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For years, John E. Russi, CPA, PA has been providing quality, personalized financial guidance to local individuals and businesses. Our expertise ranges from basic tax management and accounting services to more in-depth services such as audits, financial statements, and financial planning.

John E. Russi, CPA, PA is one of the leading firms in and throughout the area. By combining our expertise, experience and the team mentality of our staff, we assure that every client receives the close analysis and attention they deserve. Our dedication to high standards


ARCHIVE OF PAST MONTYLY NEWSLETTERS

Organizing Your Financial Records For Best Results

With tax time long over and midyear officially here, it’s a great time to organize your financial records. And the key word here is indeed “organize.” Throwing all your important documents into a drawer won’t help much when an emergency occurs and you (or a family member) need to find a certain piece of paper.

Make a list

Of course, emergencies aren’t the only reason to organize your records. For example, you may need to be able to access relevant personal records if you’re ever audited or a victim of theft. Or your home could be damaged in a storm or fire. Or you may need proof to cash in investments or claim insurance benefits.

To get started, make a list of important records. These include items related to:

  • Bank and investment accounts,
  • Real estate and homeownership,
  • Insurance policies,
  • Credit card accounts,
  • Health care benefits and medical history, and
  • Marriage and your estate.

Grouping the items into broad categories such as these will make them easier to file and find later.

Establish your approach

With your list in hand, it’s time to start organizing and storing your records. Here are some tips for streamlining the process:

Create a central filing system. The ideal storage medium for personal documents is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. Create a master list of the cabinet contents and provide a copy of the key to your executor or a trusted family member.

Designate a second storage location. Maintain a duplicate set of the records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box, and provide access to a trusted individual (preferably not the same individual with access to the original documents). Consider keeping originals of your important legal documents, such as your will, with your attorney.

Back up records electronically. It also makes sense to store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to a trustworthy external storage device. If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.

Follow the ritual

Make organizing your records an annual ritual and not just a one-time event. Need assistance? We can help you identify the specific documents pertinent to your situation and organize them appropriately.

Sidebar: Create an emergency checklist to cope with calamity

Having an emergency checklist of important personal records handy is essential in the event you must evacuate your home. In a crisis, you’ll likely be able to take only what you can easily carry with you. That means storing the bare essentials in a portable container. Include these items:

  • Driver’s license, passport and Social Security card,
  • Credit cards,
  • Vital medical condition and medication information,
  • Health insurance cards, and
  • Emergency family and physician contacts.

Also set up an “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) directory in your cell phone. In your phone directory, simply type in “ICE” before each contact (ICE-1 Jane Smith, ICE-2 Dr. John Smith, etc.). Also consider storing and carrying electronic copies of key personal records on a USB flash drive.

Summer Camp Costs May Brighten Your Tax Return

The coming and going of Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer in the minds of many Americans. Although the kids might still be in school for another week or two, summer day camp is rapidly approaching for many families. If yours is among them, did you know that sending your child to day camp might make you eligible for a tax break?

Day camp is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit. This tax break is worth 20% of qualifying expenses, subject to a cap — and could be worth even more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000. For 2016, the maximum expenses allowed for the credit are $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more.

Be aware, however, that overnight camp costs don’t qualify for the credit, nor do expenses related to summer school tutoring. In addition, certain types of child care are ineligible. These include care provided by a spouse and care provided by a child who’s under age 19 at the end of the year.

A variety of additional rules may apply. For example, eligible costs for care must be work-related. In other words, parents need to pay for the care so that they can work (or look for work). If you think you might qualify for the child and dependent care credit, please contact us. We can help you determine whether you’re eligible and then properly claim this potentially valuable tax break.

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May 2016 Family Wealth Management & Amending Your Tax Return

Juggling Family Wealth Management Is No Trick

Preserving and managing family wealth requires addressing a number of major issues. These include saving for your children’s education and funding your own retirement. Juggling these competing demands is no trick. Rather, it requires a carefully devised and maintained family wealth management plan.

Start with the basics

First, a good estate plan can help ensure that, in the event of your death, your children will be taken care of and, if your estate is large, that they won’t lose a substantial portion of their inheritances to estate taxes. It can also guarantee that your assets will be passed along to your heirs according to your wishes.

Second, life insurance is essential. The right coverage can provide the liquidity needed to repay debts, support your children and others who depend on you financially, and pay estate taxes.

Prepare for the challenge

Most families face two long-term wealth management challenges: funding retirement and paying for college education. While both issues can be daunting, don’t sacrifice saving for your own retirement to finance your child’s education. Scholarships, grants, loans and work-study may help pay for college — but only you can fund your retirement.

Uncle Sam has provided several education incentives that are worth checking out, including tax credits and deductions for qualifying expenses and tax-advantaged savings opportunities such as 529 plans and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Because of income limits and phaseouts, many higher-income families won’t benefit from some of these tax breaks. But, your children (or your parents, in the case of contributing to an ESA) may be able to take advantage of them.

Give assets wisely

Giving money, investments or other assets to your children or other family members can save future income tax and be a sound estate planning strategy as well. You can currently give up to $14,000 per year per individual ($28,000 if married) without incurring gift tax or using your lifetime gift tax exemption. Depending on the number of children and grandchildren you have, and how many years you continue this gifting program, it can really add up.

