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Prior tax tips are listed below...some have been removed or changed as laws have changed. Enjoy!
Starting Your Own LLC
If you or someone you know is thinking of starting an LLC, there are many considerations before doing so. Talking to your local tax professional first could save you hundreds of dollars now or down the road.
Here are a few items you will want to ask yourself before starting a business:
1. Do I need to form an LLC or is a sole-proprietor status enough? Generally, if you are planning to start a business where there could be some liability on your part (for example, you are selling baked goods or providing landscaping services) it is a good idea to form an LLC to protect your personal assets in case of a dispute or liability issue stemming from your business. However, forming an LLC is 1) more expensive since you have to register with the state and pay a fee each year and 2) isn’t a 100% guarantee to shield your personal assets, though it can be helpful. If you decide that you do not want or need an LLC, your business would then be considered a sole-proprietorship, and you would file it under your own social security number with your personal income tax return. With a single member LLC (SMLLC), you would also file your business with your personal tax return, but you would have a different ID number that would be issued by IRS.
2. Do I want a business partner or partners? Do think long and hard about this for a few reasons.
a. It does complicate your financial and tax lives: First you will have to determine if you are going to create a partnership or an S-Corp. if you have a partnership or S-Corp rather than a single-member LLC (aka SMLLC where one person owns the business), you are going to have to have an accounting firm file a federal partnership or S-Corp tax return (Form 1065 or 1120) which will easily cost the business at least $1,000 each year.
You may also have to hire a bookkeeper at $60-70/hour to maintain the books because tracking partnership/S-Corp assets and interests is a bit more complicated than an SMLLC. With an SMLLC, depending on your abilities and knowledge, you could do this yourself. If you did need the bookkeeper with an SMLLC, you would at least save the cost of filing a partnership or S-Corp return.
b. A business partnership is like a marriage: If there is a falling out, it is much like a messy divorce in trying to separate everything out so that the former partners can go their separate ways. If it is a partnership, it will have to be immediately dissolved and a new business reformed; if an S-Corp, shares in it would have to be bought and sold or maintained…all to say this creates more expense from a legal and accounting stance for you. And if the business partner is your friend first, it’s worth it to think hard about if you are willing to risk the friendship for the business.
3. Do I need to use an online company (such as LegalZoom or US Legal Forms) to establish my SMLLC? Use these companies at your own risk. In Connectictut, save your dollars and register directly with the state—the forms are few and rather straightforward.
4. What about other registrations that I need to do? You may need to register to collect state sales tax and if you are in CT, you will have to register for the business tax (confusingly called a personal property declaration). Depending on your type of business, you may also have to contact the health department or the environmental protection departments as well. Your best bet is to go to www.ct-clic.com and contact these folks for help. Their advice is free and they are extremely helpful!
If you decide to forego the LLC and simply have a sole-proprietorship, you will need to register with your town directly rather than the state. Finally, you will want to get yourself some liability insurance.
If you are thinking of forming an LLC, please do contact me and I can e-mail you a detailed list on the steps that you need to take (including website links) to make it as easy as possible for you.
Deducting Job Search Expenses
When it comes to job hunting, there are many misunderstandings to what can and cannot be deducted on your taxes so here is an FAQ to help:
Are job hunting expenses deductible on my taxes?
Maybe. First, this deduction is available to people who have enough deductions to itemize them on a Schedule A. If you usually take the standard deduction, job hunting expenses aren't deductible.
Great--I itemize. So how much of a deduction will I receive?
These expenses go on Schedule A in the Miscellaneous Deductions section, subject to the 2% adjusted gross income (AGI) test. What this means is that if your AGI is $50,000, you must have over $1,000 of miscellaneous deductions for the deductions to start counting. In addition to job hunting expenses, other items that fall into the Misc. section are:Tax prep feesInvestment expensesUnreimbursed employee business expensesProfessional and union duesJob-related education expensesSafe deposit box fees
I've been downsized and I am looking for work in my industry. What job hunting expenses can I deduct?
