These articles are 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.

Tax changes for Individuals 2010 Health Reform

Individual mandate. The new law contains an “individual mandate”—a requirement that U.S. citizens and legal residents have qualifying health coverage or be subject to a tax penalty. Under the new law, those without qualifying health coverage will pay a tax penalty of the greater of: (a) $695 per year, up to a maximum of three times that amount ($2,085) per family, or (b) 2.5% of household income over the threshold amount of income required for income tax return filing. The penalty will be phased in according to the following schedule: $95 in 2014, $325 in 2015, and $695 in 2016 for the flat fee or 1.0% of taxable income in 2014, 2.0% of taxable income in 2015, and 2.5% of taxable income in 2016. Beginning after 2016, the penalty will be increased annually by a cost-of-living adjustment. Exemptions will be granted for financial hardship, religious objections, American Indians, those without coverage for less than three months, aliens not lawfully present in the U.S., incarcerated individuals, those for whom the lowest cost plan option exceeds 8% of household income, those with incomes below the tax filing threshold (in 2010 the threshold for taxpayers under age 65 is $9,350 for singles and $18,700 for couples), and those residing outside of the U.S.

Premium assistance tax credits for purchasing health insurance. The centerpiece of the health care legislation is its provision of tax credits to low and middle income individuals and families for the purchase of health insurance. For tax years ending after 2013, the new law creates a refundable tax credit (the “premium assistance credit”) for eligible individuals and families who purchase health insurance through an Exchange. The premium assistance credit, which is refundable and payable in advance directly to the insurer, subsidizes the purchase of certain health insurance plans through an Exchange. Under the provision, an eligible individual enrolls in a plan offered through an Exchange and reports his or her income to the Exchange.

Based on the information provided to the Exchange, the individual receives a premium assistance credit based on income and IRS pays the premium assistance credit amount directly to the insurance plan in which the individual is enrolled. The individual then pays to the plan in which he or she is enrolled the dollar difference between the premium assistance credit amount and the total premium charged for the plan. For employed individuals who purchase health insurance through an Exchange, the premium payments are made through payroll deductions.  The premium assistance credit will be available for individuals and families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level ($43,320 for an individual or $88,200 for a family of four, using 2009 poverty level figures) that are not eligible for Medicaid, employer sponsored insurance, or other acceptable coverage. The credits will be available on a sliding scale basis. The amount of the credit will be based on the percentage of income the cost of premiums represents, rising from 2% of income for those at 100% of the federal poverty level for the family size involved to 9.5% of income for those at 400% of the federal poverty level for the family size involved.

Higher Medicare taxes on high-income taxpayers. High-income taxpayers will be hit with a double whammy: a tax increase on wages and a new levy on investments.

Higher Medicare payroll tax on wages. The Medicare payroll tax is the primary source of financing for Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund, which pays hospital bills for beneficiaries who are 65 and older or disabled. Under current law, wages are subject to a 2.9% Medicare payroll tax. Workers and employers pay 1.45% each. Self-employed people pay both halves of the tax (but are allowed to deduct half of this amount for income tax purposes). Unlike the payroll tax for Social Security, which applies to earnings up to an annual ceiling ($106,800 for 2010), the Medicare tax is levied on all of a worker’s wages without limit.

Under the provisions of the new law, which take effect in 2013, most taxpayers will continue to pay the 1.45% Medicare hospital insurance tax, but single people earning more than $200,0000 and married couples earning more than $250,000 will be taxed at an additional 0.9% (2.35% in total) on the excess over those base amounts. Employers will collect the extra 0.9% on wages exceeding $200,000 just as they would withhold Medicare taxes and remit them to the IRS. Companies won’t be responsible for determining whether a worker’s combined income with his or her spouse makes them subject to the tax. Instead, some employees will have to remit additional Medicare taxes when they file income tax returns, and some will get a tax credit for amounts overpaid. Self-employed persons will pay 3.8% on earnings over the threshold. Married couples with combined incomes approaching $250,000 will have to keep tabs on both spouses’ pay to avoid an unexpected tax bill. It should also be noted that the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds are not indexed for inflation, so it is likely that more and more people will be subject to the higher taxes in coming years.