By gifting assets that produce income or that you expect to appreciate, you not only remove assets from your taxable estate, but also shift income and future appreciation to people who may be in lower tax brackets.

Also consider using trusts to facilitate your gifting plan. The benefit of trusts is that they can ensure funds are used in the manner you intended and can protect the assets from your loved ones’ creditors.

Overcome the complexities

Creating a comprehensive plan for family wealth management and following through with it may not be simple — but you owe it to yourself and your family. We can help you overcome the complexities and manage your tax burden.

Sidebar: Charitable giving’s place in family wealth management

Do charitable gifts have a place in family wealth management? Absolutely. Properly made gifts can avoid gift and estate taxes, while possibly qualifying for an income tax deduction. Consider a charitable trust that allows you to give income-producing assets to charity, but keep the income for life — or for the charity to receive the earnings and the assets to later pass to your heirs. These are just two examples; there are more ways to use trusts to accomplish your charitable goals.

Need A Do-over? Amend Your Tax Return

Like many taxpayers, you probably feel a sense of relief after filing your tax return. But that feeling can change if, soon after, you realize you’ve overlooked a key detail or received additional information that should have been considered. In such instances, you may want (or need) to amend your return.

Typically, an amended return — Form 1040X, to be exact — must be filed within three years from the date you filed the original tax return or within two years of the date the applicable tax was paid (whichever is later). Your choice of timing should depend on whether you expect a refund or a bill.

If claiming an additional refund, you should typically wait until you’ve received your original refund. Then cash or deposit the first refund check while waiting for the second. If you owe additional dollars, file the amended return and pay the tax immediately to minimize interest and penalties.

Bear in mind that, as of this writing, the IRS doesn’t offer amended returns via e-file. You can, however, track your amended return electronically. The IRS now offers an automated status-tracking tool called “Where’s My Amended Return?” at https://www.irs.gov/Filing/Individuals/Amended-Returns-(Form-1040-X)/Wheres-My-Amended-Return-1.

If you think an amended return is needed or warranted, please give us a call. We will be glad to help.

Wed, Apr 05, 2017read more

Go, Save Green with Sustainable Tax Breaks

Many people want to do something, however small, to contribute to a healthier environment. There are many ways to do so and, for some of them, you can even save a few tax dollars for your efforts.

Indeed, with the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) late last year, a couple of specific ways to go green and claim a tax break have been made permanent or extended. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Not driving for dollars

Air pollution is a problem in many areas of the country. Among the biggest contributors are vehicle emissions. So it follows that cutting down on the number of vehicles on the road can, in turn, diminish air pollution.

To help accomplish this, many people choose to commute to work via van pools or using public transportation. And, helpfully, the PATH Act is doing its part as well. The law made permanent the requirement that limits on the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes be the same for both parking benefits and van pooling / mass transit benefits.

Before the PATH Act’s parity provision, the monthly limit for 2015 was only $130 for van pooling / mass transit benefits. But, because of the new law, the 2015 monthly limit for these benefits was boosted to the $250 parking benefit limit and the 2016 limit is $255.

Sprucing up the homestead

Energy consumption can also have a negative impact on the environment and use up limited natural resources. Many homeowners want to reduce their energy consumption for environmental reasons or simply to cut their utility bills.

The PATH Act lends a helping hand here, too, by extending through 2016 the credit for purchases of residential energy property. This includes items such as:

  • New high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems,
  • Qualifying forms of insulation,
  • Energy-efficient exterior windows and doors, and
  • High-efficiency water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel.

The provision allows a credit of 10% of eligible costs for energy-efficient insulation, windows and doors. A credit is also available for 100% of eligible costs for energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment and water heaters, up to a lifetime limit of $500 (with no more than $200 from windows and skylights).

Doing it all

Going green and saving some green on your tax bill? Yes, you can do both. Van pooling or taking public transportation and improving your home’s energy efficiency are two prime examples. Please contact us for more information about how to claim these tax breaks or identify other ways to save this year.

 

Could Your Debt Relief Turn Into A Tax Defeat?

Restructuring debt has become a common approach to personal financial management. But many people fail to realize that there’s often a tax impact to debt relief. And if you don’t anticipate it, a winning tax return may turn into a losing one.

Less debt, more income

Income tax applies to all forms of income — including what’s referred to as “cancellation-of-debt” (COD) income. Think of it this way: If a creditor forgives a debt, you avoid the expense of making the payments, which increases your net income.

Debt forgiveness isn’t the only way to generate a tax liability, though. You can have COD income if a creditor reduces the interest rate or gives you more time to pay. Calculating the amount of income can be complex but, essentially, by making it easier for you to repay the debt, the creditor confers a taxable economic benefit.

Mortgage matters

You can also have COD income in connection with a mortgage foreclosure, including a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure. Here, the tax consequences depend on which of the following two categories the mortgage falls into:

  1. Nonrecourse. Here the lender’s sole remedy in the event of default is to take possession of the home. In other words, you’re not personally liable if the foreclosure proceeds are less than your outstanding loan balance. Foreclosure on a nonrecourse mortgage doesn’t produce COD income.

