December 2018 Business Due Dates

December 3 – Employers

During December, ask employees whose withholding allowances will be different in 2019 to fill out a new Form W4 or Form W4(SP).

December 17 – Social Security, Medicare and Withheld Income Tax

If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in November.

December 17 – Nonpayroll Withholding

If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in November.

December 17 – Corporations

The fourth installment of estimated tax for 2018 calendar year corporations is due.

December 31 – Last Day to Set Up a Keogh Account for 2018

If you are self-employed, December 31 is the last day to set up a Keogh Retirement Account if you plan to make a 2018 Contribution. If the institution where you plan to set up the account will not be open for business on the 31st, you will need to establish the plan before the 31st. Note: there are other options such as SEP plans that can be set up after the close of the year. Please call the office to discuss your options.

December 31 – Caution! Last Day of the Year

If the actions you wish to take cannot be completed on the 31st or a single day, you should consider taking action earlier than December 31st.

December 2018 Individual Due Dates

December 3 – Time for Year-End Tax Planning

December is the month to take final actions that can affect your tax result for 2018. Taxpayers with substantial increases or decreases in income, changes in marital status or dependent status, and those who sold property during 2018 should call for a tax planning consultation appointment.

December 10 – Report Tips to Employer

If you are an employee who works for tips and received more than $20 in tips during November, you are required to report them to your employer on IRS Form 4070 no later than December 10. Your employer is required to withhold FICA taxes and income tax withholding for these tips from your regular wages. If your regular wages are insufficient to cover the FICA and tax withholding, the employer will report the amount of the uncollected withholding in box 12 of your W-2 for the year. You will be required to pay the uncollected withholding when your return for the year is filed.

December 31 – Last Day to Make Mandatory IRA Withdrawals

Last day to withdraw funds from a Traditional IRA Account and avoid a penalty if you turned age 70½ before 2018. If the institution holding your IRA will not be open on December 31, you will need to arrange for withdrawal before that date.

December 31 – Last Day to Pay Deductible Expenses for 2018

Last day to pay deductible expenses for the 2018 return (doesn’t apply to IRA, SEP or Keogh contributions, all of which can be made after December 31, 2018).

December 31 –  Caution! Last Day of the Year

If the actions you wish to take cannot be completed on the 31st or a single day, you should consider taking action earlier than December 31st.

Getting Started with Accounts in QuickBooks Online, Part 2

We covered a lot of ground last month, but there are still some things to know about working with transactions you import from your banks.

Last month, we went over the basics of managing financial transactions once you’ve downloaded them into QuickBooks Online. We walked you through the mechanics of connecting to banks and credit card companies online and described the process of reviewing imported transactions, exploring concepts like:

  • Categorizing them, and marking them as billable
  • Adding them to an account register; matching them to related transactions; or transferring them to another account
  • Using Batch actions to process related groups

 

We explored QuickBooks Online’s Banking features last month, including the site’s ability to work with related transactions as groups.

This month, we’ll look at the process of setting up rules to automatically classify transactions as they come in from your banks. We’ll also provide a brief overview of the Chart of Accounts.

Bank Rules

We’ve already discussed QuickBooks Online’s ability to guess how transactions should be categorized (it’s not always right, but you can change incorrect ones). It also allows you to memorize transactions that recur on a regular basis; this also saves time and improves accuracy. There’s another way the site also uses automation to help minimize keystrokes: Bank Rules. Based on your input, it will scan incoming items and classify them, so you don’t have to. This can be very helpful when you regularly import transactions that share specific attributes.

Let’s look at how this works. Click Banking in the navigation toolbar, then click Bank Rules. Once you’ve created your own rule(s), they’ll appear in a grid on this screen. For now, click New rule in the upper right corner. Basically, you’re going to tell QuickBooks Online that when specific conditions are met, as you can see in the example below, it should take the specified action(s): assign a Transaction type, Payee, and/or Category. You can also have the transaction automatically added to your books.

You can create Bank Rules in QuickBooks Online that will automatically assign a Transaction type, Payee, and Category to imported items that meet specific conditions.

We suggest you meet with us if you’re going to take on this task. If your business processes a lot of transactions, Bank Rules can be incredibly helpful. But set them up incorrectly, and it could take many hours to untangle the errors.

Account Registers, Chart of Accounts

In this column and the last, we’ve been working with transactions as they come into QuickBooks Online directly from your financial institutions, before they appear in your account registers. When you clicked Add after you looked at—and perhaps modified—a transaction listed under For Review on the Banking page, you sent it to that account’s register.

Notice that the site’s registers look similar to their paper counterparts; you may remember recording checks and deposits in the back of your checkbook, if you’ve been in business long enough. There are two ways to see them in QuickBooks Online. When you’re on the Banking page, look over to your right. You’ll see a link labeled Go to Register.  Click it, and you’ll be taken to that page for the account that’s currently active.

You can also open your account registers from the Chart of Accounts. We don’t talk much about this element of financial management because it’s not something you should be modifying. Nevertheless, it’s the heart of your accounting system. It consists of a comprehensive list of your company’s accounts, divided into assets, liabilities, income, expenses, and equity (along with subaccounts). Transactions are assigned to the appropriate account and recorded in the General Ledger, which is another element of accounting that we don’t discuss because you don’t have to deal with it in QuickBooks Online.

You can view your company’s Chart of Accounts in QuickBooks Online, but we recommend you don’t modify it.

Click on the Accounting tab in the navigation toolbar, then Chart of Accounts. You’ll see your individual bank accounts listed here, along with a View Register link.

