sale.” If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., and ETF or another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.

Tip: If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free; your original investment is restored, and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).

Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

The Net Investment Income Tax, which went into effect in 2013, is a 3.8 percent tax that is applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains for earners above certain threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly). Short-term capital gains are subject to ordinary income tax rates as well as the 3.8 percent NIIT. This information is something to think about as you plan your long-term investments. Business income is not considered subject to the NIIT provided the individual business owner materially participates in the business.

Please call if you need assistance with any of your long term tax planning goals.

Mutual Fund Investments

Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the next year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.

Example: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund at the end of 2016. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends, and in late December of 2016, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.

Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund’s long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.

The mutual fund’s distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as “ordinary dividends” that don’t qualify for relief.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date.

Tip: To find out a fund’s ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.

Please call if you’d like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.

Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax

The federal gift and estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $5.45 million, is set to increase to $5.49 million in 2017. ATRA set the maximum estate tax rate set at 40 percent.

Gift Tax. For many, sound estate planning begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor’s assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.

Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $14,000 a year per donee.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn’t carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2016, you must make your gift by December 31.

Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $28,000 ($14,000 each). Though what’s given may come from either you or your spouse or both of you, both of you must consent to such “split gifts.”

Gifts of “future interests,” assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don’t qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.

Tip: If you’re considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift’s true value when given.

You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings and built-in gain on sale.

Gift tax returns for 2016 are due the same date as your income tax return. Returns are required for gifts over $14,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $14,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $14,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not “adequately disclosed.”

Tip: Call if you’re considering making a gift of property whose value isn’t unquestionably less than $14,000.

Income earned on investments you give to children or other family members are generally taxed to them, not to you. In the case of dividends paid on stock given to your children, they may qualify for the reduced child tax rate, generally 10 percent, where the first $1,050 in investment income is exempt from tax and the next $1,050 is subject to a child’s tax rate of 10 percent (0 percent tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends).

Caution: In 2016, investment income for a child (under age 18 at the end of the tax year or a full-time student under age 24) that is in excess of $2,100 is taxed at the parent’s tax rate.

Other Year-End Moves

Retirement Plan Contributions. Maximize your retirement plan contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don’t already have one. It doesn’t actually need to be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year’s return.

If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($18,000 for 2016), plus an additional catch-up contribution of $6,000 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this and income restrictions don’t apply.

If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $5,500 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.

Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.

In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the excess over 10 percent of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later that are not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.

To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2016, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,300 for single coverage or $2,600 for a family.

Summary

These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact the office for assistance with implementing these and other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable to your particular situation.

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Lending Money to a Friend? It Pays to Plan Ahead

Lending money to a cash-strapped friend or family member is a noble and generous offer that just might make a difference. But before you hand over the cash, you need to plan ahead to avoid tax complications for yourself down the road.

Take a look at this example: Let’s say you decide to loan $5,000 to your daughter who’s been out of work for over a year and is having difficulty keeping up with the mortgage payments on her condo. While you may be tempted to charge an interest rate of zero percent, you should resist the temptation.

Here’s why:

When you make an interest-free loan to someone, you will be subject to “below-market interest rules.” IRS rules state that you need to calculate imaginary interest payments from the borrower. These imaginary interest payments are then payable to you, and you will need to pay taxes on these interest payments when you file a tax return. To complicate matters further, if the imaginary interest payments exceed $14,000 for the year, there may be adverse gift and estate tax consequences.

Exception: The IRS lets you ignore the rules for small loans ($10,000 or less), as long as the aggregate loan amounts to a single borrower are less than $10,000, and the borrower doesn’t use the loan proceeds to buy or carry income-producing assets.

As was mentioned above, if you don’t charge any interest, or charge interest that is below market rate (more on this below), then the IRS might consider your loan a gift, especially if there is no formal documentation (i.e. written agreement with payment schedule), and you go to make a nonbusiness bad debt deduction if the borrower defaults on the loan–or the IRS decides to audit you and decides your loan is really a gift.

Formal documentation generally refers to a written promissory note that includes the interest rate, a repayment schedule showing dates and amounts for all principal and interest, and security or collateral for the loan, such as a residence (see below). Make sure that all parties sign the note so that it’s legally binding.

As long as you charge an interest rate that is at least equal to the applicable federal rate (AFR) approved by the Internal Revenue Service, you can avoid tax complications and unfavorable tax consequences.

AFRs for term loans that is, loans with a defined repayment schedule, are updated monthly by the IRS and published in the IRS Bulletin. AFRs are based on the bond market, which changes frequently. For term loans, use the AFR published in the same month that you make the loan. The AFR is a fixed rate for the duration of the loan.

Any interest income that you make from the term loan is included on your Form 1040. In general, the borrower, who in this example is your daughter, cannot deduct interest paid, but there is one exception: if the loan is secured by her home, then the interest can be deducted as qualified residence interest–as long as the promissory note for the loan was secured by the residence.

If you have any questions about the tax implications of loaning a friend or family member money, don’t hesitate to call.

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Eight Ways Children Lower your Taxes

Got kids? They may have an impact on your tax situation. If you have children, here are eight tax credits and deductions that can help lower your tax burden.

  1. Dependents: In most cases, a child can be claimed as a dependent in the year they were born. Be sure to let the office know if your family size has increased this year. You may be able to claim the child as a dependent this year.

  2. Child Tax Credit: You may be able to take this credit on your tax return for each of your children under age 17. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. The Additional Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit and may give you a refund even if you do not owe any tax.

  3. Child and Dependent Care Credit: You may be able to claim this credit if you pay someone to care for your child under age 13 while you work or look for work. Be sure to keep track of your child care expenses so we can claim this credit accurately.

  4. Earned Income Tax Credit: The EITC is a benefit for certain people who work and have earned income from wages, self-employment, or farming. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may also give you a refund.

  5. Adoption Credit: You may be able to take a tax credit for qualifying expenses paid to adopt a child.

  6. Coverdell Education Savings Account: This savings account is used to pay qualified expenses at an eligible educational institution. Contributions are not deductible; however, qualified distributions generally are tax-free.

  7. Higher Education Credits: Education tax credits can help offset the costs of education. The American Opportunity and the Lifetime Learning Credit are education credits that reduce your federal income tax dollar for dollar, unlike a deduction, which reduces your taxable income.

  8. Student Loan Interest: You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income, so you do not need to itemize your deductions.

As you can see, having children can make a big impact on your tax profile. Make sure that you’re getting the appropriate credits and deductions by speaking to a tax professional today.

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Cash Flow Management: the Secret to Success

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any small business. Some business experts even say that a healthy cash flow is more important than your business’s ability to deliver its goods and services.

While that might seem counterintuitive, consider this: if you fail to satisfy a customer and lose that customer’s business, you can always work harder to please the next customer. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or employees, you are out of business!

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow, simply defined, is the movement of money in and out of your business; these movements are called inflow and outflow. Inflows for your business primarily come from the sale of goods or services to your customers but keep in mind that inflow only occurs when you make a cash sale or collect on receivables. It is the cash that counts! Other examples of cash inflows are borrowed funds, income derived from sales of assets, and investment income from interest.