  2. Recourse. This type of foreclosure can trigger COD tax liability if the lender forgives the portion of the loan that’s not satisfied. In a short sale, the lender permits you to sell the property for less than the amount you owe and accepts the sale proceeds in satisfaction of your mortgage. A deed in lieu of foreclosure means you convey the property to the lender in satisfaction of your debt. In either case, if the lender agrees to cancel the excess debt, the transaction is treated like a foreclosure for tax purposes — that is, a recourse mortgage may generate COD income.

Keep in mind that COD income is taxable as ordinary income, even if the debt is related to long-term capital gains property. And, in some cases, foreclosure can trigger both COD income and a capital gain or loss (depending on your tax basis in the property and the property’s market value).

Exceptions vs. exclusions

Several types of canceled debt are considered nontaxable “exceptions” — for example, debt cancellation that’s considered a gift (such as forgiveness of a family loan). Certain student loans are also considered exceptions — as long as they’re canceled in exchange for the recipient’s commitment to public service.

Other types of canceled debt qualify as “exclusions.” For instance, homeowners can exclude up to $2 million in COD income in connection with qualified principal residence indebtedness. A recent tax law change extended this exclusion through 2016, modifying it to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. Other exclusions include certain canceled debts relating to bankruptcy and insolvency.

Complex rules

The rules applying to COD income are complex. So if you’re planning to restructure your debt this year, let us help you manage the tax impact.

Wed, Apr 05, 2017read more

Walk the Path to Tax Savings for 2015

Like many taxpayers, you may have been expecting to encounter a few roadblocks while traversing your preferred tax-saving avenues. If so, tax extenders legislation signed into law this past December may make your journey a little easier. Let’s walk through a few highlights of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act).

Of interest to individuals

If you’re a homeowner, the PATH Act allows you to treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction through 2016. However, this deduction is phased out for higher income taxpayers. The law likewise extends through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness.

Those living in a state with low or no income taxes (or who make large purchases, such as a car or boat) will be pleased that the itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes, instead of state and local income taxes, is now permanent. Your deduction can be determined easily by using an IRS calculator and adding the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases.

Investors should note that the PATH Act makes permanent the exclusion of 100% of the gain on the sale of qualified small business stock acquired and held for more than five years (if acquired after September 27, 2010). The law also permanently extends the rule that eliminates qualified small business stock gain as a preference item for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.

Breaks for businesses

The PATH Act gives business owners much to think about as well. First, there’s the enhanced Section 179 expensing election. Now permanent (and indexed for inflation beginning in 2016) is the ability for companies to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate, up to $500,000 in qualified new or used assets. The deduction phases out, dollar for dollar, to the extent qualified asset purchases for the year exceeded $2 million.

The 50% bonus depreciation break is also back, albeit temporarily. It’s generally available for new (not used) tangible assets with a recovery period of 20 years or less, and certain other assets. The 50% amount will drop to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019, however.

In addition, the PATH Act addresses two important tax credits. First, the research credit has been permanently extended, with some specialized provisions for smaller businesses and start-ups. Second, the Work Opportunity credit for employers that hire members of a “target group” has been extended through 2019.

Does your company provide transit benefits? If so, note that the law makes permanent equal limits for the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes for parking fringe benefits and van-pooling / mass transit benefits.

Much, much more

Whether you’re filing as an individual or on behalf of a business, the PATH Act could have a substantial effect on your 2015 tax return. We’ve covered only a few of its many provisions here. Please contact us to discuss these and other provisions that may affect your situation.

Sidebar: Good news for generous IRA owners

The recent tax extenders law makes permanent the provision allowing taxpayers age 70½ or older to make direct contributions from their IRA to qualified charities up to $100,000 per tax year. The transfer can count toward the IRA owner’s required minimum distribution. Many rules apply so, if you’re interested, let us help with this charitable giving opportunity.

5 Things to Know About Substantiating Donations

There are virtually countless charitable organizations to which you might donate. You may choose to give cash or to contribute noncash items such as books, sporting goods, or computers or other tech gear. In either case, once you do the good deed, you owe it to yourself to properly claim a tax deduction.

No matter what you donate, you’ll need documentation. And precisely what you’ll need depends on the type and value of your donation. Here are five things to know:

1. Cash contributions of less than $250 are the easiest to substantiate. A canceled check or credit card statement is sufficient. Alternatively, you can obtain a receipt from the recipient organization showing its name, as well as the date, place and amount of the contribution. Bear in mind that unsubstantiated contributions aren’t deductible anymore. So you must have a receipt or bank record.

2. Noncash donations of less than $250 require a bit more. You’ll need a receipt from the charity. Plus, you typically must estimate a reasonable value for the donated item(s). Organizations that regularly accept noncash donations typically will provide you a form for doing so. Keep in mind that, for donations of clothing and household items to be deductible, the items generally must be in at least good condition.

3. Bigger cash donations mean more paperwork. If you donate $250 or more in cash, a canceled check or credit card statement won’t be sufficient. You’ll need a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the recipient organization that meets IRS guidelines.

