March 2014

FEATURE ARTICLES

  • 6 Overlooked Tax Breaks for Individuals
  • 7 Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions
  • Using a Car for Business? Grab These Deductions

TAX TIPS

  • Who Should File a 2013 Tax Return?
  • Earned Income Tax Credit Gives Workers a Boost
  • The Facts: Medical & Dental Expenses and Your Taxes
  • It’s Not Too Late to Make a 2013 IRA Contribution

This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.

6 OVERLOOKED TAX BREAKS FOR INDIVIDUALS

Confused about which credits and deductions you can claim on your 2013 tax return? You’re not alone. Here are six tax breaks that you won’t want to overlook.

1. STATE SALES AND INCOME TAXES

Thanks to the fiscal cliff deal last January, the sales tax deduction, which originally expired at the end of 2011, was reinstated in 2013 (retroactive to 2012). As such, taxpayers filing their 2013 returns can still deduct either state income tax paid or state sales tax paid, whichever is greater.

If you bought a big ticket item like a car or boat in 2013, it might be more advantageous to deduct the sales tax, but don’t forget to figure any state income taxes withheld from your paycheck just in case. If you’re self-employed you can include the state income paid from your estimated payments. In addition, if you owed taxes when filing your 2012 tax return in 2013, you can include the amount when you itemize your state taxes this year on your 2013 return.

2. CHILD AND DEPENDENT CARE TAX CREDIT

Most parents realize that there is a tax credit for daycare when their child is young, but they might not realize that once a child starts school, the same credit can be used for before and after school care, as well as day camps during school vacations. This child and dependent care tax credit can also be taken by anyone who pays a home health aide to care for a spouse or other dependent–such as an elderly parent–who is physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself. The credit is worth a maximum of $1,050 or 35percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses per dependent.

3. JOB SEARCH EXPENSES

Job search expenses are 100percent deductible, whether you are gainfully employed or not currently working–as long as you are looking for a position in your current profession. Expenses include fees paid to join professional organizations, as well as employment placement agencies that you used during your job search. Travel to interviews is also deductible (as long as it was not paid by your prospective employer) as is paper, envelopes, and costs associated with resumes or portfolios. The catch is that you can only deduct expenses greater than 2percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

4. STUDENT LOAN INTEREST PAID BY PARENTS

Typically, a taxpayer is only able to deduct interest on mortgages and student loans if he or she is liable for the debt; however, if a parent pays back their child’s student loans the money is treated by the IRS as if the child paid it. As long as the child is not claimed as a dependent, he or she can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest paid by the parent. The deduction can be claimed even if the child does not itemize.

5. MEDICAL EXPENSES

Most people know that medical expenses are deductible as long as they are more than 10 percent of AGI for tax year 2013. What they often don’t realize is what medical expenses can be deducted, such as medical miles (24 cents per mile) driven to and from appointments and travel (airline fares or hotel rooms) for out of town medical treatment.

Other deductible medical expenses that taxpayers might not be aware of include: health insurance premiums, prescription drugs, co-pays, and dental premiums and treatment. Long-term care insurance (deductible dollar amounts vary depending on age) is also deductible, as are prescription glasses and contacts, counseling, therapy, hearing aids and batteries, dentures, oxygen, walkers, and wheelchairs.

If you’re self-employed, you may be able to deduct medical, dental, or long term care insurance. Even better, you can deduct 100 percent of the premium. In addition, if you pay health insurance premiums for an adult child under age 27, you may be able to deduct them as well.

6. BAD DEBT

If you’ve ever loaned money to a friend, but were never repaid, you may qualify for a non-business bad debt tax deduction of up to $3,000 per year. To qualify however, the debt must be totally worthless, in that there is no reasonable expectation of payment.

Non-business bad debt is deducted as a short-term capital loss, subject to the capital loss limitations. You may take the deduction only in the year the debt becomes worthless. You do not have to wait until a debt is due to determine whether it is worthless. Any amount you are not able to deduct can be carried forward to reduce future tax liability.

Are you getting all of the tax credits and deductions that you are entitled to? Maybe you are…but maybe you’re not. Why take a chance? Make an appointment with us today and we’ll make sure you get all of the tax breaks you deserve.

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7 COMMON SMALL BUSINESS TAX MISPERCEPTIONS

One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in running your own business is staying on top of your numerous obligations to federal, state, and local tax agencies. Tax codes seem to be in a constant state of flux making the Internal Revenue Code barely understandable to most people.

The old legal saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is perhaps most often applied in tax settings and it is safe to assume that a tax auditor presenting an assessment of additional taxes, penalties, and interest will not look kindly on an “I didn’t know I was required to do that” claim. On the flip side, it is surprising how many small businesses actually overpay their taxes, neglecting to take deductions they’re legally entitled to that can help them lower their tax bill.

