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 Relief for Those Affected By Natural Disasters
With hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters affecting so many people throughout the US this year, many have been left wondering how they're going to pay for the cleanup or when their businesses will be able to reopen. The good news is that there is some relief for tax payers--but only if you meet certain conditions.
Recovery efforts after natural disasters can be costly. For instance, when Hurricane Irene struck last year causing widespread flooding, many homeowners were not covered because most standard insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
Tax Relief for Homeowners
Fortunately, personal casualty losses are deductible on your tax return as long as the property is located in a federally declared disaster zone AND these four conditions are met:
1. The loss was caused by a sudden, unexplained, or unusual event.
Natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires all qualify as sudden, unexplained, or unusual events.
2. The damages were not covered by insurance.
You can only claim a deduction for casualty losses that are not covered or reimbursed by your insurance company. The catch here is that if you submit a claim to your insurance company late in the year, your claim could still be pending come tax time. If that happens you can file an extension on your taxes. Call us if you need help filing an extension or have any questions about what losses you can deduct.
3. Your losses were sufficient to overcome reductions required by the IRS.
The IRS requires several "reductions" in order to claim casualty losses on your tax forms. The first is that effective December 31, 2009 you must subtract $100 from the total loss amount. This is referred to as the $100 loss limit.
Second, you must reduce the amount by 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) or adjusted gross income. For example, if your AGI is $25,000 and your insurance company paid for all of the losses you incurred as a result of flooding except $3,100 you would first subtract $100 and then reduce that amount by $2500. The amount you could deduct as a loss would be $500.
4. You must itemize.
As it now stands, you must itemize your taxes in order to claim the deduction. If you normally don't itemize, but have a large casualty loss you can calculate your taxes both ways to figure out which one gives you the lowest tax bill. Contact us if you need assistance figuring out which method is best for your circumstances.
Tax Relief for Individuals and Business Owners
The IRS often provides tax relief for those affected by natural disasters. For example, individuals and businesses affected by Hurricane Isaac with tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred on or after August 26, 2012 have until January 11, 2013 to file their returns and pay any taxes due. This includes corporations and businesses that previously obtained an extension until September 17, 2012, to file their 2011 returns and individuals and businesses that received a similar extension until October 15. It also includes the estimated tax payment for the third quarter of 2012, normally due September 17. If you've been affected by a natural disaster, please call our office. We'll help you figure out when your tax payments are due.
Tax Relief Tips
The IRS also states that you have two options when it comes to deducting casualty losses on your tax returns. You can deduct the losses in the year in which they occurred or claim them for the prior year's return. So if you were affected by a natural disaster this year you can claim your losses on your 2012 tax return or amend your 2011 tax return and deduct your losses. If you choose to deduct losses on your 2011 tax return, then you have one year from the date the tax return was due to file it.
Confused about whether you qualify for tax relief after a recent natural disaster? Give us a call. We'll help you figure out the best way to handle casualty losses related to hurricanes and other natural disasters.
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Lending Money to Family? Make it a Tax-Smart Loan
Lending money to a cash-strapped family member or friend 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 down the road.
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. Further, if the imaginary interest payments exceed $13,000 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.
In addition, 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 change 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.
If you have questions about the tax implications of loaning a family member money, don't hesitate to call us. We're here to help.
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Living Trusts 101
A trust, like a corporation, is an entity that exists only on paper but is legally capable of owning property. However, a live person called the trustee must be in charge of the property. Further, you can actually be the trustee of your own living trust, keeping full control over all property legally owned by the trust.
Note: Property held in trust that is actually "owned" by the trustees of the trust, subject to the rights of the beneficiaries. The trust itself doesn't actually own anything.
There are many kinds of trusts. A living trust (also called an inter vivos trust) is simply a trust you create while you're alive, rather than one that is created upon your death under the terms of your will.
All living trusts are designed to avoid probate. Some also help you save on estate taxes, while others let you set up long-term property management.
Do I need a living trust?
Property you transfer into a living trust before your death doesn't go through probate. The successor trustee, the person you appointed to handle the trust after your death, simply transfers ownership to the beneficiaries you named in the trust.
In many cases, the whole process takes only a few weeks and there are no attorney or court fees to pay. When the property has all been transferred to the beneficiaries, the living trust ceases to exist.
Is it expensive to create a living trust?
The cost of creating a living trust depends on what you want to achieve. The more complicated a living trust is, the more expensive it will be. Also important to note is that while the fees associated with creating a living will are paid upfront a living trust actually saves you money and time by avoiding probate court.
Is a trust document ever made public, like a will?
A will becomes a matter of public record when it is submitted to a probate court, as do all the other documents associated with probate - inventories of the deceased person's assets and debts, for example. The terms of a living trust, however, need not be made public.
Does a trust protect property from creditors?
