Tax-Saving Ideas

01/09/13

What 2013 tax law changes mean for tax withholding


The IRS has updated income-tax withholding tables for 2013 in light of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, signed into law Jan. 2. Also, because the payroll tax holiday hasn’t been extended, employers must withhold Social Security tax at the rate of 6.2% rather than at the 4.2% rate that applied in 2011 and 2012.

According to the IRS, employers should start using the revised withholding tables and withholding the correct amount of Social Security tax “as soon as possible in 2013, but not later than Feb. 15, 2013.”

Employees don’t have to do anything, but you may want to revise your W-4 if you get married or divorced, have a child or buy a home. Revising your W-4 also may be a good idea if you hold multiple jobs or if when you file your 2012 return you have a large balance due or receive a large refund


01/02/13

3 tax increases under the fiscal cliff deal

On Jan. 2, Congress passed the American Tax Relief Act to address the fiscal cliff. The act makes permanent 2012 income tax rates for most taxpayers, as well as alternative minimum tax relief. It also extends many other breaks for individuals and businesses. However, the fiscal cliff deal does result in some tax increases; here are three of the most significant:

1. Payroll taxes. The act doesn't extend payroll tax relief. So taxpayers with earned income will see a Social Security tax rate increase of two percentage points in 2013.

2. Income taxes. Beginning in 2013, taxpayers with taxable income that exceeds $400,000 (singles), $425,000 (heads of households) or $450,000 (married filing jointly) will face a marginal tax rate of 39.6% (up from 35%) and a long-term capital gains rate of 20% (up from 15%).

3. Estate taxes. While the $5 million (indexed for inflation) estate tax exemption has been made permanent, the top estate tax rate increases from 35% to 40% beginning in 2013.


12/26/12

How late can you make donations and still deduct them on your 2012 return?


To take a 2012 charitable donation deduction, the gift must be made by Dec. 31, 2012. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it.

Credit card. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making.


12/18/12

2 reasons to sell highly appreciated assets before year end

If you own highly appreciated assets you’ve held long term, it may make sense to recognize gains now rather than risk paying tax at a higher rate next year:

  1. The 15% long-term capital gains rate is scheduled to return to 20%.
  2. Higher-income taxpayers will be subject to a new 3.8% Medicare tax on some or all of their net investment income.

As Congress and the President negotiate on how to address the fiscal cliff, it’s still unclear whether the 15% rate will be extended - especially for higher-income taxpayers.

Because a final deal in Washington may not be reached until the very end of the year - or even after Jan. 1 - you can’t necessarily afford to take a wait-and-see attitude. And the new 3.8% Medicare tax will go into effect regardless of what happens with the fiscal cliff. If you have questions about the potential tax impact on your investments, please contact us.


12/11/12

Why businesses should consider purchasing vehicles before year end

Business-related purchases of new or used vehicles may be eligible for Section 179 expensing, and business-related purchases of new vehicles may be eligible for bonus depreciation. But Sec. 179 expensing limits are scheduled to go down in 2013, and bonus depreciation is scheduled to disappear. So you might benefit from purchasing business vehicles before year end.

For 2012, the $139,000 Sec. 179 expensing limit generally applies to vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds. The limit is $25,000 for SUVs weighing more than 6,000 pounds but no more than 14,000 pounds.

Vehicles weighing 6,000 pounds or less are subject to the passenger automobile limits. For 2012, the depreciation limit is $3,160, but it's increased by $8,000 for vehicles eligible for bonus depreciation.

Many rules and limits apply to these breaks. So if you're considering a business vehicle purchase, contact us to learn what tax benefits you might enjoy if you make the purchase by Dec. 31.


12/4/12

The 2012 gift tax annual exclusion: Use it or lose it


The 2012 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $13,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $26,000 per recipient. The exclusion is scheduled to increase to $14,000 ($28,000 for split gifts) in 2013.

The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can avoid gift and estate taxes.

But you need to use your 2012 exclusion by Dec. 31 or you’ll lose it. The exclusion doesn’t carry from one year to the next. For example, if you don’t make an annual exclusion gift to your grandson this year, you can’t add $13,000 to your 2013 exclusion to make a $27,000 tax-free gift to him next year.

We can help you determine how to make the most of your 2012 gift tax annual exclusion.




11/28/12

Self-employed? Set up a retirement plan by Dec. 31!

