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

Smart Personal Tax Planning –What to do before Year-End

2013 TaxTaxes take a big bite out of the income we earn. We may pay: federal (IRS) income tax, state income tax, payroll tax (social security/medicare), sales tax, and property tax. Most of these taxes offer limited options to control how much we pay. However, our golden opportunity comes with income tax because there are a ways to reduce our expense. Today, I offer some of these for you to consider:

The Why & The How

If you want to want to make sure your money is more in “your pocket” than in theirs (The IRS), now is the time to act. Estimating your 2014 tax bill keeps you from being surprised next year. More importantly, it provides you the opportunity to perhaps decrease the amount of tax you pay 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 2014 tax bill
  • Then increase each of these amounts to estimate the year-end amounts

Now that you have a glimpse of your 2014 tax situation, compare those numbers to those on your 2013 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:

Kiplinger’s recently 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
  • File a revised W-4 with your employer this year to change your tax withholdings; remember the goal is to break even

Shift Income?

Then consider if you can shift 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 2015?
  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 into 2015

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 2015:

  • 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

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 Individual1040 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 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 appointment. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com. Thanks for reading

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.