Death and Taxes

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Life is like a day. Sunrise, Sunset. A lot of us anticipate that we will die, later in life and if we are “fortunate”, life will give us notice before we do.

Unfortunately, we know, objectively, that is not always true. We all know someone that left us too early. I have had that happen 3 times, just since 6/7/18.

“Life is a movie. Death is a photograph” – Susan Sontag

When someone we love dies, our natural emotional response is grief. Taxes are the furthest thing from our mind-, and, as they should be. This is true for me and for many others that I know or have helped over the years. It is probably true for you, too.

Life dictates change, and even though we do not like it, sometimes our priorities need to change as well. There are things we must take care of, some of which can be time sensitive.

This blog was written to help others learn a little about death and taxes. In my experience, people are often very surprised (or shocked) to learn that tax returns may be required when someone dies. This blog is written in general terms because for many, state rules also apply. Ask your experienced Tax Professional for guidance, as needed.

There are three (3) possible IRS tax returns that may need to be filed after a death:

  1. The Final 1040
  2. Form 1041
  3. Form 706

 

  1. The IRS Final 1040 (Individual Income Tax Return)
  • Income received prior to and including death is reported on the decedent’s Final 1040 tax return
  • Upon death of the taxpayer a new entity, the estate, is created
  • A revocable trust becomes irrevocable upon the grantor’s death. From that point on, do not report income on the grantor’s individual income tax return, use Form 1041
  • The due date remains April 15 for calendar-year taxpayers
  • Your first step, prior to starting the final Form 1040, is to determine who is responsible to file and sign the return
  • If appointed, the representative files Form 56, Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship with the IRS
  • The person filing the return should write “DECEASED,” the decedent’s name and the date of death across the top of Page 1 of the tax return. Mail the form to the IRS Service Center for the area in which the person signing the return lives.

 

  1. Form 1041: Estate Income Tax Return
  • Income received after death is reported on IRS Form 1041
  • Notice that Form 1041 and Form 706 both use the word “estate” – learn to distinguish between the two (2) Forms; Form 1041 is for income (like the 1040)
  • An estate is comprised of all assets owned at the time of death, whether they are distributable through the probate process or an alternate way
  • The decedent and their estate are separate taxable entities; obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for their estate or trust from the IRS website
  • The fiduciary of a domestic decedent’s estate, trust, or bankruptcy estate files Form 1041 to report:
  1. The income, deductions, gains, losses, etc. of the estate or trust
  2. The income that is either accumulated or held for future distribution or distributed currently to the beneficiaries
  3. Any income tax liability of the estate or trust
  4. Employment taxes on wages paid to household employees

 

Who Must File Form 1041:

Domestic Estate that has:  Gross income for the tax year of

  • $600 or more, or
  • A beneficiary who is a non-resident alien

 Domestic Trust  that has:

  • Any taxable income for the tax year
  • Gross income of $600 or more
  • A beneficiary who is a non-resident alien

 

Decedents Estates have an Exemption, but do not have a Standard Deduction.

Exemption:

  • Decedents’ Estate : A decedent’s estate is allowed a $600 exemption
  • Trusts required to distribute all income currently. A trust whose governing instrument requires that all income be distributed currently is allowed a $300 exemption, even if it distributed amounts other than income during the tax year

 

Form 1041 – Due Date

  • Form 1041 is due by the 15th day of the 4th month after the end of the estate’s tax year. For taxpayers choosing a calendar year, the due date is April 15
  • If you are preparing Form 706, you should prepare Form 706 at the same time as Form 1041 to determine where to report certain deductions

 

Tax

  • Like IRS Form 1040, the Estate Income tax rate for Form 1041 is progressive, but the rates rise very quickly. For example, the 2017 rate is 39.6% for income of $12,500 or more
  • The 2018 tax rate, inclusive of tax reform, is 37% for income of $12,500 or more

 

Important Form 1041 Takeaways:

Earlier in this post, I highlighted the following fragment in bold, any income tax liability of the estate or trust, and now, I will explain why I did this.

Uncle Sam, generally, may need to be paid before money is distributed to heirs. I am not providing you specific tax advice, nor am I providing you legal advice. However, I am sharing what I have learned via education and experience because this is something that a lot of people do not know and mistakes can be painfully expensive.

Cancelled debt, can trigger taxable income, which can result in an expensive IRS tax bill.

For example, one client received a 1099-C for student debt that was cancelled after the death of a family member. This triggered a large tax bill because of information shared earlier; i.e. a $600 exemption and a 39.6% tax rate. Exceptions, such as bankruptcy or insolvency, were not options.

