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October 2010 Newsletter

Feature Articles

Tax Tips

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.

Are You Enjoying a Hobby - or Running a Business? Why It Matters

Millions of Americans use hobbies to relax and take their mind off work. But hobbies that turn a profit - such as sewing, woodworking, fishing, gardening, stamp and coin collecting - may actually be considered businesses by the IRS.

So, when does a hobby become a business and how does that change the tax implications?

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 carried on with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.

The tax considerations are different for each activity - so taxpayers should determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit as a business, or is engaged in as a hobby.

Of course, you must report and pay tax on income from almost all sources, including hobbies. But when it comes to expenses and losses, the two activities differ in their tax implications.

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."

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. The profit test is the primary test. 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.

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 whether it's a business or not. You may be able to save on taxes.

If you're not sure whether your hobby is actually a business, give us a call and we'll help you figure it out.

2011 Changes to Flexible Spending Arrangements

The Affordable Care Act, enacted in March, established a new uniform standard that, effective January 1, 2011, applies to Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

Under the new standard, the cost of an over-the-counter medicine or drug cannot be reimbursed from the account unless a prescription is obtained. The change does not affect insulin, even if purchased without a prescription, or other health care expenses such as medical devices, eye glasses, contact lenses, co-pays, and deductibles. The new standard applies only to purchases made on or after January 1, 2011, so claims for medicines or drugs purchased without a prescription in 2010 can still be reimbursed in 2011, if allowed by the employer's plan.

A similar rule goes into effect on January 1, 2011 for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and Archer Medical Savings Accounts (Archer MSAs).

Employers and employees should take these changes into account as they make health benefit decisions for 2011.

Q&A's Related to the Change

Q. How do I prove that I have purchased an over-the-counter medicine or drug with a prescription so that I can get reimbursed from my employer's health FSA or an HRA?

A. If your employer's health FSA or HRA reimburses these expenses, you would provide the prescription (or a copy of the prescription or another item showing that a prescription for the item has been issued) and the customer receipt (or similar third-party documentation showing the date of the sale and the amount of the charge). For example, documentation could consist of a customer receipt issued by a pharmacy that reflects the date of sale and the amount of the charge, along with a copy of the prescription; or it could consist of a customer receipt that identifies the name of the purchaser (or the name of the person for whom the prescription applies), the date and amount of the purchase, and an Rx number.

Q. How does this affect over-the-counter medical devices and supplies?

A. The new rule does not apply to items for medical care that are not medicines or drugs. Thus, equipment such as crutches, supplies such as bandages, and diagnostic devices such as blood sugar test kits will still qualify for reimbursement by a health FSA or HRA if purchased after December 31, 2010, and a distribution from an HSA or Archer MSA for the cost of such items will still be tax-free, regardless of whether the items are purchased using a prescription.
Q. Will I need a prescription to use my health FSA, HRA, HSA, or Archer MSA funds for insulin purchases after December 31, 2010?
A. No. You can continue to use your health FSA, HRA, HSA, or Archer MSA funds to purchase insulin without a prescription after December 31, 2010.
Q. I use health FSA funds for my co-pays and deductibles. Will I still be able to reimburse those expenses with health FSA funds after December 31, 2010?
A. Yes. Co-pays and deductibles continue to be reimbursable from a health FSA after December 31, 2010. Similarly, funds from an HRA can continue to be used for these expenses, and a distribution from an HSA or Archer MSA for these purposes will be tax-free.
Q. My company gives me two extra months beyond the end of the year to submit claims for health FSA expenses incurred during the year. What happens if I purchase over-the-counter medicines or drugs without a prescription in 2010 but do not submit the claim for those expenses until January 2011? Will they qualify for reimbursement?
A. Yes. The new restriction on plan reimbursements for the cost of over-the-counter medicines or drugs without a prescription applies only to purchases that are made after 2010.
Q. My company's health FSA includes a provision for a grace period, so that if I don't spend all of the money in my health FSA by December 31 in a given year, I can still use the amount left in my health FSA at the end of the year to reimburse expenses I incur during the first 2-1/2 months of the following year. If I buy over-the-counter medicines or drugs without a prescription during the 2-1/2-month grace period of 2011, can I still use the amount left in my health FSA at the end of 2010 to reimburse those expenses?
A. No. The change applies to purchases made on or after January 1, 2011. Thus, even if your employer's plan includes the 2-1/2-month grace period provision, the cost of over-the-counter medicines and drugs purchased without a prescription during the first 2-1/2 months of 2011 will not be eligible to be reimbursed by a health FSA.
Q. If my plan issues a debit or credit card that I use to pay for over-the-counter medicines or drugs, will I still be able to use the card to purchase over-the-counter medicines or drugs after December 31, 2010?
A. Generally, no. The plan must ensure that the card is reprogrammed no later than January 15, 2011, so that the card can no longer be used to purchase over-the-counter medicines or drugs. If your employer's plan reimburses expenses for over-the-counter medicines and drugs, you can seek reimbursement for these expenses by presenting the information described above in the answer to the question "How do I prove that I have purchased an over-the-counter medicine or drug with a prescription so that I can get reimbursed from my employer's health FSA or an HRA?"
Q. If I use HSA or Archer MSA funds to reimburse the cost of over-the-counter medicines or drugs purchased after December 31, 2010 without a prescription, what taxes will I incur?
A. If you have an HSA or Archer MSA, the amount of the distribution for expenses that are not qualifying medical expenses will be includable in your gross income and subject to an additional tax of 20%.