Medicare payroll tax extended to investments. Under current law, the Medicare payroll tax only applies to wages. Beginning in 2013, a Medicare tax will, for the first time, be applied to investment income. A new 3.8% tax will be imposed on net investment income of single taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) above $200,000 and joint filers with AGI over $250,000 (unindexed). Net investment income is interest, dividends, royalties, rents, gross income from a trade or business involving passive activities, and net gain from disposition of property (other than property held in a trade or business). Net investment income is reduced by properly allocable deductions to such income. However, the new tax won’t apply to income in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans. Also, the new tax will apply only to income in excess of the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds. So if a couple earns $200,000 in wages and $100,000 in capital gains, $50,000 will be subject to the new tax. Because the new tax on investment income won’t take effect for three years, which leaves more time for Congress and IRS to tinker with it. So we can expect lots of refinements and “clarifications” between now and when the tax is actually rolled out in 2013.

Floor on medical expenses deduction raised from 7.5% of AGI to 10%. Under current law, taxpayers can take an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses for regular income tax purposes only to the extent that those expenses exceed 7.5% of the taxpayer’s AGI. The new law raises the floor beneath itemized medical expense deductions from 7.5% of AGI to 10%, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The AGI floor for individuals age 65 and older (and their spouses) will remain unchanged at 7.5% through 2016.

Limit on reimbursement of over-the-counter medications from HRAs, HSAs, FSAs, and MSAs.

The new law excludes the costs for over-the-counter drugs not prescribed by a doctor from being reimbursed through a health reimbursement account (HRA) or health flexible savings accounts (FSAs) and from being reimbursed on a tax-free basis through a health savings account (HSA) or Archer Medical Savings Account (MSA), effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2010.

Increased penalties on nonqualified distributions from HSAs and Archer MSAs.

The new law increases the tax on distributions from an HSA or an Archer MSA that are not used for qualified medical expenses to 20% (from 10% for HSAs and from 15% for Archer MSAs) of the disbursed amount, effective for distributions made after Dec. 31, 2010.

Health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) are limited to $2,500.

An FSA is one of a number of tax-advantaged financial accounts that can be set up through a cafeteria plan of an employer. An FSA allows an employee to set aside a portion of his or her earnings to pay for qualified expenses as established in the cafeteria plan, most commonly for medical expenses but often for dependent care or other expenses. Under current law, there is no limit on the amount of contributions to an FSA. Under the new law, however, allowable contributions to health FSAs will capped at $2,500 per year, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The dollar amount will be indexed for inflation after 2013.

Dependent coverage in employer health plans. Effective on Mar. 23, 2010, the new law

extends the general exclusion for reimbursements for medical care expenses under an employer- provided accident or health plan to any child of an employee who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year. This change is also intended to apply to the exclusion for employer- provided coverage under an accident or health plan for injuries or sickness for such a child. A parallel change is made for VEBAs and 401(h) accounts. Also, self-employed individuals are permitted to take a deduction for the health insurance costs of any child of the taxpayer who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year.

Excise tax on indoor tanning services. The new law imposes a 10% excise tax on indoor

tanning services. The tax, which will be paid by the individual on whom the tanning services are performed, but collected and remitted by the person receiving payment for the tanning services, will take effect July 1, 2010.

 Liberalized adoption credit and adoption assistance rules. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2009, the adoption tax credit is increased by $1,000, made refundable, and extended through 2011 The adoption assistance exclusion is also increased by $1,000.

 

 

Tax changes for Individuals 2010 Health Reform

Individual mandate. The new law contains an “individual mandate”—a requirement that U.S. citizens and legal residents have qualifying health coverage or be subject to a tax penalty. Under the new law, those without qualifying health coverage will pay a tax penalty of the greater of: (a) $695 per year, up to a maximum of three times that amount ($2,085) per family, or (b) 2.5% of household income over the threshold amount of income required for income tax return filing. The penalty will be phased in according to the following schedule: $95 in 2014, $325 in 2015, and $695 in 2016 for the flat fee or 1.0% of taxable income in 2014, 2.0% of taxable income in 2015, and 2.5% of taxable income in 2016. Beginning after 2016, the penalty will be increased annually by a cost-of-living adjustment. Exemptions will be granted for financial hardship, religious objections, American Indians, those without coverage for less than three months, aliens not lawfully present in the U.S., incarcerated individuals, those for whom the lowest cost plan option exceeds 8% of household income, those with incomes below the tax filing threshold (in 2010 the threshold for taxpayers under age 65 is $9,350 for singles and $18,700 for couples), and those residing outside of the U.S.

Premium assistance tax credits for purchasing health insurance. The centerpiece of the health care legislation is its provision of tax credits to low and middle income individuals and families for the purchase of health insurance. For tax years ending after 2013, the new law creates a refundable tax credit (the “premium assistance credit”) for eligible individuals and families who purchase health insurance through an Exchange. The premium assistance credit, which is refundable and payable in advance directly to the insurer, subsidizes the purchase of certain health insurance plans through an Exchange. Under the provision, an eligible individual enrolls in a plan offered through an Exchange and reports his or her income to the Exchange.