Holding assets in a revocable trust does not shelter those assets from creditors. A creditor who wins a lawsuit against you can go after the trust property just as if you still owned it in your own name.
After your death, however, property in a living trust can be quickly and quietly distributed to the beneficiaries (unlike property that must go through probate). That complicates matters for creditors; by the time they find out about your death, your property may already be dispersed, and the creditors have no way of knowing exactly what you owned (except for real estate, which is always a matter of public record). It may not be worth the creditor's time and effort to try to track down the property and demand that the new owners use it to pay your debts.
On the other hand, probate can offer a kind of protection from creditors. During probate, known creditors must be notified of the death and given a chance to file claims. If they miss the deadline to file, they're out of luck forever.
Do I need a trust if I'm young and healthy?
Probably not. At this stage in your life, your main estate planning goals are probably making sure that in the unlikely event of your premature death, your property is distributed how you want it to be and, if you have young children, that they are cared for. You don't need a trust to accomplish those ends; writing a will, and perhaps buying some life insurance is sufficient.
Can a living trust save taxes?
A simple probate-avoidance living trust has no effect on either income or estate taxes. More complicated living trusts, however, can greatly reduce your federal estate tax bill if you expect your estate to owe estate tax at your death.
If you're wondering whether you need a living trust give us a call. We'll help you figure out the answer.
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Hobby or Business? Why It Matters
Millions of Americans have hobbies such as sewing, woodworking, fishing, gardening, stamp and coin collecting, but when that hobby starts to turn a profit, it might just be considered a business by the IRS.
Definition of a Hobby vs a Business
The IRS defines a hobby as an activity that is not pursued for profit. A business, on the other hand, is an activity that is carried out with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.
The tax considerations are different for each activity so it's important for taxpayers to determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit as a business or is just a hobby for personal enjoyment.
Of course, you must report and pay tax on income from almost all sources, including hobbies. But when it comes to deductions such as expenses and losses, the two activities differ in their tax implications.
Is Your Hobby Actually a Business?
If you're not sure whether you're running a business or simply enjoying a hobby, here are some of the factors you should consider:
Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
Do you depend on income from the activity?
If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
Does the activity make a profit in some years?
Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?
An activity is presumed to be for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (or at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training, or racing horses).
The IRS says that it looks at all facts when determining whether a hobby is for pleasure or business, but the profit test is the primary one. If the activity earned income in three out of the last five years, it is for profit. If the activity does not meet the profit test, the IRS will take an individualized look at the facts of your activity using the list of questions above to determine whether it's a business or a hobby. (It should be noted that this list is not all-inclusive.)
Business Activity: If the activity is determined to be a business, you can deduct ordinary and necessary expenses for the operation of the business on a Schedule C or C-EZ on your Form 1040 without considerations for percentage limitations. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate for your business.
Hobby: If an activity is a hobby, not for profit, losses from that activity may not be used to offset other income. You can only deduct expenses up to the amount of income earned from the hobby. These expenses, with other miscellaneous expenses, are itemized on Schedule A and must also meet the 2 percent limitation of your adjusted gross income in order to be deducted.
What Are Allowable Hobby Deductions?
If your activity is not carried on for profit, allowable deductions cannot exceed the gross receipts for the activity.
Note: Internal Revenue Code Section 183 (Activities Not Engaged in for Profit) limits deductions that can be claimed when an activity is not engaged in for profit. IRC 183 is sometimes referred to as the "hobby loss rule."
Deductions for hobby activities are claimed as itemized deductions on Schedule A, Form 1040. These deductions must be taken in the following order and only to the extent stated in each of three categories:
Deductions that a taxpayer may claim for certain personal expenses, such as home mortgage interest and taxes, may be taken in full.
Deductions that don't result in an adjustment to the basis of property, such as advertising, insurance premiums, and wages, may be taken next, to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions from the first category.
Deductions that reduce the basis of property, such as depreciation and amortization, are taken last, but only to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions taken in the first two categories.
If your hobby is regularly generating income, it could make tax sense for you to consider it a business because you might be able to lower your taxes and take certain deductions.
Still wondering whether your hobby is actually a business? Give us a call, we'll help you figure it out.
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Moving This Year? 10 Helpful Tax Tips
If you 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 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. Call us for 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 drivers 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. Call us if you have any questions.
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 us if you need help figuring out the amount of your deduction for moving expenses. We are here to help.
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Take Advantage of Miscellaneous Deductions
A tax deduction reduces the amount of your taxable income and generally reduces the amount of taxes you may have to pay. If you are able to itemize your deductions on your tax return instead of claiming the standard deduction, you may be able to claim certain miscellaneous deductions. Here are some things you should know about miscellaneous tax deductions:
Deductions Subject to the 2 Percent Limit. You can deduct the amount of certain miscellaneous expenses that exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Deductions subject to the 2 percent limit include:
Unreimbursed employee expenses such as searching for a new job in the same profession, certain work clothes and uniforms, work tools, union dues, and work-related travel and transportation.