A Critical Concept

Again, you won’t have to deal with the Chart of Accounts, but it’s very important that you understand how to manage downloaded transactions as you move them into your bank accounts in QuickBooks Online. Mistakes here can trigger errors in reports and taxes, as well as create general confusion. We’d be happy to get you on the right path with this critical function.

Don’t Overlook Tax Credits

Article Highlights:

  • Non-refundable vs. Refundable Credit
  • Childcare Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child & Dependent Tax Credit
  • Saver’s Credit
  • Vehicle Tax Credits
  • Adoption Credit
  • Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit

Tax credits are a tax benefit that offsets your actual tax liability, as opposed to a tax deduction, which reduces your income. Congress provides tax credits to individual taxpayers for a number of reasons, including as a form of assistance for lower-income taxpayers, to stimulate employment, and to stimulate certain investments, among other things.

Tax credits come in two types: non-refundable and refundable. A non-refundable credit can only reduce your tax liability to zero; any excess is either carried forward or is simply lost. In the case of a refundable credit, if there is excess after reducing your tax liability to zero, the excess is refundable. The following is a summary of some of the tax credits available to individual taxpayers:

Childcare Credit – Parents who work or are looking for work often must arrange for care of their children during working hours or while searching for work. If this describes your situation and your children requiring care are under 13 years of age, you may qualify for a childcare tax credit.

The credit ranges from 20% to 35% of non-reimbursed expenses, based upon your income, with the higher percentages applying to lower-income taxpayers and the lower percentages applying to higher-income taxpayers.

Applicable Percentage of AGI for the Childcare Credit

 

AGI OverBut Not OverApplicable PercentAGI OverBut Not OverApplicable Percent
015,0003529,00031,00027
15,00017,0003431,00033,00026
17,00019,0003333,00035,00025
19,00021,0003235,00037,00024
21,00023,0003137,00039,00023
23,00025,0003039,00041,00022
25,00027,0002941,00043,00021
27,00029,0002843,000No Limit20

The maximum expense amount allowed is $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more, and the credit is non-refundable, which means it can only reduce your tax to zero, and the excess is lost.

As an example, say your adjusted gross income (AGI) is between $33,000 and $35,000. Your credit percentage would be 25%. If you paid childcare expenses of $4,000 for two children under the age of 13, your tax credit would be $1,000 ($4,000 x 25%). If your tax for the year was $5,000, the credit would reduce that tax to $4,000. On the other hand, if your tax for the year was $800, the credit would reduce your tax to zero, and the $200 excess credit would be lost.

This credit also applies when a taxpayer or spouse is disabled or a full-time student, in which case special “earned income” allowances are provided for months when the taxpayer or spouse is disabled or a full-time student. Please call this office for additional details if this situation applies in your case.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – Congress established the EITC as an income supplement for working individuals in lower-paying employment. If you qualify, it could be worth as much as $6,431 in 2018. It is a refundable credit.

The EITC is based on the amount of your earned income (income from work for wages and/or self-employment) and whether there are qualifying children in your household. Qualifying children are those who live with you for over half the year, are related, and are under the age of 19 or a full-time student under the age of 24. The credit increases as your earned income increases. The table below shows the earned income at which the maximum credit is achieved for 2018.

Qualifying ChildrenEarned Income Maximum Credit
None6,780$519
1$10,180$3,461
2$14,290$5,716
3 or more$14,290$6,431

The credit amount phases out after reaching the maximum based on filing status and number of qualifying children. The 2018 phase-out ranges are shown in the table below.

Qualifying Children

Filing StatusPhase-out Range
NoneMarried Filing Joint$14,170–20,950
Others$8,490–15,270
1Married Filing Joint$24,350–46,010
Others$18,660–40,320
2Married Filing Joint$24,350–51,492
Others$18,660–45,802
3 or moreMarried Filing Joint$24,350–54,884
Others$18,660–49,194

In addition, there are some qualification requirements: you, your spouse (if married and filing jointly), and each qualifying child must have a valid Social Security number, and you cannot use the filing status married filing separately. You cannot be a qualifying child of another person, your investment income for the year cannot exceed $3,500 (2018), and you cannot exclude earned income from working abroad. If you do not have a qualifying child, you must be at least age 25 but under 65 at the end of the year.

Even though this credit can be worth thousands of dollars to a low-income family, the IRS estimates as many as 25 percent of people who qualify for the credit do not claim it, simply because they don’t understand the criteria. If you qualified for but failed to claim the credit on your return for 2015, 2016, and/or 2017, you can still claim it for those years by filing an amended return or an original return, if you have not previously filed. Please call for assistance.

Members of the military can elect to include their nontaxable combat pay in their earned income for the earned income credit. If that election is made, the military member must include in their earned income all nontaxable combat pay they received for the year.

Child & Dependent Tax Credit – As an aid to families with children, the tax reform increased the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 for each qualified child. A qualified child for this tax credit is one who is under age 17 at the end of the year, is related, is not self-supporting, lived with you over half the year, has a Social Security number, and is claimed as your dependent. The refundable portion of this credit is equal to 15% of your earned income but limited to $1,400.

Beginning in 2018, you are also able to claim a non-refundable credit of $500 for each of your dependents who do not qualify for the child credit.

For both the child and dependent credits, the credit begins to phase out for married taxpayers with an AGI of $400,000 ($200,000 for others).