Based on the information provided to the Exchange, the individual receives a premium assistance credit based on income and IRS pays the premium assistance credit amount directly to the insurance plan in which the individual is enrolled. The individual then pays to the plan in which he or she is enrolled the dollar difference between the premium assistance credit amount and the total premium charged for the plan. For employed individuals who purchase health insurance through an Exchange, the premium payments are made through payroll deductions.  The premium assistance credit will be available for individuals and families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level ($43,320 for an individual or $88,200 for a family of four, using 2009 poverty level figures) that are not eligible for Medicaid, employer sponsored insurance, or other acceptable coverage. The credits will be available on a sliding scale basis. The amount of the credit will be based on the percentage of income the cost of premiums represents, rising from 2% of income for those at 100% of the federal poverty level for the family size involved to 9.5% of income for those at 400% of the federal poverty level for the family size involved.

Higher Medicare taxes on high-income taxpayers. High-income taxpayers will be hit with a double whammy: a tax increase on wages and a new levy on investments.

Higher Medicare payroll tax on wages. The Medicare payroll tax is the primary source of financing for Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund, which pays hospital bills for beneficiaries who are 65 and older or disabled. Under current law, wages are subject to a 2.9% Medicare payroll tax. Workers and employers pay 1.45% each. Self-employed people pay both halves of the tax (but are allowed to deduct half of this amount for income tax purposes). Unlike the payroll tax for Social Security, which applies to earnings up to an annual ceiling ($106,800 for 2010), the Medicare tax is levied on all of a worker’s wages without limit.

Under the provisions of the new law, which take effect in 2013, most taxpayers will continue to pay the 1.45% Medicare hospital insurance tax, but single people earning more than $200,0000 and married couples earning more than $250,000 will be taxed at an additional 0.9% (2.35% in total) on the excess over those base amounts. Employers will collect the extra 0.9% on wages exceeding $200,000 just as they would withhold Medicare taxes and remit them to the IRS. Companies won’t be responsible for determining whether a worker’s combined income with his or her spouse makes them subject to the tax. Instead, some employees will have to remit additional Medicare taxes when they file income tax returns, and some will get a tax credit for amounts overpaid. Self-employed persons will pay 3.8% on earnings over the threshold. Married couples with combined incomes approaching $250,000 will have to keep tabs on both spouses’ pay to avoid an unexpected tax bill. It should also be noted that the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds are not indexed for inflation, so it is likely that more and more people will be subject to the higher taxes in coming years.

Medicare payroll tax extended to investments. Under current law, the Medicare payroll tax only applies to wages. Beginning in 2013, a Medicare tax will, for the first time, be applied to investment income. A new 3.8% tax will be imposed on net investment income of single taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) above $200,000 and joint filers with AGI over $250,000 (unindexed). Net investment income is interest, dividends, royalties, rents, gross income from a trade or business involving passive activities, and net gain from disposition of property (other than property held in a trade or business). Net investment income is reduced by properly allocable deductions to such income. However, the new tax won’t apply to income in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans. Also, the new tax will apply only to income in excess of the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds. So if a couple earns $200,000 in wages and $100,000 in capital gains, $50,000 will be subject to the new tax. Because the new tax on investment income won’t take effect for three years, which leaves more time for Congress and IRS to tinker with it. So we can expect lots of refinements and “clarifications” between now and when the tax is actually rolled out in 2013.

Floor on medical expenses deduction raised from 7.5% of AGI to 10%. Under current law, taxpayers can take an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses for regular income tax purposes only to the extent that those expenses exceed 7.5% of the taxpayer’s AGI. The new law raises the floor beneath itemized medical expense deductions from 7.5% of AGI to 10%, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The AGI floor for individuals age 65 and older (and their spouses) will remain unchanged at 7.5% through 2016.

Limit on reimbursement of over-the-counter medications from HRAs, HSAs, FSAs, and MSAs.

The new law excludes the costs for over-the-counter drugs not prescribed by a doctor from being reimbursed through a health reimbursement account (HRA) or health flexible savings accounts (FSAs) and from being reimbursed on a tax-free basis through a health savings account (HSA) or Archer Medical Savings Account (MSA), effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2010.

Increased penalties on nonqualified distributions from HSAs and Archer MSAs.

The new law increases the tax on distributions from an HSA or an Archer MSA that are not used for qualified medical expenses to 20% (from 10% for HSAs and from 15% for Archer MSAs) of the disbursed amount, effective for distributions made after Dec. 31, 2010.

