Tag Archives: deductions

5 Summer Tax Savings Opportunities

Ah, summer. The weather is warm, kids are out of school, and it’s time to think about tax saving opportunities! Here are five ways you can enjoy your normal summertime activities and save on taxes:

  1. Rent out your property tax-free. If you have a cabin, condo, or similar property, consider renting it out for two weeks. The rental income you receive on property rented for less than 15 days per year is not considered taxable income. In addition, you can still deduct your mortgage interest expense and property taxes in full as itemized deductions! Track the rental days closely — going over 14 days means all rent is taxable and rental income rules apply.
  2. Take a tax credit for summer childcare. For many working parents, the summer comes with the added challenge of finding care for their children. Thankfully, the Child and Dependent Care Credit can cover 20-35 percent of qualified childcare expenses for your children under the age of 13. Eligible types of care include day care, nanny fees and day camps (overnight camps and summer school do not qualify).
  3. Hire your kids. If you own a business, hire your kids. If you are a sole proprietor and your child is under age 18, you can pay them to work without withholding or paying Social Security and Medicare tax.
  4. Have a garage sale. In general, the money you make from a yard or garage sale is tax-free because you sell your goods for less than you originally paid for them. Once the sale is over, donate the remaining items to a qualified charity to get a potential charitable donation deduction. Just remember to keep a log of the items you donate and ask for a receipt.
  5. Start a Roth IRA for your children. Roth IRA contributions are limited to the amount of income your child earns, so earned income is key. This can include income from mowing lawns or selling lemonade. Start making contributions as soon as your child makes some money to take advantage of the tax-free earnings available in a Roth IRA.

Taking the time this summer to execute these tips can put extra money in your pocket right away and provide you tax-saving happiness in the future.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Update

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was passed by Congress in a hurry late last year, and the IRS has been working to implement the changes for 2018. Here are the latest answers to some of the most common questions about the tax overhaul:

Is home equity interest still deductible? The short answer is: Not unless you’ve used the money to buy, build or substantially improve your home.

Before the TCJA, homeowners were able to take out a home equity loan and spend it on things other than their residence, such as to pay off credit card debt or to finance large consumer purchases. Under the old tax code, they could deduct interest on up to $100,000 of such home equity debt.

The TCJA effectively writes the concept of home equity indebtedness out of the tax code. Now you can only deduct interest on “acquisition indebtedness,” meaning a loan used to buy, build or substantially improve a residence. If you took out a home equity loan pre-2018 and used it for any other purpose, interest on it is no longer deductible.

I’m a small business owner. How do I use the new 20 percent qualified business expense deduction? Short answer: It’s complicated and you should get help.

Certain small businesses structured as sole proprietors, S corporations and partnerships can deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income. But that percentage can be reduced after your taxable income reaches $157,500 (or $315,000 as a married couple filing jointly).

The amount of the reduction depends partly on the amount of wages paid and property acquired by your business during the year. Another complicating factor is that certain service industries including health, law, consulting, athletics, financial services and accounting are treated differently.

The IRS is expected to issue more clarification on how these rules are applied, such as when your business is a mix of one of those service industries and some other kind of business.

What are the new rules about dependents and caregiving? There are a few things that have changed regarding dependents and caregiving:

Deductions. Standard deductions are nearly doubled to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married joint filers. The code still says dependents can claim a standard deduction limited to the greater of $1,050 or earned income plus $350.

Kiddie Tax. Unearned income of children under age 19 (or 24 for full-time students) above a threshold of $2,100 is now taxed at a special rate for estates and trusts, rather than the parents’ top tax rate.

Family credit. If you have dependents who aren’t children under age 17 (and thus eligible for the Child Tax Credit), you can now claim $500 for each dependent member of your household for whom you provide more than half of their financial support.

Medical expenses. You can deduct medical expenses higher than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income as an itemized deduction. You can claim this for medical expenses you pay for a relative even if they aren’t a dependent (i.e. they live outside your household) as long as you provide more than half of their financial support.