Saver’s Credit – Congress created the non-refundable saver’s credit as a means of stimulating retirement savings among lower-income individuals. It helps to offset part of the first $2,000 that workers voluntarily contribute to traditional or Roth individual retirement arrangements (IRAs), SIMPLE-IRAs, SEPs, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans for employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations, 457 plans for state or local government employees, and the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees. The saver’s credit is available in addition to any other tax savings that apply as a result of contributing to retirement plans. The credit is a percentage of the first $2,000 contributed to an eligible retirement plan. The following table illustrates the percentage based upon filing status and AGI for 2018.

Adjusted Gross Income Range Credit 
Married Filing JointHead of HouseholdOthersPercentage
$0–$38,000$0–$28,500$0–$19,00050
$38,001–$41,000$28,501–$30,750$19,001–$20,50020
$41,001–$63,000$30,751–$47,250$20,501–$31,50010
$63,001 & Over$47,251 & Over$31,501 & OverNo Credit

Example – Eric and Heather are married, both age 25, and filing a joint return. Eric contributed $3,000 through his 401(k) plan at work, and Heather contributed $500 to her IRA account. Their modified AGI for 2018 was $28,000. The credit is computed as follows:

Eric’s 401(k) contribution was $3,000, but only the
first $2,000 can be used………………………………………………………………….. $2,000
Heather’s IRA contribution was $500, so it can all be used……………. 500
Total qualifying contributions…………………………………………………………… $2,500
Credit percentage for a MFJ AGI of $28,000 from the table……………. X .50
Non-refundable saver’s credit…………………………………………………………….$1,250

Vehicle Tax Credits – If you are considering purchasing a new car or light truck (less than 14,000 pounds), don’t overlook the fact that Congress included a substantial tax credit for the purchase of the many electric vehicles currently being offered for sale, providing a tax credit worth as much as $7,500.

To be eligible for the credit, you must acquire the vehicle for use or lease and not for resale. Additionally, the vehicle’s original use must commence with you, and you must use the vehicle predominantly in the United States.

Congress did include a phase-out provision for this credit that applies by vehicle manufacturer. The credit begins to phase out once the manufacturer sells 200,000 electric vehicles. To see if the make and model you are considering qualify, visit the IRS website.

The credit is available whether you use the vehicle for business, personally, or a combination of both. The prorated portion of the credit that applies to business use becomes part of the general business credit, and any amount not used on your return for the year when you purchase the vehicle can be carried back to the previous year and then carried forward until used up, but for no more than 20 years. The personal portion is non-refundable.

Adoption Credit – If you are an adoptive parent or are planning to adopt a child, you may qualify for the adoption credit. The amount of the credit is based on the expenses incurred that are directly related to the adoption of a child under the age of 18 or a person who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.

This is a 1:1 credit for each dollar of qualified expenses up to the maximum for the year, which is $13,810 for 2018. The credit is non-refundable, which means it can only reduce your tax liability to zero (as opposed to potentially resulting in a cash refund). But the good news is that any unused credit can be carried forward for up to five years to reduce your future tax liability.

Qualified expenses generally include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and travel expenses that are reasonable, necessary and directly related to the child’s adoption, and they may be for both domestic and foreign adoptions; however, expenses related to adopting a spouse’s child are not eligible for this credit. When adopting a child with special needs, the full credit is allowed, whether or not any qualified expenses were incurred.

The credit is phased out for higher-income taxpayers. For 2018, the AGI (computed without foreign-income exclusions) phase-out threshold is $207,140, and the credit is completely phased out at the AGI of $247,140. Unlike most phase-outs, this one is the same regardless of filing status. However, taxpayers filing as married filing separately cannot claim the credit.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit – This tax credit was created to reward individuals for investing in equipment that uses alternative energy sources to create electrical power for use in a taxpayer’s home or second home. It includes alternative power sources such as fuel cells, wind energy, and geothermal heat pumps, for which the credit expires after 2021.

However, the credit is most commonly associated with the home solar credit, which is equal to 30% of the cost of the solar electric system for an individual’s primary and second homes, with no limit on the cost of the solar system. Even though the credit is non-refundable, any amount not used in the first year carries over to subsequent years.

The credit percentage is phased-out as shown in the table.

Home Energy Credit Percentage
Year2018–2019202020212021
Percentage302622None

Before deciding to add a solar electric system to your home, you need to consider if you can actually afford the system and whether it is worth having one, after taking into account the system’s cost, the financing interest, the reduced electricity costs, and the tax credit. You should make an objective analysis without pressure from a salesperson. These credits are substantial, but the one thing salespeople and contractors typically fail to mention is that the credit is not refundable, and even though it carries over through 2021, there is a good chance you will never use it all. It may be appropriate for you to consult with this office before entering into a contract for a home solar system.

If you have questions or would like additional details related to any of these credits, please give the office a call.

12 Common Tax Problems to Avoid

If you’re one of those who gets worked up over filing your tax return, there are specific steps you can take to help ease the struggle and avoid the most common tax issues that are reported each year.

Here are the top 12 tax issues, broken down into categories for business owners and individual taxpayers, and how everybody can minimize their impact this year.

If you own your own business:

1. Avoid penalties and fines by understanding the rules about deductions.

Though tax deductions are a great way to minimize taxes when they’re used the right way, they are frequently abused and overused. The whole point of deductions is to provide businesses the ability to eliminate taxes for items they purchased in the furtherance of their business. Though this includes capital expenditures, client gifts, and business travel, it does not mean that you can include expenses that you incur while talking about your business while you’re on vacation with your family. The IRS has published rules about how much of each expense can be deducted, what type of expense can be deducted and under what circumstance. If you include something that is questionable, you’re going to be asked to justify it, and if you can’t, you’re going to end up worse off than if you hadn’t made an attempt in the first place.