If you’re self-employed, you may be able to set up a retirement plan that allows you to make much larger contributions than you could make as an employee. Plus, if you set up one of the following plans by Dec. 31, 2012, you can make deductible 2012 contributions until the 2013 due date of your tax return:

1. Profit-sharing plan. This allows discretionary contributions and flexibility in plan design. The 2012 contribution limit is $50,000 ($55,000 for taxpayers age 50 and older).

2. Defined benefit plan. This plan sets a future pension benefit and then actuarially calculates the contributions needed to attain that benefit. So you may be able to contribute more to a defined benefit plan than to a profit-sharing plan. The maximum future annual benefit toward which 2012 contributions can be made is generally $200,000.

Various caveats and limits apply, so contact us for details while there’s still time to set up a plan for 2012.


11/21/12

Save more tax with donations of appreciated stock

Publicly traded stock and other securities you’ve held more than one year are long-term capital gains property, which can make one of the best charitable gifts. Why? Because you can deduct the current fair market value and avoid the capital gains tax you’d pay if you sold the property.

Donations of long-term capital gains property are subject to tighter deduction limits — 30% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for gifts to public charities, 20% for gifts to nonoperating private foundations. In certain, although limited, circumstances it may be better to deduct your tax basis (generally the amount paid for the stock) rather than the fair market value, because it allows you to take advantage of the higher AGI limits that apply to donations of cash and ordinary-income property (such as stock held one year or less).

Don’t donate stock that’s worth less than your basis. Instead, sell the stock so you can deduct the loss and then donate the cash proceeds to charity.


11/13/12

Projecting income can allow businesses to use timing to their tax advantage


By projecting your business’s income for this year and next you can determine how to time income and deductions to your advantage.

Typically, it’s better to defer tax. You can do so by:

  • Deferring income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services. But don’t let tax considerations get in the way of making sound business decisions.
  • Accelerating deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before Dec. 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. But consider the alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences first. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.

In 2012, taking the opposite approach might be better. If it’s likely you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year, accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses may save you more tax. And, because individual income tax rates are scheduled to go up in 2013, if your business structure is a flow-through entity, you may face higher rates even if your tax bracket remains the same.

Congress may, however, extend current tax rates for some or all taxpayers. Keep a close eye on Washington as year end approaches so you can adjust your timing strategy as needed if tax law changes do occur.




11/08/12

With election results in, what’s next for tax law changes?


President Obama has been reelected, the Senate will remain in the hands of the Democrats (but without a filibuster-proof supermajority) and the House will continue to be controlled by the Republicans. In other words, the political makeup of Washington will be about the same in 2013 as it is now. As a result, it’s still very uncertain what will happen with tax law changes.

When it comes to tax law, Congress and the president have much to address, including tax breaks that expired at the end of 2011 as well as the rates and breaks that are scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

The “lame duck” session is scheduled to begin next week, but Congress will soon break again for Thanksgiving. How long it will be in session from after Thanksgiving through the end of the year is up in the air.

It’s still unclear what Congress will try to accomplish in the lame duck session — and what they’ll punt to next year. (In terms of the latter, tax law changes could be made retroactive.)

The lack of change in the political makeup of Washington could make it very difficult to pass tax legislation, considering how far apart the parties are on what should be done. Yet now that both parties know the outcome of the Nov. 6 elections, they may be more willing to compromise.

Whatever happens, it could have an impact on your year end tax planning. So keep an eye on Congress before implementing year end strategies.


10/30/12

Consider the tax implications if you’re awarded restricted stock


In recent years, restricted stock has become a popular form of incentive compensation for executives and other key employees. If you’re awarded restricted stock — stock that’s granted subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture — it’s important to understand the tax implications.

Income recognition is normally deferred until the stock is no longer subject to that risk or you sell it. You then pay taxes based on the stock’s fair market value (FMV) when the restriction lapses and at your ordinary-income rate.

But you can instead make a Section 83(b) election to recognize ordinary income when you receive the stock. This election, which you must make within 30 days after receiving the stock, can be beneficial if the income at the grant date is negligible or the stock is likely to appreciate significantly before income would otherwise be recognized. Why? Because the election allows you to convert future appreciation from ordinary income to long-term capital gains income and defer it until the stock is sold.

There are some disadvantages of a Sec. 83(b) election:

1. You must prepay tax in the current year. But if a company is in the earlier stages of development, this may be a small liability.

