Creating Freedom – in honor of the 4th of July

In honor of our 4th of July holiday, I searched for the word freedom and then discovered a new word. Ataraxic and, playfully, I decided it is a “condition” that I want to “suffer” from. What does it mean? One simple definition is “freedom from worry”.  Can you imagine?

Worry, is something nobody likes to do and most people want to avoid. We know that worrying is a waste of time & energy. We also know that it does not get it us anywhere, kind of like expecting to move forward when we rock in a rocking chair.

Ok, so maybe, we try not to worry, but at best, we are at least sometimes pre-occupied with thoughts that concern us. We think about our financial situation, our health, our families, friends, and of our longevity.

In case you are wondering how this might fit with my goal of providing “financial wellness” please read on and let me explain.

Living longer gives us more of an opportunity to enjoy life. It also creates more of a financial risk. Will our money last as long as we do?

Regardless of our age, thinking about this is important. Planning and preparing is imperative. In fact, those that are younger, have the greatest opportunity to plan and prepare. Those that are a bit older are more limited, and yet would still benefit from reviewing the following:

Benchmark how much money you need when you “retire”:

  • How much do you need to live each year?
  • Generally, it is not safe to assume you will just spend less; i.e. health care costs can increase as we age and you may travel more

How are you going to pay for it?

  • Social Security?
  • Pension or Retirement Funds?
  • Savings or Investments?
  • Working Part-Time?

How many years does your money need to last?

  • The Social Security website has a calculator that you can use to estimate your longevity

Note that woman, in particular, might want to save more money than their typical male counterparts. Why?

  •  Statistics show, that woman, on average, are paid less than a man
  • Women might leave the job market to have children and thus can earn less, over their lifetime
  •  Earning less could result in a lower Social Security benefit

Let’s suppose that you decide that you want to continue working part-time until you reach your “Full Retirement Age” or even post-pone retirement until the maximum age of 70 when you must start drawing upon your Social Security Benefit. Doing this can pay big dividends, in the form of increased monthly payments.

There is one big caveat to this plan and this, too, we can try and plan for. Generally, we must have our health to build wealth.

One of the greatest assets we have is the ability to produce an income. It has been said that our health is the new wealth. The ability to produce an income is part of our wealth.

We were all born with free will. As Americans, we have the liberty to pursuit our happiness and our freedom of choice. Planning today and saving for tomorrow creates more freedom of choice, in the long-term.

John Wayne said, “ Tomorrow hopes that we learned something from yesterday”.

I like to say, “Hope is not a good financial strategy. Plan, act, achieve and may you always have a reason to smile”.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets. Although she earned her CPA in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments.

 

Where is “The Help?”

We have a need. We have a want. Where is The Help?

Where is the help if we want to talk to an affordable professional about our money?

The Need:

Many of us worry about our money situation because of consumer debt, student debt, limited savings, or the ability to retire.

We might worry, but talking about our money is not something we like to do. A recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) showed that we would rather tell people how much we weigh than the amount of our credit card debit or our FICO score. Many of us are embarrassed.

We might not want to talk about our money situation, but we also know that we could benefit if we did. We know what we don’t know or understand.  We might be comfortable not thinking about it, but this only allows anxiety to grow and does not change anything. A comfort zone can be a beautiful place to be, but nothing ever grows there.

The Want:

We all need and want financial stability.

We might know what to do with our money and just not do it. We know that we need to spend less than we make, but doing that is hard. It can also be hard to save and not spend. We have heard, pay your self first, but do we? We leave money on the table by not getting the full company match for our 401k plans at work.

Most of us were not taught how to manage our finances when we were in school.  We learned the hard way: through trial and error and through the “school of hard knocks”.

Increasingly, we want financial literacy taught in our schools. Students need to learn how to balance their bank account, manage debt, credit, and avoid financial traps.  In short, we want our children or the youth of our community to be better prepared than we were.

The Help:

Clearly, we have a need and a want. Where can we go for affordable help?

Historically, formal financial planning services were designed for and enjoyed by those who had large sums of money to protect. Comprehensive Financial Plans are expensive and time consuming to prepare. Financial Planning service firms may have provided this service at a nominal cost and made their money by selling insurance or investment products or by providing investment management services.  This works well for people who have plenty of money and the need for a comprehensive plan.

Where is the help for those that have less money?

Where is the help for those that do not yet need comprehensive financial plans, but have questions about their money?