Health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) are limited to $2,500.

An FSA is one of a number of tax-advantaged financial accounts that can be set up through a cafeteria plan of an employer. An FSA allows an employee to set aside a portion of his or her earnings to pay for qualified expenses as established in the cafeteria plan, most commonly for medical expenses but often for dependent care or other expenses. Under current law, there is no limit on the amount of contributions to an FSA. Under the new law, however, allowable contributions to health FSAs will capped at $2,500 per year, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The dollar amount will be indexed for inflation after 2013.

Dependent coverage in employer health plans. Effective on Mar. 23, 2010, the new law

extends the general exclusion for reimbursements for medical care expenses under an employer- provided accident or health plan to any child of an employee who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year. This change is also intended to apply to the exclusion for employer- provided coverage under an accident or health plan for injuries or sickness for such a child. A parallel change is made for VEBAs and 401(h) accounts. Also, self-employed individuals are permitted to take a deduction for the health insurance costs of any child of the taxpayer who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year.

Excise tax on indoor tanning services. The new law imposes a 10% excise tax on indoor

tanning services. The tax, which will be paid by the individual on whom the tanning services are performed, but collected and remitted by the person receiving payment for the tanning services, will take effect July 1, 2010.

 Liberalized adoption credit and adoption assistance rules. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2009, the adoption tax credit is increased by $1,000, made refundable, and extended through 2011 The adoption assistance exclusion is also increased by $1,000.

First-Time Homebuyer Credit – Deadline December 1

With the deadline quickly approaching, potential homebuyers are reminded that they must complete their first-time home purchases before December 1 to qualify for the special first-time homebuyer credit. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act extended the tax credit, which has provided a tax benefit to more than 1.4 million taxpayers so far.The credit of up to $8,000 is generally available to homebuyers with qualifying income levels who have never owned a home or have not owned one in the past three years.Because the credit is only in effect for a limited time, those considering buying a home must act soon to qualify for the credit. Under the Recovery Act, an eligible home purchase must be completed before December 1, 2009. This means that the last day to close on a home is November 30.The credit cannot be claimed until after the purchase is completed. For purchases made this year before December 1, taxpayers have the option of claiming the credit on their 2008 returns or waiting until next year and claiming it on their 2009 returns.For those considering a home purchase this fall, here are some other details about the first-time homebuyer credit:

  • The credit is 10 percent of the purchase price of the home, with a maximum available credit of $8,000 for either a single taxpayer or a married couple filing jointly. The limit is $4,000 for a married person filing a separate return. In most cases, the full credit will be available for homes costing $80,000 or more.
  • The credit reduces the taxpayer’s tax bill or increases his or her refund, dollar for dollar. Unlike most tax credits, the first-time homebuyer credit is fully refundable. This means that the credit will be paid to eligible taxpayers, even if they owe no tax or the credit is more than the tax owed.
  • Only the purchase of a main home located in the United States qualifies. Vacation homes and rental properties are not eligible. A home constructed by the taxpayer only qualifies for the credit if the taxpayer occupies it before December 1, 2009.
  • The credit is reduced or eliminated for higher-income taxpayers. The credit is phased out based on the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). MAGI is adjusted gross income plus various amounts excluded from income-for example, certain foreign income. For a married couple filing a joint return, the phase-out range is $150,000 to $170,000. For other taxpayers, the range is $75,000 to $95,000. This means the full credit is available for married couples filing a joint return whose MAGI is $150,000 or less and for other taxpayers whose MAGI is $75,000 or less.
  • The credit must be repaid if, within three years of purchase, the home ceases to be the taxpayer’s main home. For example, a taxpayer who claims the credit based on a qualifying purchase on September 1, 2009, must repay the full credit if he or she sells the home or converts it to business or rental use at any time before September 1, 2012.

Taxpayers cannot take the credit even if they buy a main home before December 1 if:

 

  • The taxpayer’s income is too large. This means joint filers with MAGI of $170,000 and above and other taxpayers with MAGI of $95,000 and above.
  • The taxpayer buys a home from a close relative. This includes a home purchased from the taxpayer’s spouse, parent, grandparent, child or grandchild.
  • The taxpayer owned another main home at any time during the three years prior to the date of purchase. For a married couple filing a joint return, this requirement applies to both spouses. For example, if the taxpayer bought a home on September 1, 2009, the taxpayer cannot take the credit for that home if he or she owned, or had an ownership interest in, another main home at any time from September 2, 2006, through September 1, 2009.
  • The taxpayer is a nonresident alien.

