Do you need to make estimated payments?

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Estimated tax payments – Who needs to make them? When are they due?

 

 
April 18 is both the day individual income tax returns for 2016 are due and the due date for the first estimated tax payment for 2017. So, even as you finalize, file, and pay your 2016 federal income taxes, you might need to be thinking about how much you’ll owe for 2017. If you’re required to make estimated payments, missing the deadline could lead to penalties – even if your return shows a refund.

 

So what are estimated payments? Like the withholding deducted from your wages, estimated payments are prepayments of the tax you expect to owe for the current year. The difference is that you have to calculate the amount due and make the payment yourself, typically four times a year.

 
How do you know if you’re required to make estimated payments? Generally, you need to prepay at least 90% of the total tax you owe each year. You can do this by having tax withheld on income such as wages, pensions, or IRA distributions. But if you operate your own business, or receive alimony, investment, or other income that’s not subject to withholding, you may need to pay your tax through estimated payments.

 
There are exceptions to the general 90% rule. For instance, say you anticipate the balance due on your 2016 federal individual income tax return will be less than $1,000 after subtracting withholding and credits. In this case, you can skip the estimated payments and remit the final balance with your return next April.

 
Other exceptions may also apply, and state laws can differ from federal requirements. In addition, farmers and fishermen are subject to special rules.

 
If your 2017 income will be substantially higher than it was last year, give us a call. We’ll be happy to review the estimated tax rules with you and help you avoid underpayment penalties

#TaxTipTuesday-Making a 2016 IRA contribution by April 18 can provide a valuable tax deduction. But it can be beneficial even if it isn’t deductible.

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2016 IRA contributions — it’s not too late!

Yes, there’s still time to make 2016 contributions to your IRA. The deadline for such contributions is April 18, 2017. If the contribution is deductible, it will lower your 2016 tax bill. But even if it isn’t, making a 2016 contribution is likely a good idea.

Benefits beyond a deduction

Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. But annual contributions are limited by tax law, and any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.

This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.

Contribution options

The 2016 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2016). If you haven’t already maxed out your 2016 limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 18:

  1. Deductible traditional. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) — or you do but your income doesn’t exceed certain limits — the contribution is fully deductible on your 2016 tax return. Account growth is tax-deferred; distributions are subject to income tax.
  2. Roth. The contribution isn’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Income-based limits, however, may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute.
  3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth. Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.

Want to know which option best fits your situation? Contact us.

Do You Owe Self-Employment Tax?

Did you work as a sole proprietor or independent contractor in 2016? If you earned more than $400 during 2016 from the work you did, you may owe self-employment tax. That’s true no matter what your age – even if you’re receiving social security benefits.

 
The tax is assessed on your earnings from self-employment. In this context, “earnings” generally means your self-employed income after deducting expenses incurred while operating your business. If you have multiple businesses, you combine the net income and losses. For your 2016 return, the self-employment tax rate is 15.3% on the first $118,500 that you earned.

 
What happens when you earn social security wages or tips from an employer and also have a side business? Your wages count toward the taxable base. Depending on how much you earn as an employee, your self-employment income may be subject to part or all of the tax.

 
You can pay self-employment tax on a quarterly basis as part of your estimated tax payments. One half of the total self-employment tax that you pay during the year is deductible on your income tax return, and you don’t have to itemize to claim the deduction.

 
Are you new to self-employment? Give us a call. We’re happy to help you make smart tax decisions.

#TaxTipTuesday-When an elderly parent might qualify as your dependent

 

 

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It’s not uncommon for adult children to help support their aging parents. If you’re in this position, you might qualify for the adult-dependent exemption. It allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to $4,050 for each adult dependent claimed on their 2016 tax return.

Basic qualifications

For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Generally Social Security is excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.

In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with a sibling and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption.

Factors to consider

Even though Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.

Don’t forget about your home. If your parent lives with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence. If the parent lives elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contribute to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.

Easing the financial burden

Sometimes caregivers fall just short of qualifying for the exemption. Should this happen, you may still be able to claim an itemized deduction for the medical expenses that you pay for the parent. To receive a tax benefit, the combined medical expenses paid for you, your dependents and your parent must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

The adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ to ease the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent. Contact us for more information on qualifying for this break or others.