Where is The Help for the:

  • Young Adult?
  • Young Career?
  • Young Family?
  • Families living paycheck to paycheck?
  • Working Poor?
  • Shrinking Middle Class?

Over the last few years, service providers have started to pop up. The marketplace had a void and some are stating to fill it, including me. I want to make financial planning, understanding, and capability more accessible for this underserved market for both individuals and small business owners.

For personal finance, maybe you would like to:

  • Talk about your money situation, evaluate, prioritize, act, and build confidence about your economic future?
  • Learn to use a systematic approach to evaluate a financial decision?
  • Have a mentor/friend to help empower you to become more accountable?

For the entrepreneur or small business owner, would you benefit by learning new business skills about:

  • Pro-Forma financials for your business plan?
  • Budgets and cash flow?
  • Tax planning?

For those that like to read and learn on your own, there are a lot of good resources out there to help you.  I have resources listed on my website at www.debfoxfinancial.com. I also blog, post frequently on my Facebook page and share information on Twitter.

Perhaps, you learn best by working “one on one” and would benefit by having the opportunity to ask financial questions and then work together, as a team, to learn, grow, and achieve your financial goals.

I believe that the scope of financial services should be broader than is currently available and want to use my expertise and experience to help others.  We could work together on one project, many projects, or perhaps, I can just be a resource for financial information?

Execution matters. I can help. It is important that you know that I would not tell you what to do.  I can be a financial compass and help you sort through choices and evaluate the potential costs and the benefits of the available options. You decide what is best for you.

I am a financial literacy advocate and want to provide affordable financial solutions by providing meaningful, actionable, advice. If you can afford a personal fitness trainer; you could afford “one on one” help from me.

Takeaways:

  • Decisions made today affect the options available to you in the future
  • What you do today with “Your Present Self” has a direct impact on “Your Future Self”
  • An investment in you today can result in a financially stronger you tomorrow
  • Financial strength brings more freedom of choice

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me & I may remember. Involve me & I learn” – Benjamin Franklin

Deb Fox is working to “make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets”. Although she earned her CPA designation in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others. She does not give investment advice; this is outside her areas of expertise. She can help with financial planning, tax, accounting, and commercial property and casualty insurance questions.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

E-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

 

Have you reviewed your legal business structure for tax savings and/or liability?

Tax Time is a great time to review your business financial life and determine if there are changes you can make to help you keep more of the money your earn in your pocket. One way to do this is to see if your legal business structure provides you the best opportunity for tax savings and/ or more limited liability.

In the U.S., there are four major legal choices to chose from when deciding how to operate your business: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and the limited liability company. There are also variations within these categories, such as the S-corporation.

Making this decision is complicated and both an attorney and an accountant should be consulted to provide information to help you decide which form may be best for your business. Factors to consider include:

  • Legal Liability
  • Tax implications
  • Cost of formation and record keeping
  • Flexibility
  • Future needs

As someone with both an accounting and risk management background, I look at choices from both perspectives. The number side of me wants to find out if there is a way to save money. The risk management part of me wants to make sure we are protecting the money we have. The following business entity review focuses upon these two aspects.

Liability can arise from negligence, statutory law, and assumption by contract. The risk of potential liability varies by business entity form.

Sole Proprietor: Flying Solo

  • Taxpayer is the owner; the business is not separate
  • Unlimited exposure to liability
  • All debts or claims against the business can be filed against the owners’ personal property
  • If the owner is sued, insurance is the only form of protection
  • The business itself is not taxed separately; The IRS calls this “pass-through” taxation, because the business Profit and Loss passes through the business to be taxed on your personal tax return
  • Tax is based on your personal income level and is taxed at graduated rates
  • File your personal income tax on Federal Form 1040 and all business information on Schedule C or Schedule F, Profit or Loss from the business
  • Sole Proprietors must pay both the employer and the employee side of Social Security and Medicare taxes; this is called Self-Employment tax
  • Self-Employment tax is required if your annual net-earnings is more than $400
  • The self-employment tax rate for 2014 is 15.3% of the first $117,000 of income and 2.9% of everything above that amount
  • Self-Employment taxes are reported on Federal Form Schedule SE
  • Sole Proprietors can deduct ½ of this cost on 1040-Line 27, the deductible part of self-employment tax 