Outflows for your business are generally the result of paying expenses. Examples of cash outflows include paying employee wages, purchasing inventory or raw materials, purchasing fixed assets, operating costs, paying back loans, and paying taxes.

Note: A tax and accounting professional is the best person to help you learn how your cash flow statement works. He or she can prepare your cash flow statement and explain where the numbers come from. If you need help, don’t hesitate to call.

Cash Flow versus Profit

While they might seem similar, profit and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat broad and only looks at income and expenses over a certain period, say a fiscal quarter. Profit is a useful figure for calculating your taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Cash flow, on the other hand, is a more dynamic tool focusing on the day-to-day operations of a business owner. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. But more important, it is concerned with the times at which the movement of the money takes place.

In theory, even profitable companies can go bankrupt. It would take a lot of negligence and total disregard for cash flow, but it is possible. Consider how the difference between profit and cash flow relate to your business.

Example: If your retail business bought a $1,000 item and turned around to sell it for $2,000, then you have made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before you collect on the account? Your retail business may still show a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during that six-month period? You may not have the cash to pay the bills despite the profits you earned on the sale. Furthermore, this cash flow gap may cause you to miss other profit opportunities, damage your credit rating, and force you to take out loans and create debt. If this mistake is repeated enough times, you may go bankrupt.

Analyzing your Cash Flow

The sooner you learn how to manage your cash flow, the better your chances of survival. Furthermore, you will be able to protect your company’s short-term reputation as well as position it for long-term success.

The first step toward taking control of your company’s cash flow is to analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and outflows. A thorough analysis of these components will reveal problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps in your business. Narrowing, or even closing, these gaps is the key to cash flow management.

Some of the most important components to examine are:

  • Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An accounts receivable balance sheet is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts, the more negative the effect on your cash flow.

  • Credit terms. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers’ promise to pay for their purchases. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. A simple way to improve cash flow is to get customers to pay their bills more quickly.

  • Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy – neither too strict nor too generous – is crucial for a healthy cash flow.

  • Inventory. Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows. Too many business owners buy inventory based on hopes and dreams instead of what they can realistically sell. Keep your inventory as low as possible.

  • Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable at some point in the near future – “near” meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit, you’d have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, examine your payables schedule.

Some cash flow gaps are created intentionally. For example, a business may purchase extra inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts, accelerate cash outflows to take advantage of significant trade discounts or spend extra cash to expand its line of business.

For other businesses, cash flow gaps are unavoidable. Take, for example, a company that experiences seasonal fluctuations in its line of business. This business may normally have cash flow gaps during its slow season and then later fill the gaps with cash surpluses from the peak part of its season. Cash flow gaps are often filled by external financing sources. Revolving lines of credit, bank loans, and trade credit are just a few of the external financing options available that you may want to discuss with us.

Monitoring and managing your cash flow is important for the vitality of your business. The first signs of financial woe appear in your cash flow statement, giving you time to recognize a forthcoming problem and plan a strategy to deal with it. Furthermore, with periodic cash flow
analysis, you can head off those unpleasant financial glitches by recognizing which aspects of your business have the potential to cause cash flow gaps.

Make sure your business has adequate funds to cover day-to-day expenses.

If you need help analyzing and managing your cash flow more effectively, please call the office.

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IRS Warns of Fake Tax Bill Emails

Numerous reports of scammers sending fraudulent CP2000 Notices for tax-year 2015 have been received by the IRS, resulting in an investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The notice relates to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and requests information regarding 2014 coverage. It also includes a request for payment of unpaid taxes.

Here’s what taxpayers need to know:

What is a CP2000 Notice?

A CP2000 Notice is generated by the IRS Automated Underreporter Program when income reported from third-party sources (such as an employer) does not match the income reported on the tax return. It provides extensive instructions to taxpayers about what to do if they agree or disagree that additional tax is owed.

Commonly mailed to taxpayers through the United States Postal Service, a CP2000 Notice is never sent as part of an email to taxpayers.

What to watch out for:

Taxpayers and tax professionals should be on guard against fake emails purporting to contain an IRS tax bill related to the Affordable Care Act. Generally, the scam involves an email that includes the fake CP2000 notice as an attachment.

Indicators that the CP2000 Notice you received is a scam include the following:

  • Notices are sent electronically, even though the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or through social media platforms;
  • The CP2000 notices appear to be issued from an Austin, Texas, address;
  • The underreported issue is related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requesting information regarding 2014 coverage;
  • The payment voucher lists the letter number as 105C.

The fraudulent CP2000 Notice includes a payment request that taxpayers mail a check made out to “I.R.S.” and sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a Post Office Box address. This is in addition to a “payment” link within the email itself. In addition, if taxpayers are unable to pay, it provides instructions for payment options such as installment payments.

Unlike the fake version a real CP2000 Notice provides extensive instructions to taxpayers about what to do if they agree or disagree that additional tax is owed. A real notice also requests that checks be made out to “United States Treasury.”

To determine if a CP2000 Notice that you received in the mail is real, go to the IRS website and use the search term, “Understanding Your CP2000 Notice.” You will see an image of a real notice.

IRS Impersonation Scams

IRS impersonation scams take many forms: threatening telephone calls, phishing emails, and demanding letters. Anyone who receives this scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and then immediately delete it from their email account.

Taxpayers should always beware of any unsolicited email purported to be from the IRS or any unknown source. Never open an attachment or click on a link within an email sent by an unknown person or a source you do not know.

What you should do:

Individuals with questions about a notice or letter they receive from the IRS can generally do a keyword search for “Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter” on the IRS.gov website and view explanations and images of common correspondence.

Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions about IRS notices or letters you have received in the mail or otherwise.

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Choosing the Right Business Entity

When you decide to start a business, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is choosing the right business entity. It’s a decision that impacts many things–from the amount of taxes you pay to how much paperwork you have to deal with and what type of personal liability you face.

Forms of Business

The most common forms of business are Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), and Corporations (C-Corporations). Federal tax law also recognizes another business form called the S-Corporation. While state law controls the formation of your business, federal tax law controls how your business is taxed.

What to Consider

Businesses fall under one of two federal tax systems:

1. Taxation of both the entity itself on the income it earns and the owners on dividends or other profit participation the owners receive from the business. C-Corporations fall under this system of federal taxation.

2. “Pass through” taxation. This type of entity (also called a “flow-through” entity) is not taxed, but its owners are each taxed (more or less) on their proportionate shares of the entity’s income. Pass-through entities include:

  • Sole Proprietorships
  • Partnerships, of various types
  • Limited liability companies (LLCs)
  • “S-Corporations” (S-Corps), as distinguished from C-corporations (C-Corps)

The first major consideration when choosing a business entity is whether to choose one that has two levels of tax on income or one that is a pass-through entity with only one level directly on the owners.

The second consideration, which has more to do with business considerations rather than tax considerations, is the limitation of liability (protecting your assets from claims of business creditors).