Among other things, a contemporaneous written acknowledgment must be received on or before the earlier of the date you file your return for the year in which you made the donation or the due date (including an extension) for filing the return. In addition, it must include a disclosure of whether the charity provided anything in exchange. If it did, the organization must provide a description and good-faith estimate of the exchanged item or service. You can deduct only the difference between the amount donated and the value of the item or service.

4. Noncash donations valued at $250 or more and up to $5,000 require still more. You must get a contemporaneous written acknowledgment plus written evidence that supports the item’s acquisition date, cost and fair market value. The written acknowledgment also must include a description of the item.

5. Noncash donations valued at more than $5,000 are the most complicated. Generally, both a contemporaneous written acknowledgment and a qualified appraisal are required — unless the donation is publicly traded securities. In some cases additional requirements might apply, so be sure to contact us if you’ve made or are planning to make a substantial noncash donation. We can verify the documentation of any type of donation, but contributions of this size are particularly important to document properly.

Wed, Apr 05, 2017read more

Reacquainting Yourself With The Roth IRA

If you’ve looked into retirement planning, you’ve probably heard about the Roth IRA. Maybe in the past you decided against one of these arrangements, or perhaps you just decided to sleep on it. Whatever the case may be, now’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with the Roth IRA and its potential benefits, because you have until April 18, 2016, to make a 2015 Roth IRA contribution.

Free withdrawals

With a Roth IRA, you give up the deductibility of contributions for the freedom to make tax-free qualified withdrawals. This differs from a traditional IRA, where contributions may be deductible and earnings grow on a tax-deferred basis, but withdrawals (less any prorated nondeductible contributions) are subject to ordinary income taxes — plus a 10% penalty if you’re under age 59½ at the time of the distribution.

With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions tax-free and penalty-free anytime. Withdrawals of account earnings (considered made only after all your contributions are withdrawn) are tax-free if you make them after you’ve had the Roth IRA for five years and you’re age 59½ or older. Earnings withdrawn before this time are subject to ordinary income taxes, as well as a 10% penalty (with certain exceptions) if withdrawn before you are age 59½.

On the plus side, you can leave funds in your Roth IRA as long as you want. This differs from the required minimum distributions starting after age 70½ for traditional IRAs.

Limited contributions

For 2016, the annual Roth IRA contribution limit is $5,500 ($6,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older), reduced by any contributions made to traditional IRAs. Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may also affect your ability to contribute, however.

In 2016, the contribution limit phases out for married couples filing jointly with MAGIs between $184,000 and $194,000. The 2016 phaseout range for single and head-of-household filers is $117,000 to $132,000.

Conversion question

Regardless of MAGI, anyone may convert a traditional IRA into a Roth to turn future tax-deferred potential growth into tax-free potential growth. From an income tax perspective, whether a conversion makes sense depends on whether you’re better off paying tax now or later.

When you do a Roth conversion, you have to pay taxes on the amount you convert. So if you expect your tax rate to be higher in retirement than it is now, converting to a Roth may be advantageous — provided you can afford to pay the tax using funds from outside an IRA. If you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, however, it may make more sense to leave your savings in a traditional IRA or employer-sponsored plan.

Retirement radar

Roth IRAs have become a fundamental part of retirement planning. Even if you’re not ready for one just yet, be sure to keep the idea of opening one on your radar.

Married Filers, The Choice Is Yours

Some married couples assume they have to file their tax returns jointly. Others may know they have a choice but not want to rock the boat by filing separately. The truth is that there’s no harm in at least considering your options every year.

Granted, married taxpayers who file jointly can take advantage of certain credits not available to separate filers. They’re also more likely to be able to make deductible IRA contributions and less likely to be subject to the alternative minimum tax.

But there are circumstances under which filing separately may be a good idea. For example, filing separately can save tax when one spouse’s income is much higher than the others, and the spouse with lower income has miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeding 2% of his or her adjusted gross income (AGI) or medical expenses exceeding 10% of his or her AGI — but jointly the couple’s expenses wouldn’t exceed the applicable floor for their joint AGI. However, in community property states, income and expenses generally must be split equally unless they’re attributable to separate funds.

Many factors play into the joint vs. separate filing decision. If you’re interested in learning more, please give us a call.

Wed, Apr 05, 2017read more

How You Can Help Prevent Tax-related Identity Theft

Tax-related fraud isn’t a new crime, but tax preparation software, e-filing and increased availability of personal data have made tax-related identity theft increasingly easy to perpetrate. The IRS is taking steps to reduce such fraud, but taxpayers must play their part, too.

How they do it

Criminals perpetrate tax identity theft by using stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file tax returns in their victims’ names. Naturally, the fake returns claim that the filer is owed a refund — and the bigger, the better.

To ensure they’re a step ahead of taxpayers filing legitimate returns and employers submitting W-2 and 1099 forms, the thieves file early in the tax season. They usually request that refunds be made to debit cards, which are hard for the IRS to trace once they’re distributed.

