FSA or HSA? Choosing between health accounts

 

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Are you confused about your choices for paying medical expenses under your employer’s benefit plan? Here are differences between two types of commonly offered accounts: a health savings account (HSA) and a health care flexible spending account (FSA).

 
Overview. An FSA is generally established under an employer’s benefit plan. You can set aside a portion of your salary on a pretax basis to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses. An HSA is a combination of a high-deductible health plan and a savings account in which you save pretax dollars to pay medical expenses not covered by the insurance.

 
Contributions. For 2016, you can contribute up to a maximum of $2,550 to an FSA. Typically, you have to use the funds by the end of the year. Why? Unused amounts are forfeited under what’s commonly called the “use it or lose it” rule. However, your employer can adopt one of two exceptions to the rule.
If you are single, the 2016 HSA contribution limit is $3,350 ($6,750 for a family). You can add a catch-up contribution of $1,000 if you are over age 55. You do not have to spend all the money you contribute to your HSA each year. You can leave the funds in the account and let the earnings grow.

 
Earnings. FSAs do not earn interest. Your employer holds your money until you request reimbursement for qualified expenses. HSAs are savings accounts, and the money in the account can be invested. Earnings held in the account are not included in your income.

 
Withdrawals. Distributions from both accounts are tax- and penalty-free as long as you use the funds for qualified medical expenses.

 
Portability. Normally, your FSA stays with your employer when you change jobs. Your HSA belongs to you, and you can take the account funds with you from job to job. That’s true even if your employer makes contributions to your HSA for you.

 
Because you generally can’t contribute to both accounts in the same year, understanding the differences can help you make a decision that best fits your circumstances. Contact us for help as you consider your benefit choices.

 

 

 

#Documentation is the key to #business #expense #deductions

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If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.

 
Case 1: Insufficient records
In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.

 
The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred ”caring for his business.“ That isn’t enough. ”The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,“ the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce ”records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.” (TC Memo 2016-158)

 
Case 2: Documents destroyed
In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.

 
The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.

 
There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to ”undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.”

 
The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)

 
Be prepared
Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.

Returning home as an adult

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Are you thinking of returning to your childhood home to live with your parents? Although heading home after graduation or a divorce may feel like a setback, a temporary return to living with your parents can present opportunities to improve your financial situation.

 
For example, living with your parents means you can share the cost of rent, utilities, and food, resulting in reduced expenses. By establishing a realistic budget, you can make the most of these lower costs, and repay student loans or other debt more quickly. You can also build up savings for emergencies and long-term goals, such as buying a home of your own. A sound plan is to avoid additional debt while you’re working toward your financial independence. You also might consider paying expenses in cash to reduce your reliance on credit and help you stick to your budget.

 
For best results, establish clear expectations for both you and your parents before you move in together. Consider a written agreement that outlines the financial responsibilities of everyone in the household, and what the consequences will be for not living up to your promises. In addition, determine specific milestones you want to reach before you move out, and communicate them clearly. Goals could include accumulating $5,000 in savings, or reaching a six-month work anniversary at your job.

 
Contact us for suggestions about how to create an achievable financial plan.

 

 

If you invest, whether you’re considered an investor or a trader can have a significant impact on your tax bill. Do you know the difference?

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Investors
Most people who trade stocks are classified as investors for tax purposes. This means any net gains are treated as capital gains rather than ordinary income.
That’s good if your net gains are long-term (that is, you’ve held the investment more than a year) because you can enjoy the lower long-term capital gains rate. However, any investment-related expenses (such as margin interest, stock tracking software, etc.) are deductible only if you itemize and, in some cases, only if the total of the expenses exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income.

 
Traders
Traders have it better in some situations. Their expenses reduce gross income even if they can’t itemize deductions and not just for regular tax purposes, but also for alternative minimum tax purposes.
Plus, in certain circumstances, if traders have a net loss for the year, they can claim it as an ordinary loss (so it can offset other ordinary income) rather than a capital loss. Capital losses are limited to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) per year deduction once any capital gains have been offset.

 
Passing the trader test
What does it take to successfully meet the test for trader status? The answer is twofold:
1. The trading must be “substantial.” While there’s no bright line test, the courts have tended to view more than a thousand trades a year, spread over most of the available trading days, as substantial.
2. The trading must be designed to try to catch the swings in the daily market movements. In other words, you must be attempting to profit from these short-term changes rather than from the long-term holding of investments. So the average duration for holding any one position needs to be very short, generally only a day or two.