Let’s take a general look at each of the options more closely:

Types of Business Entities

Sole Proprietorships

The most common (and easiest) form of business organization is the sole proprietorship. Defined as any unincorporated business owned entirely by one individual, a sole proprietor can operate any kind of business (full or part-time) as long as it is not a hobby or an investment. In general, the owner is also personally liable for all financial obligations and debts of the business.

Note: If you are the sole member of a domestic limited liability company (LLC), you are not a sole proprietor if you elect to treat the LLC as a corporation.

Types of businesses that operate as sole proprietorships include retail shops, farmers, large companies with employees, home-based businesses and one-person consulting firms.

As a sole proprietor, your net business income or loss is combined with your other income and deductions and taxed at individual rates on your personal tax return. Because sole proprietors do not have taxes withheld from their business income, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to make a profit. Also, as a sole proprietor, you must also pay self-employment tax on the net income reported.

Partnerships

A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the business.

There are two types of partnerships: Ordinary partnerships, called “general partnerships,” and limited partnerships that limit liability for some partners but not others. Both general and limited partnerships are treated as pass-through entities under federal tax law, but there are some relatively minor differences in tax treatment between general and limited partners.

For example, general partners must pay self-employment tax on their net earnings from self-employment assigned to them from the partnership. Net earnings from self-employment include an individual’s share, distributed or not, of income or loss from any trade or business carried on by a partnership. Limited partners are subject to self-employment tax only on guaranteed payments, such as professional fees for services rendered.

Partners are not employees of the partnership and do not pay any income tax at the partnership level. Partnerships report income and expenses from its operation and pass the information to the individual partners (hence the pass-through designation).

Because taxes are not withheld from any distributions partners generally need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if they expect to make a profit. Partners must report their share of partnership income even if a distribution is not made. Each partner reports his share of the partnership net profit or loss on his or her personal tax return.

Limited Liability Companies (LLC)

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a business structure allowed by state statute. Each state is different, so it’s important to check the regulations in the state you plan to do business in. Owners of an LLC are called members, which may include individuals, corporations, other LLCs and foreign entities. Most states also permit “single member” LLCs, i.e. those having only one owner.

Depending on elections made by the LLC and the number of members, the IRS treats an LLC as either a corporation, partnership, or as part of the LLC’s owner’s tax return. A domestic LLC with at least two members is classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.

An LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes (but as a separate entity for purposes of employment tax and certain excise taxes), unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.

C-Corporations

In forming a corporation, prospective shareholders exchange money, property, or both, for the corporation’s capital stock. A corporation conducts business, realizes net income or loss, pays taxes and distributes profits to shareholders.

A corporate structure is more complex than other business structures. When you form a corporation, you create a separate tax-paying entity. The profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends. This creates a double tax.

The corporation does not get a tax deduction when it distributes dividends to shareholders. Earnings distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends are taxed at individual tax rates on their personal tax returns. Shareholders cannot deduct any loss of the corporation.

If you organize your business as a corporation, generally are not personally liable for the debts of the corporation, although there may be exceptions under state law.

S-Corporations

An S-corporation has the same corporate structure as a standard corporation; however, its owners have elected to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S-corporations generally have limited liability.

Generally, an S-Corporation is exempt from federal income tax other than tax on certain capital gains and passive income. It is treated in the same way as a partnership, in that generally taxes are not paid at the corporate level. S-Corporations may be taxed under state tax law as regular corporations, or in some other way.

Shareholders must pay tax on their share of corporate income, regardless of whether it is actually distributed. Flow-through of income and losses is reported on their personal tax returns and they are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates, allowing S-Corporations to avoid double taxation on the corporate income.

To qualify for S-Corporation status, the corporation must meet a number of requirements. Please call if you would like more information about which requirements must be met to form an S-Corporation.

Professional Guidance

When making a decision about which type of business entity to choose each business owner must decide which one best meets his or her needs. One form of business entity is not necessarily better than any other and obtaining the advice of a tax professional is critical. If you need assistance figuring out which business entity is best for your business, don’t hesitate to call.

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Tax Records: Which Ones to Toss and When

Tax Records: Which Ones to Toss and When

Now is a great time to clean out that growing mountain of financial papers and tax documents that clutter your home and office. Here’s what you need to keep and what you can throw out.

Let’s start with your “safety zone,” the IRS statute of limitations. This limits the number of years during which the IRS can audit your tax returns. Once that period has expired, the IRS is legally prohibited from even asking you questions about those returns.

The concept behind it is that after a period of years, records are lost or misplaced, and memory isn’t as accurate as we would hope. There’s a need for finality. Once the statute of limitations has expired, the IRS can’t go after you for additional taxes, but you can’t go after the IRS for additional refunds, either.

The Three-Year Rule

For assessment of additional taxes, the statute of limitation runs generally three years from the date you file your return. If you’re looking for an additional refund, the limitations period is generally the later of three years from the date you filed the original return or two years from the date you paid the tax. There are some exceptions:

  • If you don’t report all your income, and the unreported amount is more than 25 percent of the gross income actually shown on your return, the limitation period is six years.

  • If you’ve claimed a loss from a worthless security, the limitation period is extended to seven years.

  • If you file a “fraudulent” return or don’t file at all, the limitations period doesn’t apply. In fact, the IRS can go after you at any time.

  • If you’re deciding what records you need or want to keep, you have to ask what your chances are of an audit. A tax audit is an IRS verification of items of income and deductions on your return. So you should keep records to support those items until the statute of limitations runs out.

Assuming that you’ve filed on time and paid what you should, you only have to keep your tax records for three years, but some records have to be kept longer than that.

Remember, the three-year rule relates to the information on your tax return. But, some of that information may relate to transactions more than three years old.

Here’s a checklist of the documents you should hold on to:

  1. Capital gains and losses. Your gain is reduced by your basis – your cost (including all commissions) plus, with mutual funds, any reinvested dividends, and capital gains. But you may have bought that stock five years ago, and you’ve been reinvesting those dividends and capital gains over the last decade. And don’t forget those stock splits.

    You don’t ever want to throw these records away until after you sell the securities. And then if you’re audited, you’ll have to prove those numbers. Therefore, you’ll need to keep those records for at least three years after you file the return reporting their sales.

  2. Expenses on your home. Cost records for your house and any improvements should be kept until the home is sold. It’s just good practice, even though most homeowners won’t face any tax problems. That’s because profit of less than $250,000 on your home ($500,000 on a joint return) isn’t subject to capital gains tax.

    If the profit is more than $250,000 ($500,000 joint filers) or if you don’t qualify for the full gain exclusion, then you’re going to need those records for another three years after that return is filed. Most homeowners probably won’t face that issue, but of course, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  3. Business records. Business records can become a nightmare. Non-residential real property is depreciated over a period of 39 years. You could be audited on the depreciation up to three years after you file the return for the 39th year. That’s a long time to hold onto receipts, but you may need to validate those numbers.

  4. Employment, bank, and brokerage statements. Keep all your W-2s, 1099s, brokerage, and bank statements to prove income until three years after you file. And don’t even think about dumping checks, receipts, mileage logs, tax diaries, and other documentation that substantiate your expenses.