Partnership: Two or More

  • General Partnerships: Partners are exposed to unlimited liability for business expenses
  • Limited Partnerships: General Partner is personally liable; Limited Partners have limited liability unless they are participating in management
  • Depending on the form, Partners may lose their investment and/or personal assets as well
  • Partners are not employees and should not be issued a W-2
  • Partnerships file an annual information return on Federal Form 1065; Schedule K1 form is used for the individual member’s profit and loss allocations
  • Individual Partners file their personal tax information on Federal Form 1040 and Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Taxable at the personal income level and at the graduated rates
  • File Self-Employment tax on Schedule SE; see Sole Proprietor for additional information

C-Corporation: Double-Taxation applies

  • Separate legal entity that exists, separately and is distinct from its owners
  • Owners’ personal assets are protected from claims against the corporation
  • Generally, the owners of a corporation cannot lose any more than they have invested in the corporation
  • The corporation is taxed and can be held legally liable for its actions
  • 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
  • Owners do not pay tax on corporate earnings unless they receive money as compensation for services or as dividends
  • The corporation pays taxes on the annual net earnings and files Federal Form 1120
  • Corporate owners, who want to leave some profit in the business, may benefit from lower corporate rates
  • For example, 2013 corporate tax rates are 15% for taxable income below $50K, plus 25% for taxable income between $50K-$75K; perhaps, lower than individual rates
  • Corporate taxation is more complicated than the pass-through taxation
  • Self-Employment tax does not apply; FICA payroll taxes are shared 50/50 between the corporation and the employee

Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Single Member

  • An LLC is an entity created by state statute
  • LLCs are state entities, so the level of legal protection given to a company’s owners depends upon the rules of the state in which the LLC was formed
  • Tax reporting depends on the status of the LLC
  • Depending on elections made by the LLC and the number of members, the IRS will treat an LLC either as a corporation, partnership, or as part of the owner’s tax return; i.e. a disregarded entity
  • An LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes unless it files Form 8832 and elects to be treated as a corporation
  • If a single-member LLC does not elect to be treated as a corporation, the LLC is a “disregarded entity,” and the LLC’s activities should be reflected on its owner’s federal tax return on Federal Form 1040 and Schedule C, Schedule E, or Schedule F
  • An individual owner of a single-member LLC that operates a trade or business is subject to the tax on net earnings from self employment in the same manner as a sole proprietorship
  • A domestic LLC with at least two members is classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes unless it files Federal Form 8832 and elects to be treated as a corporation
  • All income, gain, loss, and deduction flow through to members unless the LLC is taxed as C-Corp
  • No double taxation unless the LLC choses to file as a corporation
  • Taxable at the personal income level and at the graduated rates
  • Self-Employment Tax applies except if the LLC operates as C-Corp
  • File Self-Employment tax on Schedule SE; see Sole Proprietor for additional information

Subchapter S-Corporation (S-Corp): Double Taxation does not apply

  • Separate legal entity
  • Limited liability for shareholders, officers, and directors
  • Generally, a corporation’s shareholders are not personally liable for the corporations debts just because they have ownership in the business; the same is true for the members of an LLC
  • S corporations are corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes
  • Generally, the S-Corp does not pay Income Tax at the Corporate level; they can be responsible for tax on certain built-in gains and passive income at the entity level
  • Self-Employment tax does not apply
  • Many small business owners use S-Corps because they can save a business owner Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • Owners receive a salary and normal payroll taxes apply
  • As an owner-employee, the corporation pays ½ of the payroll tax which can be a substantial tax savings to the owner-employee
  • An S corporation must pay reasonable employee compensation to a shareholder-employee in return for the services the employee provides before a distribution
  • File S-Corp informational return on Federal Form 1120-S
  • Income, gain, loss, and deduction is passed through to share holders
  • Shareholder-employees will receive two tax documents from the S-Corporation: a W-2 wage statement and a Schedule K-1 statement
  • Shareholders report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns; taxed are based upon the individual income tax rates
  • Double-Taxation does not apply
  • Shareholder-employees are taxed on their salary income and on any profits distributed by the S-Corporation
  • Profit distribution is not subject to FICA payroll taxes; salaries paid must be reasonable for services provided
  • Shareholder-Employees file Federal Form 1040 and Schedule E – Supplemental Income and Loss
  • Under California law, the S corporation is subject to a 1.5 percent tax on its net income
  • See if special tax rules apply in your state

Understandably, reading about tax implications and legal liability might seem a bit boring. Most would agree. Think about it this way:

  • Money saved is money you do not need to earn
  • Knowing you are protected is a good form of “sleep insurance”

Chinese Proverb: To open a shop is easy; to keep it open is an art.