2. Failing to keep track of business expenses that can be deducted.

The flip side of people try to game the system by taking expenses to which they’re not entitled is people failing to deduct expenses that they could have because they’re not careful about keeping track. This frequently happens when people don’t have a credit card or account that is dedicated specifically to their business expenses, or when cash is used when traveling or attending business meetings. When you don’t deduct legitimate expenses, you’re cheating yourself out of tax savings, so start keeping all receipts, and talk to a tax professional so that you understand exactly what you can write off, and what you can’t.

Individual taxpayer problems:

3. Failing to choose a reputable professional tax preparer.

It’s nice of your cousin or next-door neighbor to offer to help, and you might save money by going to a storefront tax preparer that claims they will do the whole job quickly and at a low cost, but an awful lot of taxpayers end up in big trouble as a result of these types of offers. Whether the issue is incompetence or fraud, plenty of people are finding themselves facing penalties and fines or having their refund money stolen as a result of choosing the wrong tax preparer. Do your homework and be willing to spend the money to have your return prepared by a legitimate professional. The things to watch out for include promises of specific refund amounts prior to reviewing your documentation, fees that are based on the amount of your refund, and fly-by-night operations that appear right before tax season and then are gone on April 16th. If you do find a fraudulent tax preparer has victimized you, contact the IRS and attorney right away who will pursue justice and act as your advocate.

4. Filing after the deadline.

If you were late in filing last year, you had plenty of company – the IRS reported that almost 45 million taxpayers waited until April. But filing late is a mistake. You are likely to end up paying extra money in fines and penalties, and the later you are, the more likely you are to make errors that will make the entire process take longer and may lead to audits and delays. More importantly, if your lateness is a recurring theme and you still haven’t gotten in paperwork from previous years, it affects the accuracy of your current return and may impact your ability to get any refund or credit that you’re owed.

5. Failure to file a return at all.

Plenty of people disregard the tax laws and don’t submit a return. Many of them may not actually owe any taxes, while others reason that since they can’t afford to pay what they owe, they’re better off not submitting anything. This is absolutely wrong. If you are anticipating a problem with submitting the tax that you owe, you can file an installment agreement request that will help you set up a schedule of periodic payments instead of submitting the amount in full at tax time. This is a much better option than not filing, as even though you may have to pay some interest or penalties, they won’t be as punishing as the fees you’ll pay for failure to file a return. You can also choose to file an application for an automatic extension, which gives you more time to get the documentation together, if not the payments. Again, penalties and interest rates are much lower when you avail yourself of this option rather than failing to file.

6. Simple mathematical errors

Remember when you were a kid in math class and you’d get a quiz back with mistakes that you’d have spotted if you’d just double checked? Same is true with your taxes. Take the time to go back over your math before you sign on the dotted line or send your return in. It just takes a few extra minutes, and it can save a lot of time and aggravation. Alternatively, use a professional tax preparer and then you don’t have to worry about it at all.

7. Administrative errors

Just as you need to check that you’ve done your math computations correctly, you also need to take the time to take a second look at the forms that you’re filling out to make sure that you’ve filled in every box, used all the appropriate forms, and filled in your information correctly. You’d be amazed at how many people transpose the numbers of their social security number or whose handwriting is so bad that it can’t be read by the IRS and gets sent back. Take your time, be careful and do it right to save yourself a headache in the future. A few areas worth double-checking include:

  • Social Security Number
  • Bank Account Numbers and Routing Numbers
  • Signature and Date Lines

8. Not staying current with updates to tax laws.

Every year, there are new updates to the tax code that can make a big difference, and every year there are taxpayers who fail to take advantage of them because they simply weren’t aware that they existed. If you’re going to do your taxes yourself, take the time to stay up-to-date. Alternatively, you can work with a tax professional: part of their job is to know all the new laws and apply them to your best advantage.

9. Don’t use the wrong filing status.

Single. Head of Household. Married filing jointly. Married filing single. It can be very confusing to know which benefits you most, and choosing wrong can make an enormous difference. There are a lot of things that married couples are entitled to if they file jointly, and a lot of disadvantages to filing single. Take the time, do the math so that you know you’re doing the right thing.

10. Clutter may be bad, but you should hold on to your old tax returns.

No matter how much you try to keep it simple and purge old paperwork, your past tax return is one thing you really need to hold on to in case the IRS comes back and asks questions or you realize that you’re entitled to a refund if you file an amended return. Having the paperwork handy means you can give it to attorneys, mortgage brokers, accountants and the IRS itself in case they ask for it or if providing it would help your situation.

11. Learn about and take advantage of every potential deduction

Of all the painful mistakes that taxpayers make, overpaying is at the top of everybody’s list. What could be worse than giving the government more of your hard-earned money than you needed to? The best way to avoid this mistake is to go through the lists of possible deductions and write down every one you might be able to take, then see if you can use it.

12. Not using the right tax forms for your needs or status.

Though most people are familiar with the 1040 form, it’s not necessarily the right one for everyone. While the 1040 works for those who itemize or who own their own business, people who are W-2 employees without a lot of complicating factors may be better off using the 1040EZ form. Likewise, you need to make sure that there aren’t mistakes on any of the paperwork that you’re handing in, whether it’s your W-2 or information from any of your banks. Finally, many people are taking advantage of electronic filing to get their returns in on time and get their refunds more quickly, and if you’re doing that too, make sure that you’ve input the correct.

If there are errors on your W-2 Forms or other financial forms, make sure you address them sooner rather than later, or else the IRS will become involved. If you’re filing electronically, double check every digit of your information to avoid delays.