  5. Tax returns. Keep copies of your tax returns as well. You can’t rely on the IRS to actually have a copy of your old returns. As a general rule, you should keep tax records for six years. The bottom line is that you’ve got to keep those records until they can no longer affect your tax return, plus the three-year statute of limitations.

  6. Social Security records. You will need to keep some records for Social Security purposes, so check with the Social Security Administration each year to confirm that your payments have been appropriately credited. If they’re wrong, you’ll need your W-2 or copies of your Schedule C (if self-employed) to prove the right amount. Don’t dispose of those records until after you’ve validated those contributions.

    Contact the office by phone or email if you have any questions about which tax and financial records you need to keep this year.

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Small Business: Deductions for Charitable Giving

Small Business: Deductions for Charitable Giving

Tax breaks for charitable giving aren’t limited to individuals, your small business can benefit as well. If you own a small to medium size business and are committed to giving back to the community through charitable giving, here’s what you should know.

1. Verify that the Organization is a Qualified Charity.

Once you’ve identified a charity, you’ll need to make sure it is a qualified charitable organization under the IRS. Qualified organizations must meet specific requirements as well as IRS criteria and are often referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations. Note that not all tax-exempt organizations are 501(c)(3) status, however.

There are two ways to verify whether a charity is qualified: use the IRS online search tool or ask the charity to send you a copy of their IRS determination letter confirming their exempt status.

2. Make Sure the Deduction is Eligible

Not all deductions are created equal. In order to take the deduction on a tax return, you need to make sure it qualifies. Charitable giving includes the following: cash donations, sponsorship of local charity events, in-kind contributions such as property such as inventory or equipment.

Lobbying. A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks the loss of its tax-exempt status. As such, you cannot claim a charitable deduction (or business expense) for amounts paid to an organization if both of the following apply.

  • The organization conducts lobbying activities on matters of direct financial interest to your business.
  • A principal purpose of your contribution is to avoid the rules discussed earlier that prohibit a business deduction for lobbying expenses.

Further, if a tax-exempt organization, other than a section 501(c)(3) organization, provides you with a notice on the part of dues that is allocable to nondeductible lobbying and political expenses, you cannot deduct that part of the dues.

3. Understand the Limitations

Sole proprietors, partners in a partnership, or shareholders in an S-corporation may be able to deduct charitable contributions made by their business on Schedule A (Form 1040). Corporations (other than S-corporations) can deduct charitable contributions on their income tax returns, subject to limitations.

Note: Cash payments to an organization, charitable or otherwise, may be deductible as business expenses if the payments are not charitable contributions or gifts and are directly related to your business. Likewise, if the payments are charitable contributions or gifts, you cannot deduct them as business expenses.

Sole Proprietorships

As a sole proprietor (or single-member LLC), you file your business taxes using Schedule C of individual tax form 1040. Your business does not make charitable contributions separately. Charitable contributions are deducted using Schedule A, and you must itemize in order to take the deductions.

Partnerships

Partnerships do not pay income taxes. Rather, the income and expenses (including deductions for charitable contributions) are passed on to the partners on each partner’s individual Schedule K-1. If the partnership makes a charitable contribution, then each partner takes a percentage share of the deduction on his or her personal tax return. For example, if the partnership has four equal partners and donates a total of $2,000 to a qualified charitable organization in 2016, each partner can claim a $500 charitable deductions on his or her 2016 tax return.

Note: A donation of cash or property reduces the value of the partnership. For example, if a partnership donates office equipment to a qualified charity, the office equipment is no longer owned by the partnership and the total value of the partnership is reduced. Therefore, each partner’s share of the total value of the partnership is reduced accordingly.

S-Corporations

S-Corporations are similar to Partnerships, with each shareholder receiving a Schedule K-1 showing the amount of charitable contribution.

C-Corporations

Unlike sole proprietors, Partnerships and S-corporations, C-Corporations are separate entities from their owners. As such, a corporation can make charitable contributions and take deductions for those contributions.

4. Categorize Donations

Each category of donation has its own criteria with regard to whether it’s deductible and to what extent. For example, mileage and travel expenses related to services performed for the charitable organization are deductible but time spent on volunteering your services is not. Here’s another example: As a board member, your duties may include hosting fundraising events. While the time you spend as a board member is not deductible, expenses related to hosting the fundraiser such as stationery for invitations and telephone costs related to the event are deductible.

Generally, you can deduct up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income. Non-cash donations of more than $500 require completion of Form 8283, which is attached to your tax return. In addition, contributions are only deductible in the tax year in which they’re made.

5. Keep Good Records

The types of records you must keep vary according to the type of donation (cash, non-cash, out of pocket expenses when donating your services) and the importance of keeping good records cannot be overstated.

Ask for–and make sure you receive–a letter from any organizations stating that said organization received a contribution from your business. You should also keep canceled checks, bank and credit card statements, and payroll deduction records as proof or your donation. Further, the IRS requires proof of payment and an acknowledgement letter for donations of $250 or more.

If you’re a small business owner, don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about charitable donations.

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Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

Tax Planning for Small Business Owners

Tax planning is the process of looking at various tax options to determine when, whether, and how to conduct business transactions to reduce or eliminate tax liability.

Many small business owners ignore tax planning. They don’t even think about their taxes until it’s time to meet with their CPAs, EAs, or tax advisors but tax planning is an ongoing process and good tax advice is a valuable commodity. It is to your benefit to review your income and expenses monthly and meet with your CPA, EA, or tax advisor quarterly to analyze how you can take full advantage of the provisions, credits, and deductions that are legally available to you.

Although tax avoidance planning is legal, tax evasion – the reduction of tax through deceit, subterfuge, or concealment – is not. Frequently what sets tax evasion apart from tax avoidance is the IRS’s finding that there was fraudulent intent on the part of the business owner. The following are four of the areas the IRS examiners commonly focus on as pointing to possible fraud:

  1. Failure to report substantial amounts of income such as a shareholder’s failure to report dividends or a store owner’s failure to report a portion of the daily business receipts.
  2. Claims for fictitious or improper deductions on a return such as a sales representative’s substantial overstatement of travel expenses or a taxpayer’s claim of a large deduction for charitable contributions when no verification exists.
  3. Accounting irregularities such as a business’s failure to keep adequate records or a discrepancy between amounts reported on a corporation’s return and amounts reported on its financial statements.
  4. Improper allocation of income to a related taxpayer who is in a lower tax bracket such as where a corporation makes distributions to the controlling shareholder’s children.

Tax Planning Strategies

Countless tax planning strategies are available to small business owners. Some are aimed at the owner’s individual tax situation and some at the business itself, but regardless of how simple or how complex a tax strategy is, it will be based on structuring the strategy to accomplish one or more of these often overlapping goals:

  • Reducing the amount of taxable income
  • Lowering your tax rate
  • Controlling the time when the tax must be paid
  • Claiming any available tax credits
  • Controlling the effects of the Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Avoiding the most common tax planning mistakes

In order to plan effectively, you’ll need to estimate your personal and business income for the next few years. This is necessary because many tax planning strategies will save tax dollars at one income level, but will create a larger tax bill at other income levels. You will want to avoid having the “right” tax plan made “wrong” by erroneous income projections. Once you know what your approximate income will be, you can take the next step: estimating your tax bracket.