Fortunately, recent tax reform changed this rule effective January 1, 2018:

Discharged of Student Loan Indebtedness

“The exclusion from income resulting from the discharge of student loan debt is expanded to include discharges resulting from death or disability of the student.”

A 1099-C may be issued for other forgiven deceased debt, such as credit card debt. Be prudent, and know your federal and applicable state rules before distributing assets to heirs. Your attorney may be a good resource to help guide you through this process.

 

3.  Form 706: Estate Tax Return

This form is used to report the transfer of assets from a decedent at the time of death.

The government imposes federal estate tax on the decedent’s entire estate. It is an excise tax on the right to pass property at death.

The Gross Estate includes the total value of the decedent’s interest in all property owned as of the date of death which can transferred due to the will or law. The form includes a number of schedules on which the estate lists the various assets or includes the expenses.

The theory behind the transfer tax system is to tax the value bequeathed to heirs. Since certain debts need to be paid and funeral expenses are customary, these amounts never become part of the inheritance. Because of this, the estate accounts for expenditures and debts in addition to assets.

Form 706 is due exactly nine (9) months after the date of death, unless the IRS has granted an automatic six (6) month extension of time.

For decedents who died in 2017, the executor of the Estate of every U.S. citizen or resident, files Form 706 for those:

  • Whose Gross Estate, plus adjusted taxable gifts and specific exemption is more than $5,490,000; or,
  • Whose executor elects to transfer the DSUE (Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion) amount to the surviving spouse, regardless of the size of the decedent’s gross estate

Recent Tax Reform, the #TCJA, doubled the Estate Tax and Gift Tax Exemption, for estates of decedents dying and gifts made after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026. The exemption increased to $11,180,000 for 2018.

 

Non-Resident Filing Requirements

Use Form 706-NA, to compute estate and generation- skipping transfer tax liability for nonresident alien decedents. If an individual who is a nonresident alien has a gross estate of property located in the United States in excess of $60,000, an estate return is required.

 

In closing, Ben Franklin is often credited for saying: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me & I may remember. Involve me & I learn.”  I write because it is one more way I can help others from getting hurt financially.

I hope this blog helped you learn a little  about death and taxes. The information provided was written to provide a broad perspective; individual facts and circumstances need to be reviewed to determine what, if any, tax returns may apply for you (or for those that you love).

If I can answer questions or help you, please let me know.

 

Thanks for reading,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth though education, strategy, and proactive tax planning. Deb thinks this is the fun part of tax because it makes a financial difference for her clients, their business, and their families.

She offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

https://www.DeborahFoxCPA.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

The blog is provided as general information only and should not be considered a substitute for specific advice and services of a Certified Public Accountant, Enrolled Agent, or an Attorney

Alphabet – Tax Terms & Tips

 

“Work Anywhere – includes an ice skating rink @ Hotel Del in Coronado, CA.

 

Almost a year ago, I presented my demo workshop titled “IRS Compliance and Strategy” for the University of Texas at San Antonio, Small Business Development Center (UTSA SBDC). My mentor, Ruben Lopez, MBA, and I identified the need for this class in our conversations. What I thought was important for a small business owner to know, Ruben, thought was important too. He suggested I create a class and if requested, present a demo, which I did, on 11/22/16. Since that time, I have taught this class, thankfully, several times for times for them and I look forward to teaching more.

While the students were learning from me, I, too, was learning from them. Their questions identified new topics that could be taught in class.

Every well-built house begins with a blueprint; I created this class as an IRS Business Basics- a blueprint for entrepreneurs and new small business owners. In today’s “Sharing Economy”, “small business owners” include independent contractors and freelancers. If you are just collecting your 1099-Miscellaneous forms and not tracking expenses, you are probably paying too much tax.

What we don’t know can often hurt us financially and education can prevent a problem.

This blog was created to help others learn, understand, and apply general income tax rules and procedures. I thought the alphabet format would be a fun way to teach tax terms & topics and hope you think so too.

A is for:

  • Accounting Method is how income and expenses are reported for taxation purposes:
  • Cash Method: Income is reported when constructively received (not earned) and expenses when paid (not incurred).
  • Accrual Method: Income is reported when earned (not necessarily received) and expenses when incurred (not necessarily paid).

B is for Basis of an Asset

  • Basis, in an asset, is its cost plus sales tax and other expenses incurred to acquire the property or to place the asset in service for tax purposes. This basis is used to figure depreciation, amortization, depletion, casualty losses, and any gain or loss on the sale, exchange, or other disposition of the property
  • The Initial basis can be increased or decreased for various items = Adjusted Basis
  • Maintain your basis for each asset to determine the accurate gain/loss
  • Retain supporting documentation for the life of the asset
  • Basis Limitation, is the limit on deducting losses, to the extent of the shareholder’s basis in the S Corporation or partner’s basis in the partnership

 

C is for Corporation

  • C-Corporation: “Double-Taxation” applies: the profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned, and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends
  • S-Corporation: Corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credit through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S Corporations report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns

 

D is for Depreciation:

  • Depreciation is an annual deduction that allows taxpayers to recover the cost of property used in a trade or business or held for the production of income. The amount of depreciation depends on the basis of the property, its recovery period, and the depreciation method.
  • Depreciation Recapture: Amount of depreciation or section 179 deduction that must be reported as ordinary income when property is sold at a gain.