Deb Fox can be reached via twitter @ debfoxfinancial or via e-mail @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com/

2013 Federal Tax Filing

tax2• Tax returns are due 4/15/14 – about 3 weeks from now
• You can extend the dead-line if you apply for an extension
• You cannot extend the time to pay the tax that you owe; this means you must estimate the amount owed to ensure you have paid in the correct amount, on time, to avoid interest and a possible penalty
• A penalty may be imposed if:

1. If the amount owed is at least $1,000 and it is more than 10% of the tax shown on your tax return
2. You did not pay enough estimated tax by any of the due dates. This is true even if you are owed a refund
3. There are exceptions; it is safer not to count on them or you can read about them in the Instructions for 1040


Filing Options:

• Do it yourselfers, with Adjusted Gross Income less than $58,000 can, generally, use the IRS Free File Program
• Hire A Professional – Someone that is educated, experienced, licensed (or in California, this includes being registered with CTEC –California Tax Education Council)

Food for thought:
• Typically, the Income Tax is the single biggest bill in an U.S. household. Understanding, planning, and using tax breaks, by year, can reduce your lifetime tax burden
• If you like to file your own taxes, sometimes it provides comfort to have a professional review your taxes to ensure accuracy or to use your tax return as a “road map” to see if there are options to lessen your tax bill – now or in the future
• From an IRS audit perspective, history has shown that Self-Employed people underestimate their income and overstate their deductions. Watch for these IRS audit redflags: http://www.Kiplinger.com/links/auditredflags

Things to think about for Same-Sex Married Couples:
• Same-Sex Married (SSM) couples can file their federal taxes together this year for the 1st time
• If it would benefit you, you can chose to amend any/all previous returns
• Dead-lines to amend previous returns are:
1. 4/15/14 to amend 2010
2. 4/15/15 to amend 2011
3. 4/15/16 to amend 2012

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest – Benjamin Franklin.
http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

2013 Year End Federal Tax Planning – Individual

 


If you want to want to make sure your money is more in “your pocket” than Theirs (The IRS), now is the time to act. Estimating your 2013 tax bill keeps you from being surprised next year. More importantly, it provides the opportunity to perhaps decrease your actual tax amount by planning and acting strategically before the end of this year.

To start:

  • Determine how much you have earned this year
  • Determine what you have paid toward your 2013 Federal tax bill
  • Then increase each of these amounts to estimate the year-end amounts

Keep these amounts in mind as you consider the following simplified tax form

Income
– Above the Line Deductions
= Adjusted Gross Income
– Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions
– Exemptions
= Taxable Income
– Tax Credits
– Tax Paid
= Tax Owed or Refunded

With the visual in mind, you might find it easier to review each major section to see if there is action that you can take now to reduce your tax bill:

1. Income:

If you think your income will decrease next year and your tax rate would be lower, can you:

  • Defer a year-end bonus to January 2014?
  • Postpone a sale that will trigger a gain to next year?
  • Delay exercising stock options?

Alternatively, it may make sense to move income to this year:

  • Covert a traditional IRA or a SEP IRA into a Roth IRA and recognize the conversion income this year?
  • Take IRA distributions this year?

2. Above The Line Deductions:

  • Above the Line Deductions include:

1.   Health Savings Accounts
2.   IRA Deduction

  • Establish an IRA for yourself
  • Establish a Spousal IRA

3.   Qualified Student Loan Interest
4.   Self-employed health insurance or qualified pension plans

  • Establish a Defined Benefit Plan

3. Estimate what is going to save you the most money:

The Standard Deduction or the Itemized Deduction?

The 2013 Standard Deductions are:

$ 12,200 Married, Filing Joint
$ 8,950 Head of Household
$ 6,100 Single or Married, Filing Separate

There is an additional Standard Deduction amount of $1200 for those over the age of 65, blind, or both.