The effort to come up with crystal-ball estimates may be difficult and by its very nature will be inexact. On the other hand, you should already be projecting your sales revenues, income, and cash flow for general business planning purposes. The better your estimates are, the better the odds that your tax planning efforts will succeed.

Maximizing Business Entertainment Expenses

Entertainment expenses are legitimate deductions that can lower your tax bill and save you money, provided you follow certain guidelines.

In order to qualify as a deduction, business must be discussed before, during, or after the meal and the surroundings must be conducive to a business discussion. For instance, a small, quiet restaurant would be an ideal location for a business dinner. A nightclub would not. Be careful of locations that include ongoing floor shows or other distracting events that inhibit business discussions. Prime distractions are theater locations, ski trips, golf courses, sports events, and hunting trips.

The IRS allows up to a 50 percent deduction on entertainment expenses, but you must keep good records and the business meal must be arranged with the purpose of conducting specific business. Bon appetite!

Important Business Automobile Deductions

If you use your car for business such as visiting clients or going to business meetings away from your regular workplace you may be able to take certain deductions for the cost of operating and maintaining your vehicle. You can deduct car expenses by taking either the standard mileage rate or using actual expenses. In 2016, the mileage reimbursement rate is 54 cents per business mile (57 cents per mile in 2015).

If you own two cars, another way to increase deductions is to include both cars in your deductions. This works because business miles driven is determined by business use. To figure business use, divide the business miles driven by the total miles driven. This strategy can result in significant deductions.

Whichever method you decide to use to take the deduction, always be sure to keep accurate records such as a mileage log and receipts. If you need assistance figuring out which method is best for your business, don’t hesitate to contact the office.

Increase Your Bottom Line When You Work At Home

The home office deduction is quite possibly one of the most difficult deductions ever to come around the block. Yet, there are so many tax advantages it becomes worth the navigational trouble. Here are a few tips for home office deductions that can make tax season significantly less traumatic for those of you with a home office.

Try prominently displaying your home business phone number and address on business cards, have business guests sign a guest log book when they visit your office, deduct long-distance phone charges, keep a time and work activity log, retain receipts and paid invoices. Keeping these receipts makes it so much easier to determine percentages of deductions later on in the year.

Section 179 expensing for tax year 2016 allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over time, up to $500,000, with a cap of $2,000,000 worth of qualified business property that you purchase during the year. The key word is “purchase.” Equipment can be new or used and includes certain software. All home office depreciable equipment meets the qualification. Some deductions can be taken whether or not you qualify for the home office deduction itself.

If you’re ready to meet with a tax professional to discuss tax planning strategies for your business, call the office today.

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Deducting Business-Related Car Expenses

Deducting Business-Related Car Expenses

Whether you’re self-employed or an employee, if you use a car for business, you get the benefit of tax deductions.

There are two choices for claiming deductions:

  1. Deduct the actual business-related costs of gas, oil, lubrication, repairs, tires, supplies, parking, tolls, drivers’ salaries, and depreciation.

  2. Use the standard mileage deduction in 2016 and simply multiply 54 cents by the number of business miles traveled during the year. Your actual parking fees and tolls are deducted separately under this method.

Which Method Is Better?

For some taxpayers, using the standard mileage rate produces a larger deduction. Others fare better tax-wise by deducting actual expenses.

Tip: The actual cost method allows you to claim accelerated depreciation on your car, subject to limits and restrictions not discussed here.

The standard mileage amount includes an allowance for depreciation. Opting for the standard mileage method allows you to bypass certain limits and restrictions and is simpler– but it’s often less advantageous in dollar terms.

Caution: The standard rate may understate your costs, especially if you use the car 100 percent for business, or close to that percentage.

Generally, the standard mileage method benefits taxpayers who have less expensive cars or who travel a large number of business miles.

How to Make Tax Time Easier

Keep careful records of your travel expenses and record your mileage in a logbook. If you don’t know the number of miles driven and the total amount you spent on the car, your tax advisor won’t be able to determine which of the two options is more advantageous for you at tax time.

Furthermore, the tax law requires that you keep travel expense records and that you show business versus personal use on your tax return. If you use the actual cost method for your auto deductions, you must keep receipts.

Tip: Consider using a separate credit card for business, to simplify your recordkeeping.

Tip: You can also deduct the interest you pay to finance a business-use car if you’re self-employed.

Note: Self-employed individuals and employees who use their cars for business can deduct auto expenses if they either (1) don’t get reimbursed, or (2) are reimbursed under an employer’s “non-accountable” reimbursement plan. In the case of employees, expenses are deductible to the extent that auto expenses (together with other “miscellaneous itemized deductions”) exceed 2 percent of adjusted gross income.

Call today and find out which deduction method is best for your business-use car.

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Identity Theft and Your Taxes

Identity Theft and Your Taxes

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. It presents challenges to individuals, businesses, organizations and government agencies, including the IRS.

Learning that you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event and you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity. In many cases, the IRS may be the first to let you know you’re a victim of ID theft after you try to file your taxes.

The IRS is working hard to stop identity theft using a strategy of prevention, detection, and victim assistance. In 2015, the IRS stopped 1.4 million confirmed ID theft returns and protected $8.7 billion. In the past couple of years, more than 2,000 people have been convicted of filing fraudulent ID theft returns. And, in 2014, the IRS stopped more than $15 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. Additionally, as the IRS improves its processing filters, the agency has also been able to halt more suspicious returns before they are processed.

Here’s what you should know about identity theft:

1. Protect your Records. Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN on them. Only provide your SSN (social Security Number) if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Protect your personal information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for all of your Internet accounts.

2. Don’t Fall for Scams. Criminals often try to impersonate your bank, credit card company, and even the IRS in order to steal your personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid those fake emails and texts.

3. Beware of Threatening Phone Calls. Correspondence from the IRS is always in the form of a letter in the mail. The IRS will not call you threatening a lawsuit, arrest, or to demand an immediate tax payment using a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.

As schools around the nation re-open, it is important for taxpayers to be particularly aware of a new scam going after students and parents. In this latest scheme, telephone scammers have been targeting students and parents and demanding payments for non-existent taxes, such as the “Federal Student Tax.”

People should be on the lookout for IRS impersonators calling students and demanding that they wire money immediately to pay a fake “federal student tax.” If the person does not comply, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested.

4. Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement. If you cannot e-file your return because a tax return already was filed using your SSN, consider the following steps:

  • File your taxes by paper and pay any taxes owed.
  • File an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. You may include it with your paper return.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant.
  • Contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account.

5. Complete an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit (see below). Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by filing on paper.

6. IRS Notices and Letters. If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with your SSN, it may send you a letter asking you to verify your identity by calling a special number or visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is to protect you from tax-related identity theft.

7. IP PINs. If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, he or she will be issued an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. Each year, you will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.

8. Data Breaches. If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind that not every data breach results in identity theft. Furthermore, not every identity theft case involves taxes. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.

9. Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can report it on the IRS.gov website.

10. IRS Options. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online at IRS.gov. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.

If you have any questions about identity theft and your taxes, don’t hesitate to call the office for assistance.

