This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.
Tax planning presents more challenges than usual this year due to the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), which was signed into law on January 2, 2013, as well as certain tax provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 taking effect in 2013 and 2014.
Tax planning strategies for individuals this year--and for the next several years--require careful consideration of taxable income in relation to threshold amounts that might bump a taxpayer into a higher or lower tax bracket, thus, subjecting him or her to additional taxes such as the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) or an additional Medicare tax.
Even so, there are several more general tax planning strategies taxpayers might consider such as:
Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.
Accelerating income into 2013 is an especially good idea for taxpayers who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year or whose earnings are close to threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married filing jointly) that make them liable for additional Medicare tax or NIIT (see below).
Here are several examples of what a taxpayer might do to accelerate income:
Threshold expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI). By bunching these expenses into one year, rather than spreading them out over two years, you have a better chance of exceeding the thresholds, thereby maximizing your deduction.
In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of accelerating income and deductions might allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2013, depending on your situation.
The latter benefits include Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child credits, higher education tax credits and deductions for student loan interest.
Caution: Taxpayers close to threshold amounts for the Net Investment Income Tax (3.8% of net investment income) should pay close attention to "one-time" income spikes such as those associated with Roth conversions, sale of a home or other large assets that may be subject to tax.
If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, increasing your withholding before year-end can avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due.
On the other hand, the penalty could be avoided by covering the extra tax in your final estimated tax payment and computing the penalty using the annualized income method.
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% 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 2013 tax return next April.
Alternate Minimum Tax
The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) was made permanent by ATRA and is indexed for inflation. It's important not to overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2013 and 2014.
Items that may affect AMT include deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions.
Note: AMT exemption amounts for 2013 are as follows:
Please call us if you'd like more information or if you're not sure whether AMT applies to you. We're happy to assist you.
Strategize Tuition Payments
The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which offsets higher education expenses, was extended to the end of 2017. It may be beneficial to pay 2014 tuition in 2013 to take full advantage of this tax credit, which is up to $2,500 per student.
Residential Energy Tax Credits
Non-Business Energy Credits
ATRA extended the non-business energy credit, which expired in 2011, through 2013 (retroactive to 2012). You may claim a credit of 10 percent of the cost of certain energy saving property that you added to your main home. This includes the cost of qualified insulation, windows, doors and roofs, as well as biomass stoves with a thermal efficiency rating of at least 75%.
In some cases, you may be able to claim the actual cost of certain qualified energy-efficient property. Each type of property has a different dollar limit. Examples include the cost of qualified water heaters and qualified heating and air conditioning systems.
To qualify for the credit, your main home must be an existing home located in the United States. New construction and rentals do not qualify. The credit has a maximum lifetime limit of $500; however, only $200 of this limit can be used for windows.
Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify, so be sure you have the manufacturer's credit certification statement. It is usually available on the manufacturer's website or with the product's packaging.
Residential Energy Efficient Property Credits
The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit is available to individual taxpayers to help pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment and residential wind turbines. Qualifying equipment must have been installed on or in connection with your home located in the United States.
Geothermal pumps, solar energy systems, and residential wind turbines can be installed in both principal residences and second homes (existing homes and new construction), but not rentals. Fuel cell property qualifies only when it is installed in your principal residence (new construction or existing home). Rentals and second homes do not qualify.
The tax credit is 30% of the cost of the qualified property, with no cap on the amount of credit available, except for fuel cell property.
Generally, labor costs can be included when figuring the credit. Any unused portions of this credit can be carried forward. Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify so be sure you have the manufacturer's tax credit certification statement, which can usually be found on the manufacturer's website or with the product packaging.
What's included in this tax credit?
Property, as well as money, can be donated to a charity. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the property; however, for certain property, the deduction is limited to your cost basis. While you can also donate your services to charity, you may not deduct the value of these services. You may also be able to deduct charity-related travel expenses and some out-of-pocket expenses, however.
Keep in mind that a written record of charitable contribution is required in order to qualify for a deduction. A donor may not claim a deduction for any contribution of cash, a check or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a cancelled check) or written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.
Tip: Contributions of appreciated property (i.e. stock) provide an additional benefit because you avoid paying capital gains on any profit.
Investment Gains And Losses
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% in 2013 for high income earners ($400,000 single filers, $450,000 married filing jointly).
If your tax bracket is either 10% or 15% (married couples making less than $72,500 or single filers making less than $36,250), 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%), the maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains is capped at 20% for tax year 2013 and beyond.
Net Investment Income Tax
Starting in 2013, a 3.8 percent tax 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). This information is something to think about as you plan your long term investments.
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 2013 might want to take gains; whereas taxpayers above threshold amounts might want to take losses.
In addition, consider, where feasible, to reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000 as well.
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 securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. 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., 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).
Please call us 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 2013. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends. In late December of 2013, 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.
Be sure to call us 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 $5.25 million increases to $5.340 million in 2014. 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 2013, 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 from 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, then don't hesitate to call us. We can help you set it up.
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 2013 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 us 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 is 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 5% dividend rate.
Caution: In 2013, 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 $2,000 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 need to actually 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 ($17,500 for 2013), plus an additional catch up contribution of $5,500 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this much 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% of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later, and 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 2013, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,250 (no change in 2014) for single coverage or $2,500 (no change in 2014) for a family.
These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact us for help in implementing these or other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable to your particular situation.
There are a number of end of year tax strategies businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2013. Here's the lowdown on some of the best options.