 
If you satisfy these conditions, the chances are good that you’d ultimately be able to prove trader vs. investor status. Of course, even if you don’t satisfy one of the tests, you might still prevail, but the odds against you are higher. If you have questions, please contact us.

Work-related education costs may be deductible

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Are you going to school this fall to earn an advanced degree or to brush up on your work skills? If so, you might be able to deduct what you pay for tuition, books, and other supplies.

 

If you’re self-employed or working for someone else, you may be able to claim a deduction for out-of-pocket educational costs if the training is necessary to maintain your skills or is required by your employer.

Just remember that even when the education meets those two tests, if you’re qualified to work in a new trade or business when you’ve completed the course, your expenses are personal and nondeductible. That’s true even if you do not get a job in the new trade or business.

Work-related education expenses are an itemized deduction when you’re an employee and a business expense when you’re self-employed. You may also be eligible for other tax benefits, such as the lifetime learning credit.

For more information, please contact our office.

 

Are frequent flyer miles ever taxable?

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If you recently redeemed frequent flyer miles to treat the family to a fun summer vacation or to take your spouse on a romantic getaway, you might assume that there are no tax implications involved. And you’re probably right — but there is a chance your miles could be taxable.

 
Usually tax free
As a general rule, miles awarded by airlines for flying with them are considered nontaxable rebates, as are miles awarded for using a credit or debit card.
The IRS partially addressed the issue in Announcement 2002-18, where it said “Consistent with prior practice, the IRS will not assert that any taxpayer has understated his federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent flyer miles or other in-kind promotional benefits attributable to the taxpayer’s business or official travel.”

 
Exceptions
There are, however, some types of mile awards the IRS might view as taxable. Examples include miles awarded as a prize in a sweepstakes and miles awarded as a promotion.
For instance, in Shankar v. Commissioner, the U.S. Tax Court sided with the IRS, finding that airline miles awarded in conjunction with opening a bank account were indeed taxable. Part of the evidence of taxability was the fact that the bank had issued Forms 1099 MISC to customers who’d redeemed the rewards points to purchase airline tickets.
The value of the miles for tax purposes generally is their estimated retail value.

 
If you’re concerned you’ve received mile awards that could be taxable, please contact us and we’ll help you determine your tax liability, if any.

Now’s the time to start thinking about “bunching” — miscellaneous itemized deductions, that is

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Many expenses that may qualify as miscellaneous itemized deductions are deductible only to the extent they exceed, in aggregate, 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching these expenses into a single year may allow you to exceed this “floor.” So now is a good time to add up your potential deductions to date to see if bunching is a smart strategy for you this year.

 
Should you bunch into 2016?
If your miscellaneous itemized deductions are getting close to — or they already exceed — the 2% floor, consider incurring and paying additional expenses by Dec. 31, such as:
• Deductible investment expenses, including advisory fees, custodial fees and publications
• Professional fees, such as tax planning and preparation, accounting, and certain legal fees
• Unreimbursed employee business expenses, including vehicle costs, travel, and allowable meals and entertainment.
But beware …
These expenses aren’t deductible for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. So don’t bunch them into 2016 if you might be subject to the AMT this year.
Also, if your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold, certain deductions — including miscellaneous itemized deductions — are reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If you’d like more information on miscellaneous itemized deductions, the AMT or the itemized deduction limit, let us know.

 

 

Combining business and vacation travel: What can you deduct?

post-it-819682_640If you go on a business trip within the United States and tack on some vacation days, you can deduct some of your expenses. But exactly what can you write off?

Transportation expenses

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, then generally none of your transportation expenses are deductible.

What costs can be included? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.

Business days vs. pleasure days

The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home.

Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t called upon to work those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (such as local transportation difficulties).

You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. These expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible.

We can help

Questions? Contact us if you want more information about business travel deductions.

Who Pays for Social Security and Medicare?

According to the 2016 Summary of Annual Reports by the trustees, the major source of funding for the Social Security and Medicare programs is the payroll tax you and your employer pay, or that you pay as a self-employed worker. In addition, about 13% of the funding comes from the taxation of social security benefits – those taxes you pay with your federal income tax return when you collect social security benefits and your income is above a certain amount. Other sources of funding come from the interest earned from the Treasury on the program assets, monthly premiums paid for Medicare benefits, and general tax revenue.

 

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