Five Great Finance Tips Everyone Should Know

Avoid hard-won experience and costly mistakes by taking advantage of these five personal finance tips.

 

Pay yourself first – Paying yourself first means taking a percentage of everything you earn and saving it. Consider it as important as any other bill you pay each month. This is a fundamental rule of personal finance that when used properly can help build an emergency fund and save you from living paycheck to paycheck.

Calculate compound interest by using the Rule of 72 – You can roughly calculate the number of years compound interest will take to double your money using the Rule of 72. Simply divide 72 by the rate of return to rough out how long it takes to double your money. For example, 10 percent compound interest will double a sum in 7.2 years; 8 percent in nine years. It’s a concept that helps us understand the power of saving and investment.

Avoid debt – Unpaid debt is like compound interest, but in reverse. If left unaddressed, it grows exponentially over time as interest and fees add to the original balance due. The result is that you have to work harder and earn more to pay for the items you purchased. Why not save first, then purchase your dream item? When done this way, the purchase price is limited to what you paid for the item, rather than adding the burden of debt over time.

Understand amortization – When a bank loans you money, it gives you a certain interest rate and a set number of years to pay it back. Each payment you make contains interest as well as a reduction of the amount owed, called principal. Most of the interest payments are front-loaded, while the last few payments are virtually all principal. A smart consumer knows this and tries to make additional interest payments at the beginning of the term. This will dramatically reduce the number of payments required to pay back the loan.

Take advantage of tax deductions, credits and capital gains – Tax laws are complicated and made even more complex when the rules change. There are many tax deductions and credits to take advantage of, as well as strategies to minimize capital gains tax. Why leave money on the table just because you don’t know the rules? Ask for help and ask for it early in the year. The power of getting the right tax plan in place every year is definitely something everyone should know about.

Six Home Ownership Tax Benefits

If you own or are considering purchasing a home, you can take advantage of many tax benefits. Here are six of the most commonly used homeowner tax breaks:

Mortgage interest deduction. You can deduct the interest you pay in your monthly mortgage bill when you itemize deductions on your tax return. This can be a huge benefit, especially in the early years of a mortgage. That’s because typically about 80 percent of your mortgage bill in your first year of home ownership on a 30-year mortgage goes toward interest. Principal payments typically don’t exceed interest until year 18 of a 30-year mortgage.

Note: This benefit is capped to apply to $750,000 in indebtedness for new loans beginning in 2018 ($1 million for loans taken out in 2017 or earlier).

Property tax deductions. You can deduct up to $10,000 in combined state and local taxes. Called the SALT deduction, this can be used to deduct local property taxes, state income taxes, and state and local sales taxes.

Closing cost deductions. You can deduct some of the closing costs of a home purchase in the year you buy it. This includes things like real estate taxes and mortgage discount points you pay up front to lower your interest rate over the life of your loan. Because each point costs 1 percent of your total mortgage amount, the tax deduction on these costs can be substantial.

Home improvement tax breaks. If you take out a second mortgage or what is commonly called a home equity mortgage and use it to buy, build or substantially improve your home, you can deduct the interest on that loan from your taxes. This feature is now grouped into your total mortgage indebtedness, which is capped at $750,000.

Caution: Interest on home equity loans used for any other means (e.g., to pay down credit card debt or to purchase a car) is no longer deductible.

Energy-efficiency tax breaks. There are special tax breaks available for renewable energy and energy-efficiency upgrades to your house:

  1. The cost to buy and install solar, wind and geothermal equipment to your main residence or a second home can be deducted by 30 percent.
  2. Energy-efficient upgrades can be deducted by 100 percent for items such as central air conditioning, furnaces and water heaters, capped at a total of $500.

Capital gains exclusion. You have the ability to exclude up to $250,000 of profits (or $500,000 if you are married) from the sale of your home, as long as it’s your primary residence and you’ve lived there at least two years.

Remember, if you’re thinking of buying a home, you’ll want to make a tax review part of your preparation. Because the tax deductions on mortgage interest and points can be so substantial in the early years of home ownership, they may factor in to how much home you can afford.