Preparing your taxes and strategizing as to how to keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year. Your best course of action to save time, frustration, money, and an auditor knocking on your door, is to have a professional accountant handle your taxes.

Tax professionals have years of experience with tax preparation, religiously attend tax seminars, read scores of journals, magazines, and monthly tax tips, among other things, to correctly interpret the changing tax code.

When it comes to tax planning for small businesses, the complexity of tax law generates a lot of folklore and misinformation that also leads to costly mistakes. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the more common small business tax misperceptions.

1. ALL START-UP COSTS ARE IMMEDIATELY DEDUCTIBLE

Business start-up costs refer to expenses incurred before you actually begin operating your business. Business start-up costs include both start up and organizational costs and vary depending on the type of business. Examples of these types of costs include advertising, travel, surveys, and training. These start up and organizational costs are generally called capital expenditures.

Costs for a particular asset (such as machinery or office equipment) are recovered through depreciation or Section 179 expensing. When you start a business, you can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs.

Business start-up and organizational costs are generally capital expenditures. However, you can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs paid or incurred after October 22, 2004. The $5,000 deduction is reduced (but not below zero) by the amount your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized.

2. OVERPAYING THE IRS MAKES YOU “AUDIT PROOF”

The IRS doesn’t care if you pay the right amount of taxes or overpay your taxes. They do care if you pay less than you owe and you can’t substantiate your deductions. Even if you overpay in one area, the IRS will still hit you with interest and penalties if you underpay in another. It is never a good idea to knowingly or unknowingly overpay the IRS. The best way to “Audit Proof” yourself is to properly document your expenses and make sure you are getting good advice from your tax accountant.

3. BEING INCORPORATED ENABLES YOU TO TAKE MORE DEDUCTIONS.

Self-employed individuals (sole proprietors and S Corps) qualify for many of the same deductions that incorporated businesses do, and for many small businesses, being incorporated is an unnecessary expense and burden. Start-ups can spend thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees to set up a corporation, only to discover soon thereafter that they need to change their name or move the company in a different direction. In addition, plenty of small business owners who incorporate don’t make money for the first few years and find themselves saddled with minimum corporate tax payments and no income.

4. THE HOME OFFICE DEDUCTION IS A RED FLAG FOR AN AUDIT.

While it used to be a red flag, this is no longer true–as long as you keep excellent records that satisfy IRS requirements. In fact, so many people now have home-based businesses that in 2013, the IRS rolled out the new simplified home office deduction, which makes it even easier to claim the home office deduction (as long as it can be substantiated).

Because of the proliferation of home offices, tax officials cannot possibly audit all tax returns containing the home office deduction. In other words, there is no need to fear an audit just because you take the home office deduction. A high deduction-to-income ratio however, may raise a red flag and lead to an audit.

5. IF YOU DON’T TAKE THE HOME OFFICE DEDUCTION, BUSINESS EXPENSES ARE NOT DEDUCTIBLE.

You are still eligible to take deductions for business supplies, business-related phone bills, travel expenses, printing, wages paid to employees or contract workers, depreciation of equipment used for your business, and other expenses related to running a home-based business, whether or not you take the home office deduction.

6. REQUESTING AN EXTENSION ON YOUR TAXES IS AN EXTENSION TO PAY TAXES.

Extensions enable you to extend your filing date only. Penalties and interest begin accruing from the date your taxes are due.

7. PART-TIME BUSINESS OWNERS CANNOT SET UP SELF-EMPLOYED PENSIONS.

If you start up a company while you have a salaried position complete with a 401K plan, you can still set up a SEP-IRA for your business and take the deduction.

A tax headache is only one mistake away, be it a missed payment or filing deadline, an improperly claimed deduction, or incomplete records and understanding how the tax system works is beneficial to any business owner, whether you run a small to medium sized business or are a sole proprietor.

And, even if you delegate the tax preparation to someone else, you are still liable for the accuracy of your tax returns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call today. We’re here to assist you.

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USING A CAR FOR BUSINESS? GRAB THESE DEDUCTIONS

Whether you’re self-employed or an employee, if you use a car for business, you get the benefit of tax deductions.

There are two choices for claiming deductions:

  1. Deduct the actual business-related costs of gas, oil, lubrication, repairs, tires, supplies, parking, tolls, drivers’ salaries, and depreciation.
  2. Use the standard mileage deduction in 2014 and simply multiply 56 cents by the number of business miles traveled during the year. Your actual parking fees and tolls are deducted separately under this method. (In 2013 the standard rate for business miles driven was 56.5 cents.)

WHICH METHOD IS BETTER?