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Charitable Contributions of Property

Charitable Contributions of Property

If you contribute property to a qualified organization, the amount of your charitable contribution is generally the fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution. However, if the property fits into one of the categories discussed here, the amount of your deduction must be decreased. As with many aspects of tax law, the rules are quite complex. If you’re considering a charitable contribution of property, here’s what you need to know:

After discussing how to determine the fair market value of something you donate, we’ll discuss the following categories of charitable gifts of property:

  • Contributions subject to special rules
  • Property that has decreased in value;
  • Property that has increased in value;
  • Food Inventory.
  • Bargain Sales.

Determining Fair Market Value

Fair market value is the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all of the relevant facts.

Used Clothing and Household Items.

The fair market value of used clothing and used household goods, such as furniture and furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens, and other similar items is typically the price that buyers of used items actually pay clothing stores, such as consignment or thrift shops. Be prepared to support your valuation of other household items, which must be in good used condition unless valued at more than $500 by a qualified appraisal, with photographs, canceled checks, receipts from your purchase of the items, or other evidence.

Cars, Boats, and Aircraft

The FMV of a donated car, boat, or airplane is generally the amount listed in a used vehicle pricing guide for a private party sale, not the dealer retail value, of a similar vehicle. The FMV may be less than that, however, if the vehicle has engine trouble, body damage, high mileage, or any type of excessive wear.

Except for inexpensive small boats, the valuation of boats should be based on an appraisal by a marine surveyor because the physical condition is so critical to the value.

If you donate a qualified vehicle to a qualified organization, and you claim a deduction of more than $500, you can deduct the smaller of the gross proceeds from the sale of the vehicle by the organization or the vehicle’s fair market value on the date of the contribution. If the vehicle’s fair market value was more than your cost or other basis, you may have to reduce the fair market value to figure the deductible amount.

Paintings, Antiques, and Other Objects of Art.

Deductions for contributions of paintings, antiques, and other objects of art should be supported by a written appraisal from a qualified and reputable source unless the deduction is $5,000 or less.

  1. Art valued at $20,000 or more. If you claim a deduction of $20,000 or more for donations of art, you must attach a complete copy of the signed appraisal to your return. For individual objects valued at $20,000 or more, a photograph of a size and quality fully showing the object, preferably an 8 x 10-inch color photograph or a color transparency no smaller than 4 x 5 inches, must be provided upon request.
  2. Art valued at $50,000 or more. If you donate an item of art that has been appraised at $50,000 or more, you can request a Statement of Value for that item from the IRS. You must request the statement before filing the tax return that reports the donation.

Contributions Subject to Special Rules

Special rules apply if you contribute:

  • Clothing or household items,
  • A car, boat, or airplane,
  • Taxidermy property,
  • Property subject to a debt,
  • A partial interest in property,
  • A fractional interest in tangible personal property,
  • A qualified conservation contribution,
  • A future interest in tangible personal property,
  • Inventory from your business, or
  • A patent or other intellectual property.

Donating Property That Has Decreased in Value

If you contribute property with a fair market value that is less than your basis in it (generally, less than what you paid for it), your deduction is limited to its fair market value. You cannot claim a deduction for the difference between the property’s basis and its fair market value. Common examples of property that decreases in value include clothing, furniture, appliances, and cars.

Donating Property That Has Increased in Value

If you contribute property with a fair market value that is more than your basis in it, you may have to reduce the fair market value by the amount of appreciation (increase in value) when you figure your deduction. Again, your basis in the property is generally what you paid for it. Different rules apply to figuring your deduction, depending on whether the property is Ordinary income property, Capital gain property, or Ordinary Income Property.

Ordinary Income Property

Property is ordinary income property if its sale at fair market value on the date it was contributed would have resulted in ordinary income or in short-term capital gain. Examples of ordinary income property are inventory, works of art created by the donor, manuscripts prepared by the donor, and capital assets held 1 year or less.

Equipment or other property used in a trade or business is considered ordinary income property to the extent of any gain that would have been treated as ordinary income under the tax law, had the property been sold at its fair market value at the time of contribution.

Capital Gain Property

Property is capital gain property if its sale at fair market value on the date of the contribution would have resulted in a long-term capital gain. Capital gain property includes capital assets held more than 1 year.

Capital assets. Capital assets include most items of property that you own and use for personal purposes or investment. Examples of capital assets are stocks, bonds, jewelry, coin or stamp collections, and cars or furniture used for personal purposes. For purposes of figuring your charitable contribution, capital assets also include certain real property and depreciable property used in your trade or business and, generally, held more than 1 year.

Real property. Real property is land and generally, anything that is built on, growing on, or attached to land.

Depreciable property. Depreciable property is property used in business or held for the production of income and for which a depreciation deduction is allowed.

Ordinary or capital gain income included in gross income. You do not reduce your charitable contribution if you include the ordinary or capital gain income in your gross income in the same year as the contribution. This may happen when you transfer installment or discount obligations or when you assign income to a charitable organization.

Food Inventory

Special rules apply to certain donations of food inventory to a qualified organization. Please call if you would like information about donations of food inventory.

Bargain Sales

A bargain sale of property to a qualified organization (a sale or exchange for less than the property’s fair market value) is partly a charitable contribution and partly a sale or exchange. The part of the bargain sale that is a sale or exchange may result in a taxable gain.

Seek advice from a tax professional.

Stiff penalties may be assessed by the IRS if you overstate the value or adjusted basis of donated property. If you’re considering a charitable contribution of property, don’t hesitate to call the office to speak with a qualified tax professional.

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Tax-Free Savings for College

Tax-Free Savings for College

According to a recent study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, researchers found that over a lifetime, the average U.S. college graduate will earn at least $800,000 more than the average high school graduate–even after taking into consideration the cost of college tuition and the four years of lost wages it entails. Despite this, most people still feel that a college education is worth the investment.

That said, however, the need to set money aside for their child’s education often weighs heavily on parents. Fortunately, there are two savings plans available to help parents save money as well as provide certain tax benefits. Let’s take a closer look.

The two most popular college savings programs are the Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs) or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Whichever one you choose, try to start when your child is young. The sooner you begin saving, the less money you will have to put away each year.

Example: Suppose you have one child, age six months, and you estimate that you’ll need $120,000 to finance his college education 18 years from now. If you start putting away money immediately, you’ll need to save $3,500 per year for 18 years (assuming an after-tax return of 7 percent). On the other hand, if you put off saving until your son is six years old, you’ll have to save almost double that amount every year for 12 years.

How Much Will College Cost?

College is expensive, and proper planning can lessen the financial squeeze considerably–especially if you start when your child is young. According to the College Board, average published tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased 2.9 percent before adjusting for inflation, rising from $9,145 in 2014-15 to $9,410 in 2015-16.

Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions increased 3.6 percent before adjusting for inflation, rising from $31,283 in 2014-15 to $32,405 in 2015-16. Undergraduates received an average of $14,210 in financial aid in 2014-15, including $8,170 in grants from all sources, $4,800 in federal loans, $1,170 in education tax credits and deductions, and $70 in Federal Work-Study.