What if you can’t avoid a tax issue?

No matter how hard you try, at some point, you may find yourself facing one or more of the issues cited above (or something entirely different that we haven’t included). If that happens to you, contact us immediately for expert professional help.

Big Changes to College Savings Plans

Article Highlights:

  • Sec. 529 Plans
  • Saving for College
  • Elementary and Secondary School Tuition
  • ABLE Account Transfers

Tax reform added some new taxpayer-advantageous changes to college savings plans. These plans are also known as qualified tuition programs (QTPs) or Sec. 529 plans, named after the part of the Internal Revenue Code that established them.

Background: Sec. 529 plans allow taxpayers to put away larger amounts of money than other tax-advantaged education savings plans do, limited only by the contributor’s gift tax concerns and the contribution limits of the intended plan. There are no limits on the number of contributors, and there are no income or age limitations. The maximum amount that can be contributed per beneficiary (the intended student) is based on the projected cost of college education and will vary between the states’ plans. Some states base their maximum on the projected costs of an in-state four-year education, but others use the cost of the most expensive schools in the U.S., including graduate studies. Most have limits in excess of $200,000, with some topping $370,000. Generally, additional contributions cannot be made once an account reaches the state’s maximum level, but that doesn’t prevent the account from continuing to grow.

Although the plans are authorized by the various states, it is not necessary for the plan to be set up in the future student’s home state, and the student isn’t restricted to using the funds to attend college in their home state or the state where the plan was set up. Some states provide state income tax incentives to the plan’s contributors, such as a state income tax deduction or a tax credit for contributions to the state’s 529 plan.

When the time comes for college, the distributions will be part earnings/growth in value and part contributions. The contribution part is never taxable, and the earnings part is tax-free if used to pay for qualified college expenses. In addition to a tax-free distribution from the 529 plan, a taxpayer may claim an education credit – such as the American Opportunity Tax credit, which can be as much as $2,500 – in the same year, provided the same expenses aren’t used for both benefits and the taxpayer’s income level does not phase out the credit.

The big advantage of a Sec. 529 plan is tax-free accumulation, so the sooner the account is established and funded, the better. A special provision of Sec. 529 allows those who are concerned with the annual gift tax limitations, currently $15,000, to contribute five years’ worth of contributions ($75,000) up front. These limitations apply to each contributor, but if there are multiple contributors, such as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, huge amounts can be contributed up front and provide the greatest long-term growth.

Tax Reform Changes: Under the recent tax reform, the use of Sec. 529 plan funds was expanded to include:

Elementary and Secondary School Tuition – As of 2018, tax-free distributions of up to $10,000 per year per designated beneficiary are allowed for tuition (no other expenses are allowed) in connection with enrollment or attendance at elementary or secondary schools, including public, private and religious schools. However, this option should be considered cautiously, since Sec. 529 plans work best when the money put into the plan is allowed to grow for a long period of time. For less well-to-do families who can’t afford to frontload their 529 plan contributions, making pre-college withdrawals will defeat the long-term tax-free accumulation benefit and could deplete the account before the student even starts college. It should be noted that while this tax reform change applies for federal purposes, some states are still limiting qualified distributions from their plans to only those used for college expenses.

Sec 529 to ABLE Account Transfers – Tax reform also provides that a distribution from a Sec. 529 qualified tuition plan account is tax-free and penalty-free if it is rolled over within 60 days to an ABLE account of the same designated beneficiary or a member of the designated beneficiary’s family. This rollover provision is only available through 2025. The amount of the rollover is limited, when combined with other contributions, to the annual maximum.

Qualified ABLE programs provide the means for individuals and families to contribute and save for the purpose of supporting individuals who became blind or severely disabled before turning age 26, in maintaining their health, independence, and quality of life.

Example: Bill, who finished school and graduated, still has $8,000 in his Sec. 529 qualified tuition plan that his parents had set up to pay his college tuition. Bill will no longer have any education expenses, so he rolls the balance of his Sec. 529 plan into his 14-year-old blind niece’s ABLE account within the 60 days allowed. There are no taxes or penalties on the rollover. However, since contributions to the ABLE account are limited to $15,000 (2018), others may only contribute an additional $7,000 ($15,000 − $8,000) to the niece’s ABLE account. 

If you have any questions about how Sec. 529 plans and the changes made to them by tax reform might affect your specific circumstances, please call.

Wonder What a Tax Deduction Is Worth?

Article Highlights:

  • Non-business deductions
  • Tax bracket
  • Above-the-line deductions
  • Business deductions

Individuals are always looking for tax deductions that can reduce their tax liability. But what is the actual tax benefit derived from a tax deduction? There is no straightforward answer because some deductions are above the line, others must be itemized, some must exceed a threshold amount before being deductible, and certain ones are not deductible for alternative minimum tax purposes, while business deductions can offset both income and self-employment tax. In other words, there are many factors to consider, and the tax benefits differ for each individual, depending on his or her particular situation and tax bracket.

For most non-business deductions, the savings are based upon your tax bracket. For example, if you are in the 12% tax bracket, a $1,000 deduction would save you $120 in taxes. On the other hand, if you are in the 32% tax bracket, the $1,000 deduction will save you $320 in taxes. Even so, if your taxable income is close to transitioning into the next-lower tax bracket, the benefit will be lower. You also need to consider whether the particular deduction is allowed on your state return and what your state tax bracket is to determine the total tax savings. Currently, the maximum federal tax bracket is 37%, meaning the most benefit that can be derived from a $1,000 income tax deduction is $370. Some individuals justify making discretionary purchases just because they are tax-deductible. Even in the highest tax bracket, you are still paying $630 out of pocket ($1,000 − $370), so it does not make sense to incur a tax-deductible expense just for the tax deduction.