IRS takes action

The increasing rate of tax-related fraud — not to mention the well-publicized 2015 IRS data breach — has spurred government agencies and private sector businesses to act. This past June, a coalition made up of the IRS, state tax administrators, tax preparation services and payroll and tax product processors announced a new program with five initiatives:

1. Taxpayer identification. Coalition members will review transmission data such as Internet Protocol numbers.

2. Fraud identification. Members will share fraud leads and aggregated tax return information.

3. Information assessment. The Refund Fraud Information Sharing and Assessment Center will help public and private sector members share information.

4. Cybersecurity framework. Members will be required to adopt the National Institute of Standards and Technology cybersecurity framework.

5. Taxpayer awareness and communication. Members will increase efforts to inform the public about identity theft and protecting personal data.

Your role in preventing fraud

But the IRS and tax preparation professionals can’t fight fraud without your help. Be sure to keep your Social Security card secure, and if businesses (including financial institutions and medical providers) request your Social Security number, ensure they need it for a legitimate purpose and have taken precautions to keep your data safe. Also regularly review your credit report. You can obtain free copies from all three credit bureaus once a year.

Consolidate accounts and simplify your financial life

If you’ve accumulated many bank, investment and other financial accounts over the years, you might consider consolidating some of them. Having multiple accounts requires you to spend more time tracking and reconciling financial activities and can make it harder to keep a handle on how much you have and whether your money is being invested advantageously.

Start by identifying the accounts that offer you the best combination of excellent customer service, convenience, lower fees and higher returns. Hold on to these and consider closing the rest, keeping in mind the bank account amounts you’ll be consolidating. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation generally insures $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank. So if consolidation means that your balance might exceed that amount, it’s better to keep multiple accounts. You should also keep accounts with different beneficiaries separate.

When closing accounts, make sure you stop automatic payments or deposits and destroy checks and cards associated with them. To prevent any future disputes, obtain letters from the financial institutions stating that your accounts have been closed. Closing an account generally takes several weeks.

Wed, Apr 05, 2017read more

What You Should Know About Capital Gains and Losses

When you sell a capital asset, the sale results in a capital gain or loss. A capital asset includes most property you own for personal use (such as your home or car) or own as an investment (such as stocks and bonds). Here are some facts that you should know about capital gains and losses:

• Gains and losses. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis and the amount you get when you sell an asset. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset.

• Net investment income tax (NIIT). You must include all capital gains in your income, and you may be subject to the NIIT. The NIIT applies to certain net investment income of individuals who have income above statutory threshold amounts: $200,000 if you are unmarried, $250,000 if you are a married joint-filer, or $125,000 if you use married filing separate status. The rate of this tax is 3.8%.

• Deductible losses. You can deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You cannot deduct losses on the sale of property that you hold for personal use.

• Long- and short-term. Capital gains and losses are either long-term or short-term, depending on how long you held the property. If you held the property for more than one year, your gain or loss is long-term. If you held it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

• Net capital gain. If your long-term gains are more than your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a net capital gain.

• Tax rate. The capital gains tax rate, which applies to long-term capital gains, usually depends on your taxable income. For 2015, the capital gains rate is zero to the extent your taxable income (including long-term capital gains) does not exceed $74,900 for married joint-filing couples ($37,450 for singles). The maximum capital gains rate of 20% applies if your taxable income (including long-term capital gains) is $464,850 or more for married joint-filing couples ($413,200 for singles); otherwise a 15% rate applies. However, a 25% or 28% tax rate can also apply to certain types of long-term capital gains. Short-term capital gains are taxed at ordinary income tax rates.

• Limit on losses. If your capital losses are more than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year, or $1,500 if you are married and file a separate return.

• Carryover losses. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry over the losses you are not able to deduct to next year’s tax return. You will treat those losses as if they happened in that next year.

Earn 5% or More on Liquid Assets

Yes, that is too good to be true, but we got your attention. As you are painfully aware, it is extremely difficult to earn much, if any, interest on savings, money market funds, or CDs these days. So, what are we to do? Well, one way to improve the earnings on those idle funds is to pay down debt. Paying off a home loan having an interest rate of 5% with your excess liquid assets is just like earning 5% on those funds. The same goes for car loans and other installment debt. But, the best return will more likely come from paying off credit card debt! We are not suggesting you reduce liquid assets to an unsafe level, but examine the possibility of paying off some of your present debt load with your liquid funds. Paying down $100,000 on a 5% home loan is like making more than $400 per month on those funds.

Wed, Apr 05, 2017read more

Why your health insurance company may ask for your Social Security Number

Your health insurance company may request that you provide the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for you, your spouse, and your children covered by your policy. This is because the Affordable Care Act requires every provider of minimum essential coverage to report that coverage by filing an information return with the IRS and furnishing a statement to covered individuals. The information is used by the IRS to administer — and by individuals to show compliance with — the health care law.

Health coverage providers will file an information return (Form 1095-B, “Health Coverage”) with the IRS and will furnish statements to you in 2016 to report coverage information from calendar year 2015. The law requires coverage providers to list SSNs on this form. If you don’t provide your SSN and the SSNs of all covered individuals to the sponsor of the coverage, the IRS may not be able to match the Form 1095-B with the individuals to determine that they have complied with the individual shared responsibility provision.