2. Any taxes you pay because of the election can’t be refunded if you eventually forfeit the stock or its value decreases. But you’d have a capital loss when you forfeited or sold the stock.

If you’re awarded restricted stock before the end of 2012 and it’s looking like your tax rate will go up in the future, the benefits of a Sec. 83(b) election may be more likely to outweigh the potential disadvantages.


10/23/12

Lock in the 0% long-term capital gains rate while it’s still available

The long-term capital gains rate is currently 0% for gain that would be taxed at 10% or 15% based on the taxpayer’s ordinary-income rate. But the 0% rate is scheduled to expire after 2012. To lock it in, you may want to transfer appreciated assets to adult children or grandchildren in one of these tax brackets in time for them to sell the assets by year end.

Before acting, make sure the recipients you’re considering won’t be subject to the “kiddie tax.” This tax applies to children under age 19 as well as to full-time students under age 24 (unless the students provide more than half of their own support from earned income). For children subject to the kiddie tax, any unearned income beyond $1,900 (for 2012) is taxed at their parents’ marginal rate rather than their own, likely lower, rate. So transferring appreciated assets to them will provide only minimal tax benefits.

It’s also important to consider any gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax consequences. You can exclude certain gifts of up to $13,000 per recipient in 2012 ($26,000 per recipient if your spouse elects to split the gift with you or you’re giving community property) without using up any of your lifetime gift tax exemption.

The GST tax generally applies to gifts made to people more than one generation below you, such as your grandchildren. This is in addition to any gift tax due. But annual exclusion gifts are generally exempt from the GST tax, so they also help you preserve your GST tax exemption for other transfers.

Finally, keep an eye on the Nov. 6 elections and Congress — it’s possible the 0% rate could be extended beyond 2012 or even expanded to include more taxpayers.


10/15/12

Why 2012 may be the right year for a Roth IRA conversion

If you have a traditional IRA, you might benefit from converting all or a portion of it to a Roth IRA. A conversion can allow you to turn tax-deferred future growth into tax-freegrowth. It also can provide estate planning advantages: Roth IRAs don’t require you to take distributions during your life, so you can let the entire balance grow tax-free over your lifetime for the benefit of your heirs.

The downside of a conversion is that the converted amount is taxable in the year of the conversion. But there are a couple of reasons why 2012 may be the right year to make the conversion and take the tax hit:

1. Saving income taxes. Federal income tax rates are scheduled to increase for 2013 and beyond unless Congress extends current rates or passes other rate changes. So if you convert before year end, you’re assured of paying today’s relatively low rates on the conversion. In addition, you’ll avoid the risk of higher future tax rates on all postconversion growth in your new Roth account, because qualified Roth IRA withdrawals are income-tax-free.

2. Saving Medicare taxes. If you convert in 2012, you don’t have to worry about the extra income from a future conversion causing you to be hit with the new 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income, which is scheduled to take effect in 2013 under the health care act. While the income from a 2013 (or later) conversion wouldn’t be subject to the tax, it would raise your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which could cause some or all of your investment income in the year of conversion to be hit with the Medicare tax.

Likewise, you won’t have to worry about future qualified Roth IRA distributions increasing your MAGI to the extent that it would trigger or increase Medicare tax on your investment income, because such distributions aren’t included in MAGI. While traditional IRA distributions won’t be subject to the Medicare tax, they will be included in MAGI and thus could trigger or increase the Medicare tax on investment income.



10/01/12

Time is running out for tax-free treatment of home mortgage debt forgiveness


Income tax generally applies to all forms of income, including 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. You can also have COD income in connection with a mortgage foreclosure, including a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure.

Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, homeowners can exclude from their taxable income up to $2 million in COD income ($1 million for married taxpayers filing separately) in connection with qualified principal residence indebtedness (QPRI). But the exclusion is available only for debts forgiven (via foreclosure or restructuring) through 2012.

QPRI means debt used to buy, construct or substantially improve your principal residence, and it extends to the refinance of such debt. Relief isn't available for a second home, nor is it available for a home equity loan or cash-out refinancing to the extent the proceeds are used for purposes other than home improvement (such as paying off credit cards).

If you exclude COD income under this provision and continue to own your home, you must reduce your tax basis in the home by the amount of the exclusion. This may increase your taxable gains when you sell the home. Nevertheless, the exclusion likely will be beneficial because COD income is taxed at ordinary-income rates, rather than the lower long-term capital gains rates. Plus, it's generally better to defer tax when possible.