Some deductions, such as IRA and self-employed retirement plan contributions, alimony, and student loan interest, are adjustments to income or what we call above-the-line deductions. These deductions, to the extent permitted by law, provide a dollar deduction for every dollar claimed. Deductions that fall into the itemized category must exceed the standard deduction for your filing status before any benefit can be derived. In addition, medical deductions are reduced by 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2018, and most cash charitable deductions are limited to a maximum of 60% of your AGI. Under the tax reform, the deduction for state and local taxes has been capped at $10,000.

The most beneficial deductions are business deductions that offset both income tax and, depending upon the circumstances, self-employment tax. For 2018, the self-employment tax rate is 12.4% of the first $128,400 of net self-employment income plus 2.9% for the Medicare tax, with no cap. Some high-income taxpayers may pay an additional 0.9% Medicare tax. For self-employed businesses with less than $128,400 of net income, the self-employment tax rate is 15.3%. Thus, for small businesses with profits of less than $128,400, the benefit derived from deductions generally will include the taxpayer’s tax bracket plus 15.3%. For example, for a taxpayer in the 24% tax bracket, the benefit could be as much as 39.3% (24% + 15.3%) of the deduction. If the deduction were $2,000, the tax savings could be as much as $806 or more, when the taxpayer’s state income tax bracket is included.

If you are planning an expenditure and expect the tax deduction to help cover the cost, please call in advance to ensure that the tax benefit will be what you anticipate.

Expecting Your Taxable Income to Be Low This Year? You Can Take Advantage of It

Article Highlights:

  • Adjusted Gross Income
  • Taxable Income
  • Graduated Individual Tax Rates
  • Take IRA Distributions
  • Redeem Government Bonds
  • Defer Deductions
  • Convert Traditional IRA Funds into a Roth IRA
  • Zero Capital Gains Rate
  • Business Expenses
  • Affordable Care Act

If your taxable income is exceptionally low this year, or even if you expect not to be required to file a tax return this year, a number of tax opportunities may be available to you. But time is running short, since these opportunities will require action on your part before year’s end.

However, before we consider actual strategies, let’s look at key elements that govern tax rates and taxable income.

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) – This is the sum of all of your income that’s subject to tax, such as wages, interest, dividends, gains from sales, net self-employment income, retirement income, minus items that are specifically deductible without having to itemize your deductions, including contributions to traditional IRAs and self-employed retirement plans, interest paid on student loans, contributions to health savings plans, and a limited number of others.

Taxable Income – To be simplistic, taxable income is your AGI less the greater of the standard deduction for your filing status or your itemized deductions:

AGI
XXXX
Deductions– XXXX
Taxable Income
XXXX

If the deductions exceed your AGI, then you can end up with a negative taxable income, which means that to the extent it is negative, you can actually add income or reduce your deductions without incurring any tax.

Graduated Individual Tax Rates – Ordinary individual tax rates are graduated. So as your taxable income increases, so does your tax rate. Thus, the lower your taxable income, the lower your tax rate will be. Your income tax is the result of multiplying your tax rate by your taxable income (but to simplify the computation for those with taxable income up to $100,000, the IRS figures the tax by income range and provides look-up tables, so for most taxpayers, their tax rate is not apparent). Individual ordinary tax rates range from 10% to as high as 37%. For 2018, the taxable income amounts for the three lowest tax rates – 10%, 12%, and 22% – are:

Filing Status
Single
Married Filing Jointly
Head of Household
Married Filing Separate
10%
$0–9,525
$0–19,050
$0–13,600
$0–9,525
12%
$9,526–38,700
$19,051–77,400
$13,601–51,800
$9,526–38,700
22%
$38,701–82,500
$77,401–165,000
$51,801–82,500
$38,701–82,500

So for instance, if you are single, your first $9,525 of taxable income is taxed at 10%. The next $29,174 ($9,526 to $38,700) is taxed at 12%, and the next $43,799 ($38,701 to $82,500) is taxed at 22%.

Here are some strategies you can employ for your tax benefit. However, these strategies may be interdependent on one another and your particular tax circumstances.

Take IRA Distributions – Depending upon your projected taxable income, you might consider taking an IRA distribution to add income for the year. For instance, if your projected taxable income is negative, then you can actually take a withdrawal of up to the negative amount without incurring any tax. Even if your projected taxable income is not negative and your normal taxable income would put you in the 22% or higher bracket, you might want to take out just enough to be taxed at the 10% or even the 12% tax rate. Of course, those are retirement dollars; consider moving them into a regular financial account set aside for your retirement. Also, be aware that distributions before age 59½ are subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty even if there is no tax liability, so this strategy isn’t recommended for those younger than 59½.

Redeem Government Bonds – If you have invested in U.S. government bonds, such as Series EE or I bonds, and you’ve been deferring paying tax on the interest from these bonds until they mature, you may want to cash in the bonds prior to the year when they mature, if that maturity date is within the next few years and to the extent that adding the bond interest to your other income for the year won’t push you out of the zero or 10% tax bracket and into a higher bracket. This strategy isn’t advisable if the interest you would earn on the bonds if you held them to maturity would be more than the tax you can save by cashing in the bonds during a low-income year.