It is important to note that there is a reduction for Personal Exemptions and Itemized Deductions for taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income over:

$250,000 Single
$300,000 Married, Filing Joint
$275,000 Head of Household
$150,000 Married, Filing Separate

  • This will have the effect of increasing taxes on affected taxpayers

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:

  • Prepay property taxes
  • Make your January mortgage payment
  • If you owe state income taxes, consider making up any shortfall rather than waiting until your return is due
  • Medical Expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10 percent (7.5 percent if you or your spouse are 65 before the end of the year) of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
  • 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 into 2014

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 2014:

  • Postpone year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical and dental expense payments, to the extent you might get a deduction for such payments
  • Postpone the sale of any loss-generating property

State and Local Sales Tax Deduction

The option to deduct state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. If you are thinking of purchasing an expensive item that will generate a larger deduction than the state and local income tax deduction, buying the item this year may be beneficial.

Deduction for Eligible Teacher Expenses

This is the last year that eligible educators (teachers) can deduct $250 of qualified expenses paid during the year.

  • If you itemize and you have not reached the limit, take advantage of it by buying next years supplies now

4. Exemption Amount is $3900 (phase-outs apply)

5. Use your numbers to estimate your 2013 Taxable Income

Income
– Above the Line Deductions
= Adjusted Gross Income
– Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions
– Exemptions
= Taxable Income
– Tax Credits
– Tax Paid
= Tax Owed or Refunded

6. Use this Chart to estimate the amount of tax owed

Tax rate Single filers Married filing jointly or qualifying widow/widower Married filing separately Head of household
10% Up to $8,925 Up to $17,850 Up to $8,925 Up to $12,750
15% $8,926 – $36,250 $17,851 – $72,500 $8,926- $36,250 $12,751 – $48,600
25% $36,251 – $87,850 $72,501 – $146,400 $36,251 – $73,200 $48,601 – $125,450
28% $87,851 – $183,250 $146,401 – $223,050 $73,201 – $111,525 $125,451 – $203,150
33% $183,251 – $398,350 $223,051 – $398,350 $111,526 – $199,175 $203,151 – $398,350
35% $398,351 – $400,000 $398,351 – $450,000 $199,176 – $225,000 $398,351 – $425,000
39.6% $400,001 or more $450,001 or more $225,001 or more $425,001 or more

Rev. Procedure 2013-15 can provide additional information

7. Apply Tax credits, including these that will expire this year

Expiring Energy-Related Tax Credits

  • Residential Energy Credit: If you are considering energy improvements to your home, you may want to make the improvements this year. The credit is 10 percent of the amount paid or incurred for qualified energy efficiency improvements installed during the tax year and the amount of residential energy property expenditures paid or incurred during the tax year, up to a maximum credit of $500.
  • Qualified two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles: The credit is equal to the lesser of 10 percent of the cost of such a vehicle or $2,500.

In summary, yes, this involves some work and at a time of year where most of us are busier as we approach year-end and the holidays. If it saves you some money, isn’t it worth it?

Deb Fox can be reached via twitter @ debfoxfinancial or via e-mail @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

Congratulations Same Sex Married couples; The IRS – Post DOMA – Ruling is effective 9-16-13

 

This recent IRS ruling could have a major impact upon your finances. Don’t be caught short by an unexpected surprise.

This recent IRS ruling could have a major impact upon your finances. Don’t be caught short by an unexpected surprise.

Effective Monday September 16, 2013 all Same Sex Married (SSM) couples can file their Federal tax return as either Married Filing Separate or Married Filing Joint.  Filing as single is no longer an option.

The change was announced in an 8/29/13 IRS Press Release:

  • All Same-Sex Married (SSM) couples must file as married even if they are living in a state that does not recognize their marriage
  • Couples can evaluate returns filed in 2010, 2011, and 2012 to see if amending their return results in an overpayment and money back to you
  • Amending returns is an option and is not required

From a tax standpoint, SSM couples have incurred a lot of financial change since the DOMA ruling.

The 2012 Federal Tax filing season is almost over and SSM couples were granted the right to file their Federal return as married on 8/29/13. How will this change affect you? Is there “money in the IRS Treasury bank” or do you need to put money in the bank to pay tax obligations that you just incurred?

To help you get started evaluating how all this change could affect you, create a chart similar to the following for each of the tax years that could be amended to see if filing an amended return for Married Filing Joint (MFJ) saves you money as a couple.

Specific rules are available for each year on the IRS website. It is important to pay attention to credits, deductions, and related phase out amounts. For example, for 2012

  • The $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on student loans begins to phase out for married taxpayers filing a joint return at $125,000 and phases out completely at $155,000

The following chart shows TP#1 using the Standard Deduction and TP#2 using the Itemized Deduction. Hypothetical dollar amounts are not included because they would not be relevant to you.