Tax Planning Time

Now is the ideal time to schedule a tax planning session. Your 2017 tax return outcome is still fresh, and it’s early enough in the year to take advantage of the numerous tax law changes taking place in 2018. Here’s a brief overview of some of the new tax issues that you need to plan for now.

Income – Tax rates for both individuals and small businesses have changed substantially. Income tax deductions have also changed drastically, including a nearly doubling of the standard deduction and elimination of personal exemptions and miscellaneous itemized deductions.

It’s important to review your income tax withholding schedule to see where you fall in the new income tax bracket structure. Small adjustments here could save you hundreds.

Bunching – Because of the changes to the deductions structure, using itemized deductions may now require bunching two or even three years of expenses into one tax year. Things like donations to charity and medical expenses that you may have spread across several years are now better bunched into a single year to maximize your tax savings.

If you typically take care of medical expenses or charitable donations at a regular time every year, hold off this year until you have a new tax-efficient plan.

SALT (State and local taxes) – There’s now a $10,000 combined total cap on deductions of state and local income, sales and property taxes, which is going to impact a lot of people, especially in high-tax states. This may be a big factor to account for if you’ve relied on this deduction in the past.

Get an analysis done to see how much larger your tax bill is going to be because of the cap on SALT taxes. There may not be much you can do about it, other than changing where you live and own property, but you’ll need to have a clear picture of how it will impact your tax return in 2018.

Mortgage interest changes – There are several new rules changing how mortgage interest is deducted. You can no longer deduct the interest on mortgage indebtedness greater than $750,000. And you can no longer deduct interest on mortgage indebtedness that wasn’t spent directly on buying, building or substantially improving your home.

If you have previously claimed a home equity loan interest deduction, you’ll need to review how this will affect your itemized deductions.

These are just a few examples of things that you’ll need to review in the wake of the largest tax law change in more than 30 years. Take some time this summer to make sure you have a plan in place.

Best Way to Avoid an IRS Audit: Preparation

Getting audited by the IRS is no fun. Some taxpayers are selected for random audits every year, but the chances of that happening to you are very small. You are much more likely to fall under the IRS’s gaze if you make one of several common mistakes.

That means your best chance of avoiding an audit is by doing things right before you file your return this year. Here are some suggestions:

Don’t leave anything out. Missing or incomplete information on your return will trigger an audit letter automatically, since the IRS gets copies of the same tax forms (such as W-2s and 1099s) that you do.

Double-check your numbers. Bad math will get you audited. People often make calculation errors when they do their returns, especially if they do them without assistance. In 2016, the IRS sent out more than 1.6 million examination letters correcting math errors. The most frequent errors occurred in people’s calculation of their amount of tax due, as well as the number of exemptions and deductions they claimed.

Don’t stand out. The IRS takes a closer look at business expenses, charitable donations and high-value itemized deductions. IRS computers reference statistical data on which amounts of these items are typical for various professions and income levels. If what you are claiming is significantly different from what is typical, it may be flagged for review.

Have your documentation in order. Be meticulous about your recordkeeping. Items that will support the tax breaks you take include: cancelled checks, receipts, credit card and investment statements, logs for mileage and business meals and proof of charitable donations. With proper documentation, a correspondence letter from the IRS inquiring about a particular deduction can be quickly resolved before it turns into a full-blown audit.

Remember, the average person has a less than 1 percent chance of being audited. If you prepare now, you can narrow your audit chances even further and rest easy after you’ve filed.

Tax Reform for 2018

Individual Rule Changes

Congress has passed tax reform that will take effect in 2018, ushering in some of the most significant tax changes in three decades. Here are some of the most important items in the new bill that impact individual taxpayers.

Reduces income tax rates. The bill retains seven brackets, but at reduced rates, with the highest tax bracket dropping to 37 percent from 39.6 percent.