Is Your Company a Hobby or a Business?

Whether it is sewing, woodworking, fishing, gardening, stamp or coin collecting, millions of Americans participate in hobbies that may result in a profit. What are the tax implications of a hobby? When does a hobby become a business and how does that change the tax implications?Definition of a Hobby vs BusinessFirst, the IRS defines a hobby as an activity that is not pursued for profit. A business, on the other hand, is an activity carried on with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.The tax considerations are different for each activity so it is important for taxpayers to properly determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit as a business, or is engaged in as a hobby.Simply stated, you must report and pay tax on income from almost all sources, including hobbies. It is in the handling of expenses and losses that the two activities differ.
Note: Internal Revenue Code Section 183 (Activities Not Engaged in for Profit) limits deductions that can be claimed when an activity is not engaged in for profit. IRC 183 is sometimes referred to as the “hobby loss rule.”

Is your hobby really an activity engaged in for profit?

If you are not sure whether you are running a business or simply enjoying a hobby, here are some of the factors you should consider:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Do you depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

An activity is presumed for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (or at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training or racing horses).

The IRS says that it looks at all facts when determining whether a hobby is for pleasure or business. The profit test is the primary test. If you can show that the activity earned income in three out of the last five years, it is for profit. If the activity does not meet the profit test, the IRS will take an individualized look at the facts of your activity using the list of questions above to make the determination business or hobby. It should be noted that this list is not all inclusive.

Business Activity: If the activity is determined to be a business, you can deduct ordinary and necessary expenses for the operation of the business on a Schedule C or C-EZ on your Form 1040 without considerations for percentage limitations. An ordinary expense is an expense that is common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate for your business.

Hobby: If an activity is a hobby, not for profit, losses from that activity may not be used to offset other income. You can only deduct expenses up to the amount of income earned from the hobby. These expenses, with other miscellaneous expenses, are itemized on Schedule A and must also meet the 2 percent limitation of your adjusted gross income in order to be deducted.

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What are allowable hobby deductions under IRC 183?

If your activity is not carried on for profit, allowable deductions cannot exceed the gross receipts for the activity.

Deductions for hobby activities are claimed as itemized deductions on Schedule A, Form 1040. These deductions must be taken in the following order and only to the extent stated in each of three categories:

  • Deductions that a taxpayer may claim for certain personal expenses, such as home mortgage interest and taxes, may be taken in full.
  • Deductions that don’t result in an adjustment to the basis of property, such as advertising, insurance premiums and wages, may be taken next, to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions from the first category.
  • Deductions that reduce the basis of property, such as depreciation and amortization, are taken last, but only to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions taken in the first two categories.

If your hobby is regularly generating income, it could makes tax sense for you to consider whether it is a business or not. You may be able to save on taxes.

Living Trust 101

A trust, like a corporation, is an entity that exists only on paper but is legally capable of owning property. A flesh and blood person, however, must actually be in charge of the property; that person is called the trustee. You can be the trustee of your own living trust, keeping full control over all property legally owned by the trust.There are many kinds of trusts. A “living trust” (also called an “inter vivos” trust) is simply a trust you create while you’re alive, rather than one that is created at your death under the terms of your will.All living trusts are designed to avoid probate. Some also help you save on death taxes, and others let you set up long-term property management.

Do I need a living trust?

Property you transfer into a living trust before your death doesn’t go through probate. The successor trustee, the person you appointed to handle the trust after your death, simply transfers ownership to the beneficiaries you named in the trust.

In many cases, the whole process takes only a few weeks and there are no lawyer or court fees to pay. When the property has all been transferred to the beneficiaries, the living trust ceases to exist.

Is it expensive to create a living trust?

The expense of a living trust comes up front. Many lawyers would charge relatively little for drafting your will, in hopes of getting your estate later as a client. They may charge more for a living trust.

Some people have chosen to use a self-help book or software program, to create a Declaration of Trust (the document that creates a trust) yourself. They may consult a lawyer if they have questions that the self-help publication doesn’t answer. But there’s always the danger of problems they don’t see, that a lawyer could help avoid if consulted.

Is a trust document ever made public, like a will?

A will becomes a matter of public record when it is submitted to a probate court, as do all the other documents associated with probate, inventories of the deceased person’s assets and debts, for example. The terms of a living trust, however, need not be made public.

Does a trust protect property from creditors?

Holding assets in a revocable trust does not shelter them from creditors. A creditor who wins a lawsuit against you can go after the trust property just as if you still owned it in your own name.