 

E is for: Estimated Tax

  • Method used to pay tax on income that is not subject to withholding (for example, earnings from self-employment, interest, dividends, rents, alimony)

 

F is for:

  • Failure to File (FTF) Penalty is 5%, of the additional taxes owed amount, for every month, or fraction of a month, the return is late, up to a maximum of 25%.
  • Failure to Pay (PTF) Penalty is the most common penalty issued by the IRS. 0.5% per month, or fraction of a month, up to 25%.

Tax Tip: Note there are 2 penalties. If you cannot afford to pay, at least file, and save yourself the cost of 1 penalty.

 

G is for Gig Economy:

  • Also known as the Sharing Economy or On Demand economy
  • File and Pay estimated taxes
  • Note that Self-Employment Tax is in addition to the Income Tax
  • Expect that a 1099-Misc will be issued to the IRS and to you if payments were more than $600/annually

 

H is for: “Hobby”

  • An activity is either a Hobby or a Business
  • An activity is, generally, presumed to be a Hobby if a profit is not earned in at least 3 of 5 taxable years
  • Tax deductions for hobby losses are limited to the income produced

 

I is for Independent Contractor

  • The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if you, the person for whom the services are performed, have the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result.
  • The basic rule is that you must file 1099MISC whenever you pay an unincorporated independent contractor (sole proprietor or member of a partnership or LLC) — $600 or more in a year for work done in the course of your trade or business.

 

J is for Joint and Several Tax Liability

  • Married Filing Joint: Both you and your spouse are generally responsible for the tax and interest or penalties due on the return
  • This means that if one spouse doesn’t pay the tax due, the other may have to
  • Or, if one spouse doesn’t report the correct tax, both spouses may be responsible for any additional taxes assessed by the IRS

 

K is for Kiddie Tax:

Investment income of a child is taxed at the parent’s tax rate

 

L is for Limited Liability Company (LLC)

  • Notice that this is not a corporation
  • An LLC is created by state statue and is not an IRS filing status

 

M is for: Meals and Lodging:

  • You can deduct the cost of meals and lodging if your business trip is overnight or long enough that you need to stop for sleep or rest to perform your duties. In most cases, you can deduct only 50% of your meal expenses.
  • You can deduct entertainment expenses only if they are both ordinary and necessary and meet one of the following tests: Directly –Related test or Associated test
  • In general, you can deduct only 50% of your business-related meal and entertainment expenses

 

N is for Net Operating Loss

  • If your deductions for the year are more than your income for the year (line 41 of your Form 1040 is a negative number), you may have a net operating loss (NOL). You can use an NOL by deducting it from your income in another year or years.

 

O is for Ordinary and Necessary:

  • A business expense must be both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your trade or business.

 

P is for Profit and Loss

  • Profit & Loss statements are required for small business loans, for a mortgage, and to determine tax owed for the IRS and/or your state
  • Review at least quarterly to determine if Self-Employment Tax & Estimated Tax payments are required

 

Q is for Quarterly Tax Reporting & Payments

  • The U.S. Tax system is “Pay as You Go” and generally not at the end of the year
  • Accounting records must be kept current to determine if quarterly payments are required

 

R is Refundable Credit

  • A Refundable tax credit means you get a refund, even if it is more than you owe
  • A Non-Refundable tax credit means you get a refund only up to the amount that you owe

 

S is for Self-Employment Tax:

  • 2017 Self-Employed Tax Rate, on net earnings of $400+, is 15.3%
  • 4% for Social Security and 2.9% Medicare Tax = 15.3%
  • For 2017, Social Security wages are capped at $127,200
  • Medicare Tax applies to all income; i.e. a wage limit does not apply

 

T is for Taxable Income

  • Gross income, minus any adjustments to income, any allowable exemptions, and either itemized deductions or the standard deduction = Taxable Income

 

U is for Use Tax

  • A tax on purchases made outside the state for use in the state. Residents are responsible for paying the tax on purchases for which no state sales tax has been charged. The tax applies to transactions that would be subject to sales tax if the purchase were made in the state.