2012 –Filed:

Prior to DOMA

Taxpayer #1 Taxpayer #2 MFJ Amended after 9-16-13
Adjusted Gross Income
Standard Deduction $5950. $0.00
Itemized Deduction 0 ?
Personal Exemption $3800 $3800.
Taxable Income
Tax Due


To see what the 2013 tax year looks like for Married Filing Joint:

  • List your combined income and Federal Tax withheld or paid to date
  • Determine if you are going to use the Standard or Itemized Deduction
  • Use the IRS Withholding Calculator to check your withholding amount
  • File a new W-4 to adjust your holding if needed

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 includes the following rules for 2013:

  • A new tax rate of 39.6% for individuals over $400,000 and $450,000 for Married Filing Joint
  • The Personal Exemption is $3900; this is phased out beginning with incomes of $250,000 and $300,000 for Married Fling Joint
  • Itemized Deductions are limited for Individuals over $250,000 and $300,000 for Married Fling Joint
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax Exemption is $51,900 ($80,000 for Married Fling Joint).

In closing, I understand that this is a lot of information to absorb, research, and evaluate to determine your financial situation.  Do-It –Yourselfers could be ready to go while others prefer to get help and spend their free time doing something enjoyable. Understandable. For now, just know that the IRS ruling could have a major impact upon your finances. Don’t be caught short by an unexpected surprise.

Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.  May your investment produce a positive return for both your time and for your money.

How much do you keep of what you earn? 2013 Tax Plan

Have you noticed “The IRS” spells “Theirs”?  Paying tax is required.  How much you pay is determined, in part, by how you plan.

If you are married, or plan to be, for the 2013 Federal tax year, now is the time to look at your potential tax liability and determine your financial plan. Nobody wants to find out at the end of year that they owe taxes when there is little time to do anything about it.

The U.S. uses a graduated tax rate, which means that the tax rate increases as the income goes up.

There are five filing statuses:

  • Single (S)
  • Married Filing Joint (MFJ)
  • Married Filing Separate (MFS)
  • Head of Household (HOH)
  • Qualifying Widow (er) with Dependent Child (Q/W)

More than one filing status can apply to you. You can choose the one that gives you the lowest combined tax.

Generally, Married Filing Joint will result in the lowest amount of tax. There are exceptions and good tax planning involves reviewing “what if” scenarios.

Are you “withholding” enough to cover the estimated tax liability by the end of the year? If not, you need to either increase your withholding or use other methods, such as deferring income, to decrease the estimated amount owed.

The following will help you get started:

Filing Single is the easiest. All you need to decide is if you are going to save more money by using the Standard Deduction or to itemize deductions.

Married Filing Joint (MFJ) can be used if:

You are married on the last day of the year

Both you and your spouse report all your income, exemptions, deductions, and payments

Both spouses must sign the tax return because both of you may be held responsible for accurate reporting and tax payment

Married Filing Separate

Report your income, exemptions, credits, and deductions

Different rules apply if you live in a community property state. See Publication 555

You will “generally” pay more combined tax on Married Filing Separate returns than you would on Married Filing Joint returns for the reasons listed under “Special Rules” in IRS Publication 501

Some of the “Special Rules” include:

If your spouse itemizes deductions, generally, you cannot take the standard deduction

You cannot take the student loan interest deduction, the tuition and fees deduction, the education credits, or the earned income credit.

There are reasons why you might want to choose the Married Filing Separate (MFS) status:

  • You only want to be responsible for the accuracy and the payment of your tax liability
  • If your Adjusted Gross Income  (AGI) is lower by filing MFS than MFJ you may be able to deduct a larger amount for certain deductions that are limited by AGI such as medical expenses. For the 2012 tax year, you can deduct only the part of your medical and dental expenses that exceeds 7.5% of your Adjusted Gross Income. This increased to 10% for 2013.
  • Head of Household is for unmarried, or are considered unmarried, you provide a home for certain persons, and you meet the criteria by passing one of two tests. Detailed information can be found at IRS.Gov.

Tax rules are complicated and this is by no means comprehensive. Hopefully, it is enough to encourage you to look at your tax situation and to take action so you are not surprised with a big tax bill next year. A large return because of overpayment equates to giving the IRS an “interest free loan”.

