Tag Archives: income

Effective Tax Planning Starts Now!

With summertime activities in full swing, tax planning is probably not on the top of your to-do list. But putting it off creates a problem at the end of the year when there’s little time for changes to take effect. If you take the time to plan now, you’ll have six months for your actions to make a difference on your 2019 tax return. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Know your upcoming tax breaks. Pull out your 2018 tax return and take a look at your income, deductions and credits. Ask yourself whether all these breaks will be available again this year. For example:

  • Are you expecting more income that will bump you to a higher tax rate?
  • Will increased income cause a benefit to phase out?
  • Will any of your children outgrow a tax credit?

Any changes to your tax situation will make planning now much more important.

Make tax-wise investment decisions. Have some loser stocks you were hoping would rebound? If the prospects for revival aren’t great, and you’ve owned them for less than one year (short-term), selling them now before they change to long-term stocks can offset up to $3,000 in ordinary income this year. Conversely, appreciated stocks held longer than one year may be candidates for potential charitable contributions or possible choices to optimize your taxes with proper planning.

Adjust your retirement plan contributions. Are you still making contributions based on last year’s limits? Maximum savings amounts increase for retirement plans in 2019. You can contribute up to $13,000 to a SIMPLE IRA, up to $19,000 to a 401(k) and up to $6,000 to a traditional or Roth IRA. Remember to add catch-up contributions if you’ll be 50 by the end of December!

Plan for upcoming college expenses. With the school year around the corner, understanding the various tax breaks for college expenses before you start doling out your cash for post-secondary education will ensure the maximum tax savings. There are two tax credits available, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit. Plus there are tax benefits for student loan interest and Coverdell Savings accounts. Add 529 college savings plans, and you quickly realize an educational tax strategy is best established early in the year.

Add some business to your summer vacation. If you own a business, you might be able to deduct some of your travel expenses as a business expense. To qualify, the primary reason for your trip must be business-related. Keep detailed records of where and when you work, plus get receipts for all ordinary and necessary expenses!

Great tax planning is a year-round process, but it’s especially effective at midyear. Making time now not only helps reduce your taxes, it puts you in control of your entire financial situation.

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.

Managing Money Tips for Couples

Couples consistently report finances as the leading cause of stress in their relationship. Here are a few tips to avoid conflict with your long-term partner or spouse:

Be transparent. Be honest with each other about your financial status. As you enter a committed relationship, each partner should learn about the status of the other person’s debts, income and assets. Any surprises down the road may feel like dishonesty and lead to conflict.

Discuss future plans often. The closer you are with your partner, the more you’ll want to know about the other person’s future plans. Kids, planned career changes, travel, hobbies, retirement expectations — all of these will depend upon money and shared resources. So, discuss these plans and create the financial roadmap to go with them. Remember that even people in a long-term marriage may be caught unaware if they fail to keep up communication and find out their spouse’s priorities have changed over time.

Know your comfort levels. As you discuss your future plans, bring up hypotheticals: How much debt is too much? What level of spending versus savings is acceptable? How much would you spend on a car, home or vacation? You may be surprised to learn that your assumptions about these things fall outside your partner’s comfort zone.

Divide responsibilities; combine forces. Try to divide financial tasks such as paying certain bills, updating a budget, contributing to savings and making appointments with tax and financial advisors. Then periodically trade responsibilities over time. Even if one person tends to be better at numbers, it’s best to have both members participating. By having a hand in budgeting, planning and spending decisions, you will be constantly reminded how what you are doing financially contributes to the strength of your relationship.

Learn to love compromise. No two people have the same priorities or personalities, so differences of opinion are going to happen. One person is going to want to spend, while the other wants to save. Vacation may be on your spouse’s mind, while you want to put money aside for a new car. By acknowledging that these differences of opinion will happen, you’ll be less frustrated when they do. Treat any problems as opportunities to negotiate and compromise. Instead of looking at the outcome as “I didn’t get everything I wanted,” think of it as “We both made sacrifices out of love for each other.”

The Clock is Ticking…Tax Reduction Ideas Still Available

As the end of the year approaches, there is still time to make moves to manage your tax liability. Here are some ideas to consider.

Maximize your retirement plan contributions. This includes traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP IRAs for self-employed. Now is the time to maximize the contribution potential for this year and plan for next year’s contributions.

Estimate your current and next year taxable income. With this estimate you can determine which year receives the greatest benefit from a reduction in income. By understanding what the tax rate will be for your next dollar earned, you can understand the tax benefit of reducing income in this year versus next year.

Make charitable contributions. Consider which tax year will benefit most from your charitable giving of cash and non-cash items. Shift your giving into the year that will provide you the most benefit.

Take capital losses. Each year you can net capital losses against capital gains. You can also deduct up to $3,000 in excess losses against your other income. Start to identify which investments may make sense to sell to take advantage of this. If planned correctly, these losses can offset ordinary income.

Consider donating appreciated stock. This strategy gives you a charitable deduction for the market value of the stock, while not having to pay capital gains tax on the charitable gift. If you provide an annual pledge sheet to your church, this can be a great way to maximize your gift while giving needed funds to your church at the beginning of the year.

Retirement plan distributions. If you are age 70½ or older, take your required minimum distributions for the year. If you are retired, but younger than 70½, consider taking tax efficient distributions from your retirement accounts. By paying some tax now, you may avoid paying higher taxes later when you have to follow the minimum distribution rules.