 

V is for Vehicle

  • IRS Deduction for operating a vehicle for business, charitable, medical, or moving; track each separately- different rates apply
  • Standard Mileage Rates or the Actual Costs of using the vehicle
  • A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle.

 

W is for Withholding (Federal Income Tax)

  • To avoid an Underpayment Penalty, estimate your 2017 tax liability, to see if you should adjust your withholding, or make an estimated payment before year-end

 

X is a tough one; X “Marks the Spot” or Solving for an Unknown:

  • You can fill in the blank on this one, or choose
  • X = Your Break Even Point
  • Unknown is your 2017 estimated tax liability

 

Y is for Year-End Tax Planning

  • There is still time to setup an appointment for year-end tax planning by December 31. Being in control of your finances & taxes is a great stress reliever.

 

Z is for Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB)

ZBB is a method to prepare cash flow budgets & operating plans. Each year these start from scratch and do not use incremental budgeting, in which past sales and expenses are assumed to continue. ZBB requires a systematic basis for resource allocation; cost-benefit analysis and priority ranking are part of the process.

 ©2017 Deborah Fox, CPA

 

Thanks for reading.

To your success,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth though education, strategy, and proactive tax planning. Deb thinks this is the fun part of tax because it makes a financial difference for her clients, their business, and their families.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.DeborahFoxCPA.com 

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

The blog is provided as general information only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice and services of an attorney or Certified Public Accountant.

Get Started on the “Right Foot” Financial Planning for 2017

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When it comes to your finances, accounting, or tax rules, do you ever feel like a “Duck out of Water?”

If so, this post is designed to help you get started on the right foot, make your 2017 easier, and ideally, more profitable.

Here are 6 tips to help you get started:

1. Employ your money by considering how you can make it work for you:

One way to do this is to work with a tax accountant who can help you learn to use the tax rules to help you improve your financial results by decreasing your income tax expense. A tax software program may help you prepare and file your tax return, but it does not help you plan or make informed financial decisions.

A tax return is based upon the past. The best opportunity to make a difference is in the present.

Tax planning (and acting) may also help you save some money on your 2016 tax return – before you file. You can read the rules, read some of my others blogs, or ask someone for guidance.

 

2.  Self-employment comes with both a lot of perks and responsibilities; this is particularly true for income tax rules and obligations.

The IRS defines Earned Income as all taxable income and wages from working either as an employee or from running or owning a business (net earnings from self-employment).

Last year at tax time, a lot of people were caught by surprise because they had not considered how their UBER or other self-employment income would be taxed. It is important to know the rules to avoid penalties for either not reporting on time and/or for not paying income tax on time.

Use the following information to avoid penalties, price your products/services and to plan your budget:

IRS Business Basics – Compliance – “Must Do”:

  • The U.S. tax system is “Pay as You Go, generally, not at the end of the year
  • If you owe the IRS more than $1K during a year, it is not ok to wait to pay
  • Quarterly Reporting & estimated tax payments are required to avoid late payments, interest & penalties
  • Accounting records must be current to determine – if you need to pay quarterly tax
  • Generally, Calendar Year Due Dates are 4/15, 6/15, 9/15, and 1/15 for the previous year
  • If you don’t pay enough tax by the due date of each of the payment periods, you may be charged a penalty
  • Individuals (Sole Proprietors, Partners, S-Corp Shareholders) need to pay estimated tax if they owe $1,000+
  • Corporations need to pay estimated tax if they owe $500+
  • 2 Possible Penalties: Failure to Fail and Fail to Pay on time – If you can’t pay, at least file; prevents 1 penalty
  • Estimated tax is used for: Income Tax; Self-Employment Tax and Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Reconcile payments on your annual tax return

 

 3. Self-Employment Tax of 15.30% is required on Annual Net Earnings of $400+ – “Must Do”

  • You, need to know “Up front” to budget for cash expense and to consider for product/service profitability
  • Sole Proprietors & Independent Contractors must pay both the employer and the employee side of Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • The 2016 SE tax rate on Net Earnings is 15.3% (12.4% social security tax plus 2.9% Medicare tax)
  • The Self-Employment tax rate is 15.3% of the first $118,500 of income and 2.9% of everything above that amount
  • If you also work as an employee, be careful that you do not overpay your Social Security tax. The $118,500 applies to your combined wages, tips, and net earnings
  • Sole Proprietors can deduct ½ of this cost on Form 1040-Line 27, the deductible part of self-employment tax

 

  1. QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you with your business recordkeeping and to determine your estimated tax:

This product is a little less than 2 years old and was designed to simplify the basics for those who are self-employed, own a small business, and who do not have employees (payroll) or inventory. Good examples include realtors and independent contractors.