Suggestions:

Use the 2012 tax rules to estimate your 2013 income and the amount of federal tax withheld

If it appears that you will either owe or have a possible large refund, consider filing a new W-4, the Employee withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer

Reasons to change the amount withheld may include a change in your marital status or your dependents. Perhaps, you bought a house this year and know you will have enough deductions to itemize rather than use the standard deduction. Maybe, because of multiple jobs, too much is being withheld from your checks.

You work hard for your money. Don’t you want to keep as much as you can? After all, it is yours, not all theirs.

Together in Love & Marriage – but not for U.S. Taxes?

Marriage and TaxesNote:

While today’s blog has an initial focus for those affected by the recent Supreme Courts DOMA decision, the tax implications discussed apply to all married couples that file their federal return as Married Filing Joint.

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Same-Sex Married Couples may have enjoyed life together for years, but 2013 will be the first U.S. tax year that these couples have to consider “filing married “. How will this affect their personal finances or even the their personal financial liability?

Perhaps, because filing married was never a possibility for filing Federal Taxes there was not a clear and driving need for discussion. Now there is.

Consider this quote from the Prudential LGBT Financial Experience 2012-2013 Research Study: “Same-Sex Couples value financial independence far more than the general population, often keeping separate accounts and financial plans.”

With the overturn of certain parts of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), it will be harder to keep money in the closet.

One of my personal goals is to help people make smart financial decisions and to avoid expensive mistakes. A good method for doing this is to look at both the risks and the rewards of each possible action.

This blog will focus on some of the risks for “filing married”. In my next blog, I will discuss the difference between Married Filing Joint (MFJ) and Married Filing Separate (MFS).

Married Filing Joint (MFJ) requires that both spouses sign the tax return. Note that doing so can result in the following as per the 2012 1040 U.S. Individual Tax Return Instructions:

Joint and several tax liability. If you file a joint return, 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 does not pay the tax due, the other may have to. Or, if one spouse does not report the correct tax, both spouses may be responsible for any additional taxes assessed by the IRS.

You may want to file separately if:

You believe your spouse is not reporting all of his or her income, or

You do not want to be responsible for any taxes due if your spouse does not have enough tax withheld or does not pay enough estimated tax.

Relief from joint responsibility:  In some cases, one spouse may be relieved of joint responsibility for tax, interest, and penalties on a joint return for items of the other spouse that were incorrectly reported on the joint return. You can ask for relief no matter how small the liability.

There are three types of relief available:

Innocent spouse relief

Separation of liability (available only to joint filers who are divorced, widowed, legally separated, or who have not lived together for the 12 months ending on the date the election for this relief is filed).

Equitable relief

You must file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief, to request relief from joint responsibility. Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, explains the kinds of relief and who may qualify for them.

On August 8, 2013, The IRS issued REG-132251-11. This proposes to expand from two to 10 years the amount of time that taxpayers could apply for Innocent Spouse Relief so they are no longer responsible for the tax debts of estranged spouses.

In closing, I understand that the “Joint & Several Liability” may come as a surprise to many and it should. Many are newly married for U.S. tax purposes. I chose to share the “risks” first because it will help keep the “rewards” in perspective.

To Plan – It Helps to Understand – Financially

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“Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn” – Deb Fox

One of my goals is to make the seemingly complex, simple.  With that in mind, I offer you an IRS Federal Tax primer.

To plan, financially, it helps to understand that not all numbers are created equal. Some numbers provide more benefit than others.

My hope is that this primer will serve as a good tool to refer back to when I write about other tax topics.

The Visual:

Income
– Above the Line Deductions
= Adjusted Gross Income
– Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions
Exemptions
= Taxable Income
– Tax Credits
Tax Paid
= Tax Owed or Refunded

The Narrative:

Income includes all income except income that is exempt by law

Deductions reduce your tax liability by reducing the amount of income that is taxable

Income minus Above the Line deductions equals Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

  • Above the Line deductions include, in part, monies paid for:
  1. Health Savings Account
  2. IRA Deduction
  3. Qualified Student Loan Interest
  4. Self-employed health insurance or qualified pension plans

Adjusted Gross Income minus either the Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions

  • Use the highest number
  • The 2012 Federal Standard Deduction for Single of Married Filing Separate was $5950; $11,900 for Married Filing Joint or Qualified Widower; $8,700 for Head of Household