For some taxpayers, using the standard mileage rate produces a larger deduction. Others fare better tax-wise by deducting actual expenses.

Tip: The actual cost method allows you to claim accelerated depreciation on your car, subject to limits and restrictions not discussed here.

The standard mileage amount includes an allowance for depreciation. Opting for the standard mileage method allows you to bypass certain limits and restrictions and is simpler– but it’s often less advantageous in dollar terms.

Caution: The standard rate may understate your costs, especially if you use the car 100 percent for business, or close to that percentage.

Generally, the standard mileage method benefits taxpayers who have less expensive cars or who travel a large number of business miles.

HOW TO MAKE TAX TIME EASIER

Keep careful records of your travel expenses and record your mileage in a logbook. If you don’t know the number of miles driven and the total amount you spent on the car, we won’t be able to determine which of the two options is more advantageous for you.

Furthermore, the tax law requires that you keep travel expense records and that you give information on your return showing business versus personal use. If you use the actual cost method for your auto deductions, you must keep receipts.

Tip: Consider using a separate credit card for business, to simplify your recordkeeping.

Tip: You can also deduct the interest you pay to finance a business-use car if you’re self-employed.

Note: Self-employed individuals and employees who use their cars for business can deduct auto expenses if they either (1) don’t get reimbursed, or (2) are reimbursed under an employer’s “non-accountable” reimbursement plan. In the case of employees, expenses are deductible to the extent that auto expenses (together with other “miscellaneous itemized deductions”) exceed 2 percent of adjusted gross income.

We will help you determine the best deduction method for your business-use car. Let us know if you have any questions about which records you need to keep.

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WHO SHOULD FILE A 2013 TAX RETURN?

The amount of your income, filing status, age and other factors determine whether you must file a federal tax return. Even if you don’t have to file a tax return, there are times when you should. Here are five good reasons why you should file a return, even if you’re not required to do so:

1. Tax Withheld or Paid. Did your employer withhold federal income tax from your pay? Did you make estimated tax payments? Did you overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be due a refund. But you have to file a tax return to get it.

2. Earned Income Tax Credit. Did you work and earn less than $51,567 last year? You could receive EITC as a tax refund if you qualify. Families with qualifying children may be eligible for up to $6,044. Use the EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to find out if you qualify. If you do, file a tax return and claim it. If you need assistance with this, don’t hesitate to contact us.

3. Additional Child Tax Credit. Do you have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If you don’t get the full credit amount, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit. To claim it, you need to file Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with your tax return.

4. American Opportunity Credit. Are you a student or do you support a student? If so, you may be eligible for this credit. Students in their first four years of higher education may qualify for as much as $2,500. Even those who owe no tax may get up to $1,000 of the credit refunded per eligible student. You must file Form 8863, Education Credits, with your tax return to claim this credit.

5. Health Coverage Tax Credit. Did you receive Trade Adjustment Assistance, Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance, Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance or pension benefit payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation? If so, you may qualify for the Health Coverage Tax Credit. The HCTC helps make health insurance more affordable for you and your family. This credit pays 72.5 percent of qualified health insurance premiums. Call us to learn more about this credit.

If you’re wondering whether you need to file a federal tax return this year, call us as soon as possible. You may qualify for a tax refund even if you don’t have to file a return, but if you do qualify for a refund, you must file a return to claim it.

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EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT GIVES WORKERS A BOOST

For nearly 40 years, the Earned Income Tax Credit has been helping low-to moderate-income workers by giving them a boost to their income. Here are some things you should know about this important credit:

Review your eligibility. If you worked and earned under $51,567, you may be eligible for EITC. If your financial or family situation has changed, you should review the EITC eligibility rules. You might qualify for EITC this year even if you didn’t in the past. Workers who qualify for EITC must file a federal income tax return and specifically claim the credit to get it, even if they do not have a requirement to file a return.

Know the rules. Before claiming EITC, you need to understand the rules to be sure you qualify. It’s important to get it and get it right. There are several factors to consider:

  • Your filing status can’t be Married Filing Separately.
  • You must have a valid Social Security number for yourself, your spouse if married, and any qualifying child listed on your tax return.
  • You must have earned income. Earned income includes earnings such as wages, self-employment and farm income.
  • You may be married or single, with or without children to qualify. If you don’t have children, you must also meet age, residency and dependency rules.
  • If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces serving in a combat zone, special rules apply.

Lower your tax or get a refund. The EITC reduces your federal tax and could result in a refund. If you qualify, the credit could be worth up to $6,044. The average credit was $2,355 last year.

If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces serving in a combat zone, special rules apply. For more information, please call us.

Use our services. Don’t guess about your EITC eligibility. Use the EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov, which helps you find out if you qualify and will estimate the amount of your EITC. Then, call us.