Deductible expenses include:Fees paid to employment agencies or recruiting firmsCost of typing, printing, and mailing resumesCost of assembling portfolios of workCareer counseling to improve position in tradeFees for legal or accounting services or tax advice relating to employment contractsTransportation costs to job interviewsLong distance phone calls to prospective employersNewspapers, magazines, online subscriptions purchased for employment ads50% of meals and entertainment directly related to job searchesOut of town travel (including meals, lodging and local transportation) if the trip is primarily to look for a new jobI've been downsized and have decided to change career paths into something new. What job hunting and education expenses may I deduct?
This is the lousy part. If you switch from your current line of work (for example, you are a teacher who wants to become a nurse), you cannot deduct your education expenses nor the job hunting expenses tied to the new profession. Deductible expenses have to be related to your current trade or business.
My kid is looking for a first job out of college. Can s/he take the deduction?
Unfortunately, no. Though individuals can claim job search expenses while looking for a new job in their current line of work, they cannot claim looking for their first job or for employment in a new line of business. And your new college grad would have to have enough of deductions to itemize, which is often not the case.
So tax law is not the most helpful when it comes to the job search...but if you are a client who has recently lost their job or is looking to change lines of work, please let me know and send me your resume. I am happy to keep it on file and forward it on when I see an opportunity that fits you.
Quarterly Estimates--Why Make Them, or How to Avoid Them When Possible
So what's the story with estimated payments?
In the U.S., we have a "pay as you go" tax system, which translates into "as you get paid, there your money goes" to IRS and the state(s).
If you are a W-2 employee, every time you receive a paycheck, a certain amount of taxes are withheld automatically and sent directly to the taxing authorities.
Sometimes though, people need to make estimated payments. Here are some examples:
1. You are self-employed
2. You are retired
3. You are a W-2 employee but you have a sizable, additional source of taxable income (such as stocks with large capital gains, required minimum distributions from IRAs, pension from a prior job, etc.)
In these situations, you may be required to make estimated tax payments. These are paid quarterly to IRS and the state(s) on April 15th, June 15th, September 15th, and Jan 15th.
Why should I make my estimated payments?
Estimated payments keep you from getting hit with underpayment penalties and interest when you file your tax return the following year. If you skip a payment, pay late, or make a payment lower than the "safe harbor" amount, these penalties can also apply. Generally, IRS charges 1/2% interest per month and the states, 1% per month. If you can't make your entire estimated payment when it is due because of cash flow issues, try to pay as much of it as you can.
Estimated payments are such a hassle. Is there anyway I can avoid paying them?
There are a couple of ways to simplify your life when it comes to estimated payments. Here are some suggestions:
If you are self-employed but also have a W-2 income (or a spouse with a W-2 income), adjust your W-2 federal and state withholdings to cover your tax liabilities for both the W-2 and self-employment income. Caution: If you do this, make sure you also take into account your 15% of Self-Employment Tax (SE Tax) liability.
Apply a current year refund to next year's estimates. Most tax preparers will offer you this option when working on your return. It can eliminate the need to make one or more estimated payments.
If you regularly owe less than $1000 to your state, skip making estimates to the states. Depending on your state, may have a small penalty but perhaps less aggravation.
Pay your estimates online. If none of the above options work for you, IRS as well as many states allow you to pay your estimates on-line, which cuts down on the time, paper and postage wasted.If you are not sure if you should be making estimated payments or if you need help with this topic, please drop me an e-mail or give me a call and I am happy to help!
At least once in December you will hear about doing "year-end tax planning", usually from a newspaper, magazine, or a television broadcast.
The source will tell you to sell off your "loser" stocks but also to sell some "winner" stocks and use the losses to offset the gains. Generally, this is good advice...particularly if you were able to make up some ground this year in your taxable (i.e. non-retirement) accounts. But here are some things to keep in mind when following this advice, which might seem basic but is worth repeating!