Then subtract $3,800 for each 2012 qualified Exemption = Taxable Income

  • Exemptions include you, your spouse, & qualified dependents

Taxable Income minus Allowable Credits

  • Credits are either Refundable or Non-Refundable
  • Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability below zero – IRS pays you
  • Non-Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability to zero

Refundable Credits Include:

  • Earned Income credit
  • Child Tax credit
  • The American Opportunity Tax credit

Non-Refundable Credits include:

  • Adoption credit
  • Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit)
  • Lifetime Learning credit

Takeaways:

  • Above the Line deductions are more valuable than Below the Line deductions because they are available to all taxpayers and are not subject to income limitation phase-outs
  • Deductions reduce the amount of income subject to tax
  • Tax credits reduce the amount of tax you pay
  • Tax planning can help you reduce your tax liability and keep more of your money
  • Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn.

Keep marching toward Financial Freedom. Happy Planning!

Defense of Marriage Act is Dead. Now What?

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images / SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 28: Supporters applaud as same-sex couple Sandy Stier (2R) and Kris Perry (R) prepare to get married at San Francisco City Hall by California Attorney General Kamala Harris on June 28, 2013 in San Francisco, CA.

My name is Deb Fox;  I am a CPA and this is my first blog post. As a CPA I was aware of the financial inequalities created by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and I felt that it was wrong. I was elated to learn that the Supreme Court of the United States agreed with me.

I have the unusual blessing of having not one, but two gay brothers. One is my younger brother; he and his partner have been together for 13 years and they live in San Diego. The other is my older stepbrother; he and his partner have also been together for many years and live in Orlando, Florida.

Our parents are in their early 80’s and have been great role models for all of us. They have always been accepting of my brothers and their relationships. Our family is very close and we enjoy our time together as much as possible. We are fortunate to be blessed by loving and supportive relationships. This post is dedicated to my brothers and to all those that celebrate this victory with me/us.

A brief history of DOMA & a glimpse into what it means now for the 130,000 same-sex couples that are legally married living in the current 13 states and in the District of Columbia:

DOMA History:

  • In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii, ruled that the state needed to show a “compelling state interest” in disallowing gays and lesbians from marrying
  • The case turned marriage into a possibility of obtaining the same rights of partnership as heterosexuals
  • In 1996 DOMA was signed into law, which restricted federal law from recognizing any unions between two persons who were not a man and a woman. The rule also said that no state had to accept any other states definition of marriage
  • On 6/26/13, the U.S. Supreme Court declared DOMA (section 3) unconstitutional .The federal government cannot discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections
  • States can still define marriage (section 2). The IRS will provide guidance about what happens if you are in a non-same sexed marriage recognition state

By striking down DOMA this now means that same-sex couples who are married in the 13 states and DC where same-sex marriage is legal are now “qualified” (spouse related) to receive:

Federal Benefits:

  • Receive Social Security, Medicare, & Disability Benefits
  • Receive Veterans & Military Benefits
  • Receive Cobra health insurance benefit continuation for your spouse
  • File Married Filing Joint or Married Filing Separate if you are married on 12/31/13

Employment Benefits:

  • Not be taxed by your employer for the health care benefits provided for your spouse
  • Take Family Medical Leave for your spouse
  • Receive wages and retirement plan benefits for deceased spouse

Gift/Estate Tax:

  • Make unlimited tax-free gifts to each other as long as the receiving spouse is a U.S. citizen
  • Leave your assets to your spouse without incurring estate taxes (Edie Windsor)

Congratulations to those that have been married for years & have not had the rights or the benefits as those heterosexual couples that obtained them when they spoke “I do”.

There is a lot to be considered with this recent decision by the Supreme Court which is why I have limited this initial post to the 2013 tax year. The IRS will soon let us know if we need to consider the tax implications retroactively – 3 years back or not.

But for now my friends, this is the time for you to:

  • Enjoy the 1,138 spousal benefits provided by the federal government – if you are in a same-sex marriage and living in a location that recognizes your marriage
  • Consider changing your W-4 from single to married.  You need to make sure that you are “withholding” enough to prevent being accessed a penalty
  • Know that the United States tax is a “pay as you go” tax system, which means that tax must be paid as you receive or earn your income. See IRS Topic 306 – Penalty for Underpayment of Estimated Tax
  • Celebrate – it is Pride week here in San Diego! Maybe, I will meet you there?

Happy Pride and Congratulations on a long fought battle.