The program allows you to track business income and expenses and to make tax time simple by capturing all expense deductions, including tracking business mileage. The program also estimates your required IRS quarterly tax payments, lets you separate personal and business expense and create and send invoices on the go.

The cost of $10 or less per month makes it affordable. If you work with a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor Accountant, they may be able to provide you a 50% discount on the program cost for your 1st year of use. Reach out to them and ask. If so, they can send you a link to help you get started at the discounted rate.

 

  1. MileIQ is an easy way to track your mileage for expense purposes.

The app is an automatic mileage tracker, which can improve accuracy and add convenience.

2017 rates are:

  • $0.535 for business
  • $0.170 for medical or moving
  • $0.140 for charity

Alternatively, you can use actual expenses incurred.

Either way, the IRS requires documentation, which includes both the beginning and ending mileage, where you went, and why. If you have not been doing this, step outside and record your odometer reading today. That number can provide a good estimate to end your 2016 tax year and to begin 2017.

Also note that if you used accelerated depreciation for your vehicle and used the Section 179 deduction, you cannot revert and use the standard mileage rates.

 

6. Don’t Believe, “Don’t Worry, it’s a Write-Off:

There are a lot of rules for what is an acceptable deductible business expense that apply for who, for what amount, and when.

Following are some general terms that will help you get started in learning IRS terminology and rules.

Note that what is an acceptable taxable deduction in your business may not be acceptable for my business. The “tool belt” is different for a carpenter than for an accountant.

  • Use IRS rules to decrease income tax expense
  • Business Income can be reduced by “ordinary and necessary” expense:
  1. Ordinary expense = Common or Accepted in your trade or business
  2. Necessary expense= Helpful or Appropriate for your trade or business
  • Operating Expense = expense incurred under normal business operations (rent, utilities, insurance, payroll)
  • Capital Expense= benefits more than 1 year (property, plant & equipment)
  • Capital Assets are generally expensed over a period of time by using depreciation and amortization rules
  • Depreciation and Amortization are both a Non-Cash expense
  • They reduce Net Income on an Income Statement, but do not reduce the Cash account on the Balance Sheet
  • The expense can either be based on standard or accelerated rules.
  • Section 179 is an example of an accelerated expense i.e. take a larger deduction in earlier years. Be careful here because you can also be subject to “recapture rules”.
  • This list is not exhaustive nor does it include all the rules. The information is shared to provide general concepts and to plant seeds for future learning.

 

I hope these tips to help you get started on the “right foot” and help you feel less “like a duck out of water”.

We all have gifts we can use to make a difference for each other.

I hope this blog post might have made a small difference for you.

 

Thanks for reading.

To your success,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Deb offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

http://www.DeborahFoxCPA.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

Perspective: A Number Story

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Our observations can be limited by our experience.

For example, recently an architect gave me suggestions for elements to include in a new website that I will launch soon for DeborahFoxCPA.com. His design-eye expertise is invaluable to me. I told him, “You can see things that my eyes do not. I look, but do not see the same detail as you do.” His reply was priceless, “Of course honey this is why we help each other – you see numbers I can’t see LOL.”

Perspective matters.

Numbers tell a story – in our financial statements and on our tax returns. I look for opportunities to make a difference in the story and so can you.

As we approach the end of the year, now is a great time to review the “Big Picture”.

You are the Chief Financial Officer of your home or for your business. You are in the driver’s seat.

Step away from thinking about “working in your business” and focus upon “working on your business”. Think about what you could do to make improvements. Focus upon strategy. Not compliance.

Compliance is filing a tax return. It is what we have to do to comply.

Strategy is about making a difference before you file the return or issue the next financial statements.

Here are 3 ways you can make a difference in your financial story:

  1. Review your financial performance:
  • Are you allocating your budget resources (time and money) for the best use?
  • Compare budget to actual results
  • Compare year-to- year results; identify what changed. Why?
  1. Use financial ratio’s to uncover patterns:
  • Are there areas or activities that are underperforming?
  • Do certain activities provide little value or return on your investment?
  • Can you change your mix to provide more value for you?
  1. Generate new insights:
  • Can you find new opportunities?
  • Can you make changes that would reduce your risk?
  • Could some help from a different perspective find value for you?

 

Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not what you look at that matter’s, it’s what you see.”

What I could see, changed, after I reviewed the architect’s suggestions for my website. Likewise, his perspective changed, too, after I helped him.

We all have gifts we can use to make a difference for each other.

I hope this blog post might have made a small difference for you.

 

Thanks for reading.

To your success,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com 

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

Financial Health: 8 Ways to Check

8 Ways to Check and/or Protect your Financial Health

Many of us see the doctor for an annual check-up.

Probably, even more of us have our car checked on a routine basis.

Few of us take a holistic view of our financial health, particularly, on a routine basis.