Doubles standard deductions. The standard deduction nearly doubles to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing jointly. To help cover the cost, personal exemptions are suspended, as well as most additional standard deductions (except for the blind and elderly).

Limits itemized deductions. Many itemized deductions are no longer available, or are now limited. Here are some of the major examples:

  • Caps state and local tax deductions. State and local tax deductions are limited to $10,000 total for all property, income and sales taxes.
  • Caps mortgage interest deductions. Mortgage acquisition indebtedness interest will be deductible for no more than $750,000. Existing homeowners are unaffected by the new cap. The bill also suspends the deductibility of interest on home equity debt.
  • Limits theft and casualty losses. These deductions are now only available for federally declared disaster areas.
  • Removes 2 percent miscellaneous deductions. Most miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2 percent of adjusted gross income threshold are now gone.

Cuts some above-the-line deductions. Moving expense deductions get eliminated except for active-duty military personnel, along with alimony deductions beginning in 2019.

Weakens the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The bill retains the alternative minimum tax but changes the exemption to $109,400 for joint filers and the phaseout threshold to $1 million. The changes mean the AMT will affect far fewer people than before.

Bumps up child tax credit, adds family tax credit. The child tax credit increases to $2,000 from $1,000, with $1,400 of it refundable even if no tax is owed. The phaseout threshold increases sharply to $400,000 from $110,000 for joint filers, making it available to more taxpayers. Also, dependents ineligible for the child tax credit can qualify for a new $500-per-person family tax credit.

Expands use of 529 education savings plans. Qualified distributions from 529 education savings plans now include amounts to pay tuition for students in K-12 private schools.

Doubles estate tax exemption. Estate taxes will apply to fewer people, with the exemption doubled to $11.2 million ($22.4 million for a married couple).

Reduces pass-through business taxes. Most owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships will see their income tax lowered with a new 20 percent income reduction calculation.

Because major tax reform like this happens so seldom, it’s worth scheduling a tax planning consultation to ensure you reap the most tax savings possible during 2018.

4 Tax Tips for Small Business Owners – Part Two

Since you can’t get away from taxes, the best thing to do is be prepared for them. If you own a small business, taxes become a bit more complicated, but there are several ways to make sure tax time is less stressful. Here are tips 3 and 4 for small business owners.

3. Leverage Tax Preparation Tools and Expertise

Most of the personal income tax preparation software applications include business tax options as well and are typically geared for small business or self-employment. The IRS has also gone to great lengths to provide material on its website that is easy to find and understandable by non-tax professionals.

However, tax laws are complex, and it can take time to become proficient. Hiring a tax professional may be in your best interests since this person could identify tax breaks and deductions you may miss.

Whether you use software or hire a pro, keeping a checklist while you are thinking about taxes throughout the year can help you get ready for tax time. There are online and print resources that show you what records and information you need, any tax guidelines geared toward businesses, and the all-important filing and payment dates.

Some things to keep track of include:

  • Filing payroll tax forms
  • Sending 1099 forms to your contractors
  • Assembling income and expense records
  • Renewal for liability insurance

You can find tax organizers and worksheets online, or your tax professional may have one for you to use.

4. Avoid These Common Mistakes

There are a couple of mistakes small business owners tend to make that can cause trouble down the road.

  • One is thinking your tax professional will assume responsibility for all your tax needs. You cannot assume everything has been done appropriately because, again, you know what they say about “assume.” No matter who prepares the taxes, you are still responsible for all the information on the return and the taxes owed.
  • Another mistake is allowing fear of the IRS to keep you from taking legitimate deductions. If you work with a reputable tax professional or online tax preparation service, you should be given appropriate guidance on your eligibility for each available write-off.

There you have it. Keep taxes in mind all year, keep up with changes and news, leverage reputable tax tools and professionals, and avoid common mistakes and your tax time stress should be reduced significantly. As a bonus, you will save yourself some money, and maybe receive a refund.

