#TaxTipTuesday-Reduce Your 2016 Tax Bill by Accelerating Your Property Tax Deduction

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Smart timing of deductible expenses can reduce your tax liability, and poor timing can unnecessarily increase it. When you don’t expect to be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) in the current year, accelerating deductible expenses into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? Because it will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. One deductible expense you may be able to control is your property tax payment.

 
You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2016 but that are due in 2017, and deduct the payment on your return for this year. But you generally can’t prepay property taxes that relate to 2017 and deduct the payment on this year’s return.

 
Should you or shouldn’t you?
As noted earlier, accelerating deductible expenses like property tax payments generally is beneficial. Prepaying your property tax may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.

 
However, under the President-elect’s proposed tax plan, some taxpayers (such as certain single and head of household filers) might be subject to higher tax rates. These taxpayers may save more tax from the property tax deduction by holding off on paying their property tax until it’s due next year.

 
Likewise, taxpayers who expect to see a big jump in their income next year that would push them into a higher tax bracket also may benefit by not prepaying their property tax bill.

 
More considerations
Property tax isn’t deductible for AMT purposes. If you’re subject to the AMT this year, a prepayment may hurt you because you’ll lose the benefit of the deduction. So before prepaying your property tax, make sure you aren’t at AMT risk for 2016.

 
Also, don’t forget the income-based itemized deduction reduction. If your income is high enough that the reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment will be reduced.

 
Not sure whether you should prepay your property tax bill or what other deductions you might be able to accelerate into 2016 (or should consider deferring to 2017)? Contact us. We can help you determine the best year-end tax planning strategies for your specific situation.

Higher Self-Employment Taxes Coming in 2017

seDid you know the national average wage index went up? You might have missed the news, but it’s likely you will notice one impact: higher self-employment taxes.
How are the two related? The index is used to calculate the social security wage base, which is the amount of income subject to the 12.4% social security portion of the self-employment tax. When the index goes up, the wage base does too, and more of your income is taxed.
The wage base does not affect the 2.9% Medicare portion of the self-employment tax. Medicare tax is assessed on all net income from self-employment, including amounts above the base. The 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax is not affected either. That tax applies to your compensation in excess of $250,000 when you’re married filing jointly ($200,000 when you’re single).
For 2016, the wage base was $118,500. For 2017, the wage base will be $127,200. That means an additional $8,700 of the net profit from your business is subject to social security tax in 2017. The effect is an increase in the amount you pay, even though the total self-employment tax rate of 15.3% remains unchanged.
Please contact us for more information.

#TaxTipTuesday- Year-end tax strategies for accrual-basis taxpayers

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The last month or so of the year offers accrual-basis taxpayers an opportunity to make some timely moves that might enable them to save money on their 2016 tax bill.

 
Record and recognize
The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2017. This will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2016 federal tax return. Common examples of such expenses include:
• Commissions, salaries and wages,
• Payroll taxes,
• Advertising,
• Interest,
• Utilities,
• Insurance, and
• Property taxes.

 
You can also accelerate deductions into 2016 without actually paying for the expenses in 2016 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.) Accelerating deductible expenses into 2016 may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.

 
Look at prepaid expenses
Also review all prepaid expense accounts and write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year. If you prepay insurance for a period of time beginning in 2016, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2016 and 2017, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.

 
Miscellaneous tax tips
Here are a few more year-end tax tips to consider:
• Review your outstanding receivables and write off any receivables you can establish as uncollectible.
• Pay interest on all shareholder loans to or from the company.
• Update your corporate record book to record decisions and be better prepared for an audit.

 
Consult us for more details on how these and other year-end tax strategies may apply to your business.

Do you have a prepaid card in your wallet? They just got a bit safer.

credit-cardPrepaid cards are popular because they’re convenient. You, your employer, or someone you know loads money onto the card, and you use it in a manner similar to a credit or debit card. In the past, prepaid cards lacked some consumer protections. Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has finalized rules that limit your liability for unauthorized charges to $50, as long as you notify the card issuer promptly. The new rules also include requirements for clear explanations about fees, and free access to account information.

Are you contemplating year-end-tax-related moves? Focus on the big picture.

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Some tax-cutting strategies make good financial sense. Others are simply bad ideas, often because tax considerations are allowed to override basic economics.

 

 

 

Here’s one example of the tax tail wagging the economic dog. Let’s say that you operate an unincorporated consulting business. You want an additional tax write-off, so you decide to buy $10,000 of office furniture that you don’t really need. If you’re in the 28% tax bracket and you deduct the entire cost, this purchase will trim your tax bill by $2,800 (28% of $10,000). But even after the tax break, you’ll still be out of pocket $7,200 ($10,000 minus $2,800) – and stuck with furniture that you don’t really need.

Other situations in which the focus on tax considerations ignores the bigger financial picture include:

● Increasing the size of a home mortgage, solely to get a larger tax deduction for mortgage interest.

● Hesitating to pay off a mortgage, just to keep the interest deduction.

● Turning down extra income, due to worries about being “pushed into a higher tax bracket.”

● Holding an appreciated asset indefinitely, solely to avoid paying the capital gains tax.

Tax-cutting strategies are part of a bigger financial picture. If you’re contemplating year-end tax-related moves, we can help make sure that everything stays in focus.