I encourage you to be an early adopter, change this, and become proactive with your financial health.

For our physical health, our doctor might check our weight, blood pressure/pulse, LDL/HDL and then compares the findings to our initial baseline results.

For our financial health, we should also establish a baseline /benchmark and then, periodically compare our results to our previous records,

How are we going to know how we are doing unless we take the time to look?

How are we going to tell if we are getting better if we don’t have an initial baseline to compare to?

The factors that you choose to use are up to you. My list includes possibilities for you to consider. Record your answers & date it. Some responses will result in a number, others will be a yes/no and perhaps initiate a new thought process. Here are my suggestions: 

  1. Determine your Personal Net Worth
  • Create a Balance Sheet: Assets = Liabilities & Equity
  • Assets are the value of what you own; liabilities are what you owe
  • Assets – Liabilities = Equity in a business or your personal Net Worth
  1. Review the Liability limits on your insurance policies (Homeowners, Renters, Auto, Business). Is the limit high enough to protect your Net Worth if something serious happened? You don’t want to leave your “assets” (money) exposed to risk of loss without making the conscious decision to do so.
  1. Cash Flow- Positive or Negative?
  • Money coming in, money going out, and when?
  • Is it steady through out the year or does it fluctuate?
  • Are you spending more than you bring in?
  1. Liquidity – Emergency Fund +
  • Emergency Fund savings for 3-6 months of living expenses?
  • Any other “reserves” you keep – Christmas or vacation fund?
  1. Your Personal Savings rate
  • Do you try to pay yourself first?
  • Are “you” built into your required monthly expenses?
  • Do you fully participate in your company’s matching program?
  1. Determine your Debt/Income Ratio
  • Lenders use this to determine your ability to manage payments
  • Total monthly debt payment/monthly gross income
  • 43% is generally the maximum for a Qualified Mortgage as per Consumer Finance
  1. Review your Retirement Allocations
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it balanced?
  • Are you earning a return? 
  1. Check your credit score – It is your Financial Reputation
  • Obtain your free annual credit report from each of the 3 major reporting agencies, check it for accuracy, and dispute anything that is not correct
  • Obtain your FICO score

Taking the time to manage our money provides benefits:

  • Feeling in control
  • Knowing our capacity to absorb financial shocks
  • Finding if we are on track to meet our financial goals or
  • Having peace of mind and the flexibility to make choices

The road to financial freedom is full of potholes. If you take the time to discover, find, and fix them, your trip will be less eventful and you will reach your destination faster & safer.

May you have a safe, prosperous, and fulfilling journey.

Thanks for the reading!

Deb

P.S. I welcome and encourage comments and questions. It is one way to see how I am doing. 

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA is working to make a difference in peoples lives by helping them build and protect their financial health. She offers free 30 minute, no obligation consultations and is available for appointments – including remote. More information is available at http://www.DeborahFoxCPA.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

Financial Fitness: Improving your Tax Story

2013 Tax

Our tax returns tell a story.

A Tax Return is the Story of your recent Past; it is your 2015 financial story.

The story tells the reader lots of information about you:

  • Marital Status (tax rate) Single; Head of Household; Married filing Separate; Married filing Joint; Widowed
  • How you earn your money – employee, self-employed, real-estate investments/rents; royalties
  • How you support yourself if you are not working – unemployment, retired, pension, social security, Required Minimum Distributions
  • How you spent your money: mortgage interest; children; student loans; medical bills; charitable donations
  • Did you have a good year with gambling winnings? Capital Gains?
  • Did you have financially devastating year, as many unfortunately did this year, because of so many natural U.S. catastrophes in 2015?

 

Income Tax Planning is one of the best ways to build your financial wealth.

2015:

Yes, 2015 is over and there is limited opportunity to improve that tax bill. However, depending on your circumstances, there might still be a way to reduce the amount you pay.

  • Contribute to your IRA before 4/18/16
  • If you are married, can you start and fund a Spousal IRA?
  • For 2015 and 2016, your total contributions to all of your traditional and Roth IRAs cannot be more than:

$5,500 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older), or your taxable compensation for the year, if your compensation was less than this dollar limit

Your Traditional IRA contributions may be tax-deductible. The deduction may be limited if you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds certain levels.

 

Be Careful of Excess IRA Contributions:

If you exceed the 2015 IRA contribution limit, you may withdraw excess contributions from your account by the due date of your tax return (including extensions). Otherwise, you must pay a 6% tax each year on the excess amounts left in your account

Note that Employer contributions made under a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) plan do not affect the amount you can contribute to an IRA on your own behalf.  You can both receive employer contributions to a SEP-IRA and make regular, annual contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA.