We’ll help you figure out the best way to file your taxes and take advantage of the EITC. Four out of five eligible workers claim EITC. You could be one of them. Call us to find out more about this important tax credit.

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THE FACTS: MEDICAL & DENTAL EXPENSES AND YOUR TAXES

If you, your spouse or dependents had significant medical or dental costs in 2013, you may be able to deduct those expenses when you file your tax return. Here are eight things you should know about medical and dental expenses and other benefits.

1. You must itemize. You deduct qualifying medical and dental expenses if you itemize on Schedule A on Form 1040.

2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct total medical care expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income for the year. The AGI threshold is still 7.5 percent of your AGI if you or your spouse is age 65 or older. This exception will apply through December 31, 2016.

3. Expenses must have been paid in 2013. You can include medical and dental expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided. Be sure to save your receipts and keep good records to substantiate your expenses.

4. You can’t deduct reimbursed expenses. Your total medical expenses for the year must be reduced by any reimbursement. Normally, it makes no difference if you receive the reimbursement or if it is paid directly to the doctor or hospital.

5. Whose expenses qualify. You may include qualified medical expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply to divorced or separated parents, taxpayers with a multiple support agreement, or those with a qualifying relative who is not your child.

6. Types of expenses that qualify. You can deduct expenses primarily paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body. For drugs, you can only deduct prescription medication and insulin. You can also include premiums for medical, dental and some long-term care insurance in your expenses. And, starting with tax year 2011, you can also include lactation supplies.

7. Transportation costs may qualify. You may deduct transportation costs primarily for and essential to medical care that qualifies as a medical expense, including fares for a taxi, bus, train, plane or ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical transportation, you can deduct actual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and oil, or you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical expenses, which is 24 cents per mile for 2013. (This rate decreases to 23.5 cents in 2014.)

8. No double benefit. You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical and dental expenses you paid with funds from your Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Arrangements. Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free.

Please give us a call if you need help figuring out what qualifies as a medical expense.

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IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO MAKE A 2013 IRA CONTRIBUTION

If you haven’t contributed funds to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) for tax year 2013, or if you’ve put in less than the maximum allowed, you still have time to do so. You can contribute to either a traditional or Roth IRA until the April 15 due date for filing your tax return for 2013, not including extensions.

Be sure to tell the IRA trustee that the contribution is for 2013. Otherwise, the trustee may report the contribution as being for 2014 when they get your funds.

Generally, you can contribute up to $5,500 of your earnings for 2013 (up to $6,500 if you are age 50 or older in 2013). You can fund a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA (if you qualify), or both, but your total contributions cannot be more than these amounts.

Note: IRA contribution limits remain at $5,500 ($6,500 if age 50 or older) in 2013.

Traditional IRA: You may be able to take a tax deduction for the contributions to a traditional IRA, depending on your income and whether you or your spouse, if filing jointly, are covered by an employer’s pension plan.

Roth IRA: You cannot deduct Roth IRA contributions, but the earnings on a Roth IRA may be tax-free if you meet the conditions for a qualified distribution.

Each year, the IRS announces the cost of living adjustments and limitation for retirement savings plans.

Saving for retirement should be part of everyone’s financial plan and it’s important to review your retirement goals every year in order to maximize savings. If you need help with your retirement plans, give us a call. We’re happy to help.

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TAX DUE DATES FOR MARCH 2014

MARCH 3

Farmers and fisherman – File your 2013 income tax return and pay any tax due. However, you have until April 15 to file if you paid your 2013 estimated tax by January 15, 2014.

MARCH 10

Employees who work for tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during February, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

MARCH 17

Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

Corporations – File a 2013 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120 or 1120-A) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

S Corporations – File a 2013 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S), Shareholder’s Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and deposit what you estimate you owe.

Electing large partnerships – Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065-B), Partner’s Share of Income (Loss) From an Electing Large Partnership. This due date applies even if the partnership requests an extension of time to file the Form 7004.

S Corporation Election – File Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation, to choose to be treated as an S corporation beginning with calendar year 2014. If Form 2553 is filed late, S treatment will begin with calendar year 2015.

MARCH 31

Electronic filing of Forms 1098, 1099, and W-2G – File Forms 1098, 1099, or W-2G with the IRS. This due date applies only if you file electronically (not by magnetic media). Otherwise, see February 28. The due date for giving the recipient these forms generally remains January 31. For information about filing Forms 1098, 1099, or W-2G electronically, see Publication 1220, Specifications for Filing Forms 1098, 1099, 5498 and W-2G Magnetically or Electronically.

Electronic filing of Forms W-2 – File copies of all the Forms W-2 you issued for 2013. This due date applies only if you electronically file. Otherwise see February 28. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains January 31.