So if you're considering a mortgage foreclosure or restructuring in relation to your home, you may want to act before year end to take advantage of the COD income exclusion while it's available.


9/24/12

Congress recesses until after the election; tax law uncertainty remains

After being in session for only two weeks in September, Congress has now adjourned until after the November 6 elections — without reducing any tax law uncertainty. The "lame duck" session is the next possibility for legislative activity. The Senate will return for the week of Nov. 15, break for the week of Thanksgiving and return again on Nov. 29 for a period of time yet to be determined. The House's schedule likely will be similar.

Congress has a full plate awaiting them in the lame duck session. This includes addressing tax breaks that expired at the end of 2011 as well as the rates and breaks that are scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

The results of the election should shed some light on what Congress will try to accomplish in the lame duck session — and what they'll punt to next year. (In terms of the latter, tax law changes could be made retroactive.)

According to popular wisdom, the Republican leadership may be more likely to strike an agreement with Democrats on the substance of extending tax cuts if President Obama is re-elected. If Gov. Romney is elected, Republicans would have less reason to compromise.

Other election results that will affect legislative action are which party will control the Senate and by what margin. The Republicans are expected to retain control of the House, but also significant will be how many of the Tea Party members elected two years ago retain their House seats.

As tax law uncertainty continues, year-end tax planning remains a challenge. It's a good idea to perform a year-to-date review of your income, deductions and potential tax now. That way you can be ready to take quick action once it's clear what, if any, tax law changes Congress will make before year-end.


9/17/12

Why you may want to incur medical expenses before year end


Currently, if your eligible medical expenses exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), you can deduct the excess amount. But in 2013, the 2010 health care act increases this "floor" to 10% for taxpayers under age 65.

Eligible expenses can include health insurance premiums, medical and dental services and prescription drugs. Expenses that are reimbursed (or reimbursable) by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged health care account (such as a Flexible Spending Account or a Health Savings Account) aren't eligible.

To potentially be able to deduct more health care costs, consider "bunching" nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years. For example, if your year-to-date medical expenses already exceed 7.5% of your projected 2012 AGI and you're anticipating elective surgery or major dental work in early 2013, you could instead schedule it for this year. Or you could stock up on prescription meds (to the extent allowed) and buy new contact lenses or glasses before year end.

Bunching expenses into 2012 may be especially beneficial because of the scheduled floor increase. But keep in mind that, for alternative minimum tax purposes, the 10% floor already applies. Also, if tax rates go up in 2013 as scheduled, your deductions might be more powerful then. Finally, be aware that the floor increase could be repealed by Congress.


9/10/12

Need to hire? Consider veterans

Veterans provide a valuable labor pool, full of highly trained, hard-working team players with strong leadership skills. There's also a tax incentive: The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 extended the Work Opportunity credit through 2012 for employers that hire qualified veterans. It also expanded the credit by:

  • Doubling the maximum credit — to $9,600 — for disabled veterans who've been unemployed for six months or more in the preceding year,
  • Adding a credit of up to $5,600 for hiring nondisabled veterans who've been unemployed for six months or more in the preceding year, and
  • Adding a credit of up to $2,400 for hiring nondisabled veterans who've been unemployed for four weeks or more, but less than six months, in the preceding year.

To be eligible for the credit, you must take certain actions before and shortly after you hire a qualified veteran. We can help you determine what you need to do.


9/3/12

How to verify that a charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions

Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. But before you donate, it's critical to make sure the charity you're considering is indeed a qualified charity — that it's eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS's recently launched online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. The previous source for this information was IRS Publication 78, which is incorporated in the new tool.

You can access EO Select Check athttp://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Finally, in an election year, it's important to remember that political donations aren't tax-deductible.


8/27/12

2012 may be the last year to use tax-free ESA funds for precollege expenses

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), like 529 savings plans, offer a tax-smart way to fund education expenses:

  • Contributions aren't deductible for federal purposes, but plan assets can grow tax-deferred
  • Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, equipment, supplies and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and may be tax-free for state purposes.
  • You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.
  • One major ESA advantage over a 529 plan is that tax-free distributions aren't limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. Many taxpayers have been taking advantage of this by using ESA funds to pay for such expenses as tutoring or private school tuition.

However, if Congress doesn't extend this treatment, distributions used for precollege expenses will be taxable starting in 2013. So you can't count on using tax-free ESA funds to pay these expenses next year — which essentially means as soon as the second half of the new school year.