Your health insurance company may mail you a letter that discusses these new rules and requests SSNs for all family members covered under your policy. The IRS has not designated a specific form for your health insurance company to request this information. However, it should be a written request that is mailed to you through the U.S. Postal Service, not emailed to you. If you receive an email request, it could be a phishing attempt by a hacker who is aware of this requirement, so be cautious and take precautions to protect yourself. Don’t respond directly to the email. Instead, call the insurance company at its main number (not any number contained in the email) or go directly to the insurance company’s website (not from the link or to an address contained in the email) to verify the request.

The Form 1095-B will provide information for your income tax return that shows you, your spouse, and individuals you claim as dependents had qualifying health coverage for some or all months during the year. You do not have to attach Form 1095-B to your tax return. However, it is important to keep it with your other important tax documents.

Anyone on your return who does not have minimum essential coverage, and who does not qualify for an exemption, may be liable for the individual shared responsibility payment.

The information received by the IRS will be used to verify information on your individual income tax return. If you refuse to provide this information to your health insurance company, the IRS cannot verify the information you provide on your tax return, and you may receive an inquiry from the IRS. You also may receive a notice from the IRS indicating that you are liable for the individual shared responsibility payment.

How working impacts Social Security Benefits

Continuing to work while receiving Social Security benefits may cause the benefit to be reduced below the anticipated amount. If you are under the full retirement age (currently 66), an earnings test determines whether your Social Security retirement benefits will be reduced because you earned more from a job or business than an annual exempt amount.

As a general rule, the earnings test is based on income earned during the year as a whole, without regard to the amount you earned each month. However, in the first year, benefits you receive are not reduced for any month in which you earn less than one-twelfth of the annual exempt amount.

For 2015, Social Security beneficiaries under the full benefit retirement age who have earnings in excess of the annual exempt amount are subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $2 earned over the exempt amount ($15,720 in 2015) for each year before the year during which they reach the full benefit retirement age. However, in the year beneficiaries reach their full benefit retirement age, earnings above a different annual exempt amount ($41,880 in 2015) are subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $3 earned over the exempt amount. Social Security benefits are not affected by earned income beginning with the month the beneficiary reaches full benefit retirement age.

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Time to Start Year-End Tax Planning

The federal income tax rates for 2015 are the same as last year: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%. However, the rate bracket beginning and ending points are increased slightly to account for inflation. For 2015, the maximum 39.6% bracket affects singles with taxable income above $413,200, married joint-filing couples with income above $464,850, heads of households with income above $439,000, and married individuals who file separate returns with income above $232,425. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the 0.9% additional Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), which can both result in a higher-than-advertised marginal federal income tax rate for 2015.

What we’ve listed below are a few money-saving ideas to get you started that you may want to put in action before the end of 2015:

• For 2015, the standard deduction is $12,600 for married taxpayers filing joint returns. For single taxpayers, the amount is $6,300. If your total itemized deductions each year are normally close to these amounts, you may be able to leverage the benefit of your deductions by bunching deductions, such as charitable contributions and property taxes, in every other year. This allows you to time your itemized deductions so they are high in one year and low in the next. However, the alternative minimum tax (AMT), discussed later in this article, should be considered when using this strategy.

• If you or a family member own traditional IRAs and reached age 70½ this year, consider whether it’s better to take the first required minimum distribution in 2015 or by April 1 of next year.

• If your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account arrangement for your out-of-pocket medical or child care expenses, make sure you’re maximizing the tax benefits during the upcoming enrollment period for 2016.

• If you have a 401(k) plan at work, it’s just about time to tell your company how much you want to set aside on a tax-free basis for next year. Contribute as much as you can stand, especially if your employer makes matching contributions. You give up “free money” when you fail to participate with the maximum amount the company will match.

• If it looks like you are going to owe income taxes for 2015, consider bumping up the federal income taxes withheld from your paychecks now through the end of the year.

• Between now and year end, review your securities portfolio for any losers that can be sold before year end to offset gains you have already recognized this year or to get you to the $3,000 ($1,500 married filing separately) net capital loss that’s deductible each year.

• If you own any securities that are all but worthless with little hope of recovery, you might consider selling them before the end of the year so you can capitalize on the loss this year.

• Don’t overlook estate planning. For 2015, the unified federal gift and estate tax exemption is a generous $5.43 million, and the federal estate tax rate is a historically reasonable 40%. Even if you already have an estate plan, it may need updating to reflect the current estate and gift tax rules. Also, you may need to make some changes that have nothing to do with taxes.

• If you are self-employed, consider employing your child. Doing so shifts income (which is not subject to the “kiddie tax”) from you to your child, who normally is in a lower tax bracket or may avoid tax entirely due to the standard deduction. There can also be payroll tax savings and the ability to contribute to an IRA for the child.

• If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation that you expect to generate a loss this year, you may want to make a capital contribution (or in the case of an S corporation, loan it additional funds) before year end to ensure you have sufficient basis to claim a full deduction.

Remember that effective tax planning requires considering at least this year and next year. Without a multiyear outlook, you can’t be sure maneuvers intended to save taxes on your 2015 return won’t backfire and cost additional money in the future.

