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

Can the IRS help you recover from Mother Nature?

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Mother Nature created a life changing financial effect upon many American financial lives.

  • Since 6/11/16, there have been 6 Major Disaster Declarations in 6 different states: Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Montana, Wisconsin, and Louisiana
  • During the same period of time, there have been numerous Fire Management Assistance Declarations in multiple states, mostly in California and most recently in Washington

If I could, I would, restore your homes to their original condition- with a wave of a Faerie wand or a twitch of a nose. Unfortunately, I cannot do that.

What I can do is to use my commercial property & casualty experience and my tax knowledge, to create this blog and hopefully provide you information you can use, to help you recover from a financial loss.

Damage caused by Mother Nature = Casualty Loss:

A casualty loss can result from the damage, destruction, or loss of your property from any sudden, unexpected, or unusual event such as a flood, hurricane, tornado, fire, earthquake, or volcanic eruption. It does not include normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration (termite damage).

  • For those that had a property loss due to fire, an insurance policy may have helped you recover some of your financial loss
  • For those that had a property loss due to a flood, financial help from an insurance company may not be  available; FEMA or others might help

 

In addition to insurance or FEMA assistance, the IRS tax rules may provide you some tax relief:

  1. Allow you to deduct a portion of your unreimbursed loss on your individual tax return
  2. Allow you to use a Net Operating Loss to change past tax returns or to use that loss on a future tax return

 

Perspective:

  • Casualty Losses are required to be reported on Schedule A as an Itemized Deduction
  • For practical purposes, Itemized Deductions need to be greater than the Standard Deduction to provide you a tax financial benefit
  • Is your loss more than the amounts shown below?

 

2016 Standard Deductions:

  • $6,300 for Single and for Married Filing Separate (same as 2015)
  • $12,600 Married Filing Joint (same as 2015)
  • $9,300 Head of Household (was $9,250 for 2015

 

Planning Tip: “Details create the big picture “ – Samuel I. Weill

  • The IRS requires documentation for tax deductions; start to gather and prepare now
  • The only way to see what will work for you is to gather, evaluate and decide
  • If you have questions, reach out and ask, including from me

 

Individual Tax Deduction Rules:

  • Generally, you may deduct casualty and theft losses relating to your home, household items, and vehicles on your federal income tax return
  • You may not deduct casualty and theft losses covered by insurance, unless you file a timely claim for reimbursement and you reduce the loss by the amount of any reimbursement or expected reimbursement

 

If your property is personal-use property or is not completely destroyed, the amount of your casualty loss is the lesser of:

  • The adjusted basis of your property, or
  • The decrease in fair market value of your property as a result of the casualty

 

If your property is business or income-producing property, such as rental property, and is completely destroyed, then the amount of your loss is your adjusted basis.

 

Tip: Adjusted Basis =

  • The adjusted basis of your property is usually your cost, increased or decreased by certain events such as improvements or depreciation
  • For property you buy, your basis is, generally, the cost to you
  • For property you acquire in some other way, such as inheriting it or getting it as a gift, you must figure your basis in another way- see Pub 551

 

Claiming the Loss:

  • Individuals are required to claim their casualty and theft losses as an Itemized Deduction Form 1040, Schedule A
  • For property held by you for personal use, you must subtract $100 from each casualty or theft event that occurred during the year after you have subtracted any salvage value and any insurance or other reimbursement
  • Then add up all those amounts and subtract 10% of your adjusted gross income from that total to calculate your allowable casualty and theft losses for the year
  • Consider using your 2015 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) as a benchmark – (the last line, on the 1st page, of your 1040 tax return)
  • Report casualty and theft losses on Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts
  • Use Section A for personal-use property and Section B for business or income-producing property
  • If personal-use property was damaged, destroyed or stolen, you may wish to refer to Pub 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook (Personal-Use Property)
  • For losses involving business-use property, refer to Pub 584-B, Business Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook
  • These workbooks are helpful in claiming the losses on Form 4684; keep them with your tax records