Tax preparation fees.
Other expenses that you pay to:
1. Produce or collect taxable income,
2. Manage, conserve, or maintain property held to produce taxable income, or
3. Determine, contest, pay, or claim a refund of any tax.
Examples of other expenses include certain investment fees and expenses, some legal fees, hobby expenses that are not more than your hobby income and rental fees for a safe deposit box if it is not used to store jewelry and other personal effects.
Deductions Not Subject to the 2 Percent Limit. The list of deductions not subject to the 2 percent limit of adjusted gross income includes:
Casualty and theft losses from income-producing property such as damage or theft of stocks, bonds, gold, silver, vacant lots, and works of art.
Gambling losses up to the amount of gambling winnings.
Impairment-related work expenses of persons with disabilities.
Losses from Ponzi-type investment schemes.
Qualified miscellaneous deductions are reported on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Keep records of your miscellaneous deductions to make it easier for you to prepare your tax return when the filing season arrives.
There are also many expenses that you cannot deduct such as personal living or family expenses. Call us today if you have questions about miscellaneous deductions.
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Do You Qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit?
Millions of Americans forfeit critical tax relief each year by failing to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal tax credit for low-to-moderate-income individuals who work. Taxpayers who qualify and claim the credit could owe less federal tax, owe no tax, or even receive a refund.
The EITC is based on the amount of your earned income and whether or not there are qualifying children in your household. If you have children, they must meet the relationship, age, and residency requirements. Additionally, you must be a US citizen, have a valid social security card, and file a tax return to claim the credit.
General requirements: If you were employed for at least part of 2012 and are at least age 25, but under age 65, and are not a dependent of anyone else you may be eligible for the EITC based on these general requirements:
You earned less than $13,980 ($19,190 married filing jointly) and did not have any qualifying children.
You earned less than $36,920 ($42,130 married filing jointly) and have one qualifying child.
You earned less than $41,952 ($47,162 married filing jointly) with two or more qualifying children.
You earned less than $45,060 ($50,270 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children.
Tax Year 2012 Maximum Credit
$5,891 with three or more qualifying children
$5,236 with two or more qualifying children
$3,169 with one qualifying child
$475 with no qualifying children
Investment income must be $3,200 or less for the year.
If you think you qualify for the EITC but aren't sure, call our office.
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Five Important Tips on Gambling Income and Losses
Whether you roll the dice, bet on the ponies, play cards or enjoy slot machines, you should know that as a casual gambler, your gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported on your income tax return. You can also deduct your gambling losses...but only up to the extent of your winnings.
Here are five important tips about gambling and taxes:
1. Gambling income includes, but is not limited to, winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races, and casinos. It includes cash winnings and the fair market value of prizes such as cars and trips.
2. If you receive a certain amount of gambling winnings or if you have any winnings that are subject to federal tax withholding, the payer is required to issue you a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings. The payer must give you a W-2G if you receive:
$1,200 or more in gambling winnings from bingo or slot machines;
$1,500 or more in proceeds (the amount of winnings minus the amount of the wager) from keno;
More than $5,000 in winnings (reduced by the wager or buy-in) from a poker tournament;
$600 or more in gambling winnings (except winnings from bingo, keno, slot machines, and poker tournaments) and the payout is at least 300 times the amount of the wager; or
Any other gambling winnings subject to federal income tax withholding.
3. Generally, you report all gambling winnings on the "Other income" line of Form 1040, U.S. Federal Income Tax Return.
4. You can claim your gambling losses up to the amount of your winnings on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, under 'Other Miscellaneous Deductions.' You must report the full amount of your winnings as income and claim your allowable losses separately. You cannot reduce your gambling winnings by your gambling losses and report the difference. Your records should also show your winnings separately from your losses.
5. Keep accurate records. If you are going to deduct gambling losses, you must have receipts, tickets, statements and documentation such as a diary or similar record of your losses and winnings.
If you have questions about gambling income and losses, don't hesitate to call us.
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Tax Due Dates for October 2012
Note: September due dates were extended to January 2013 for areas impacted by Hurricane Isaac. See article "Tax Relief for Those Affected By Natural Disasters" in this newsletter.
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.
Individuals - If you have an automatic 6-month extension to file your income tax return for 2011, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ and pay any tax, interest, and penalties due.
Electing Large Partnerships - File a 2011 calendar-year return (Form 1065-B). This due date applies only if you were given an additional 6-month extension. See March 15 for the due date for furnishing the Schedules K-1 to the partners.
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.
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File form 941 for the third quarter of 2012. 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 13 to file the return.
Certain Small Employers - Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2012 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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