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 2013 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $500,000 for the first $2,000,000 of property placed in service by December 31, 2013. Also in 2013, businesses can take advantage of an accelerated first year bonus depreciation of 50% of the purchase price of new equipment and software placed in service by December 31, 2013 that exceeds the threshold amount of $200,000,000. This bonus depreciation is phased out in 2014.
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 our office if you have any questions regarding qualified property and bonus depreciation.
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.
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.
If you're planning on buying equipment for your business, call us first. We'll help you figure out the best time to buy it to take full advantage of these tax rules.
Other Year-End Moves To Take Advantage Of
Partnership or S-Corporation Basis. Partners or S corporation shareholders in entities that have a loss for 2013 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.
Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2013. Call us 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.
For more on this topic, see the article below about common budgeting errors, but if you need help developing a budget for your business don't hesitate to call us today.
Call Us First
These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2013. But the best advice we can give you is to give us a call. We'll sit down with you, discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.
When it comes to creating a budget, it's essential to estimate your spending as realistically as possible. Here are three budget-related errors commonly made by small businesses, and some tips for avoiding them.
Call our office if you want to discuss setting up a budget to meet your business financial goals. We're happy to help.
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. If you're a taxpayer with foreign income, here's what you should know:
1. Report Worldwide Income. The law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income. This includes income from foreign trusts, and foreign bank and securities accounts.
2. Review the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. Many Americans who live and work abroad qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion. This means taxpayers who qualify will not pay taxes on up to $97,600 of their wages and other foreign earned income they received in 2013. Please contact me if you have any questions about foreign earned income exclusion.
3. 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.
4. File Required Tax Forms. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to file Schedule B, Interest and Ordinary Dividends, with their tax returns. Some taxpayers may need to file additional forms with the Treasury Department such as Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets or Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. Please contact me if you're not sure which forms you need to file.
5. 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. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to fill out and attach Schedule B to their tax return. Certain taxpayers may also have to fill out and attach to their return Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets.
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.
Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds.
Please contact us 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.
Separately, taxpayers with foreign accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2013 must file Treasury Department Form TD F 90-22.1. This is not a tax form and is due to the Treasury Department by June 30, 2014. If you need help with this, please don't hesitate to call us.
6. Consider the Automatic Extension. U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad on April 15, 2014, may qualify for an automatic two-month extension to file their 2013 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.
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, please don't hesitate to contact us.
The 2014 filing season is likely to be delayed one to two weeks to allow adequate time to program and test tax processing systems following the 16-day federal government closure.
A final decision will be announced in December, Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said.
The original start date of the 2014 filing season was Jan. 21, and with a one- to two-week delay, the IRS would start accepting and processing 2013 individual tax returns no earlier than January 28 and no later than February 4.
Programming, testing, and deployment of more than 50 IRS systems is needed to handle processing of nearly 150 million tax returns. Updating these core systems is a complex, year-round process with the majority of the work beginning in the fall of each year.
The government closure came during the peak period for preparing IRS systems for the 2014 filing season. About 90 percent of IRS operations were closed during the shutdown, with some major work streams closed entirely during this period, putting the IRS nearly three weeks behind its tight timetable for being ready to start the 2014 filing season.
IRS processes, applications and databases must be updated annually to reflect tax law updates, business process changes, and programming updates in time for the start of the filing season.
Additional training, programming and testing demands on IRS systems are also taking place this year in order to provide additional refund fraud and identity theft detection and prevention.
Following the 16-day closure, the IRS has experienced heavy demand on its toll-free telephone lines, walk-in sites and other services from taxpayers and tax practitioners; however, as is always the case, we are available to answer any tax questions you may have. Don't hesitate to call us.
If you're selling your main home this year, we have some helpful tips for you. Even if you make a profit from the sale of your home, you may not have to report it as income.
1. If you sell your home at a gain, you may be able to exclude part or all of the profit from your income. This rule generally applies if you've owned and used the property as your main home for at least two out of the five years before the date of sale.
2. You normally can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return). This excluded gain is also not subject to the new Net Investment Income Tax, which is effective in 2013.
3. If you can exclude all of the gain, you probably don't need to report the sale of your home on your tax return.
4. If you can't exclude all of the gain, or you choose not to exclude it, you'll need to report the sale of your home on your tax return. You'll also have to report the sale if you received a Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Please call us if you need assistance with this.
5. Generally, you can exclude a gain from the sale of only one main home per two-year period.
6. If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is usually the one you live in most of the time.
7. Special rules may apply when you sell a home for which you received the first-time homebuyer credit. Please call us if you need additional information about this topic.
8. You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.
9. When you sell your home and move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service. File Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS.
10. If you have any questions about the tax implications of selling your home, please give us a call.
Empowerment Zones are certain urban and rural areas where employers and other taxpayers qualify for special tax incentives. They were created by legislation enacted in 1993. Most zones had an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2009; however, subsequent legislation extended the expiration dates to Dec. 31, 2011, and then Dec. 31, 2013. As such, empowerment zone designations remain in effect through the end of the year.
In May, the IRS issued Notice 2012-38 to address the relevant provision of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Notice 2013-38 provided that any nomination for an empowerment zone in effect on Dec. 31, 2009, will have a new termination date of Dec. 31, 2013, unless the governing state or municipality declined the extension in a notification to the IRS.
The deadline for notification was July 29, 2013, and no state or municipality contacted the IRS to decline the extension. Therefore, all empowerment zone designations in effect on Dec. 31, 2009, remain in effect through Dec. 31, 2013.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 did not provide for the extension of the designation for the District of Columbia enterprise zone, and therefore that designation ended on Dec. 31, 2011.
Questions? Contact us today. We've got answers.
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