Barring congressional action, ESAs will become less attractive in 2013 for an additional reason: The annual ESA contribution limit per beneficiary, currently $2,000, will go down to $500 for 2013. Contributions (both in 2012 and 2013) are further limited based on income.



8/20/12

Turning a business trip into a vacation

Bringing family or friends along on a business trip and extending your stay can be an excellent way to fund a portion of your vacation costs and save taxes. But if you’re not careful, you could lose the tax benefits.

Generally, if the primary purpose of your trip is business, then expenses directly attributable to business will be deductible (or excludable from your taxable income if your employer is paying the expenses or reimbursing you through an accountable plan). Reasonable and necessary travel expenses generally include:

  • Air, taxi and rail fares
  • Baggage handling
  • Car use or rental
  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Tips

Expenses associated with taking extra days for sightseeing, relaxation or other personal activities generally aren’t deductible. Nor is the cost of your spouse or children traveling with you.

How do you determine if your trip is “primarily” for business? One factor is the number of days spent on business vs. pleasure. But some days that you might think are “pleasure” days might actually be “business” days for tax purposes. “Standby days,” for example, may be considered business days, even if you’re not engaged in business-related activities. You also may be able to deduct certain expenses on personal days if tacking the days onto your trip reduces the overall cost.

During your trip it’s critical to carefully document your business vs. personal expenses. Also keep in mind that special limitations apply to foreign travel, luxury water travel and certain convention expenses. For example, no deduction is allowed for expenses relating to a convention, seminar or meeting held outside North America unless it’s reasonable for the meeting to be held there.



8/13/12

Now’s the time for giving

For 2012, the gift and estate tax exemption is $5.12 million and the maximum gift and estate tax rate is 35%. Absent additional legislation, for 2013 the exemption will drop to $1 million and the top tax rate will increase to 55%. It’s difficult to predict what Congress will do between now and then, so consider making large gifts before year end to take advantage of the high exemption amount.

Even if Congress extends the current law, there are advantages to making gifts early, especially gifts of assets expected to appreciate. That’s because future appreciation is removed from your estate and sheltered from gift and estate taxes.

A caveat: If the exemption does fall back to $1 million in 2013, the IRS might attempt to “claw back” previous gifts in excess of $1 million and subject them to estate tax, even though they were exempt from gift taxes when made. Most experts believe this outcome is unlikely, but if it happens, you’ll be no worse off for having made the gift, and you may be better off if the assets appreciate after the gift is made.


8/6/12

Congress recesses without reducing tax law uncertainty

Congress has adjourned for its August recess and we still have no extensions of tax law provisions that expired at the end of 2011 or any definitive answers on what will happen to tax rates and breaks set to expire at the end of this year. While the House and Senate each passed its own tax bill, no compromises were made that would allow either bill to generate sufficient votes in the other chamber.

Congress isn’t scheduled to return until Sept. 10, and many pundits believe no tax law changes will be passed by both the House and Senate until the lame duck session after the Nov. 6 election. Still others believe nothing will happen until the new year, with changes made retroactive to the beginning of 2012 or 2013 (depending on when a particular provision expired).

This continued uncertainty makes tax planning a challenge. For example, it’s difficult to determine how to best time your income and deductible expenses when you don’t know whether your tax rate will go up, go down or remain the same next year. Deferring income to the next year and accelerating deductible expenses into the current year typically is a good idea, because it will defer tax, which is usually beneficial.

But when you expect to be in a higher tax bracket next year — or you expect tax rates to go up — the opposite approach may be beneficial: Accelerating income will allow more income to be taxed at your current year’s lower rate. And deferring expenses will make the deductions more valuable, because deductions save more tax when you’re subject to a higher tax rate.


7/30/12

Health care law requires employers to make a change to their FSAs starting in 2013

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, businesses need to start preparing for provisions that will go into effect in 2013 (unless Congress repeals them). One such provision is a new limit on employee contributions to health care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs).

Employees can redirect pretax income to FSAs, which then pay or reimburse them for medical expenses not covered by insurance. Currently, employers that offer FSAs can set the employee contribution limits for them. But starting in 2013 the health care act applies a $2,500 limit to employee contributions. (However, there will continue to be no limit on employer contributions to FSAs. Also note that a $5,000 employee contribution limit already applies to child and dependent care FSAs.)