4 Tax Tips for Small Business Owners – Part One

Since you can’t get away from taxes, the best thing to do is be prepared for them. If you own a small business, taxes become a bit more complicated, but there are several ways to make sure tax time is less stressful. Here are tips 1 and 2 for small business owners.

  1. Think Taxes Year Around

Thinking about your taxes all year does not seem to be a way to avoid stress, but in reality, tax planning is a year-round activity when you run a small business. If you keep up with documentation and recording requirements throughout the year, you are more likely to arrive at tax time with the right paperwork ready to go.

It is also easier to take advantage of tax savings and deductions over the course of time instead of trying to put together a package of write-offs at the last minute.

  • Keep accurate records all year
  • Save all business related receipts, both paper and electronic, and log them for easy access
  • Keep mileage logs and other expense records so they are accurate

You will find tax time much less stressful, and you will be set up to monitor changes from year to year.

  1. Keep Up with the Tax News

It may seem that the legislature does nothing, but laws do get passed every year. You need to keep an eye on happenings in the federal government that can impact your tax liability and business organization.

For example:

  • The Affordable Care Act is still rolling out. As of 2015 it applied to businesses with 51 to 99 employees and carried stiff penalties for failing to provide health insurance to employees. Penalties also applied if you did not report the type of coverage you provided.
  • Taxation of online sales is still winding its way through Congress. You need to monitor the situation, so you know if it becomes law and how it could affect you if you are an online seller if you gross more than $1 million annually.
  • The Section 179 Property Deduction was extended but not made permanent. It allows business to deduct the full amount of eligible property as expenses in the year the business began using it. “Property” includes any property used in manufacturing, transporting, and producing goods, any facility used for business or research, or any buildings used to hold livestock or horticultural products.

Tax laws change all the time; keep up with the business news for ongoing legislation or last minute tax breaks.

Tips to Make School Expenses Deductible

It seems like summer has just begun and the Back-to-School advertising blitz has already started. Are there any tax savings opportunities? Certainly, if you are tax smart about your spending. While the amounts may be small, they can add up in a hurry. Here are some ideas:

Purchasing the class supply list could have deductions in it – Often schools send a list of requested supplies for the school year. Some of the items on the list are clearly for personal use (such as an eraser or a ruler) while other items on the list are often for school use and classroom use (such as 24 pencils or paper towels). This classroom supply technique effectively transfers the school expenses to our children. Keep track of these non-cash classroom/school donations for possible non-cash charitable deductions.

Donate funds versus buying the supplies – Instead of buying the classroom supplies yourself, consider providing a check written to the school as a donation. This helps in two ways: First, it becomes a clear cash donation with a canceled check as a receipt. Second, if your school has a good supply agreement, the purchasing power of your donation will go further.

Whenever you donate, get a written confirmation from the school or your child’s teacher representing the school – Most teachers do not have the form, so bring one with you that the teacher can sign. You can get the directions on www.irs.gov or simply use a respected charitable group like Goodwill, or the Red Cross for a format to copy.

Leverage the school’s PTA – This non-profit parent group, if a qualified charitable organization, is a great resource to help your school AND help you get deductible donations for funds you would otherwise provide to your child’s school.

Use checks not cash – If you usually provide donations to the school in the form of cash (like providing additional money to help other kids go on field trips) make those donations in the form of a check. Cash donations without receipts are not deductible.

Donate funds versus taking the raffle ticket – Raffles, subscription drives, and silent auctions are fun ways schools raise funds. To maximize your ability to deduct your donations, forego the possible prize. Then the entire donation is clearly deductible.

Don’t forget your out-of-pocket expenses for your volunteer activities – Perhaps you donate your time at school functions, donate books to the school library, or help assist the teaching staff. Your out-of-pocket expenses and your mileage should be tracked for charitable deduction purposes.

Teachers, save your out-of-pocket expenses – The $250 deduction for qualified educators’ out-of-pocket classroom expenses is a popular tax provision in Congress that is now a permanent part of the tax code.

Finally, don’t forget to review state rules for educational expenses. There are often credits available for out-of-pocket school and other educational expenses.