>Stocks (or bonds or mutual funds) that are in IRAs, 401(k)s, or any other type of "qualified" plan will not benefit from such year-end tax planning, because they do not fall under capital gains tax rules. These investments are not taxed until they are actually distributed to you--and they are taxed at your regular income tax rate.
>If you do have taxable (a.k.a. non-qualified) accounts in which you are considering selling stocks, mutual funds, etc. to take advantage of offsetting your capital gains and losses, be careful about the wash sale rule. The wash sale rule says that you cannot deduct a loss on the sale of securities if you purchase the identical securities within 30 days before or after the sale.
For example, you cannot sell your GE stock at a loss on 11/30, buy more GE stock at a lower price on 12/1 and still deduct the loss from the 11/30 sale. (How will the IRS know? Brokerage statements show wash sales with a notation explaining the disallowed loss.)
>The wash sale rule can also be triggered by selling close to the date that a mutual fund reinvests its dividends, or even if you purchase stocks within an IRA that you just sold from a taxable account at a loss! However, it is OK if you sell a mutual fund and buy a different mutual fund with similar investment goals.
Have a great holiday season and if you have any year-end tax planning questions, please feel free to send me an e-mail or give a phone call!
Health Insurance - FSAs & HSAs
Since it is that time of the year to renew our health insurance benefits, below are some tax tips when it comes to Flex Health Spending Plans (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
(Note: it is a long tax tip this month, but health insurance can get complex. Will this information change with the new legislation? Most certainly, but any healthcare legislation passed in 2009 won't take effect for awhile, so below are the rules as they currently stand.)
FSAs For those who have an Flex Health Spending Accounts available:
(If you or your spouse work for a company with an HR department, they should be able to tell you if an FSA is available to you. If so, read on! If not, skip ahead to HSAs): An FSA is a Flexible Spending Account, offered for either health care costs, child care costs, or one for each. It is usually a benefit in addition to your health insurance plan at your work. FSAs are a way of paying for certain medical expenses with pre-tax dollars, which can save you a bundle, depending on your tax bracket.
Here's how an FSA works: You set aside a pre-determined amount toward your FSA account. It is deducted from each paycheck over the course of the year. You can then use these funds toward medical expenses, without having to pay the tax on the income first. As always, there are some pros and cons:
> Allows for paying most health-related items with pre-tax dollars. This is an FSA’s biggest advantage. So if you are in the 25% tax bracket, you essentially save that much on your medical costs since you don’t have to pay federal and state income tax, Social Security & FICA tax first.
>You can use it for items that are part of your health insurance plan(such as co-pays for doctors’ visits and prescriptions) as well as those that are not (eyeglasses, dental care, chiropractic care, etc.).
> Some plans have a debit card attached to them so you do not have to fill out reimbursement forms—you simply pay at the doctor’s office or pharmacy with the debit card.
> Certain plans allow you to use all of your benefit prior to paying in your entire designated contribution. So if you have a big dental bill in January that uses up your whole contribution, you will not have to wait to get reimbursed.
> If you don’t use it, you lose it. This is the biggest drawback on an FSA. If you overfund it and end up with $1,000 left in December, you are going to have to buy an awful lot of vitamins and contact lens solution to use it up. Otherwise, that money is lost.
> Filling out reimbursement forms can be a hassle. Depending on your plan, may not be able to pay for all items with your plan’s debit card (presuming your plan has one). Depending on your plan, this could be very simple or slightly painful. Usually, you complete a form, attach receipts, and fax or mail your documents to the company. Staying organized is key to making this work. > Figuring out how much to put in each year can be daunting. Usually, the open enrollment periodtakes place some time in October, November or December for the following year’s contributions. At this point, you’ll have to guess how sick or accident prone your family will be during the upcoming year.
However, never fear! If you want to use your FSA this year, drop me an email and I will send you an easy worksheet to help you determine a reasonable FSA contribution amount. I even break it down per paycheck for you!