After your death, however, property in a living trust can be quickly and quietly distributed to the beneficiaries (unlike property that must go through probate). That complicates matters for creditors; by the time they find out about your death, your property may already be dispersed, and the creditors have no way of knowing exactly what you owned (except for real estate, which is always a matter of public record). It may not be worth the creditor’s time and effort to try to track down the property and demand that the new owners use it to pay your debts.

On the other hand, probate can offer a kind of protection from creditors. During probate, known creditors must be notified of the death and given a chance to file claims. If they miss the deadline to file, they’re out of luck forever.

Do I need a trust if I’m young and healthy?

Probably not. At this stage in your life, your main estate planning goals are probably making sure that in the unlikely event of your early death, your property is distributed how you want it to be and, if you have young children, that they are cared for. You don’t need a trust to accomplish those ends; writing a will, and perhaps buying some life insurance, would be simpler.

Can a living trust save taxes?

A simple probate-avoidance living trust has no effect on either income or estate taxes. More complicated living trusts, however, can greatly reduce your federal estate tax bill if you expect your estate to owe estate tax at your death.

Education 529 Plan – What’s New

What is a 529 plan? They are investment vehicles designed to help families pay for future expenses associated with college or other qualified post-secondary training. Though contributions to a 529 plan are not deductible, these plans offer other tax advantages and are named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. All 50 states and the District of Columbia sponsor at least one type of 529 plan.What’s new in 2009? The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) added computer technology to the list of college expenses (tuition, books, etc.) that can be paid for by a 529 plan. For 2009 and 2010, the law expands the definition of qualified higher education expenses to include expenses for computer technology and equipment or Internet access and related services to be used by the designated beneficiary of the 529 plan while enrolled at an eligible educational institution. Software designed for sports, games or hobbies does not qualify, unless it is predominantly educational in nature.What “computer technology or equipment” refers to. This means any computer and related peripheral equipment. Related peripheral equipment is defined as any auxiliary machine (whether on-line or off-line) which is designed to be placed under the control of the central processing unit of a computer, such as a printer. This does not include equipment of a kind used primarily for amusement or entertainment. “Computer technology” also includes computer software used for educational purposes.
Note: Origins: Congress created them in 1996 and they are named after section 529 of the Internal Revenue code. The legal name for 529 plans is “qualified tuition programs” in the tax code.
Why use a 529 plan? There are advantages of 529 plans and one may be suitable for your family’s needs. Earnings are not subject to federal tax when used for eligible college expenses. Earnings are often not subject to state tax. States may offer other incentives to in-state participants. There are no income restrictions on individual contributors. Contributions are only limited by the qualified education expenses of the beneficiary. You can change the beneficiary of a plan if the new beneficiary is in the same family. You can open a plan benefiting anyone: a relative, a friend or even yourself. The plan owner or custodian controls the funds until withdrawal, not the beneficiary.How 529 plans are structured. There are two basic types of 529 plans – prepaid tuition plans and savings plans. A prepaid tuition plan enables a family to pay for future tuition now in current dollars and prices. A savings plan enables a family to accumulate funds in a tax-advantaged way for future tuition costs. A 529 plan can be established and maintained by a state, state agency, or an eligible educational institution. Each 529 plan is somewhat unique. Some state-sponsored plans offer incentives to in-state participants, such as state income-tax deductions or credits. Each 529 plan has one custodian and one beneficiary. A student or future student can be the beneficiary of more than one 529 plan.Contribution limitations. Contributions can not exceed the amount necessary to provide for the qualified education expenses of the beneficiary. Contributors should be aware of potential gift tax issues if the amount contributed by any one contributor during a year to a given beneficiary, together with other gifts to that beneficiary, is greater than $13,000. For a general discussion of gift tax rules, see IRS Publication 950, Introduction to Estate and Gift Taxes. For information on a special rule that applies to contributions to 529 plans, see the instructions for Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return.Use with other aid. A family using a 529 plan to pay for some of a child’s college expenses may still be eligible to claim either the American opportunity credit or the lifetime learning credit. Check IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

