Tag Archives: tax preparation

Last-Minute Savings for Tax Year 2016

Attention last minute savers! There’s still time to reduce your tax burden for 2016.

Have you funded a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, or SEP this year? The deadline for contributions to IRAs is April 18, 2017 — this year’s filing deadline. For self-employed taxpayers, contributions to a SEP may be postponed until October 16, 2017 if a tax return extension has been filed.

Increasing your 401(k) contribution so that you are putting in the maximum amount of money allowed is a smart way to lower taxes. If you can’t afford the maximum contribution, $18,000 for 2016, $24,000 if you are age 50 or over, you should still contribute the full amount that will be matched by employer contributions – no reason to leave money on the table!

If you are currently enrolled in an employer sponsored retirement plan, your contribution to a traditional IRA will not be tax deductible, but you will be able to take advantage of tax-deferred interest compounding. The cap for contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA in 2016 is $5,500 for taxpayers under 50 and $6,500 for those over 50.

If you have reason to believe you’ll be in the same or a lower tax bracket next year, it may make sense to defer income by taking capital gains in 2017 instead of in 2016. If you are self-employed or freelancing and can push revenue into a lower earning year, it may be wise to do so. Winding up in a higher tax bracket can result in a big surprise in your tax bill. Your forecast for personal income this year vs. next year is an important issue to discuss with your tax professional.

Charitable deductions are another great way to lower your taxes before year’s end. Just make sure that the charity to which you are donating is recognized by the IRS as being tax-exempt, and that you document and photograph all items donated.

“Loss harvesting” is the practice of selling stocks and mutual funds with the goal of realizing losses. Those losses can offset taxable gains you have realized during the year, dollar for dollar. This is another good conversation to have with your enrolled agent.

To make sure you’re taking advantage of all available tax savings, tax credits and deductions for 2016, be sure to bring the right documents to your tax professional. Along with any Forms W-2 from your employer, bring Forms 1099 declaring misc. income, mortgage interest information, and K-1 forms showing income from a partnership, small business or trust. Bring documentation of any student loans you may be paying off, and money spent on child care.

Some other things to consider: if you collected unemployment benefits at any time during the year, that money is generally taxable and you will need to bring a form 1099-G. For state filing, you’ll want to remember to include any personal property tax paid – for example, on your automobile. Did you collect Social Security, rent a property, receive self-employment income or pay alimony? Cancelled checks and receipts can help to document expenses you wish to claim, such as those related to a home office. Job search expenses, moving expenses and college expenses may all be deductible under certain circumstances. Medical expenses might be deductible, but the bar is high.

As with everywhere else in life, often what the large print giveth the small print taketh away. For instance, IRA contributions — both traditional and Roth — have some tricky limitations (and some workarounds, too). Enrolled agents (“EAs”), America’s tax experts, are well placed to help you navigate. Please feel free to call my office at xxx-xxx-xxxx to schedule an appointment.

 

About Enrolled Agents

To earn the EA license from the US Department of Treasury, candidates must pass a background check and a stringent three-part exam on tax administered by the IRS. To maintain the license, they must complete annual continuing education that is reported to the IRS. Members of the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) are obligated to complete additional continuing education and adhere to a code of ethics and rules of professional conduct.

Be Smart About Security at Tax Time

Although the IRS reports a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season, there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself.

Here are nine hints that can help:

  1. Beware of IRS Impersonators. Some crooks call taxpayers to say they must settle their “tax bill.” These are fake calls and often demand payment on prepaid debit cards, gift cards or wire transfers. Also, students should know there’s no “Federal Student Tax.” If you get any unexpected calls, e-mails, letters or texts from someone claiming to be from the IRS, remember, the IRS never calls to demand immediate payment using a specific method nor will it threaten you with local law enforcement.
  2. Understand and Use Security Software. Security software helps protect computers against digital threats online. Generally, the operating system will include security software or you can access free security software from well-known companies or Internet providers. Essential tools include a firewall, virus and malware protection, and file encryption. Don’t buy security software offered as an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or e-mail. It’s likely from a scammer.
  3. Let Security Software Update Automatically. Malware—malicious software—evolves constantly and your security software suite updates routinely to keep pace.
  4. Look for the “S.” When shopping or banking online, see that the site uses encryption to protect your information. Look for “https” at the beginning of the Web address. The “s” is for secure. Additionally, make sure the https carries through on all pages, not just the sign-on page.
  5. Use Strong Passwords. Use passwords of eight or more characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use your name, birth date or common words. Don’t use the same password for several accounts. Keep your password list in a secure place or use a password manager. Don’t share passwords with anyone. Calls, texts or e-mails pretending to be from legitimate companies or the IRS asking to update accounts or seeking personal financial information are almost always scams.
  6. Secure Wireless Networks. A wireless network sends a signal through the air that lets it connect to the Internet. If your home or business Wi-Fi is unsecured, it also lets any computer within range access your wireless and potentially steal information from your computer. Criminals can also use your wireless to send spam or commit crimes that would be traced back to you. Always encrypt your wireless. Generally, you must turn on this feature and create a password.
  7. Be Cautious When Using Public Wireless Networks. Public Wi-Fi hot spots are convenient but often not secure. Tax or financial information you send though websites or mobile apps may be accessed by someone else. If a public Wi-Fi hot spot doesn’t require a password, it’s probably not secure.
  8. Avoid E-mail Phishing Attempts. Never reply to e-mails, texts or pop-up messages asking for personal, tax or financial information. One com-mon trick by criminals is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account and providing a link. They ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to file false tax returns. The sites may also infect your computer. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Go directly to the organization’s website. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through unsecured channels.
  9. Get Professional Advice. To make sure you can take advantage of all allowable tax-deferred savings, tax credits and deductions, consult with a licensed tax professional, your enrolled agent (EA). EAs are the only federally licensed tax professionals with unlimited rights of representation before the IRS. EAs abide by a code of ethics and must complete many hours of continuing education each year to ensure they are up-to-date on the constantly changing tax code.

You can save money and trouble if you follow professional advice and your own good sense when taking care of taxes.

10 Year-End Tax-Planning Tips for Individuals

  1. Accelerate Deductions and Defer Income

It sometimes makes sense to accelerate deductions and defer income. There are plenty of income items and expenses you may be able to control. Consider deferring bonuses, consulting income or self-employment income. On the deduction side, you may be able to accelerate state and local income taxes, interest payments and real estate taxes.

  1. Bunch Itemized Deductions

Many expenses can be deducted only if they exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching itemized deductible expenses into one year can help you exceed these AGI floors. Consider scheduling your costly non-urgent medical procedures in a single year to exceed the 10 percent AGI floor for medical expenses (7.5 percent for taxpayers age 65 and older). This may mean moving a procedure into this year or postponing it until next year. To exceed the 2 percent AGI floor for miscellaneous expenses, bunch professional fees like legal advice and tax planning, as well as unreimbursed business expenses such as travel and vehicle costs.

  1. Make Up a Tax Shortfall with Increased Withholding

Don’t forget that taxes are due throughout the year. Check your withholding and estimated tax payments now while you have time to fix a problem. If you’re in danger of an underpayment penalty, try to make up the shortfall by increasing withholding on your salary or bonuses. A bigger estimated tax payment can leave you exposed to penalties for previous quarters, while withholding is considered to have been paid ratably throughout the year.

  1. Leverage Retirement Account Tax Savings

It’s not too late to increase contributions to a retirement account. Traditional retirement accounts like a 401(k) or individual retirement accounts (IRAs) still offer some of the best tax savings. Contributions reduce taxable income at the time that you make them, and you don’t pay taxes until you take the money out at retirement. The 2016 contribution limits are $18,000 for a 401(k) and $5,500 for an IRA (not including catch-up contributions for those 50 years of age and older).