Defer Deductions – When you itemize your deductions, you may claim only the deductions you actually pay during the tax year (the calendar year, for most folks). If your projected taxable income will be negative and you are planning on itemizing your deductions, you might consider putting off some of those year-end deductible payments until after the first of the year and preserving the deductions for next year. Such payments might include house of worship tithing, year-end charitable giving, tax payments (but not those incurring late payment penalties), estimated state income tax payments, and medical expenses.

Convert Traditional IRA Funds into a Roth IRA – Roth IRAs provide tax-free accumulation and tax-free retirement distributions. So to the extent of any negative taxable income or even just for the lower tax rates, you may wish to consider converting some or all of your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. The lower income results in a lower tax rate, which will provide you with an opportunity to convert to a Roth IRA at a lower tax amount.

Zero Capital Gains Rate – There are three capital gains rates depending upon your taxable income. When your taxable income is in the lowest range, as shown in the table below, you will actually pay no tax on your long-term capital gains. Thus, if your taxable income is within the zero percent long-term capital gains rate bracket, this is an opportunity for you to sell some appreciated securities that you have owned for more than a year and pay no tax on the gains.

Long-Term Capital Gains Rates (2018)
Filing Status
0%
15%
20%
Single
$0–38,600
$38,601–425,800
$425,801 & Above
Head of Household
$0–51,700
$51,701–452,400
$452,401 & Above
Married Joint
$0–77,200
$77,201–479,000
$479,001 & Above
Married Separate
$0–38,600
$38,601–239,500
$239,501 & Above

Business Expenses – The tax code has some very liberal provisions that allow a business to currently expense, rather than capitalize and slowly depreciate, the purchase costs of certain property. In a low-income year, it may be appropriate to capitalize rather than expense these current-year purchases and preserve the depreciation deduction for higher-income years. This is especially true when taxable income is negative in the current year.

Affordable Care Act – On the negative side, if you have obtained your medical insurance through a government marketplace, employing any of the strategies mentioned above will increase your taxable income and could impact the amount of your allowable premium tax credit. As a result, you would likely have to repay some or all of any advance premium tax credit that was used to reduce your health insurance premiums; the credit is reconciled on your tax return.

If you would like to discuss how these strategies might provide you with tax benefits based upon your particular tax circumstances or would like to schedule a tax-planning appointment, please give the office a call.

10 Ways to Improve Profits in the Coming Year

In the U.S., the economy is thriving and expected to grow over the next few months. Businesses are expanding. The Federal Reserve has inched up interest rates, creating investment opportunities, and lenders are offering small business loans. All of this points to a promising outlook for the coming months. As a small business owner, this is the time to take a closer look at your profit and loss sheets to determine how you can make the most out of this current economy.

How Can You Increase Revenue and Profits in the Coming Year?

For most companies, increasing revenue and profit margins is a goal. Yet, there’s strong competition in most sectors. Here’s a look at ways you can boost your profit margins without having to invest heavily.

#1: Increase Pricing Marginally

Inflation is a key component of the current market. As the U.S. consumer increases confidence in spending, it becomes possible to increase prices. Re-evaluate your current price points. Are you getting enough from each sale to build profits?

#2: Don’t Overlook the Impact of Tariffs

The ongoing trade war with China has many business owners worried about cost. Plan now. Tariffs are impacting nearly all industries including construction, retail, restaurants, and manufacturing to name just a few. Work with your team to understand the impact on your business’s bottom line, such as the higher cost of goods, and build those costs into your prices.

#3: Get Rid of Tasks Not Adding Value to the Customer

Take a closer look at what you are spending on within your profit and loss. Is each one of these expenses directly contributing to your customers’ needs? Eliminate costs that do not contribute to customer value.

#4: Review Competitor Prices

Along with increasing your prices, take a closer look at what your competition is charging for services. There are two things to focus on here. If their prices are higher, why? Are they offering something better for their product or service that encourages a higher price point? Second, are your prices competitively aligned with theirs? If not, what can you do to offer something extra to your customer?

#5: Reduce Overstock

Carrying a significant amount of stock does not improve business operations and increases costs. It can drive up waste when product is lost or forgotten. It also hampers your company’s ability to keep inventory costs in line with your goals. Pair down stock.

#6: Find a Way to Increase the Value of Every Sale

Provide some last-minute addition your customer could buy to enhance their product or service. Ensure your sales team is speaking to each customer about this offer, right as they close the deal. If you sell cars, offer an add-on feature for a certain additional amount. If you sell professional services, determine if your customers could benefit from a monthly check-in or other add-on services.

#7: Expand Product or Services Lines With Care

Look for complimentary services and products that do not require a lot of investment to offer them to your customers. What additional products or revenue streams could enhance what you already provide? This may not require additional equipment or a large amount of inventory.

#8: Build Your Team’s Skillset

Beyond a doubt, in a sales-oriented business, your company cannot build revenue if your sales team misses their market. Invest in sales training for the modern audience. Focus on moving away from traditional methods toward more efficient and brand-building methods for sales.

#9: Get Your Numbers in Line Now

Hiring a team to help you explore your current profit margins is critical. However, bringing on a professional organization to help with managing your books is only effective if you apply the information and insights they provide to you. In other words, find a team you can sit down with and discuss opportunities you can apply right now.

#10: Build Your Customer Base

Use a variety of tools to help build your customer base. Complete a market analyses to better understand who your target customer is. Then, work to modernize your marketing efforts to attract that specific audience. When you do, you turn heads and capitalize on a new set of customers.

Building revenue and profits starts with knowing where you are specifically. Review your prices, financial accounts, and books with care. Then, look for small ways to reduce costs that don’t contribute to your profits and build up services, products, and prices for those that help your company to grow. Always have a focus on the bottom-line benefit of any investment you make.