And finally, watch out for the AMT in all of your planning, because what may be a great move for regular tax purposes may create or increase an AMT problem. There’s a good chance you’ll be hit with AMT if you deduct a significant amount of state and local taxes, claim multiple dependents, exercise incentive stock options, or recognize a large capital gain this year.

Again, these are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. If you’d like to know more about them or want to discuss other ideas, please feel free to call us.

Shared Equity Financing Arrangements for Home Ownership

Adult children may be able to acquire a more expensive home than they might otherwise afford by using a shared equity financing arrangement, under which parents or other relatives share in the purchase and cost of maintaining a house used by the children as a principal residence. The nonresident owner rents his or her portion of the home to the resident owner and obtains the annual tax benefits of renting real estate if the statutory requirements are satisfied. Since the child does not own 100% of the home, he or she is the relative’s tenant as to the portion of the home not owned and rents that interest from the relative at a fair market rate.

A shared equity financing arrangement is an agreement by which two or more persons acquire qualified home ownership interests in a dwelling unit and the person (or persons) holding one of the interests is entitled to occupy the dwelling as his or her principal residence, and is required to pay rent to the other person(s) owning qualified ownership interests.

Under the vacation home rules, personal use of the home by a child or other relative of the property’s owner is normally attributed to the owner. However, an exception to the general rule exists when the dwelling is rented to a tenant for a fair market rent and serves as the renter’s principal residence. When the tenant owns an interest in the property, this exception to the general rule applies only if the rental qualifies as a shared equity financing arrangement.

Example: Shared equity financing arrangement facilitates child’s home ownership.

Mike and Laura have agreed to help their son, Bob, purchase his first home. The total purchase price is $100,000, consisting of a $20,000 down payment and a mortgage of $80,000. Mike and Laura pay half of the down payment and make half of the mortgage payment pursuant to a shared equity financing agreement with Bob. Bob pays them a fair rental for using 50% of the property, determined when the agreement was entered into.

Under this arrangement, Bob treats the property as his personal residence for tax purposes, deducting his 50% share of the mortgage interest and property taxes. Because his use is not attributed to his parents, Mike and Laura, they treat the property as rental. They must report the rent they receive from Bob, but can deduct their 50% share of the mortgage interest and taxes, the maintenance expenses they pay, and depreciation based on 50% of the property’s depreciable basis. If the property generates a tax loss, it is subject to, and its deductibility is limited by, the passive loss rules.

One drawback to shared equity arrangements is that the nonresident owners will not qualify for the gain exclusion upon the sale of the residence. The result will be a taxable gain for the portion of the gain related to the deemed rental. The gain may also be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Parents should consider guaranteeing or cosigning the mortgage, instead of outright joint ownership, if excluding potential future gain is a major consideration.

If it is anticipated that the resident owner will ultimately purchase the equity of the nonresident owner and the rental will generate losses suspended under the passive loss rules, special care must be taken when the lease terms are agreed to, because suspended passive losses normally allowed at disposition are not allowed when the interest is sold to a related party. This problem can be minimized by making a larger down payment that decreases mortgage interest expense, or by charging a rent at the higher end of the reasonable range for the value of the interest being rented to the resident owner.

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Planning to Avoid or Minimize the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax

The net investment income tax, or NIIT, is a 3.8% surtax on investment income collected from higher-income individuals. It first took effect in 2013. After filing your 2014 return, you may have been hit with this extra tax for two years, and you may now be ready to get proactive by taking some steps to stop, or at least slow, the bleeding for this year and beyond.

NIIT Basics. The NIIT can affect higher-income individuals who have investment income. While the NIIT mainly hits folks who consistently have high income, it can also strike anyone who has a big one-time shot of income or gain this year or any other year. For example, if you sell some company stock for a big gain, get a big bonus, or even sell a home for a big profit, you could be a victim. The types of income and gain (net of related deductions) included in the definition of net investment income and, therefore, exposed to the NIIT, include—

• Gains from selling investment assets (such as gains from stocks and securities held in taxable brokerage firm accounts) and capital gain distributions from mutual funds.

• Real estate gains, including the taxable portion of a big gain from selling your principal residence or a taxable gain from selling a vacation home or rental property.

• Dividends, taxable interest, and the taxable portion of annuity payments.

• Income and gains from passive business activities (meaning activities in which you don’t spend a significant amount of time) and gains from selling passive partnership interests and S corporation stock (meaning you don’t spend much time in the partnership or S corporation business activity).

• Rents and royalties.

Are You Exposed? Thankfully, you are only exposed to the NIIT if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) exceeds $200,000 if you are unmarried, $250,000 if you are a married joint-filer, or $125,000 if you use married filing separate status. However, these thresholds are not all that high, so many individuals will be exposed. The amount that is actually hit with the NIIT is the lesser of: (1) net investment income or (2) the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold. MAGI is your “regular” Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) shown on the last line on page 1 of your Form 1040 plus certain excluded foreign-source income net of certain deductions and exclusions (most people are not affected by this add-back).

Planning Considerations. As we just explained, the NIIT hits the lesser of: (1) net investment income or (2) the amount by which MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold. Therefore, planning strategies must be aimed at the proper target to have the desired effect of avoiding or minimizing your exposure to the tax.