  1. Reconsider a Roth IRA Rollover

It has become very popular in recent years to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. This type of rollover allows you to pay tax on the conversion in exchange for no taxes in the future (if withdrawals are made properly). If you converted your account this year, reexamine the rollover. If the value went down, you have until your extended filing deadline to reverse the conversion. That way, you may be able to perform a conversion later and pay less tax.

  1. Get Your Charitable House in Order

If you plan on giving to charity before the end of the year, remember that a cash contribution must be documented to be deductible. If you claim a charitable deduction of more than $500 in donated property, you must attach Form 8283. If you are claiming a deduction of $250 or more for a car donation, you will need a contemporaneous written acknowledgement from the charity that includes a description of the car. Remember, you cannot deduct donations to individuals, social clubs, political groups or foreign organizations.

  1. Give Directly from an IRA

Congress finally made permanent a provision that allow taxpayers 70½ and older to make tax-free charitable distributions from IRAs. Using your IRA distributions for charitable giving could save you more than taking a charitable deduction on a normal gift. That’s because these IRA distributions for charitable giving won’t be included in income at all, lowering your AGI. You’ll see the difference in many AGI-based computations where the below-the-line deduction for charitable giving doesn’t have any effect. Even better, the distribution to charity will still count toward the satisfaction of your minimum required distribution for the year.

  1. Zero out AMT

Some high-income taxpayers must pay the alternative minimum tax (AMT) because the AMT removes key deductions. The silver lining is that the top AMT tax rate is only 28 percent. So you can “zero out” the AMT by accelerating income into the AMT year until the tax you calculate for regular tax and AMT are the same. Although you will have paid tax sooner, you will have paid at an effective tax rate less than the top regular tax rate of 39.6 percent. But be careful, this can backfire if you are in the AMT phase-out range or the additional income affects other tax benefits.

  1. Don’t Squander Your Gift Tax Exclusion

You can give up to $14,000 to as many people as you wish in 2016, free of gift or estate tax. You get a new annual gift tax exclusion every year, so don’t let it go to waste. You and your spouse can use your exemptions together to give up to $28,000 per beneficiary.

  1. Leverage Historically Low Interest Rates

Many estate and gift tax strategies hinge on the ability of assets to appreciate faster than the interest rates prescribed by the IRS. An appreciating market and historically low rates create the perfect atmosphere for estate planning. The past several years presented a historically favorable time, and the low rates won’t last forever

 

Not sure what to do?  Give our office a call!!  663-8686

 

Keep Track of Miscellaneous Deductions

Miscellaneous deductions can cut taxes. These may include certain expenses you paid for in your work if you are an employee. You must itemize deductions when you file to claim these costs. So if you usually claim the standard deduction, think about itemizing instead. You might pay less tax if you itemize.  Here are some IRS tax tips you should know that may help you reduce your taxes:

Deductions Subject to the Limit.  You can deduct most miscellaneous costs only if their sum is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income. These include expenses such as

  • Unreimbursed employee expenses.
  • Job search costs for a new job in the same line of work.
  • Some work clothes and uniforms.
  • 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 property such as stocks, bonds and works of art.
  • Gambling losses up to the total of your gambling winnings.
  • Losses from Ponzi-type investment schemes.

There are many expenses that you can’t deduct. For example, you can’t deduct personal living or family expenses. You claim allowable miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. For more about this topic see Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms at any time.

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015-09, July 22, 2015

Top 10 Tax Facts about Exemptions and Dependents

IRS Tax Tip 2015-05, January 26, 2015

Nearly everyone can claim an exemption on their tax return. It usually lowers your taxable income. In most cases, that reduces the amount of tax you owe for the year. Here are the top 10 tax facts about exemptions to help you file your tax return.

  1. E-file your tax return.  Filing electronically is the easiest way to file a complete and accurate tax return. The software that you use to e-file will help you determine the number of exemptions that you can claim. E-file options include free Volunteer Assistance, IRS Free File, commercial software and professional assistance.
  2. 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 $3,950 for each exemption you claim on your 2014 tax return.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. For more on these rules, see IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. You can get Publication 501 on IRS.gov. Just click on the “Forms & Pubs” tab on the home page.
  5. 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 2014 tax return.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 the amount of their income, whether they are married and if they owe certain taxes.
  8. 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 is your dependent.
  9. Exemption phase-out.  The $3,950 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. See Publication 501 for details.
  10. Try the IRS online tool.  Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if a person qualifies as your dependent.