The Earned Income Tax Credit

Millions of Americans forfeit critical tax relief each year by failing to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal tax credit for low-to-moderate income individuals who work. Taxpayers who qualify and claim the credit could owe less federal tax, owe no tax or even receive a refund.This year it’s even easier to determine whether you qualify for the EITC. The EITC Assistant, an interactive tool available on the IRS website, removes the guesswork from eligibility rules. Just answer a few simple questions about yourself, your children, your living situation and your income to find out if you qualify and estimate the amount of your EITC. You will see the results of your responses right away. Taxpayers, tax professionals, employers, community groups and public service organizations are encouragedayosin mo cam mooo gina pamahawan kmi ni boskape at tinapay ahto use the EITC assistant which is available in both English and Spanish.Additionally, new for tax year 2009, is the added EITC and Income threshold for a THIRD qualifying child.The EITC is based on the amount of your earned income and whether or not there are qualifying children in your household. If you have children, they must meet the relationship, age and residency requirements. Additionally, you must file a tax return to claim the credit.If you were employed for at least part of 2009 and at least age 25, but under age 65, you may be eligible for the EITC based on these general requirements:

  • You earned less than $13,440 ($18,440 if married filing jointly) and did not have any qualifying children.
  • You earned less than $35,463 ($40,463 if married filing jointly) and have one qualifying child.
  • You earned less than $40,295 ($45,295 if married filing jointly) with two or more qualifying children.
  • You earned less than $43,279 ($48,279 if married filing jointly) with third or more qualifying children.

Tax Year 2009 maximum credit:

  • $5,657 with three or more qualifying children.
  • $5,028 with two or more qualifying children;
  • $3,043 with one Qualifying child;
  • $457 with no qualifying children.
Note: Your investment income must be $3,100 or less for the year.Note: The 2009 maximum Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit (AEITC) the employer is allowed to provide each of their employees is $1,826 per year.Please call us for more information about the EITC, or see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit, which contains eligibility criteria and instructions for claiming the tax credit.

When Does a Student Need to File Return?

If you are an unmarried dependent, you must file a tax return if your earned and/or unearned income exceeds certain limits.To find these limits refer to Filing Requirements for Dependents in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.Even if you do not have to file, you should file a federal income tax return to get money back if any of the following apply:

  1. You had income tax withheld from your pay.
  2. You qualify for the earned income credit.
  3. You qualify for the additional child tax credit.

How to Get a Copy of Your Tax Return

There are two easy and convenient options for obtaining copies of your federal tax return information – tax return transcripts and tax account transcripts – by phone or by mail.A tax return transcript shows most line items from the tax return (Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ) as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes you, your representative or the IRS made after the return was filed. In many cases, a return transcript will meet the requirements of lending institutions such as those offering mortgages and student loans.A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed. This transcript shows basic data, including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income. The IRS does not charge a fee for transcripts, which are available for the current and three prior calendar years. Allow ten to thirty days for delivery.To request either transcript:

If you need a photocopy of a previously processed tax return and attachments, complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Form, and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area. There is a fee of $57.00 for each tax period requested. Copies are generally available for the current and past six years.

If you are a taxpayer impacted by a federally declared disaster, The IRS will waive the usual fees and expedite requests for copies of tax returns.

How to Get a Copy of Your Tax Return<

There are two easy and convenient options for obtaining copies of your federal tax return information – tax return transcripts and tax account transcripts – by phone or by mail.A tax return transcript shows most line items from the tax return (Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ) as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes you, your representative or the IRS made after the return was filed. In many cases, a return transcript will meet the requirements of lending institutions such as those offering mortgages and student loans.A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed. This transcript shows basic data, including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income. The IRS does not charge a fee for transcripts, which are available for the current and three prior calendar years. Allow ten to thirty days for delivery.To request either transcript:

If you need a photocopy of a previously processed tax return and attachments, complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Form, and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area. There is a fee of $57.00 for each tax period requested. Copies are generally available for the current and past six years.

If you are a taxpayer impacted by a federally declared disaster, The IRS will waive the usual fees and expedite requests for copies of tax returns.

Advantages of Keeping Good Records

You can avoid headaches at tax time by keeping track of your receipts and other records throughout the year. Good record-keeping will help you remember the various transactions you made during the year, which in turn may make filing your return a less taxing experience.Records help you document the deductions you’ve claimed on your return. You’ll need this documentation should the IRS select your return for examination. Normally, tax records should be kept for three years, but some documents – such as records relating to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, IRA and business or rental property – should be kept longer.In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner. Generally speaking, however, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return:

  • Bills
  • Credit card and other receipts
  • Invoices
  • Mileage logs
  • Canceled, imaged or substitute checks or any other proof of payment
  • Any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return.

Good record-keeping throughout the year saves you time and effort at tax time when organizing and completing your return. If you hire a paid professional to complete your return, the records you have kept will assist the preparer in quickly and accurately completing your return.

For more information on what kinds of records to keep, call us or see IRS Publication 552, Recordkeeping for Individuals.