 

When to Deduct:

  • Casualty losses are generally deductible in the year the casualty occurred
  • However, if you have a casualty loss from a federally declared disaster that occurred in an area warranting public or individual assistance (or both), you can choose to treat the casualty loss as having occurred in the year immediately preceding the tax year in which the disaster happened, and you can deduct the loss on your return or amended return for that preceding tax year
  • Claiming a disaster loss on the prior year’s return may result in a lower tax for that year, often producing a refund – Do the Math

 

When Your Loss Deduction Exceeds Your Income

  • If your loss deduction is more than your income, you may have a Net Operating Loss (NOL)
  • You do not have to be in business to have an NOL from a casualty
  • For more information, refer to Pub 536, Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for Individuals, Estates, and Trusts

 

Net Operating Loss (NOL)– Individuals:

  • Net Operating Losses occur when you have more tax deductions than you have taxable income
  • You may have a NOL if you have a negative number on the line for taxable income before you deduct your personal exemptions- Form 1040, Line 41
  • This can occur in you have a large casualty loss, such as a flood or a fire, and are not reimbursed for the loss from insurance or other possible sources

 

If you have a NOL:

  • Decide whether to carry the NOL back to a past year or to waive the Carry Back period and instead carry the NOL forward to a future year
  • NOL year= This is the year in which the NOL occurred
  • Generally, if you have an NOL for a tax year ending in 2015, you must carry back the entire amount of the NOL to the 2 tax years before the NOL year (the Carry Back period), and
  • Then Carry Forward any remaining NOL for up to 20 years after the NOL year (the Carry Forward period)
  • You can, however, choose not to Carry Back an NOL and only Carry it Forward
  • See IRS Publication 536

 

I realize this is a lot of information to take in at one time. Keep it as a guide, and take one step at a time. The following action steps will help you get started.

 

Action Steps:

  • Inventory your loss by property type- real property (real estate); personal property; automobiles; business property
  • If you own real estate, determine your cost basis
  • If you need to replace IRS information, use their “Get Transcript” tools, for wage/income information and to obtain previous tax returns
  • State tax rules are different; research yours when you can, to see if tax benefits are available there
  • When you can:
  1. Quantify the value of items lost
  2. Quantify the money received to replace part of your loss
  3. Find your initial IRS loss number: Value of items lost – money received = unreimbursed loss
  4. Use the Unreimbursed loss number to see if the IRS rules, included above, can help you recover, at least some, financially
  5. If you have questions, feel free to contact me via e-mail or by phone; if you use e-mail, please do not send attachments or any personal financial information- that information should always be protected. General questions and specific numbers are safe.

 

“In times of turbulence and change, it is more true, than ever, that knowledge is power ” – John F Kennedy

“Tax Filing is mandatory; Tax Planning is optional; Tax Planning & Acting can help you keep more $$ in your pocket rather than Theirs (The IRS)” – Deb Fox

It’s impossible said Pride; It’s risky said experience; It’s pointless said reason; Give it a try whispered heart” – anonymous

 

Thanks for reading,

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

Does the IRS think you have a Business?

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Many taxpayers started a business and thought, or were told, “Don’t worry about the expense, it’s a write off on your tax return”.

The truth is that this may or may not be true.

Tax is not a cookie-cutter industry and as you can probably guess, the IRS did not make a “One Size Fits All” tax rule for write-offs.

If your intent is to enjoy your hobby and perhaps make some incidental income, this blog may not be of interest to you.