Wrap up #TaxBenefits for Year-End Charitable Gifts

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Are you contemplating gifts to charity at the end of this year? Not only do you help out a worthy cause, you can also reduce your 2016 tax bill if you itemize your deductions. Here’s how to make sure you’ll get the full benefit.

 
The general rule. Generally, you can deduct the full amount of contributions you make to a qualified charitable organization, up to 50% of your adjusted gross income for the year. Did you make a large contribution? You can carry the excess forward for five years. Just remember that you have to get written acknowledgment from the charity for monetary gifts of $250 or more.
     Tip: A contribution made by credit card late in the year is still deductible if posted to your account this year. You can charge an online donation on December 31, and take a deduction on your 2016 return, even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2017.

 
“This for that” gifts. When you make a gift of more than $75 that entitles you to receive goods or services in return, the charity must provide a good faith estimate of the goods or services received and the amount of payment exceeding the value of the gift. You can deduct the portion that exceeds the fair market value.

 
Gifts of your time. Although you can’t deduct the value of volunteer services you provide, you can write off out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of a charity. Examples include long-distance travel, lodging, and local transportation.

 
Gifts of property. In general, the annual deduction for gifts of property is 30% of your adjusted gross income. You can carry the remainder forward for five years. If you donate appreciated property you’ve owned for more than a year, in most cases you can deduct the property’s fair market value. You’ll need an independent appraisal for gifts over $5,000.
     Tip: To claim the full deduction, the gift must be used to further the charity’s tax-exempt mission. For instance, if you donate a painting to your alma mater, it must be displayed where students can study it.
If you have questions about charitable giving tax rules, contact us. We’ll help you lock in deductions before January 1.

Insurance Enrollment Begins This Month

obama-1301891__180Beginning this month, you can sign up for a new 2017 health insurance policy on the health insurance Marketplace. You can also change or renew the policy you purchased during the last enrollment period. Even if your current policy has an automatic renewal feature, you’ll want to verify that you’re getting the best deal, and that you are still eligible for the federal premium tax credit.
What if you didn’t sign up last winter and didn’t have health insurance coverage in 2016? You may owe a penalty on your 2016 federal income tax return. The penalty is calculated in one of two ways: as a percentage of your income, or on a per-person basis. You pay whichever is higher.
For 2016, the penalty is 2.5% of your annual household income, up to a maximum of the national average premium for a Bronze plan. The per-person penalty is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child under 18 (up to a maximum per-family penalty of $2,085).

#TaxTipTuesday-If you have an NQDC plan, be sure you’re familiar with the applicable tax rules. Here’s why.

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It’s critical to be aware of the tax rules surrounding your NQDC plan

Nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans pay executives at some time in the future for services to be currently performed. They differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in that:
• NQDC plans can favor certain highly compensated employees,
• Although the executive’s tax liability on the deferred income also may be deferred,     the employer can’t deduct the NQDC until the executive recognizes it as income, and
• Any NQDC plan funding isn’t protected from the employer’s creditors.
They also differ in terms of some of the rules that apply to them, and it’s critical to be aware of those rules.

 
What you need to know
Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 409A and related IRS guidance have tightened and clarified the rules for NQDC plans. Some of the most important rules to be aware of affect:

 
Timing of initial deferral elections. Executives must make the initial deferral election before the year in which they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, for instance, if you wish to defer part of your 2017 compensation to 2018 or beyond, you generally must make the election by the end of 2016.

 
Timing of distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.

 
Elections to change timing or form. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.

 
Employment tax issues
Another important NQDC tax issue is that employment taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even though the compensation isn’t actually paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years. So your employer may:
• Withhold your portion of the tax from your salary,
• Ask you to write a check for the liability, or
• Pay your portion, in which case you’ll have additional taxable income.

 
Consequences of noncompliance
The penalties for noncompliance can be severe: Plan participants (that is, you, the executive) will be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and potential interest charges also will apply. So if you’re receiving NQDC, you should check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues. And we can help incorporate your NQDC or other executive compensation into your year-end tax planning and a comprehensive tax planning strategy for 2016 and beyond.

Fight scammers the old-school way

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Scam artists are relentless in finding ways to take your money. But some old-school methods are still effective for protecting yourself. Here are suggestions.

 

 

Fortify your computer and your phone. Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and update your protection regularly. Consider firewall software to prevent unauthorized access. Change the password on your computer router from the default, enable and set up the router firewall, and keep your router software up-to-date.

 

Clean out your wallet. Make sure you’re not carrying personal identification numbers for debit or credit cards on a scrap of paper. If you do, anyone stealing your wallet will have open access to your checking account. Sign all your cards. Another old tip also bears repeating: Don’t carry your social security card with you.

 

Delete all spam emails immediately without opening them. Never click on an attachment or follow a link to a web page unless you know the sender. List your telephone number on the national “do not call” list. If a telephone solicitor calls, ask to be put on the company’s “do not call” list and then hang up.

 

Obtain a free copy of your credit report. Go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com and order a free copy of your credit report from at least one of the three major agencies. Review it for mistakes, accounts you don’t recognize, or unknown credit inquiries. If you find something wrong, report it immediately.

For more suggestions, please contact us.