Six Tips on Who Should File a 2014 Tax Return

IRS Tax Tip 2015-03, January 22, 2015

Most people file their tax return because they have to, but even if you don’t, there are times when you should. You may be eligible for a tax refund and not know it. This year, there are a few new rules for some who must file. Here are six tax tips to help you find out if you should file a tax return:

  1. General Filing Rules.  Whether you need to file a tax return 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 $10,150. 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. Go to IRS.gov/filing to find out if you need to file.
  2. New for 2014: Premium Tax Credit.  If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you may be eligible for the new Premium Tax Credit. You will need to file a return to claim the credit. If you purchased coverage from the Marketplace in 2014 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 receive Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, by early February. The new form will have information that will help you file your tax return.
  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 $52,427 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 $6,143. Use the 2014 EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to find out if you qualify. If you do, 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 is available for four years of post secondary education and can be up to $2,500 per eligible student.  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. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can claim the credit. Learn more by visiting the IRS’ Education Credits Web page.

Six Common Myths Regarding Income Tax

By:  Isaac M O’Bannon, Managing Editor CPA Practice Advisor

While millions of American taxpayers wait for their W-2, 1099 and other important tax documents to arrive in the mail, their thoughts turn to the often-dreaded prospect of filing their 2014 tax returns.

With all the annual changes to the tax rules and its complexity, it’s not surprising that millions of Americans hire a paid preparer. After all, asking questions or searching the Web for answers often leads to more confusion and misconceptions, because when it comes to taxes, one standard answer usually does not fit all.

The National Association of Enrolled Agents, an organization of federally licensed tax professionals, has pointed out six frequently-encountered tax myths.

Myth 1: “I’m filing an extension this year, so I don’t need to pay anything yet.”

Fact: Tax extensions only extend the time you have left to file, and do not change the date on which you have to pay taxes owed. If you owe taxes and file an extension, you still have to pay the taxes owed by April 15, regardless of the extended deadline date. Otherwise, interest and penalties begin to stack up.

Myth 2: “I had a really big loss in the stock market this year, so I won’t owe any income taxes.”

Fact: Deduction of capital losses against ordinary income is limited to $3,000 per year. Also, whether you reinvest or receive dividends, they are income and are taxed as such.

Myth 3: “They paid me in cash, so I don’t have to report it.”

Fact: If it’s income, you must report it. You must always report income, regardless of whether it’s cash, tips, bonuses or dividends.

Myth 4: “I’m too young to have to pay taxes.”

Fact: Even dependents working part-time while in high school must file a tax return if they earned more than $6,200 in 2014, if they want to receive their refund or if their unearned income is more than $1,000.  There are numerous other situations that may lead to a dependent having to file a tax return. To be safe, consider consulting a licensed tax professional.

Myth 5: “Income earned outside the U.S. is not taxable.”

Fact: The operative word is “income,” which means it’s taxable. The IRS requires taxpayers to report all earned income, even if it’s earned abroad.

Myth 6: “Tax preparers only fill out forms that you can do yourself.”

Fact: Licensed preparers know the intricate (and constantly changing) tax laws, regulations and codes, and how they can be applied for your benefit to save you money. Enrolled agents receive IRS-approved annual continuing education, ensuring that they have the most up-to-date strategies to make sure you pay only what you owe and get any refunds you are due. Enrolled agents, CPAs and tax attorneys are also the only tax professionals who can represent taxpayers before the IRS.

IRS Urges Taxpayers to Choose a Tax Preparer Wisely

More than half of taxpayers hire a professional when it’s time to file a tax return. Even if you don’t prepare your own Form 1040, you’re still legally responsible for what is on it.