More credits require questions

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Common errors have helped to make the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC) a major source of what the IRS calls “improper payments.” The agency estimates that of the $66 billion in EIC funds paid in 2015, nearly a quarter were collected by filers who didn’t qualify to receive them. To help combat this problem, the IRS now requires additional confirmation of information regarding the EIC and three new credits beginning in 2016.

Now if you claim the EIC, the Child Tax Credit (CTC), the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), or the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), additional information may be requested of you.

For the CTC and ACTC, you may be asked how long your children lived with you over the past year, or whether they lived with an ex-spouse, relatives, or other guardian.

If you are eligible for the AOTC, which is a credit to defray as much as $2,500 in higher education costs for you or your children, you will need to provide Form 1098-T from the college or university. You will also need receipts for related expenses.

You may also be asked to double-check your social security numbers and dates of birth for the dependents on your return, as these are two common sources of error.

If you get more questions than usual or are asked for additional documents, be aware that it’s just a new reporting requirement required by the IRS.

Current tax law requires health insurance

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During his first week in office, President Trump signed an executive order asking federal agencies to reduce the economic burden the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) puts on American citizens.

Unfortunately, this executive order is causing confusion. Many people are left wondering if fines will no longer be imposed or rules no longer need to be followed. Until the agencies impacted by this executive order publish their intent, act as though current laws are still in play. This includes:

  • The requirement to have health insurance
  • The requirement to pay a shared responsibility tax if you do not have continuous health insurance coverage
  • The ability to receive a health insurance premium credit if you qualify
  • Possible health insurance credits for qualifying small businesses

It’s important to realize that unless tax laws actually change, you are expected to follow the laws as they are currently written.

#TaxTipTuesday-Did your business make building or equipment repairs in 2016? The expense may save you tax.

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Tangible property safe harbors help maximize deductions

If last year your business made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, you may be eligible for a valuable deduction on your 2016 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly “repairs,” and not actually “improvements.”

Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted.

What’s an “improvement”?

In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be capitalized. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.

Under the “betterment test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.

Under the “restoration test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.

Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.

2 safe harbors

Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:

  1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.

Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be capitalized, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.

  1. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.

There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. Contact us for details on these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions.

 

Who needs an “Employer Identification Number”?

imagesBAJRGL3GThere are a few qualifications that determine if you need Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS:

  • If you operate your business as a corporation or partnership.
  • If you file reports for employment taxes, excise tax, or alcohol, tobacco and firearms.
  • If you have one or more employees.
  • If you have a self-employed retirement plan.
  • If you operate as any of several other organizations.

Obtaining an EIN is very quick and simple. Go to http://www.irs.gov. Once there, use the search box and type in “EIN” online. You will be taken to the page that allows you to answer questions online and you will get your EIN upon validation of your answers. You will be able to download and print your confirmation notice.

If you need assistance, please contact our office. We are here to help you.

#TaxTipTuesday- Did you know you may be able to deduct miles driven for purposes other than business?

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Deduct all of the mileage you’re entitled to — but not more

Rather than keeping track of the actual cost of operating a vehicle, employees and self-employed taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate to compute their deduction related to using a vehicle for business. But you might also be able to deduct miles driven for other purposes, including medical, moving and charitable purposes.

 

 

What are the deduction rates?

The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:

Business: 54 cents (2016), 53.5 cents (2017)

Medical: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)

Moving: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)

Charitable: 14 cents (2016 and 2017)

The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the medical, moving and charitable rates because the business rate contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the medical, moving or charitable use of a vehicle.

In addition to deductions based on the standard mileage rate, you may deduct related parking fees and tolls.

 

 

What other limits apply?

The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify.

For example, miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense deduction. But medical expenses generally are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. (For 2016, the deduction threshold is 7.5% for qualifying seniors.)

And while miles driven related to moving can be deductible, the move must be work-related. In addition, among other requirements, the distance from your old residence to the new job must be at least 50 miles more than the distance from your old residence to your old job.

 

 

Other considerations

There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates.

So contact us to help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2016 tax return — but not more. You don’t want to risk back taxes and penalties later.

And if you drove potentially eligible miles in 2016 but can’t deduct them because you didn’t track them, start tracking your miles now so you can potentially take advantage of the deduction when you file your 2017 return next year.