Consider tax legislation. Please recall that tax laws passed in late 2016 made many temporary tax savings permanent and extended others into 2017. So save classroom related receipts if you are a teacher. Consider charitable contributions from your retirement plan if you are a senior. Keep receipts of large purchases to track a potential sales tax deduction.

Your Cash Flow – What Is It and How Can You Improve It? – Part 1

One of the most common reasons businesses fail is due to lack of understanding of cash flow. The same can be said about your household’s personal financial statement. So what is this cash flow concept, how does it apply to you, and what are some ways to improve yours? In Part 1 of this two-part article, we’ll explain what cash flow is and how to determine your cash flow.

Cash flow defined

Cash flow equals cash coming in (wages, interest, social security benefits) and subtracting the bills you pay. Unfortunately, calculating cash flow is never that easy. Some bills are due weekly, others monthly. Some large bills come quarterly, or annually. Understanding this flow of cash is the first step in knowing how to improve yours.

Create your cash flow snapshot

Before improving your cash flow, you need to be able to see it. There are many online tools to create a map, but you can also take a snapshot of your cash flow using a monthly spreadsheet.

  1. Put each month across the top of the spreadsheet with an annual total.
  2. Note all your revenue and corresponding expense descriptions in the left-hand column.
  3. Enter your income and bills by month. Create a monthly subtotal of all your inflows. Do the same for your expenses or cash outflows. Then subtract the expenses from income. Positive numbers? You have positive cash flow. Negative numbers? You have negative cash flow.
  4. Create a cumulative total for the year to see which months will need additional funds and which months will have excess funds.

Check out Part 2 where we list various ways to improve your cash flow!

Small Business Consultants Beware

Over the past few years, state revenue departments have been getting creative in making new tax laws to capture non-resident income taxes. If you are an individual operating as a sole-proprietor consultant or service provider to customers out of your own state, here is what you need to know.

This could be you

  • You could owe state income taxes to a state you never visited or worked in.
  • Non-resident employees doing the same work you do as a consultant may not have to pay state income taxes while you must.
  • Federal law protects non-residents from state revenue attacks, but only if you sell tangible property (like pencils, watches and other physical property). It generally does not protect those who provide services.
  • Every state can be different. Just because you know your state’s rules, do not assume other states follow the same guidelines. Nor should you assume other state laws are logical or reasonable.

What can you do?

If you are a consultant providing services to out-of-state customers, here are some tips.

  • Research the states rules – Research your customers’ state tax laws for non-resident service businesses. Also review that state’s non-resident employee wage rules. See if they treat them both the same way.
  • Become a temporary employee – If non-resident rules are different for consultants versus employees, consider becoming a part-time employee or temp employee. Adjust your bill rate to allow for the employer paying half of your Social Security and Medicare.
  • Physical presence – If you conduct your work in the out-of-state location, a non-resident tax return is usually due. But this is not always the case.
  • Service or product? – Remember, selling product across state lines is different than providing a service. Nexus laws and tax cases make physical presence required. But here too, there can be exceptions.
  • If in doubt, ask for help – The best advice is to ask for help. This area of tax code is rapidly evolving. There are no national guidelines and states like California and Michigan are very aggressive. Exceptions in state rules make mistakes easy to happen. This can lead to you owing taxes to another state based on your out-of state activities.

Small service businesses cannot readily defend themselves against large state revenue departments so they are becoming victims as one state tries to take another state’s income tax revenue. While you may receive a credit in your home state for taxes paid to another state, it is not always easy to do and penalties are often applied. Your best defense is knowledge.

What to Do With Your Social Security Statement

The Social Security Administration is now doing a better job in sending out earnings reports by mailing paper statements to workers every five years beginning at age 25. The reports are also available online at https://www.ssa.gov. These reports recap historic earnings and contain an estimate of potential benefits.

When you receive your report, spend a few minutes reviewing the statement. Here are some suggestions on how to do this.

  • Review your earnings history – Towards the back of the report is a recap of your earnings record. This should accurately reflect reported earnings on your tax return. This number is a summary of all your earnings subject to Social Security as reported by your employer on your W-2 forms. But if you are self-employed or have many employers, you must make sure that the income properly reflects what you earned.

Action: Employees: Pull out your W-2s and make sure the totals match. Self-employed: Pull out your tax return and confirm totals match. Review history: Review historic figures as well. Your Social Security benefits use your full work history to calculate future benefits.

  • Review your potential retirement benefits – The Social Security statement will provide you with an estimate of your benefit amount using current dollars and current work history. The value of your benefit will show three benefit amounts. One for the minimum retirement age of 62, one for the maximum amount if you start your benefits at age 70, and one for your full retirement age between the ages of 65 and 67.

Action: Consider these monthly benefit amounts in terms of your retirement plan to help create a realistic picture of what you will have available to you when you retire.

  • Note other benefits – Remember, Social Security is not just about your retirement benefits. There are also estimates presented for disability and surviving family benefits. Please review these estimates to understand the potential benefits these programs may provide.
  • Remember current benefits are just estimates – The benefits noted on this statement are estimates. Actual benefit amounts rise with inflation, change with tax laws, and adjust with your future earnings. Your benefit statement will show you the assumptions used in creating your estimated amounts.

Action: Review the assumptions used by the Social Security Administration. Pay special attention to the future earnings used by them to create the benefit amounts. If you do not think they are accurate, you may need to create revised estimates with more accurate assumptions.

Should you find any errors in the statement correct them immediately. The last page of the statement provides a means for doing this.