If your intent is to make money through a legitimate business, as defined by the IRS – this is for you

  • My purpose is to provide you “heads up” and “eyes open” to help ensure your business and financial success
  • This blog is provided to help educate you on how to organize, manage and conduct your business to improve your chances with the IRS in the event that your “activity” is audited ***

 

IRS Hobby VS Business Rules:

  • An “Activity” is either a hobby or a business
  • The IRS uses facts to decide if an activity is a (hobby) or a business
  • Neither the Code nor the Regulations provide an absolute definition
  • It is difficult for a taxpayer to win a hobby-loss case at the Tax Court level
  • If your tax return pays tax as a business and the IRS finds that it is a hobby, your tax return can be corrected and your tax liability could go up; i.e. you might owe the IRS money ***
  • The financial adjustment may be significant. In addition to the loss of the deductions, you, may face a §6662 understatement penalty for the tax years in question ***

 

Hobby Rules:

  • An activity is presumed to be a Hobby if a profit is not earned in at least 3 taxable years of a consecutive 5-year period
  • A taxpayer can overcome the presumption if he/she can show the activity was operated with a For-Profit motive
  • Under IRC §183, a taxpayer’s deduction for Hobby losses is limited to the income produced
  • You must itemize deductions to claim hobby expenses on your tax return
  • Hobby expenses, along with other miscellaneous expenses you itemize on Schedule A, must come to more than 2% of your adjusted gross income before you can deduct them
  • Hobby Expenses can bring your Hobby Gross Income, to zero
  • Income is reported on your IRS Form 1040, Line 21, Other Income
  • I understand that this can be confusing, so I will rephrase differently, to help bring clarity:
  • Hobby Income needs to be reported
  • Hobby Expense deductions have 3 limitations:
  1. Total Itemized Deductions have to be greater than your Standard Deduction
  2. Hobby expense deductions are limited to the hobby income produced, and then
  3. Then those expenses must be reduced by 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

 

Business Rules:

  • A Business has a For-Profit motive
  • A simple, general rule is that if the business makes a profit in 3 of 5 years there will be a presumption of profit
  • IRC § 183(d) is a safe harbor for the taxpayer
  • If the business is For-Profit, no limit on deductions is imposed and the taxpayer may be able to use losses to offset (reduce) other taxable income
  • If an activity has not produced profits in three of the past five years, the taxpayer may still argue that the business has a profit motive by relying on Reg. §1.183-2, which provides for a nine-factor test
  • More weight is given by the courts to the objective facts (rather than to the taxpayer’s statement intent) Dreicer v. Comr., 78 T.C. 642 (1982)
  • Judicial decisions suggest that no one factor is controlling
  • Court decisions often seem to consistently rely on the first factor as the most important

 

The prevailing regulations list nine critical factors for determining whether an activity constitutes a Hobby or a Business. They are:

  1. The manner in which the taxpayer carries on the activity
  2. The expertise of the taxpayer or his or her advisers
  3. The time and effort expended by the taxpayer in carrying on the activity
  4. The expectation that assets used in the activity may appreciate in value
  5. The success of the taxpayer in carrying on other similar or dissimilar activities
  6. The taxpayer’s history of income or losses with respect to the activity
  7. The amount of occasional profits, if any, which are earned by the taxpayer
  8. The financial status of the taxpayer
  9. Any elements of personal pleasure or recreation

 

Business Tax Reporting:

  • A Sole Proprietor or Qualified Joint Venture will file a federal return on Form 1040 and Schedule C- Profit or Loss from Business
  • If you have another Schedule C business activity; a separate Schedule C is required for each business; the same is true for your business records
  • Check to see what tax reporting is required by your state tax board and local municipality
  • 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
  • Quarterly estimated tax payments should be paid if you expect to owe more than $1,000 in federal taxes on an annual basis
  • Use 1040ES for Individual Estimated Payments
  • Reconcile payments on your annual Year End tax return
  • Self-Employment tax of 15.30% is required on all Annual Net Earnings of more than $400

 

Building the Foundation for a For-Profit Business Intent

Tips for Success:

  • Conduct your business, like a business, consistently
  • Consistency includes Quarterly tax reporting and payments – as required
  • Quarterly reporting requires that your accounting records be current – so you know if you have a profit or a loss
  • Taxpayers bear the burden of proving that they engaged in the activity with an actual and honest objective of realizing a profit
  • Keep detailed financial records
  • Credit Card and Bank statements and cancelled checks are not enough- the IRS needs to see the detail of what you bought
  • Receipts are your Audit Protection – the IRS has Strict Substantiation Requirements
  • The Cohen Rule,” states that you can use “other credible evidence,” or rely on IRS Publication 463 which states that you don’t need to keep receipts for expenses under $75 – it is safer to save all receipts and to follow a consistent business practice
  • Don’t use Cash: it is hard to track, easy to spend and nearly impossible to reconcile with receipts
  • Establish separate checking and credit accounts for your business – don’t co-mingle business & personal funds
  • Keep a Time/Activity Log- Outlook or Google calendar may be requested during an audit
  • If you have had business losses and made changes in the attempt to improve profitability, keep a list of changes made and the date the change was made
  • Establish a level of expertise by attending seminars, networking, and joining professional organizations related to the activity
  • Anticipate that you could be audited ***
  • Pursue your passion, enjoy the journey, and ask questions as you learn along the way

 

If you want to learn more about IRS tax rules, contact for me for a $75.00 Special: includes a 45 minute Q&A phone session plus a free “cheat sheet” for your personal use. The “cheat sheet” includes accounting/tax tips about what is a deductible expense, etc. Offer is valid until 9/5/16.

 

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day” – Jim Rohn

“To open a shop is easy; to keep it open is an art” –Chinese Proverb

 

Thanks for reading,

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

Tips for Tax- Efficient Financial Planning

For Tax-Efficient Financial Planning, it is important to consider your:

  • “Income” sources
  • How each source is taxed
  • Your Tax Bracket

Income Sources:

Visualize a pie and then divide your sources of income in to 3 general categories: Taxable, Tax Deferred, and Tax Free.

How does it look?

  • All taxable? This is an excellent opportunity to reduce your tax bill and keep more of your money. Your recent filed tax return can be a good road map to provide clues for tax savings opportunities
  • Taxable and Tax-Deferred? Good for you; you have some balance
  • All 3? Even better. This provides flexibility on how you draw down your assets later, which could save tax dollars and money

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

Tax-Brackets:

To determine your tax-bracket, you, generally, need to know your annual taxable income and your tax status as of the end of the year.

As you have already seen or already knew, Ordinary Income is taxed at the highest rate.

Managing your tax-brackets means:

  • 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

Takeaways for Tax-Efficient Decisions:

  • Know your tax bracket
  • Estimate your current annual taxable income
  • Use the 2015 IRS Tax Bracket Schedules to determine “how much room you have to move, before moving to the next highest tax bracket
  • You could use this “room to move” as the potential amount to convert the specific amount of money from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA
  • A conversion to a Roth IRA results in taxation of any untaxed amounts in the traditional IRA. The conversion is reported on Form 8606, Nondeductible IRAs. See  Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), for more information.
  • Determine the tax consequence before you convert and ensure you have the cash to pay the tax for converting

The IRS is spelled just like that: “Theirs”. However, tax laws were put in to place to help save you money. The IRS is not going to tell you that you could have paid less when you submit your tax return. It is your job and I am here to help, which is why I share information – so you can.

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA studies tax laws so you don’t have to. She enjoys making a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets as she helps them on the road to financial freedom.

Deb provides free 30-minute consultations. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com.

Thanks for reading!

Money Spent, Wisdom Gained, & 20 Helpful Tips

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Many of us have said, “I wish I had known then what I do now; I would have done things differently”.

This is particularly true when it comes to money & our financial situations. Money trouble or challenges occur for a variety of reasons:

We spend when we shouldn’t or we spend without understanding the true cost:

As a student, perhaps we used some of our student loan to go shopping. Maybe, we bought things we knew we couldn’t afford because we wanted or deserved it, or signed contracts without reading or fully understanding them.