Saving with Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs)

Qualified Tuition Programs, also known as 529 plans, are often the best choice for many families. Every state now has a program allowing persons to prepay for future higher education, with tax relief. There are two basic plan types, with many variations among them:

  1. The prepaid education arrangement. With this type of plan, one is essentially buying future education at today’s costs, by buying education credits or certificates. This is the older type of program and tends to limit the student’s choice to schools within the state; however, private colleges and universities often offer this type of arrangement.

  2. Education Savings Account (ESA). With an ESA, contributions are made to an account to be used for future higher education.

Tip: When approaching state programs, one must distinguish between what the federal tax law allows and what an individual state’s program may impose.

You may open a 529 plan in any state, but when buying prepaid tuition credits (less popular than savings accounts), you will want to know what institutions the credits will be applied to.

Unlike certain other tax-favored higher education programs, such as the American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) and Lifetime Learning Credit, federal tax law doesn’t limit the benefit to tuition, but can also extend it to room, board, and books (individual state programs could be narrower).

The two key individual parties to the program are the Designated Beneficiary (the student-to-be) and the Account Owner, who is entitled to choose and change the beneficiary and who is normally the principal contributor to the program.

There are no income limits on who may be an account owner. There’s only one designated beneficiary per account. Thus, a parent with three college-bound children might set up three accounts. Some state programs don’t allow the same person to be both beneficiary and account owner.

Tax Rules Relating to Qualified Tuition Programs

Income Tax. Contributions made by an account owner or other contributor are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes, but earnings on contributions do grow tax-free while in the program.

Distributions from the fund are tax-free to the extent used for qualified higher education expenses. Distributions used otherwise are taxable to the extent of the portion which represents earnings.

A distribution may be tax-free even though the student is claiming an American Opportunity Credit (formerly the Hope Credit) or Lifetime Learning Credit, or tax-free treatment for a Coverdell ESA distribution, provided the programs aren’t covering the same specific expenses.

Distribution for a purpose other than qualified education is taxable to the one getting the distribution. In addition, a 10 percent penalty must be imposed on the taxable portion of the distribution, which is comparable to the 10 percent penalty in Coverdell ESAs.

The account owner may change the beneficiary designation from one to another in the same family. Funds in the account roll over tax-free for the benefit of the new beneficiary.

Tip: In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) added expenses for computer technology/equipment or Internet access to the list of qualifying expenses. Software designed for sports, games, or hobbies does not qualify, unless it is predominantly educational in nature. In general, however, expenses for computer technology are not considered qualified expenses.

Gift Tax. For gift tax purposes, contributions are treated as completed gifts even though the account owner has the right to withdraw them. Thus they qualify for the up-to-$14,000 annual gift tax exclusion in 2016 (same as 2015). One contributing more than $14,000 may elect to treat the gift as made in equal installments over the year of the gift and the following four years so that up to $56,000 can be given tax-free in the first year.

However, a rollover from one beneficiary to another in a younger generation is treated as a gift from the first beneficiary, an odd result for an act the “giver” may have had nothing to do with.

Estate Tax. Funds in the account at the designated beneficiary’s death are included in the beneficiary’s estate, another odd result, since those funds may not be available to pay the tax.

Funds in the account at the account owner’s death are not included in the owner’s estate, except for a portion thereof where the gift tax exclusion installment election is made for gifts over $14,000. For example, if the account owner made the election for a gift of $56,000 in 2016, a part of that gift is included in the estate if he or she dies within five years.

Tip: A Qualified Tuition Program can be an especially attractive estate-planning move for grandparents. There are no income limits, and the account owner giving up to $56,000 avoids gift tax and estate tax by living five years after the gift, yet has the power to change the beneficiary.

State Tax. State tax rules are all over the map. Some reflect the federal rules; some reflect quite different rules. For specifics of each state’s program, see College Savings Plans Network (CSPN). If you need assistance with this, please contact us.

Saving with Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

You can contribute up to $2,000 in 2016 to a Coverdell Education Savings account (a Section 530 program formerly known as an Education IRA) for a child under 18. These contributions are not tax deductible but grow tax-free until withdrawn. Contributions for any year, for example, 2016 can be made through the (unextended) due date for the return for that year (April 17, 2017). There is no adjustment for inflation; therefore the $2,000 contribution limit is expected to remain at $2,000.

Only cash can be contributed to a Coverdell ESA, and you cannot contribute to the account after the child reaches his or her 18th birthday.

The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if they are less than a beneficiary’s qualified education expenses at an eligible institution. This benefit applies to higher education expenses as well as to elementary and secondary education expenses.

Anyone can establish and contribute to a Coverdell ESA, including the child. An account may be established for as many children as you wish; however, the amount contributed during the year to each account cannot exceed $2,000. The child need not be a dependent, and in fact, does not even need to be related to you. The maximum contribution amount in 2016 for each child is subject to a phase-out limitation with a modified AGI between $190,000 and $220,000 for joint filers and $95,000 and $110,000 for single filers.

A 6 percent excise tax (to be paid by the beneficiary) applies to excess contributions. These are amounts in excess of the applicable contribution limit ($2,000 or phase out amount) and contributions for a year that amounts are contributed to a Qualified Tuition Program for the same child. The 6 percent tax continues for each year the excess contribution stays in the Coverdell ESA.

Exceptions. The excise tax does not apply if excess contributions made during 2016 (and any earnings on them) are distributed before the first day of the sixth month of the following tax year (June 1, 2017, for a calendar year taxpayer). However, you must include the distributed earnings in gross income for the year in which the excess contribution was made. The excise tax does not apply to any rollover contribution.

The child must be named (designated as beneficiary) in the Coverdell document, but the beneficiary can be changed to another family member–to a sibling for example when the first beneficiary gets a scholarship or drops out. Funds can also be rolled over tax-free from one child’s account to another child’s account. Funds must be distributed not later than 30 days after the beneficiary’s 30th birthday (or 20 days after the beneficiary’s death if earlier). For “special needs” beneficiaries the age limits (no contributions after age 18, distribution by age 30) don’t apply.

Withdrawals are taxable to the person who gets the money, with these major exceptions: Only the earnings portion is taxable (the contributions come back tax-free). Also, even that part isn’t taxable income, as long as the amount withdrawn does not exceed a child’s “qualified higher education expenses” for that year.

The definition of “qualified higher education expenses” includes room and board and books, as well as tuition. In figuring whether withdrawals exceed qualified expenses, expenses are reduced by certain scholarships and by amounts for which tax credits are allowed. If the amount withdrawn for the year exceeds the education expenses for the year, the excess is partly taxable under a complex formula. A different formula is used if the sum of withdrawals from a Coverdell ESA and from the Qualified Tuition Program exceeds education expenses.

As the person who sets up the Coverdell ESA, you may change the beneficiary (the child who will get the funds) or roll the funds over to the account of a new beneficiary, tax-free, if the new beneficiary is a member of your family. But funds you take back (for example, withdrawal in a year when there are no qualified higher education expenses, because the child is not enrolled in higher education) are taxable to you, to the extent of earnings on your contributions, and you will generally have to pay an additional 10 percent tax on the taxable amount. However, you won’t owe tax on earnings on amounts contributed that are returned to you by June 1 of the year following contribution.