2016:

Our Financial Life is not stagnant. Like the ocean or a river, it changes all the time – it is a continuous evolving, moving, financial puzzle. New life stages & events provide us an opportunity to make new financial decisions & implement a revised plan.

The key to changing your Tax Story requires you to take action, now, in the present, and in the future.

Here are some tips to help you strengthen your Financial Fitness in this New Year:

  1. If you are an employee, review your withholding allowance on Form W-4. Is it accurate for what you anticipate in 2016? If not adjust, as soon as possible. The earlier you do this during the year, the more accurate your withholding will be.
  1. If you are Self-Employed, even part-time, do you know if you are required to make estimated quarterly payments to the IRS?  Avoid penalties & interest by ensuring that you make the required payments if they apply. Independent Contractors, Freelance workers, those that conduct Internet based sales (Etsy, eBay, Airbnb) and even Uber Drivers should review the information on the IRS website.

The IRS expects you to pay tax as the money is earned. If you operate on a calendar year, due dates are 4/15, 6/15, 9/15, and 1/15 for the previous year.

  1. If you have a High Deductible Health Insurance Plan, consider setting up a Health Savings Account (HSA). This is a tax- advantaged account to help pay for your medical expenses.

It is also an “Above the Line” deduction on your 1040 Individual tax return, which means you can use it to reduce your income, even if you do not itemize. Lower income, generally indicates, lower taxes.

  1. If you gamble, including playing the lottery, save all of your 2016 “expense” receipts. Why? If you win big, you can reduce the amount you won by the amount that you lost and only pay tax on the difference.

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.

To deduct your losses, you must be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements, or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses

  1. Defer at least some of your income through a 401K match or similar program to reduce your taxable income for the year & to build savings for the future.
  1. If you itemize or might be able to itemize, record all of the miles you drive, by category: Charity ($0.14); Medical/Moving ($0.19) and Business ($0.54).

It can all add up, faster than you might think and may also make the difference between claiming the standard deduction and being able to itemize. The more you can legally write off, the lower your tax bill.

You can keep a paper calendar in your car & record what, where, why, & how many miles for each trip or use a Smart Phone App to help you.

Whatever you do, ensure you keep good records. If you are audited & can’t prove the deduction, the deduction can be denied and you could owe a penalty and interest for the underpayment.

  1. If you have a business and operate on a cash basis, it is imperative that you keep great records for both cash coming in & cash going out. This recent article highlights the reason why you need to do this: http://smallbiztrends.com/2015/12/recent-irs-case-highlights-need-sophisticated-small-business-management.html

 

  1. Think like a Tax Professional: Know your “Income” Types & their Tax Rates:

Taxable “Income”:

  • Ordinary Income is income earned from providing services or the sales of goods
  • Capital gains are usually associated with the sale or exchange of property characterized as capital assets
  • Short Term Capital Gains are taxed at your Ordinary Income tax rate (10 % to 39.6%)
  • Long Term Capital-Gains tax rates vary by your income tax bracket and the type asset sold
  • Generally, if you’re in the 10% or 15% tax bracket, you’ll pay 0% on those gains. Most other taxpayers pay 15%; however, the rate can also be 20, 25, or 28% for certain asset classes and/or income levels.

Tax Deferred Investment Income includes:

Withdrawals from Traditional IRAs and your 401K, which are, taxed as ordinary income (10% to 39.6%)

Tax Free Investment Income: Roth IRA

  • Tax Free Income as long as the account has been open for at least 5 years
  • Provides flexibility in the timing of future income – you decide
  • Required Minimum Distributions do not apply to Roth accounts as are required by Traditional IRA plans
  • Roth IRA distributions are not considered as income when determining how your Social Security payments are taxed. Qualified Roth distributions are not included in either net investment income or in the modified adjusted gross income calculation for assessing the 3.8% net investment income tax

 

  1. Manage your Tax Bracket:
  • Try to keep your Ordinary Income in the lower tax brackets
  • “Fill up” each bracket, where possible
  • Be aware of tax consequences before making decisions that push you into the next highest rate bracket; i.e. can you defer a bonus or sale to new year if it means you will be taxed 10% less?
  • If you itemize, group deductions where possible; i.e. elective medical or dental procedures; charitable contributions to reduce your taxable income – Plan

 

  1. Your income tax bill is perhaps the biggest bill you will pay over your lifetime. Learn, Plan, Act to reduce and keep more of your money in your pocket, not Theirs (The IRS).

Yes,  to be in compliance, we need to file & pay.  The IRS rules are there for us to use. It is our responsibility and our choice to use them or not. The IRS is not going to tell you, you could have paid less, if you had just (xxx). There are a lot of possible ways to “fill in the blank”. Each Tax Story is unique.