Legitimate Tax-Deductible Charity or Scam?

Articles Highlights:

  • Holiday Giving
  • Scammers and How to Avoid Them
  • Verifying Legitimate Charities
  • Substantiation
  • Special Situations

With the holiday season approaching, and with the great need for aid in the wake of the recent hurricanes and wildfires, you no doubt are being solicited for donations. However, do not be fooled by the scammers who come out from hiding whenever there is a disaster and during the holiday season. The last thing you want to do is get ripped off; not only will your charitable dollars go to waste, but you will also lose your tax deduction, as contributions are only tax-deductible if they are to qualified charities.

Soon, your physical and electronic mailboxes – not to mention your voicemail box – will be filled with charitable solicitations. Before you break out your checkbook, however, be sure to do your homework, especially if you are contemplating a donation to an organization that you are not already familiar with. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding any charity or fundraiser that

  • refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, and costs, as well as how your donation will be used;
  • will not provide proof that your contribution would be tax-deductible;
  • uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known (more reputable) organization;
  • thanks you for a pledge that you do not remember making;
  • uses high-pressure tactics to get you to donate immediately;
  • asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money; or
  • offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect a donation immediately.

Numerous websites can help you to check the validity of a charity. The IRS provides one, but it is rather cumbersome to use. Charity Navigator allows you to search for a charity name and provides details about that charity’s function. When in doubt, take the time to verify a charity’s legitimacy.

If you plan to itemize your deductions – after you have determined that you are not contributing to a scam operation – ensure that your charitable donations meet the requirements for being tax-deductible. The recipient organization must be one or more of the following:

  • a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship;
  • a tax-exempt educational institution or hospital;
  • a federal, state, or local governmental unit, if the contribution is used for public purposes;
  • a publicly supported corporation, trust, fund, foundation, or community chest that is organized and operated only for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, or literary purposes; to prevent cruelty to children or animals; or to foster certain national or international amateur sports competitions; or
  • a certain type of private operating foundation or agricultural research organization.

Substantiation – First and foremost, you must receive substantiation of your cash gift in order to deduct it on your tax return; you also must itemize your deductions rather than use the standard deduction. Cash contributions include those paid by cash, check, electronic fund transfer, and credit card. However, you cannot deduct a cash contribution, regardless of the amount, unless you can document the contribution in one of the following ways:

  1. A bank record that shows the qualified organization’s name, as well as the date and amount of the contribution. Eligible bank records include a. a canceled check, b. a bank or credit union statement, or c. a credit card statement.
  2. A receipt (or a letter or other written communication) from the qualified organization showing the organization’s name, as well as the date and amount of the contribution.

Cash contributions of $250 or more – To claim a deduction for a contribution of $250 or more, you must provide a written acknowledgment of the contribution from the qualified organization. This acknowledgment must include the following details:

  1. The amount of cash contributed
  2. Whether the qualified organization gave the taxpayer goods or services (other than certain token items and membership benefits) as a result of the contribution, including a description and good-faith estimate of the value of those goods or services (not counting intangible religious benefits)
  3. A statement that you received no benefit (other than an intangible religious benefit)

The value of any goods or services received in exchange for a donation must be subtracted from the amount claimed as a contribution. If the acknowledgment does not show the date of the contribution, then you must also supply one of the bank records described above to verify the contribution date. If this acknowledgement includes the contribution date and meets the other requirements, it is not necessary to provide other records.

The acknowledgment must be in your hands before the date you file your tax return but not later than the April due date for return (or the extended due date of October if you filed an extension).

Christmas Kettles – It is quite common for charitable organizations to collect cash donations at malls during the holiday shopping season. Consider writing a check to place in these kettles rather than using cash so that you will have the substantiation required for a tax-deductible contribution.

Needy Individuals – You may wish to help out a needy family; although that is a very kind thing to do, no charitable deduction is allowed for such gifts to private individuals (either directly or as through a charitable organization).

GoFundMe – Through this website (and others like it), people raise funds for good causes such as starting a business, paying medical bills or funeral costs, replacing damaged or destroyed homes. However, these websites are not qualified charities for the purposes of claiming a charitable contribution on your tax return.

Special Contribution Rule for Taxpayers Age 70½ and Over – The tax code includes a special provision that allows taxpayers who are at least 70½ years old to directly transfer up to $100,000 from an IRA account to a qualified charity. Instead of receiving a charitable deduction, that person instead gets the benefit of the IRA distribution being nontaxable and counting toward the required minimum distribution for the year. This is especially beneficial for people who receive Social Security benefits and those who take the standard deduction. Although this is generally considered a good tax-saving strategy for those who can afford to make large donations, there is actually no minimum for this rule, so it will likely even benefit individuals in lower tax brackets.

Bunching – When taxpayers’ itemized deductions are only marginally different from the standard deduction, they can consider the method known as bunching. In this technique, the taxpayer make two years’ worth of donations in a single year and then skips making donations in the next year. For example, if you annually contribute $5,000 to a house of worship but have total itemized deductions that are consistently a few hundred dollars less than the standard deduction, you can instead double up by donating $10,000 in a single year. That way, you will be able to claim itemized deductions for the year when you make the donation and can then take the standard deduction in the following year.

For large donations, there are limitations based on adjusted gross income, and there are other available techniques, such as donor-advised funds. This article also did not covered donations of noncash items, such as used furniture or household goods; these have additional substantiation requirements. Please call if you have questions or if you would like to set up an appointment to strategize about maximizing the tax benefits of your charitable contributions.