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Saving for College - 529 Plans

 

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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. A flesh and blood person, however, must actually be in charge of the property; that person is called the trustee. You can be the trustee of your own living trust, keeping full control over all property legally owned by the trust.

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 at your death under the terms of your will.
All living trusts are designed to avoid probate. Some also help you save on death taxes, and 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 lawyer 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 expense of a living trust comes upfront. Many lawyers would charge relatively little for drafting your will, in hopes of getting your estate later as a client. But they may charge more for a living trust.
Some people choose to use a book or software program to create a Declaration of Trust (the document that creates a trust). That's a fine choice, but keep in mind that when doing it on your own, there's always the danger of problems you don't see - problems a lawyer could help you avoid if consulted.
 
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 early 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, would be simpler.
 
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.

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, 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.
This year it's even easier to determine whether you qualify for the EITC. The EITC Assistant, an interactive tool available on the IRS website, removes the guesswork from eligibility rules. Just answer a few simple questions about yourself, your children, your living situation, and your income to find out if you qualify and estimate the amount of your EITC. You will see the results of your responses right away. Taxpayers, tax professionals, employers, community groups, and public service organizations are encouraged to use the EITC Assistant, which is available in both English and Spanish.
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 file a tax return to claim the credit.
 
General requirements: If you were employed for at least part of 2010 and are at least age 25, but under age 65, you may be eligible for the EITC based on these general requirements:
  • You earned less than $13,460 ($18,470 if married filing jointly) and did not have any qualifying children.
  • You earned less than $35,535 ($40,545 if married filing jointly) and have one qualifying child.
  • You earned less than $40,363 ($45,373 if married filing jointly) with two or more qualifying children.
  • You earned less than $43,352 ($48,362 if married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children.

Tax Year 2010 Maximum Credit

  • $5,666 with three or more qualifying children
  • $5,036 with two or more qualifying children
  • $3,050 with one qualifying child
  • $457 with no qualifying children
Note: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides a temporary increase in EITC and expands the credit for workers with three or more qualifying children. These changes are temporary and apply to 2009 and 2010 tax years.
 
Note: The 2010 maximum Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit (AEITC) the employer is allowed to provide each of their employees is $1,830 per year.
Please call us for more information about the EITC. We want to make sure you get the full tax relief you're entitled to.

College Tax Credit - It's Not Too Late!

It's not too late to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a credit that helps parents and college students offset the cost of college. This tax credit is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and is available through December 31, 2010. It can be claimed by eligible taxpayers for college expenses paid in 2009 and 2010.
Here are six important facts about the American Opportunity Tax Credit:
  • This credit, which expands and renames the existing Hope Credit, can be claimed for qualified tuition and related expenses that you pay for higher education in 2009 and 2010. Qualified tuition and related expenses include tuition, related fees, books, and other required course materials.
  • The credit is equal to 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent per student each year and 25 percent of the next $2,000. Therefore, the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualifying expenses for an eligible student.
  • The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers who make less than $80,000, or $160,000 for married couples filing jointly. The credit is gradually reduced, however, for taxpayers with incomes above these levels.
  • Forty percent of the credit is refundable, so even those who owe no tax can get up to $1,000 of the credit for each eligible student as cash back.
  • The credit can be claimed for qualified expenses paid during any of the first four years of post-secondary education.
  • You cannot claim the tuition and fees tax deduction in the same year that you claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. You must choose to take either the credit or the deduction.
Let us know if you want more information about the American Opportunity Tax Credit. We're more than happy to help.

Advantages of Keeping Good Records

You can avoid headaches at tax time by keeping track of your receipts and other records throughout the year. Good record-keeping will help you remember the various transactions you made during the year, which in turn may make filing your return less, well, taxing.
Records help you document the deductions you've claimed on your return. You'll need this documentation should the IRS select your return for examination. Normally, tax records should be kept for three years, but some documents - such as records relating to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, IRA, and business or rental property - should be kept longer.
In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner. Generally speaking, however, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return:
  • Bills
  • Credit card and other receipts
  • Invoices
  • Mileage logs
  • Canceled, imaged, or substitute checks or any other proof of payment
  • Any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return
Good record-keeping throughout the year saves you time and effort at tax time when organizing and completing your return. For more information on what kinds of records to keep, call our office.

How to Get Copies of Your Tax Information

When it comes time to apply for a loan, you often need to supply your federal tax information. Here's how to get copies of both your tax return transcripts and your tax account transcripts.
First, a brief explanation of each document...
A tax return transcript shows most line items from the tax return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes you, our office, or the IRS made after the return was filed. In many cases, a return transcript will meet the requirements of lending institutions through which you're trying to secure a mortgage or loan.
A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed. This transcript shows basic data, including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income, and taxable income. The IRS does not charge a fee for transcripts, which are available for the current and three prior calendar years. Allow ten to thirty days for delivery.
You can request either transcript by phone or mail.
If you need a photocopy of a previously processed tax return and attachments, complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Form and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area. There is a fee of $57.00 for each tax period requested. Copies are generally available for the current and past six years.
If you are a taxpayer impacted by a federally declared disaster, the IRS will waive the usual fees and expedite requests for copies of tax returns.

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Tax Due Dates for October 2010

October 12

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.

October 15

Individuals - If you have an automatic 6-month extension to file your income tax return for 2009, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ and pay any tax, interest, and penalties due.
Electing Large Partnerships - File a 2009 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.


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