Professional Guidance

Considering the wide differences among state plans, federal and state tax issues, and the dollar amounts at stake, please call the office before getting started with any type of college savings plan.

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The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider

The Home-Based Business: Basics to Consider

More than 52 percent of businesses today are home-based. Every day, people are striking out and achieving economic and creative independence by turning their skills into dollars. Garages, basements, and attics are being transformed into the corporate headquarters of the newest entrepreneurs–home-based businesspeople.

And, with technological advances in smartphones, tablets, and iPads as well as rising demand for “service-oriented” businesses, the opportunities seem to be endless.

Is a Home-Based Business Right for You?

Choosing a home business is like choosing a spouse or partner: Think carefully before starting the business. Instead of plunging right in, take the time to learn as much about the market for any product or service as you can. Before you invest any time, effort, or money take a few moments to answer the following questions:

  • Can you describe in detail the business you plan on establishing?
  • What will be your product or service?
  • Is there a demand for your product or service?
  • Can you identify the target market for your product or service?
  • Do you have the talent and expertise needed to compete successfully?

Before you dive head first into a home-based business, it’s essential that you know why you are doing it and how you will do it. To succeed, your business must be based on something greater than a desire to be your own boss, and involves an honest assessment of your own personality, an understanding of what’s involved, and a lot of hard work. You have to be willing to plan ahead and make improvements and adjustments along the way.

While there are no “best” or “right” reasons for starting a home-based business, it is vital to have a very clear idea of what you are getting into and why. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a self-starter?
  • Can you stick to business if you’re working at home?
  • Do you have the necessary self-discipline to maintain schedules?
  • Can you deal with the isolation of working from home?

Working under the same roof that your family lives under may not prove to be as easy as it seems. It is important that you work in a professional environment. If at all possible, you should set up a separate office in your home. You must consider whether your home has space for a business and whether you can successfully run the business from your home. If so, you may qualify for a tax break called the home office deduction. For more information see the article, Do You Qualify for the Home Office Deduction? below.

Compliance with Laws and Regulations

A home-based business is subject to many of the same laws and regulations affecting other businesses, and you will be responsible for complying with them. There are some general areas to watch out for, but be sure to consult an attorney and your state department of labor to find out which laws and regulations will affect your business.

Zoning

Be aware of your city’s zoning regulations. If your business operates in violation of them, you could be fined or closed down.

Restrictions on Certain Goods

Certain products may not be produced in the home. Most states outlaw home production of fireworks, drugs, poisons, sanitary or medical products, and toys. Some states also prohibit home-based businesses from making food, drink, or clothing.

Registration and Accounting Requirements

You may need the following:

  • Work certificate or a license from the state (your business’s name may also need to be registered with the state)
  • Sales tax number
  • Separate business telephone
  • Separate business bank account

If your business has employees, you are responsible for withholding income, social security, and Medicare taxes, as well as complying with minimum wage and employee health and safety laws.

Planning Techniques

Money fuels all businesses. With a little planning, you’ll find that you can avoid most financial difficulties. When drawing up a financial plan, don’t worry about using estimates. The process of thinking through these questions helps develop your business skills and leads to solid financial planning.

Estimating Start-Up Costs

To estimate your start-up costs include all initial expenses such as fees, licenses, permits, telephone deposit, tools, office equipment and promotional expenses.

In addition, business experts say you should not expect a profit for the first eight to ten months, so be sure to give yourself enough of a cushion if you need it.

Projecting Operating Expenses

Include salaries, utilities, office supplies, loan payments, taxes, legal services and insurance premiums, and don’t forget to include your normal living expenses. Your business must not only meet its own needs but make sure it meets yours as well.

Projecting Income

It is essential that you know how to estimate your sales on a daily and monthly basis. From the sales estimates, you can develop projected income statements, break-even points, and cash-flow statements. Use your marketing research to estimate initial sales volume.

Determining Cash Flow

Working capital–not profits–pays your bills. Even though your assets may look great on the balance sheet, if your cash is tied up in receivables or equipment, your business is technically insolvent. In other words, you’re broke.

Make a list of all anticipated expenses and projected income for each week and month. If you see a cash-flow crisis developing, cut back on everything but the necessities.

If a home-based business is in your future, then a tax professional can help. Don’t hesitate to call if you need assistance setting up your business or making sure you have the proper documentation in place to satisfy the IRS.

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Five Ways to Improve Your Financial Situation

Five Ways to Improve Your Financial Situation

If you are having trouble paying your debts, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Doing nothing leads to much larger problems in the future, whether it’s a bad credit record or bankruptcy resulting in the loss of assets and even your home. If you’re in financial trouble, then here are some steps to take to avoid financial ruin in the future.

If you’ve accumulated a large amount of debt and are having difficulty paying your bills each month, now is the time to take action–before the bill collectors start calling.

1. Review each debt. Make sure that the debt creditors claim you owe is really what you owe and that the amount is correct. If you dispute a debt, first contact the creditor directly to resolve your questions. If you still have questions about the debt, contact your state or local consumer protection office or, in cases of serious creditor abuse, your state Attorney General.

2. Contact your creditors. Let your creditors know you are having difficulty making your payments. Tell them why you are having trouble–perhaps it is because you recently lost your job or have unexpected medical bills. Try to work out an acceptable payment schedule with your creditors. Most are willing to work with you and will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness.

Tip: Most automobile financing agreements permit your creditor to repossess your car any time you are in default, with no advance notice. If your car is repossessed you may have to pay the full balance due on the loan, as well as towing and storage costs, to get it back. Do not wait until you are in default. Try to solve the problem with your creditor when you realize you will not be able to meet your payments. It may be better to sell the car yourself and pay off your debt than to incur the added costs of repossession.

3. Budget your expenses. Create a spending plan that allows you to reduce your debts and itemize necessary expenses (such as housing and healthcare) and optional expenses (such as entertainment and vacation travel). Stick to the plan.

4. Try to reduce your expenses. Cut out any unnecessary spending such as eating out and purchasing expensive entertainment. Consider taking public transportation or using a car sharing service rather than owning a car. Clip coupons, purchase generic products at the supermarket and avoid impulse purchases. Above all, stop incurring new debt. Leave your credit cards at home. Pay for all purchases in cash or use a debit card instead of a credit card.

5. Pay down and consolidate your debts. Withdrawing savings from low-interest accounts to settle high-rate loans or credit card debt usually makes sense. In addition, there are a number of ways to pay off high-interest loans, such as credit cards, by getting a refinancing or consolidation loan, such as a second mortgage.

Tip: Selling off a second car not only provides cash but also reduces insurance and other maintenance expenses.

Caution: Be wary of any loan consolidations or other refinancing that actually increase interest owed, or require payments of points or large fees.

Caution: Second mortgages greatly increase the risk that you may lose your home.

You can regain financial health if you act responsibly. But don’t wait until bankruptcy court is your only option. If you’re having financial troubles, don’t hesitate to call.

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Seven Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

Seven Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions

One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in running your own business is stay