For those who are enrolled in a High Deductible Plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA)or have been given the option to switch through their employer, this section is for you:
Many employers are going the "high deductible plan" route due to the rising cost of health insurance. For some employers, health insurance has become so expensive the choice was to switch to a different type of health insurance or drop coverage altogether. And many folks who purchase private insurance also choose this option.
Important Note for Self-Employed Folks: if you (and your spouse, if applicable) are self-employed and do not have employer-sponsored healthcare available to you, you should be able to deduct the cost of your health insurance premiums on your tax return!
About HDHPs & HSAs:
There are actually two parts to a high deductible health insurance plan, one of them discussed with the HSA acronym.
Part 1 is the actual health insurance plan, called a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). This is a health insurance plan with a high initial deductible that is at least $1,200 for a single person and $2,400 for a family but no more than $5,950 (single) or $11,900 (family) per year. Historically, these amounts have increased every year and will likely continue to do so in the future.
As the insured person, if you use your health insurance, you pay the initial deductible out of your pocket. As a result, the ongoing premiums of these health plans are usually lower than traditional health insurance, for both the employer and the employee.
After the deductible is met, you may have some co-insurance to pay for doctor’s visits, prescriptions, hospital services, or you might even be covered 100%. It all depends on how you (or your employer) set up your plan.
Part 2 is the Health Savings Account (HSA). Many employers fund an HSA for their employees equal to the deductible of their HDHP. Distributions from the HSA are tax-free if used for qualified medical expenses. If the money in the HSA is not completely exhausted at the end of the year, the employee can use the funds next year for health costs, or eventually, for retirement savings. Either way, once the cash is put in the HSA, it belongs to the employee.
HSA accounts can be opened pretty much anywhere: through the employer’s sponsoring program, through your local bank, or through a brokerage account. Each offering has different benefits that depend on which avenue you choose.
But remember: The employer contribution to the HSA account is common, but not mandatory. So there may come a point where the employer may no longer contribute to the account and you will be responsible out of pocket for your plan’s deductible!
So would a high deductible insurance make sense for my family?
Like many things in life, it depends. If it is between a high deductible plan and no coverage at all, of course go with the high deductible plan. If it is between a traditional health insurance plan (with a higher monthly cost and co-pays) and a high deductible plan, the choice is not as clear.
Things to consider when choosing between a traditional health insurance plan and a high deductible plan:
1. Are you a relatively healthy family? Or do you make regular visits to doctors/specialists/emergency rooms?
2. Are you (or your family members) taking any medication? How expensive would these medications be without a co-pay?
3. Do you have enough reserved cash to cover the high deductible (whether your employer plans to fund it or not)?
4. Are you (or your spouse) the kind of folks who won’t seek medical treatment because of the expected cost?
If you have any other questions about the tax side of health insurance, please feel free to drop me an email.
Have a great month!
Student Loan Debt
Often times, you'll hear people tell you that along with your mortgage, student loans are "good debt".
So after you (or your spouse or child) are out of college, there is this loan to be paid. And since it is "good debt", often only minimum payments are made.
Here are a couple of good tax and money-saving reasons to work on eliminating this "not so good" debt:
Your tax deduction may be minimal, if any.
If you qualify, you'll receive a deduction of interest paid on a student loan--up to $2,500. If you make too much according to the IRS guidelines, you might not get any deduction at all.
The student loan interest deduction is phased out when your modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) hits certain targets.
Here are the 2012 figures:
If you are Single or Head of Household, the phase-out begins between $60,000 and $75,000. You lose the deduction completely after $75K.
If you are Married Filing Jointly, the phase-outs occur between $125,000 and $155,000. After $155K income, you lose the deduction completely.
If you are Married Filing Separately, you don't get a deduction, period.
(Note: Modified AGI generally means your income that is totaled up on the bottom of page 1 of your tax return.)
