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November 2011 Newsletter


Feature Articles

•    Year End Tax Saving Ideas For Individuals
•    Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses
•    Retirement Contributions Limits and Other Tax Benefits for 2012
•    Three Most Common Budgeting Errors


Tax Tips

•    Income from Foreign Sources
•    Check Your Withholdings
•    Expanded Adoption Credit


November Tax Due Dates  



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.

Year End Tax Saving Ideas For Individuals


There are a number of steps you might take by year-end to cut your 2011 tax bill, such as deferring income, accelerating deductions and capital gains planning.


Deferring Income

•    If you are planning on selling an investment this year on which you have a gain, it may be best to wait until the following tax year to defer payment of the taxes for another year (subject to estimated tax requirements).
•    If you are expecting a bonus at year-end, you may be able to defer receipt of these funds until January. This allows you to defer tax payments (other than the portion normally withheld) until the following year. However, keep in mind that you usually defer taxes on a bonus that is contractually due in 2011.
•    If your company grants stock options, it may be wise to wait until next year to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option. Exercise of the option is often but not always a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.
•    If you're self employed, and can afford the delay in cash inflow, defer sending invoices or bills to clients or customers until the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.


Accelerating Deductions

•    Pay a state estimated tax installment in December instead of at the January due date. However, make sure the payment is based on a reasonable estimate of your state tax.
•    Pay your entire property tax bill, including installments due in year 2012, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.
•    Try to bunch "threshold" expenses, such as medical expenses and miscellaneous itemized deductions. 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.

For example, you might pay medical bills and dues and subscriptions in whichever year they would do you the most tax good.

Caution: In most cases, credit cards charges are considered paid in the year of the charge regardless of when you pay on the card. This, however, does not apply to store revolving credit cards, so if you charge expenses on a Wal-Mart store credit card, the deduction can not be claimed until the bill is paid.

In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of deferring income and accelerating deductions may also allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2011. 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.

Tip: Deferring income into 2012 is an especially good idea for taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year, generally because of much-reduced income or much-increased deductible expenses.

Tip: It may pay to accelerate income into 2011 if you think your marginal tax rate will be much lower this year than it will be next year.

Tip: If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, increasing your withholding before year-end can avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due.

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.

If you have any questions about estimated taxes, please call us.

Caution: Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) no longer just impacts the wealthy! Do not overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2011.

Due to tax changes in recent years, AMT impacts many more taxpayers than ever before because the tax is not indexed to inflation. As a result, growing numbers of middle-income taxpayers have been finding themselves subject to this higher tax.

Items that may affect AMT include the deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions.

Note: AMT Exemption Amounts For 2011

•    $48,450 for single and head of household fliers;
•    $74,450 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers, and
•    $37,225 for married people filing separately.

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.


Residential Energy Tax Credits

If you haven't taken advantage of energy tax credits for your home, 2011 is your last chance. The credits--10% of cost up to $500 or a specific amount from $50 - $300--expire on December 31, 2011 and only apply to improvements in an existing home that is your principal residence. New construction and rentals do not qualify.

The tax credits are as follows:

•    Energy Star window tax credit: up to $200 maximum
•    Water heater tax credit (includes electric, natural gas, propane, or oil): up to $300 maximum
•    Air conditioner tax credit: up to $300 maximum
•    Insulation, doors, and roof credits: up to the $500 cap
•    Furnace tax credit (includes natural gas, propane, oil, or hot water): $150 maximum. Efficiency must be 95% (up from 90% before the extension)

Caution: Taxpayer is ineligible for this tax credit if this credit has already been claimed by the taxpayer in an amount of $500 in any previous year.


Make Charitable Contributions

You can donate property as well as money 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 gains, which are usually taxed at a much higher tax rate (up to 35%) than long-term gains, which in 2011 and 2012 are taxed at rates of zero and 15 percent depending on your tax bracket. Consider where feasible to reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000 as well.

Tip: 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).

Note: The maximum long term capital gains tax rate is currently 15 percent and will expire on December 31, 2012 when it's set to rise to a maximum of 20 percent. Also of note is that starting in 2013, a 3.8 percent medicare tax may also be applied to long term capital gains. This information is something to think about as you plan your long term investments.

Feel free to call us if you need assistance with any of your long term 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 2011. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends. In late December of 2011, 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.

Tip: Wait until after the dividend to buy the shares because the share net asset value will drop after the dividend is paid. Alternatively, buy the shares in 2011, but opt to take the dividend in cash instead of having it reinvested.

In spite of these tax consequences, it may 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.

Call us if you'd like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes.


Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate 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 $13,000 a year per donee.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn't carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2011, 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 $26,000 ($13,000 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 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 2011 are due the same date as your income tax return. Returns are required for gifts over $13,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $13,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $13,000, 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 $13,000.

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 2011, 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 $1,900 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 ($16,500 for 2011 and $17,000 for 2012, 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 $5,000 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 7.5% 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 2011, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,200 (single coverage) or $2,400 (family). It remains unchanged for 2012.


Summary

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.


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Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

There are a number of end of year tax strategies businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2011. 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 starting in tax year 2010 and continuing into tax year 2011, the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases increased to $500,000 ($535,000 for qualified enterprise zone property) and the bonus depreciation increased to 100% for qualified property. Beginning in tax year 2012 however, the Section 179 deduction is scheduled to drop to $125,000 and the bonus depreciation to be reduced to 50 percent and then be phased out completely.