• If your net investment income amount is less than your excess MAGI amount, your exposure to the NIIT mainly depends on your net investment income. You should focus first on strategies that reduce net investment income. Of course, some strategies that reduce net investment income will also reduce MAGI. If so, that cannot possibly hurt.

• If your excess MAGI amount is less than your net investment income amount, your exposure to the tax mainly depends on your MAGI. You should focus first on strategies that reduce MAGI. Of course, some strategies that reduce MAGI will also reduce net investment income. If so, that cannot possibly hurt.

Perhaps the most obvious way to reduce exposure to the NIIT is to invest in tax-exempt bonds via direct ownership or a mutual find. There are other ways, too. Contact us to identify strategies that will work in your specific situation.

Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriages in All States

Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Windsor decision, same-sex couples who are legally married under state or foreign laws are treated as married for federal tax purposes just like any other married couple. The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision (issued in late June) now requires all states to license and recognize marriages between same-sex couples. Specifically, the decision states that same-sex couples can exercise the fundamental right to marry in all states and that there is no lawful basis for a state to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another state.

Therefore, same-sex couples who are legally married in any state are now allowed to file joint state income tax returns wherever they reside. They are also entitled to the same inheritance and property rights and rules of intestate succession that apply to other legally married couples. Therefore, same-sex couples should now be able to amend previously filed state income, gift, and inheritance tax returns for open years to reflect married status and claim refunds. Furthermore, these couples likely need to rethink their estate and gift tax plans.

Before the Obergefell decision, members of married same-sex couples who live in states that did not previously recognize same-sex marriages had to file state income, gift, and inheritance tax returns as unmarried individuals. This caused additional complexity and expense in filing state returns.

Other implications of an individual’s marital status include spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decision-making authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rights.

Note: The ruling does not apply to individuals in registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law, but not denominated as a marriage under the laws of that state. These individuals are considered unmarried for federal and state purposes. However, these state-law “marriage substitutes” might be eliminated now that all states must allow same-sex marriages. Individuals in these relationships can now obtain marriage licenses, get married, and thereby qualify as married individuals for both state and federal tax purposes.

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COMMON CRTERIA

Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:

  • Employing workers in the state,
  • Owning (or,in some cases, even leasing) propertly there,
  • Marketing your products or services in the state,
  • Maintaining a substantial anount of inventory there, and
  • Using a local telephone number.

Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger”. A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there.

For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.

STRATEGIC MOVIES

As with many tax issues, the totality of facts and circumstances will determinewhether you have nexus in a state. So it’s important to make assumptionseither way. The tax impact could be significant, and its specifics will vary widelydepending on just how the state in question approaches taxation.

For starters, strongly consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematicapproach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activitiesmay expose you. The results of a nexus study may not necessarily be negative.You may find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboringstate. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state by,say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocatesome income to that state and lower your tax bill.

Taxation and profitability

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”, so the saying goes. If profitability beckons in another state, please contact our firm for help projecting how setting up shop there might affect your tax liability.

For starters, strongly consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematicapproach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activitiesmay expose you. The results of a nexus study may not necessarily be negative.You may find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboringstate. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state by,say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocatesome income to that state and lower your tax bill.

Sidebar: Service companies, beware of market-based sourcing

Nexus has been and remains the primary focus of companies considering whether and how they’d be taxed across state lines. (See main article.) But, recently, many states have established “market-based sourcing” for determining the tax liability of service companies that operate within their borders.

Under this approach, if the benefits of a service occur and will be used in another state, that state will tax the revenue gained from said service. “Service revenue” generally is defined as revenue from intangible assets — not the sales of tangible personal property.

Thus, in market-based sourcing states, the destination state of a service is the relevant taxation factor rather than the state in which the income-producing activity is performed (also known as the “cost of performance” method).

Individuals may want to donate artwork so it can be enjoyed by a wider audience or available for scholarly study or simply to make room for new artwork in their home. Here are four tips for donating artwork with an eye toward tax savings:

1. Get an appraisal. Donations of artwork valued at over $5,000 require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser”. IRS rules detail the requirements. In addition, auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $20,000 or more to the agency’s Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.

2. Donate to a public charity. Donations to a qualified public charity (such as a museum or university) potentially entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate to a private foundation, your deduction will be limited to your cost. The total amount of charitable donations you may deduct in a given year is limited to a percentage of your adjusted gross income (50% for public charities, 30% for private foundations) with the excess carried forward for up to five years.

3. Beware the related-use rule. To qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. Even if the related-use rule is satisfied initially, you may lose some or all of your deductions if the artwork is worth more than $5,000 and the charity sells or otherwise disposes of it within three years of receipt. If that happens, you may be able to preserve your tax benefits via a certification process. (For further details, please contact us.)

4. Consider a fractional donation. Donating a fractional interest allows you to save tax dollars without completely giving up the artwork. Say you donate a 25% interest in your art collection to a museum for it to display for three months annually. You could then deduct 25% of the collection’s fair market value and continue displaying the art in your home or business for most of the year.

The rules for fractional donations, and charitable contributions of artwork in general, can be tricky. Plus, tax law changes affecting deductions may occur in the coming year. Contact our firm for help.