We spend because we lose our job & spent our financial safety net to survive

Sometimes we end up in money trouble just because of unexpected life events. This has happened a lot since 2008 when people suddenly found themselves with a “pink slip” & not able to get another well paying job. Even if you had the now outdated 3-6 months livings expense safety cushion, it wasn’t enough. Debt piled up.

We spend because we don’t have any other choice; it is a revolving circle:

When debt piles up, we may play the “rob Peter to pay Paul” tactic & move debt from one card to another.

We pay the bills for the services that are the most important to us – housing, electric, phone, gas, & food and hope we can pay the rest of the bills -soon. We hope something will change and actively seek solutions.

We spend to pay high service fees: Fringe Banking, Unbanked, & Under -banked:

The movie “Spent: Looking for Change”, is about hardworking Americans who do not have access to traditional banking services. The film tells us that there are nearly 70 million Americans that are unbanked & financially underserved. They use check cashers, pawns shops, payday lenders, & money order services. These alternative financial services are expensive & those that least can afford it spend more than traditional bank users to cash their payroll checks & to pay their bills.

We spend because we want our tax refund now:

Low to moderate income tax payers pay extremely high interest rates & fees to get some or part of their tax refund now rather than wait a couple of weeks and avoid these needless high expense charges.

The National Consumer Law Center’s website provides the following description:

  • Refund anticipation checks (RACs) – RACs are a financial product used to deliver refunds and to pay for tax preparation fees by deducting them from the consumer’s tax refund.
  •  RALs from non-bank lenders – A few payday and other non-bank lenders are offering RALs. These loans could be more expensive and riskier than bank RALs.

Since the 2008 recession, many people have permanently changed the way they spend their money.

Following are 20 tips to help you make your money go further. This, then will provide you the opportunity to either pay down debt, build a safety cushion, or invest in your future.

Money Management & Spending Tips:

  1. Some “assets” appreciate and can go up in value; spending money here makes sense
  1. Other “assets” depreciate as soon as you buy them – cars, furniture; consider buying used or refurbished
  1. Accountants use a term called “Sunk Costs” which means a cost that has already been incurred & cannot be recovered; limit your sunk costs
  1. Opportunity Costs: the value of something that must be given up to achieve something else; limit how much you spend on a things that you want; you might need the money later for a need
  1. Good debt provides you an opportunity to get ahead; there can be a return on your investment; i.e. a mortgage on a home
  1. Bad debt includes high interest rates on unpaid credit card balances
  1. Borrowing on credit is expensive; debt makes you a slave to payments; you’re a hostage with limited life choices & flexibility
  1. Building & Maintaining a good credit score means it will cost you less to borrow money
  1. Forgo bad debt & instead, build toward your dreams
  1. When you want to spend instead of save, think about your long-term goals. Is going out to eat, buying coffee at Starbucks, going shopping because you feel depressed or want something new worth adding more debt or forgoing savings?
  1. Read your contracts & plan for both the best & the worse scenario- can you afford both?
  1. Know that managing money is becoming more simple and that there are is a lot of free help
  1. Use the internet to learn more about personal finance- Coursera offers free classes
  1. Use on line tools to help you determine your best money moves; I have several on my website, on the resources page
  1. Hire someone to help you understand & determine your best possible alternatives
  1. Avoid “problem pile-ups”- it is too hard to solve almost anything that way. Choose one thing to work on, resolve, choose another
  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you made what you consider a “money mistake”. Ideally, we all learn as we grow. This is a normal part of life & it is fully possible to recover & regroup
  1. Don’t assume you know the answer, because you think “it is true” or someone told you. Look for the answer yourself or try to get your answers in writing from an objective source
  1. If you are a parent, be careful that you are not unintentionally teaching your children poor money habits by saying things like, “I am not answering the phone, it is another bill collector”
  1. Sometimes we learned poor money habits as a kid and carried them with us in to adulthood without realizing it. This has become so common that there is a new field of study & help: Behavioral Finance. Learn about this is if it applies to you