According to the IRS, the $2,500 limit on pretax employee FSA contributions applies on a plan year basis. Thus, non-calendar-year plans must comply for the plan year that starts in 2013. Employers will need to amend their plans and summary plan descriptions to reflect the $2,500 limit (or a lower one, if they wish) and institute measures to ensure employees don’t elect contributions that exceed the limit.


7/23/12

Tax rules you should know if you rent out your vacation home

If you rent out all or a portion of your vacation home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental won’t be deductible.

If you rent out your vacation home for 15 days or more, you’ll have to report the income. But you also may be entitled to deduct some or all of your rental expenses — such as utilities, repairs, insurance and depreciation. Exactly what you can deduct depends on whether the home is classified as a rental property for tax purposes (based on the amount of personal vs. rental use):

Rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction.

Nonrental property. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years. You also can take an itemized deduction for the personal portion of both mortgage interest and property taxes.

In some situations, it may be beneficial to adjust your personal use of a vacation home — or the number of days you rent it out — so that it will be classified in a more beneficial way for tax purposes.


7/16/12

Opening the “back door” to a Roth IRA

A potential downside of tax-deferred saving through a traditional retirement plan is that you’ll have to pay taxes when you make withdrawals at retirement. Roth plans, on the other hand, allow tax-free distributions; the tradeoff is that contributions to these plans don’t reduce your current-year taxable income.

Unfortunately, modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)-based phaseouts may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the 2012 phaseout range is $173,000–$183,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers, the 2012 phaseout range is $110,000-$125,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

If the income-based phaseout prevents you from making Roth IRA contributions and you don’t already have a traditional IRA, a “back door” IRA might be right for you. How does it work? You set up a traditional account and make a nondeductible contribution to it. You then wait until the transaction clears and convert the traditional account to a Roth account. The only tax due will be on any growth in the account between the time you made the contribution and the date of conversion.


7/9/12

Have you misclassified workers as independent contractors?

An employer enjoys several advantages when it classifies a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee. For example, it isn’t required to pay payroll taxes, withhold taxes, pay benefits or comply with most wage and hour laws. However, there’s a potential downside: If the IRS determines that workers have been improperly classified as independent contractors rather than employees, the employer can be subject to significant back taxes, interest and penalties.

To determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, the IRS considers three categories of factors related to the degree of control and independence:

1.      Behavioral. Does the employer control, or have the right to control, what the worker does and how the worker does his or her job?

2.      Financial. Does the employer control the business aspects of the worker’s job? Does the employer reimburse the worker’s expenses or provide the tools or supplies to do the job?

3.      Type of relationship. Will the relationship continue after the work is finished? Is the work a key aspect of the employer’s business?

The determination of the proper classification under these factors may not always be clear. Fortunately, the IRS offers two programs that may provide some relief: 1) the Classification Settlement Program (CSP), which is available to employers undergoing an audit and allows qualified employers to prospectively reclassify workers as employees, and 2) the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP), which allows employers to reclassify workers as employees at a relatively low tax cost outside of the audit process and without the need to go through the normal administrative correction processes.



7/3/12

Supreme Court health care decision could mean higher taxes in 2013

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has generally upheld 2010’s health care act, it’s important to consider how it will affect your tax liability. One way might be your Medicare tax liability.

Under the act, starting in 2013, higher-income taxpayers will be subject to an additional 0.9% tax on wages and self-employment income that exceed specified thresholds, generally $200,000 for single filers and heads of households and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly ($125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).

On top of that, taxpayers are scheduled to be subject to a new 3.8% Medicare tax on net investment income to the extent that their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds specified thresholds, also generally $200,000 for single filers and heads of households and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly ($125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).

Investment income does not include distributions from IRAs, pensions, 401(k) plans or other qualified retirement plans. But distributions from these plans could trigger additional Medicare taxes on net investment income by increasing MAGI.

If your income might be high enough to subject you to these additional taxes next year, consider accelerating income into 2012 where possible. However, you’ll need to keep in mind whether such actions could trigger the alternative minimum tax.

Also consider whether, before year end, you should sell highly appreciated assets you’ve held long term. It may make sense to recognize gains now rather than risk paying Medicare tax on them next year.

These strategies may also prove beneficial if ordinary and long-term capital gains rates increase as scheduled next year. But keep an eye on Congress: A repeal of the provision imposing the additional Medicare tax (as well as an extension of current income and long-term capital gains rates) could occur.



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