As a CPA – Tax Advisor, I love learning the rules and then sharing information to help other people reduce their tax bills. It is my way to help empower other people and hopefully, make a small difference in their quality of life. Nobody likes paying taxes; almost all of us like to save money.

Have fun leaning, planning, and saving.

Cheers to a happier, healthier, & wealthier 2016!

Thanks for reading,

Deb

 

 

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments. More information is available at http://www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

“Money on the Table”- 2015 Year-End Tax Saving Strategies

Leaving “Money on the Table” is an idiom, which means not getting as much money as you could.

You can do this in a lot of different ways such as salary negotiations, selling low when you bought high, or by not using the IRS tax rules and planning opportunities and then leave your hard earned money “on the table”.

The IRS, literally, spells “theirs”. The money is theirs if you just wait until the tax- filing season comes, complete & submit your 1040 tax form and then pay the amount owed or get a refund.

As a CPA – Tax Advisor, I love learning the rules and then sharing information to help other people reduce their tax bills. It is my way to help empower other people and hopefully, make a small difference in their quality of life. Nobody likes paying taxes; almost all of us like to save money.

Yes, we need to pay our share, but we don’t need to pay more than we need to. The IRS also does not want us to pay more than we should. The rules are in place to help us pay less. It is our responsibility and our choice to use them or not. The IRS is not going to tell you, you could have paid less, if you had just (xxx). There are a lot of possible ways to “fill in the blank”. Each tax story is unique.

As an advocate for “not leaving money on the table”, I offer you some practical, actionable, steps to take now to see if you can reduce your 2015 tax bill, now, before it is too late.

Step One: Estimate your 2015 Income & IRS Withholding

If you want to want to make sure your money is more in “your pocket” than theirs:
• Determine how much you have earned this year
• Determine what you have paid toward your 2015 tax bill
• Then increase each of these amounts to estimate the year-end amounts

Step Two: Compare this year to last year:

Now that you have a glimpse of your 2015 tax situation, compare those numbers to those on your 2014 tax return. A filed return can be used as a sort of “road map” to see if there are options to reduce your tax bill now or in the future.

For example, did you get a refund last year? If so, consider this:

Last year, Kiplinger’s had a great article titled, “Safeguard your Refund by shrinking it”. The article includes the following:
• More than 75% of Americans get an IRS tax refund each year which is the equivalent of giving the IRS an interest free loan
• Identity Theft is on the rise and thieves file fraudulent returns to collect refunds. Avoid this risk by limiting the amount of refund you receive
• Use on –line tax calculators to see if your estimated tax withholding is correct; the IRS and Kiplinger’s both provide these tools
• File a revised W-4 with your employer this year to change your tax withholdings; remember the goal is to break even

Step Three: Review 2015 & determine actionable steps

Shift “Income” to this year or to next year?

Consider if you can shift your income to decrease the amount of tax owed.

If you think your income will decrease next year and your tax rate would be lower, can you:
1. Defer a year-end bonus to January 2016?
2. Postpone a sale that will trigger a gain to next year?
3. Delay exercising stock options?

Alternatively, it may make sense to move income to this year:
1. Covert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA and recognize the conversion income this year?
2. Take IRA distributions this year?

Shift Payments?
If you itemize, would you benefit if you changed the timing of some of your payments?
If you expect your income to decrease next year, then you might want to move some payments/deductions to the current year to offset your higher income this year. Can you:
• Prepay property taxes?
• Make your January mortgage payment this year?
• If you owe state income taxes, consider making up any shortfall rather than waiting until your return is due
• Consider the timing of medical expenses so you can benefit from the deduction?
• Sell some or all of your loss stocks?
• If you qualify for a health savings account, consider setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable

Defer Deductions to 2016
If you expect tax rates to increase next year, or if you anticipate a substantial increase in taxable income, you may want to explore waiting to take deductions until 2016:
• Postpone year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical & dental expense payments, to the extent you might get a deduction for such payments
• Postpone the sale of any loss-generating property

Step Four: Can you do anything else?
For those that would like to take it a step further, consider if there is anything you can do to increase your “Above the Line Deductions”.

On a Federal Individual 1040 tax form, the basic formula is:
Income minus “Above the Line” deductions = Adjusted Gross Income.

These deductions include paying monies to:
• Establish an IRA for you or your spouse?
• If qualified, set up a Health Savings Account?
• If self-employed, would you benefit from having health insurance or a Qualified Pension Plan?

While this is not an exhaustive list, I hope it gives you enough information to initiate your plan, act this year, and save money on your 2015 next tax bill.

A dollar saved is a dollar you don’t need to earn. Keep marching towards financial freedom. Happy planning!

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments. More information is available at http://www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com