A tax return preparer is trusted with your most personal information. They know about your marriage, your income, your children and your Social Security numbers – all of the sensitive details of your financial life. If you pay someone to prepare your federal income tax return, the IRS urges you to choose that person wisely. To do that, take some time to understand a few essentials.

Most tax return preparers provide outstanding service. However, each year, some taxpayers are hurt financially because they choose the wrong tax return preparer. 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. Every year, these types of tax preparers face everything from penalties to even jail time for defrauding their clients.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax preparer:

  • Check to be sure the preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Anyone with a valid 2015 PTIN is authorized to prepare federal tax returns. Tax return preparers, however, have differing levels of skills, education and expertise. An important difference in the types of practitioners is “representation rights”. You can learn more about the several different types of return preparers on IRS.gov/chooseataxpro.
  • Ask the tax preparer if they have a professional credential (enrolled agent, certified public accountant, or attorney), belong to a professional organization or attend continuing education classes. A number of tax law changes, including the Affordable Care Act provisions, can be complex. A competent tax professional needs to be up-to-date in these matters. Tax return preparers aren’t required to have a professional credential, but make sure you understand the qualifications of the preparer you select.
  • Check on the service fees upfront. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can.
  • Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
  • Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file and ask that your return be submitted to the IRS electronically. Any tax professional who gets paid to prepare and file more than 10 returns generally must file the returns electronically. It’s the safest and most accurate way to file a return, whether you do it alone or pay someone to prepare and file for you.
  • Make sure the preparer will be available. Make sure you’ll be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions come up about your tax return.
  • Provide records and receipts. Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask you questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not rely on a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
  • Never sign a blank return. Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign an incomplete or blank tax form.
  • Review your return before signing. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
  • Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN. Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
  • Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax return preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms on IRS.gov.

IRS FS-2014-11, December 2014

With the complications associated with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) it is very important for you to get assistance with filing your tax return this season.  Please give us a call with any questions concerning your return preparation.  We have PROFESSIONALS on staff that know the answers!

Four Good Reasons to Direct Deposit Your Refund

Would you choose direct deposit this year if you knew it’s the most popular way to get a federal tax refund? What if you learned it’s safe and easy, and combined with e-file, the fastest way to get a tax refund? The fact is almost 84 million taxpayers chose direct deposit in 2013.

Still not sure it’s for you? Here are four good reasons to choose direct deposit:

  1. Convenience.  With direct deposit, your refund goes directly into your bank account. There’s no need to make a trip to the bank to deposit a check.
  2. Security.  Since your refund goes directly into your account, there’s no risk of your refund check being stolen or lost in the mail.
  3. Ease.  Choosing direct deposit is easy. When you do your taxes, just follow the instructions in the tax software or with your tax forms. Be sure to enter the correct bank account and routing number.
  4. Options.  You can split your refund among up to three financial accounts. Checking, savings and certain retirement, health and education accounts may qualify. Use IRS Form 8888, Allocation of Refund (Including Savings Bond Purchases), to split your refund. Don’t use Form 8888 to designate part of your refund to pay your tax preparer.

You should deposit your refund directly into accounts that are in your own name, your spouse’s name or both. Don’t deposit it in accounts owned by others. Some banks require both spouses’ names on the account to deposit a tax refund from a joint return. Check with your bank for their direct deposit requirements.

Have questions?  Give us a call!!

 

 

IRS Tax Tip 2014-15, February 18, 2014

IRS App for your Smartphone??

This is not something that you would think would be a MUST HAVE for your smart phone but is pretty cool to track your tax refund.

Check refund status. Instead of having the client continuously calling you, the app includes an easy-to-use refund status tracker so taxpayers can follow their tax return step-by-step throughout the IRS process. Just have them enter their social security number, filing status and the expected refund amount. Your client can start checking on the status of their refund 24 hours after the IRS confirms receipt of an e-filed return or four weeks after mailing a paper return. Since the IRS posts refund updates on a daily basis, there’s no need to check the status more than once each day.

Go to your playstore and the app is called IRS2GO.

Have questions about your refund or preparation of your tax return?  Give us a call.