Deborah Fox, CPA is working to make financial information affordable & accessible. She helps others improve or protect their personal or business financial health by answering specific money questions. She provides information while building knowledge & practical skill levels for her clients. She is available for local or remote appointments. Thanks for reading.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

e-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Phone: 619-549-2717

Your Personal Income – Learn, Grow, Achieve

 It is a new year and many of us have renewed energy, vision, & goals we want to accomplish- make more money, get out of debt, buy a home, prepare to retire, have more time with our family.

To help, I thought I would write a short series of articles that might be resourceful in helping you reach some of your goals.

To begin, I thought we would start at “the top” of most people’s list and take a look at money; i.e. our personal income.

In future blogs, I will provide info on how we spend, save, & can protect the money we earn.

First, lets look at some words that describe our Personal Income:

1. Learn:

Disposable Income = Income – taxes

This term is kind of a misnomer. Disposable sounds like we don’t really need the money when in reality we do, to pay our bills.

Discretionary Income = Income – taxes – all monthly payments

This is what companies use to decide to whom to market their product. The more discretionary income we have, the higher priced items are “presented” to us. They are a lure. It is always our choice. Do we save, invest, build for tomorrow or enjoy today?

Our discretionary income varies by which stage in life we are: student, raising children, retired.

IRS Income Terms:

The IRS uses the term “Ordinary Income” which basically includes all income except for income except income from Long Term Capital Gains.

Ordinary Income includes:

Earned Income: Money earned in exchange for services

  • Work for someone & receive payment for services
  • Self-Employment

Not “Earned” Income:

  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Retirement Income
  • Social Security Payments
  • Unemployment
  • Alimony
  • Child Support

Portfolio Income

  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Annuities
  • Royalties not derived in the ordinary course of your trade or business
  • Gains & Losses – not derived in the ordinary course of trade or business

There are other income terms that we hear others say: Recurring income such as the commission earned by insurance agents and web hosts as they almost automatically renew us each year. Residual Income  is royalty income earned by the owner of intellectual property – books, lyrics, music, patents.

  1. Grow:

This “Income definition review” is not about definitions. It is to help you think about:

  • What kind of income am I making now and how much does it “cost” me?
  • Is the income I earn from a variety of sources or am I dependent on a single source?
  • What do I want to build for tomorrow?
  1. Achieve:

Remember the slogan, “Work Smarter, not Harder?

“Passive Income” is based on “leverage”; we can increase our time productivity by creating assets that work for us and can pay us while we are busy doing other things we enjoy.

 Designing your life to include some passive income could allow you to do more things with your time. It can create a sort of financial “safety net” if you become sick, injured, or have a family emergency that prevents you from working at a typical job. For some, it allows them to have more freedom of choice in their life about where, when, and how they “work” to earn an “income”.

Many of us learned during the recent recession that we should not rely on a single source of income to keep us financially safe. We need to “spread our risk” and not have all (or too many) “eggs in one basket”.

Some people try to create multiple income streams because it provides more financial security and reduces their “dependency” on a single source of income.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

  • Think about getting involved in the #sharing economy – rent out something you are not using (house, car, bike)
  • Write a series of e-books and sell on Kindle (http://www.stevescottsite.com)
  • Create an App
  • Sell memberships, advertisements, or affiliate links from your blog or website
  • Buy rental property
  • Set up a Self-Directed IRA & invest in mortgage notes, etc. (see my previous blog)
  • Be a bank- Peer to Peer Lending
  • Turn your passion into profit – start a small business or trade services

As you think about reaching your money goals for this year, you could earn more money, spend less, or do both. If you decide to earn more, what can you do to leverage your time, increase your productivity and your net worth?

“A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart” – Jonathan Swift

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

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