How to Take the Pain Out of Paying Your Bills

Settle Up Fast with Quickbooks’ Bill Paying ToolsSome of the financial crystal ball-types are telling us there are signs that the recession may be drawing some of its last breaths. But those bills are still coming in, and you may have had a long, dry summer and less income that you can use to meet those business obligations.The desktop versions of QuickBooks can help. They can’t magically make more money appear in your coffers, but they can help you manage your bills so you’re always aware of what’s coming up and don’t get any nasty surprises. This keeps both you and your vendors happy, and minimizes the chance of affecting your credit report adversely. You can also maximize cash flow by being hyper-aware of when each bill is due and timing them appropriately.(These bill-paying tools are available in all QuickBooks versions above Simple Start.)Enter First, Then PayOf course, you can mimic your old manual method of bill paying by simply using QuickBooks’ check-writing convention. But if you do this, you risk paying the bill twice. If you follow the process shown in Figure 1 by entering and the then paying, you’ll ensure that you record the expense in the same period it occurred.To start, click the Enter Bills or Vendors/Enter Bills icon. The Enter Bills dialog box opens as shown in Figure 2. If you received a bill, be sure that box in the upper right is checked, and that the Bill radio button is filled in.Next, click the arrow next to the Vendor line to select an existing vendor or add a new vendor. Change the date if necessary, and enter a reference number (this may avoid confusion later). Then, enter the amount due.

When you initially set up vendors, you either set up terms for each vendor or accepted the default. So the Terms field should already be filled in, and will generate the correct bill due date. Enter a descriptive memo in that field if you’d like.

Tip: Use the right-click menu when you’re entering bills to see more options.

Since this was an expense, you’ll want to record it as such. Make sure the Expenses tab is highlighted, and click in the Account field. Click the arrow that appears to drop down the list, and select the appropriate expense type. Fill in the rest of the field on the line, making sure to check the Billable box if this is something you can bill back to a customer. If the expense needs to be split into separate categories, create a new line and amount for each. Your bill now looks something
like Figure 3.

Click the Items tab and fill out the fields there if your expense involves products. You must have Inventory turned on to do this. Click Save & Close or Save & New. QuickBooks now works in the background, increasing Accounts Payable and dropping the bill into several reports.

Paying Your Debts

When it’s time to pony up, click on the Pay Bills icon, or click Vendors/Pay Bills. You’ll see a screen similar to Figure 4. Check the radio button next to the correct preference to view all bills, or to limit the list to those on or before a specific date. Put a check mark next to the bill(s) you want to pay. The correct amount should fill in by default, but you can change this to make a partial payment.

If you want to view the bill, take a discount, or use credits, click on those buttons. Select a payment date, method (check or credit card), and toggle to the correct account if it’s not showing.

Once you’ve paid a bill, your Accounts Payable and checkbook balances decrease, and the vendor balance and reports are updated. QuickBooks stamps a PAID watermark on the bill to avoid confusion later on.

Tip: To find bills you’ve already paid, go to the Vendor Center.

So stop stacking your bills on an old spindle and ruffling through them every day to see what’s due. You’ll find that there are numerous benefits to using QuickBooks’ bill-paying features, such as an improved credit rating, a dearth of past-due notices, and better cash flow.

Financial Planning Tips for October 2010

Asset Allocation Adjustments
Review the asset allocation of your portfolio. Increases and decreases in its value can upset the asset allocation that you consider optimal. Should you shift some stock investments into or out of bond investments? Should you shift some funds into tax-free investments?Health Spending Checkup
If your employer has a “Flexible Spending Arrangement,” determine the balance left in the plan. Your plan may allow you to carry over a year-end balance for use early in the following year.If your plan doesn’t allow unspent money to be carried over, then you may want to incur discretionary medical, dental or optical costs prior to year-end. If you do not participate in such a plan, find out if one is available at your company. Also find out if you are eligible for a “Health Savings Account.”Review Budget vs. Actuals
Compare September income and expenditures with your budget. Make adjustments as appropriate to your October expenditures. Make sure you have invested your planned savings amount for September.Estimate Your Tax Liability for 2010
Total up your taxable income, capital gains and deductions through this date. Estimate the amounts expected through year-end. Determine where you stand, and what steps, if any, you should take prior to year-end to minimize your tax liability. Please feel free to call us for help.The information provided on this website is intended to introduce the user to our company and our services. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for accounting, tax, or business consulting services.Although we have taken great care to assemble full and correct information for this site, we are not responsible for errors or omissions contained in these pages.Links to third-party sites are provided as a convenience to the user. While we have made every effort to direct the user to reliable sources, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of such information