Tag Archives: Taxes

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.

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.

Expired Tax Breaks Renewed

At long last, Congress granted a reprieve for most of the expired tax provisions that had remained in limbo this year, but the late-breaking tax relief is only temporary.

The new legislation – the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 – restores these tax breaks retroactive to January 1, 2014. However the provisions expire again on December 31, 2014, so Congress will likely take up these measures again after the holidays. The president is expected to sign the approved bill into law.

The tax extenders cover a wide range of tax breaks both large and small for individuals and businesses. Here are ten of the most popular items for your clients.

1.State and local tax deductions: In lieu of deducting state and local income taxes, a taxpayer may elect to deduct states sales taxes. Deductions are based on actual receipts or a state-by-state table (plus sales tax paid for certain big-ticket items).

2.Section 179 deductions: A business can currently deduct, or “expense,” up to $500,000 of qualified assets placed in service in 2014, subject to a phaseout threshold of $2 million. Prior to the latest extension, the maximum allowance was just $25,000 with a $200,000 phaseout threshold.

3.Bonus depreciation: A separate provision allows a business to claim 50% “bonus depreciation” for qualified assets placed in service in 2014. Note that bonus depreciation may be combined with the Section 179 deduction in some cases.

4.Charitable IRA rollover: If you’re over age 70½, you can roll over up to $100,000 of IRA proceeds to a charity without paying tax on the distribution. This technique is often used to satisfy the rules for required minimum distributions (RMDs).

5.Research credits: This popular tax credit, which has been extended numerous times in the past, provides a tax credit equal to 20% of qualified expenses exceeding a base amount. Alternatively, a business can elect to use a simplified 14% credit.

6.Tuition-and-fees deduction: Taxpayers may deduct tuition and fees paid to a college in lieu of claiming one of the higher education tax credits. However, the maximum deduction of $4,000 is phased out based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).

7.Hiring credits: The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is available to employers hiring workers from one of several disadvantaged groups. Generally, the maximum credit is $2,400 per worker, although it can be high as $9,600 for certain veterans.

8.Mortgage loan forgiveness: This provision authorizes a tax exclusion for mortgage loan forgiveness on debts up to $2 million. The exclusion is available only on debt forgiveness for a principal residence.

9.Home energy credits: The residential energy credit has existed in various forms for years. For 2014, a maximum $500 credit may be claimed for 10% of qualified energy-saving expenditures like new heating and air conditioning systems.

10.Teacher classroom expenses: Teachers and certain other educators are able to deduct up to $250 of their out-of-pocket classroom expenses. This deduction is claimed above-the-line.

 

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!

5 Tips to Keep More of Your Paycheck

Millions of American workers have received their W-2s (or will receive them soon, since January 31 was the deadline to send them), and they are the primary income reporting tool for most 1040 filers. They can be received in person, electronically or by mail. In addition to taxes, the W-2 also is used to determine future social security benefits, so it’s important to make sure the information on the form is accurate.

To help, the American Payroll Association has five tips for getting the most out of your W-2.

1. Verify you have received all of your W-2s. You should receive a W-2 form from every organization you received compensation from during 2013. If you do not receive one by early February, contact the company’s payroll department and request a ‘reissued statement’.

If you earned $600 or more from a single company for freelance or contract work, you should receive Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, instead of Form W-2 and will be responsible for all taxes on that income.

2. Verify your name and Social Security Number (SSN) match your social security card. The name and SSN on Form W-2 must match your social security card in order for you to receive your social security benefits. Ask your payroll department for a corrected Form W-2, if needed.

3. Review your Form W-2 against your final 2013 paystub. Contact your payroll department immediately if there are any discrepancies.

Important items to review on Form W-2: 

A.  The amount in Box 1 is likely to be smaller than your final 2013 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you participated in a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement savings plan.

B.  The Box 3 total should not exceed $113,700 – the 2013 social security wage base.

C.  It is likely that Boxes 1, 3, and 5 will be smaller than your final 2013 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you used pre-tax dollars to pay insurance premiums, or to contribute to flexible spending accounts.

4. Check for tax credits. Depending on your eligibility, you may qualify for thousands of dollars from the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Read the back of Form W-2 copies B, C, and 2 to determine your eligibility.

5. Give yourself an instant raise!  The average person overpays their taxes by nearly $250 a month. Adjust your Form W-4 to more closely match your tax liability. You could increase the money you receive in each paycheck.

 

 

CPA Practice Advisor 2/7/2014