In other words, in 2011 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to $500,000 (subject to a dollar-for-dollar reduction in that $500,000 for property placed in service that exceeds the maximum amount of $2,000,000).

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.

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

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.

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

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

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 2011 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 2011. 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, which continue to be taxed at the 15 percent rate through 2012.

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 2011. 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.


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Retirement Contributions Limits and Other Tax Benefits for 2012

The IRS has announced the maximum contribution limits for your 401(k) and other retirement plans for 2012. In general, many of the pension plan limitations will change for 2012 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. However, other limitations will remain unchanged. Highlights include:


1.    Individuals Limits for 401(k): Annual compensation limit $250,000 in 2012 (up from $245,000 in 2011); maximum annual contribution $17,000 in 2012 (up from $16,500 in 2011) with a $5,500 contributions for age 50 and older.
2.    Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE): Contribution limit $11,500 with a $2,500 catch up clause for age 50 and older. Remains unchanged from 2011.
3.    Individual Retirement Plans (IRAs): Maximum contribution $5,000 with a $1,000 catch up contribution for those age 50 and older. The contribution can be split between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA, but must not exceed $6,000. Remains unchanged from 2011.


Looking Ahead to 2012

The value of each personal and dependent exemption will increase $100 to $3,800 in 2012.

The new standard deduction is $11,900 in 2012 for married couples filing jointly. Individuals and married people filing separately will see the standard deduction rise to $5,950 and the standard deduction for head of household rises to $8,700. Nearly two out of three taxpayers take the standard deduction, rather than itemizing deductions.

Annual gift tax exclusion remains at $13,000 in 2012. The basic exclusion from estate tax amount increases to $5,120,000, from $5,000,000 in 2011


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Three Most Common Budgeting Errors

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.


1.    Not Setting Goals. It's almost impossible to set spending priorities without clear goals for the coming year. It's important to identify, in detail, your business and financial goals and what you want or need to achieve in your business.
2.    Underestimating Costs. Every business has ancillary or incidental costs that don't always make it into the budget--for whatever reason. A good example of this is buying a new piece of equipment or software. While you probably accounted for the cost of the equipment in your budget, you might not have remembered to budget time and money needed to train staff or for equipment maintenance.
3.    Failing to Adjust Your Budget. Don't be afraid to update your forecasted expenditures whenever new circumstances affect your business. Several times a year you should set aside time to compare budget estimates against the amount you actually spent, and then adjust your budget accordingly.

Call our office if you want to discuss setting up a budget to meet your business financial goals. We're happy to help.


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Income from Foreign Sources


Many U.S. citizens earn money from foreign sources. But unless it is exempt under federal law, taxpayers sometimes forget that they have to report all such income on their tax return.

U.S. citizens are taxed on their income regardless of whether they live inside or outside the United States. The foreign income rule also applies regardless of whether the person receives a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099.

Foreign source income includes earned and unearned income, such as:

o    Wages and tips
o    Interest
o    Dividends
o    Capital gains
o    Pensions
o    Rents
o    Royalties

But there is some good news. Citizens living outside the United States may be able to exclude up to $92,900 of their 2011 foreign source income if they meet certain requirements. This will increase to $95,100 in 2012.

If you're married and you and your spouse both work abroad and meet either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, each of you can choose the foreign earned income exclusion. Together, you can exclude as much as $185,800 for the 2011 tax year.

Caution: The exclusion does not apply to payments made to U.S. government employees or folks in the military living outside the United States.

If you earn income from outside the country, please be sure to meet with us about it. We can advise you on how to address all of the tax implications of this situation.


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Check Your Withholdings

With less than two months remaining in the calendar year, it's a great time to double check your federal withholding to make sure enough taxes are being taken out of your pay.


The average refund for 2010 was just over $3,000. Although in part due to tax credits associated with the economic stimulus package, it's still an increase of nearly 10 percent from the previous year. In addition, even though the Making Work Pay Tax Credit lowered tax withholding rates in 2010 for millions of American households, some workers and retirees still need to take steps to make sure enough tax is being taken out of their checks.

Certain folks should pay particular attention to their withholding. These include:

o    Married couples with two incomes
o    Individuals with multiple jobs
o    Dependents
o    Some Social Security recipients who work
o    Workers who do not have valid Social Security numbers
o    Retirees who receive pension payments

Taxpayers who wind up owing too much tax because not enough money was withheld from their paychecks during 2011 may qualify for special relief on a penalty that sometimes applies. Depending on their personal situation, some people could have less withheld from their paychecks than they need or want.

Failure to adjust withholding could result in potentially smaller refunds or, in limited instances, a taxpayer may owe tax rather than receive a refund next year.

If you're not sure how much you need to withhold from your paycheck, just give us a call and we'll figure it out with you.

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Expanded Adoption Credit

The Affordable Care Act raises the maximum adoption credit to $13,360 per eligible child in 2011, up from $13,170 in 2010. It also makes the credit refundable, meaning that eligible taxpayers can get it even if they owe no tax for that year. In general, the credit is based on the reasonable and necessary expenses related to a legal adoption, including adoption fees, court costs, attorney's fees, and travel expenses. In order to claim the credit or refund however, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be less than $225,210.


If you adopted a child this year, you may be eligible for this credit. Make sure you contact us early, though. To claim this tax relief, we must file a paper return, which means your refund will be slower than if you could file electronically.


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Tax Due Dates for November 2011

Anytime  

Employers - Income Tax Withholding. Ask employees whose withholding allowances will be different in 2012 to fill out a new Form W-4.


November 10    

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2011. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during October, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.


November 15    

Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.


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