Thus, if you can reorganize your household budget a bit, it's a good idea is to pay off the debt as soon as possible. Save yourself the interest--that's just as good as saving on your taxes.
Your interest rate is probably not low enough in the current economic environment. Conventional wisdom used to say that if you can borrow money at a low interest rate and invest it at a higher rate, you'll make money on the spread in between. And theoretically, it would make sense to only pay the minimum on a low-interest rate student loan.
However, most student loan interest rates are higher than the 1.0% interest that your money market is paying. And the student loan interest rates are almost certainly higher than your stock portfolio's returns over the past year.
So by paying off student loans, you consider that you might be able to save money twice.
First is by saving yourself the interest you would owe in the future.
Second, if you own stocks in a taxable account that declined in value, try selling off some of the losers and paying off a part of your student loan debt. Then you will be able to claim the capital loss on your tax return in 2009 and save yourself some student loan interest.
Savings Bonds Put to Good Use
EE & I Bonds--Savings Bonds Used for College Tuition
Did you know that if you cash in EE or I Bonds and use them to pay for college tuition, the interest earned might be tax-free?
It seems that many folks have an Aunt Betty or Grandpa Joe who insisted on buying U.S. Treasury bonds...here's a way to save some tax on the interest earned.
Of course, there are some catches. Here they are:
> The bond owner must be at least 24 years old before the bond's issue date (i.e. giving grandkids bonds in their names for a 5th birthday for won't work--the bonds would have to be in the parents' name). This is the catch that usually disqualifies most people.
> Proceeds must be used for tuition and fees for a dependent, a spouse, or bond owner at a qualifying educational institution. Room, board and books don't count.
> You can't count bond interest against tuition paid by tax-free scholarships, tax-free withdrawals from 529 Plans, ESAs, any expenses used to calculate the Hope & Lifetime Learning Credits.
> Interest is completely tax-free if the redemption amount is less than the actual qualifying expenses in the year of redemption. Otherwise, they are proportionally tax free.
And, unfortunately, there are phase-outs:
Married Filing Joint: $100,650 to $130,650; Single or Head of Household: $67,100 to $82,100; Married Filing Separately: Not eligible.
If you have questions about this or any other tax or insurance topic, please do not hesitate to call or drop me an email.
Roth IRAs & Kids
Here's an idea if you have a child (or grandchild) with a summer job this year:
Instead of buying the latest gadget or pair of designer sunglasses for them, consider making a contribution to a Roth IRA for him or her this year.
The maximum you can put in is $5,000, but no more than the child actually earns. (And remember, whatever you contribute counts toward your $13,000 annual tax-free gifting amount.)
You could be helping your child a lot for the future!
Think of it this way: A single $5,000 contribution when your child is 15 years old could equal $97,000 at age 66, with an average of 6% growth each year. If the child continues to work and contributions are made in the future, the future of that Roth IRA could be much larger. (Note: This rate was used for hypothetical illustration only and should not be used to predict investment results.)
And remember: all Roth IRA withdrawals after 59 1/2 years old are tax free. And since Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars, contributions (not earnings) can be pulled out tax free at any time. This means that the child could even withdraw these contributions in the future to help when buying a first home.
A Reminder for Overseas Account Owners
I have a bank account overseas…what do I need to declare?
For those of you who hold a foreign bank account(s) with an aggregate total of over $10,000 at any point during 2010, you need to file a Treasury form 90-22.1 (aka an FBAR) postmarked by tomorrow. It is not that the money is necessarily taxable, but IRS just wants to know that it is there.
What happens if I don’t file the FBAR?
You open yourself up to a hefty fine--$10,000 or up to 50% of the account value.
Where can I get the form?
For those of you who are my clients, if this applies to you, you received it in your tax packet this year. For all others, here is the link to the form on IRS’ website: www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f90221.pdf
I’m not sure if this applies to me—how do I find out?
You are welcome to give me a call or drop me an email about it. Or, open the PDF above and take a look at the instructions which explain who has to file.