Investing in Mutual Funds? Watch for year-end tax issues

untitledMutual funds offer an efficient means of combining investment diversification with professional management. Their income tax effects can be complex, however, and poorly timed purchases or sales can create unpleasant year-end surprises.

Mutual fund investors (excluding qualifying retirement plans) are taxed based on activities within each fund. If a fund investment generates taxable income or the fund sells one of its investments, the income or gain must be passed through to the shareholders. The taxable event occurs on the date the proceeds are distributed to the shareholders, who then owe tax on their individual allocations.

If you buy mutual fund shares toward the end of the year, your cost may include the value of undistributed earnings that have previously accrued within the fund. If the fund then distributes those earnings at year-end, you’ll pay tax on your share even though you paid for the built-up earnings when you bought the shares and thus realized no profit. Additionally, if the fund sold investments during the year at a profit, you’ll be taxed on your share of its year-end distribution of the gain, even if you didn’t own the fund at the time the investments were sold.

Therefore, if you’re considering buying a mutual fund late in the year, ask if it’s going to make a large year-end distribution, and if so, buy after the distribution is completed. Conversely, if you’re selling appreciated shares that you’ve held for over a year, do so before a scheduled distribution, to ensure that your entire profit will be treated as long-term capital gain.

Most mutual fund earnings are taxable (unless earned within a retirement account) even if you automatically reinvest them. Funds must report their annual distributions on Forms 1099, which also indicate the nature of the distributions (interest, capital gains, etc.) so you can determine the proper tax treatment.

Outside the funds, shareholders generate capital gains or losses whenever they sell their shares. The gains or losses are computed by subtracting selling expenses and the “basis” of the shares (generally purchase costs) from the selling price. Determining the basis requires keeping records of each purchase of fund shares, including purchases made by reinvestments of fund earnings. Although mutual funds are now required to track and report shareholders’ cost basis, that requirement only applies to funds acquired after 2011.

When mutual funds are held within IRAs, 401(k) plans, and other qualified retirement plans, their earnings are tax-deferred. However, distributions from such plans are taxed as ordinary income, regardless of how the original earnings would have been taxed if the mutual funds had been held outside the plan. (Roth IRAs are an exception to this treatment.)

If you’re considering buying or selling mutual funds and would like to learn more about them, give us a call.

Besides the satisfaction of helping others, there’s another reward for your benevolence

untitledAs the year draws to a close, you may decide to donate cash or property to one or more worthy causes. Besides the satisfaction of helping others, there’s another reward for your benevolence: a tax deduction on your 2014 return. But the IRS recommends that you keep the following points in mind:

  1. You may only deduct contributions made to a legitimate tax-exempt charitable organization.
  2. Charitable contributions reduce your taxes only if you itemize your deductions.
  3. To claim an itemized deduction, you’re required to have support for all cash contributions, no matter the amount. A bank statement, a copy of the cancelled check, or a credit card record will usually suffice for donations under $250.
  4. In the case of payroll donations, your pay stub or W-2 can back up your deduction.
  5. For donations of $250 or more, a statement from the charity is required, giving the charity’s name, the date, the amount of your donation, and the value of goods and services received for the donation, if any.
  6. The substantiation rules for noncash donations differ depending on the type of property and its value.
  7. You’ll need a “contemporaneous” written acknowledgment from the charity for donations of $250 or more. As a general rule, “contemporaneous” means you must receive the acknowledgment before you file your return or before the due date of your return, whichever is earlier.
  8. Typically, you may deduct the fair market value of gifts of property owned longer than one year. Any appreciation in value remains untaxed.
  9. You can secure deductions late in the year by donating to charity by credit card. As long as the charge is posted in December, you can deduct it on your 2014 return, even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2015.

If you have questions about documentation for your charitable donations, contact our office.

Don’t Lose out on the 2014 gift tax exclusion

McFadyen & Sumner, CPAs PA

imagesR4686926Time is running out for making 2014 tax-free gifts. You have only a few more months to use your annual gift tax exclusion for this year, or it’s gone forever.

Each year you can make gifts up to a certain dollar limit to an unlimited number of people, free of any gift tax. For 2014, the dollar limit per recipient is $14,000. These gifts do not reduce your lifetime exemption from gift and estate taxes.

Why would you want to make annual tax-free gifts? There are a number of possible reasons. Tax-free gifts are often used in estate planning as a way of steadily reducing the value of a taxable estate during the owner’s lifetime. Another strategy is to transfer income-producing assets to children or other family members who are in a lower tax bracket. If done carefully to avoid the “kiddie tax,” the result can be a lower overall…

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Don’t Lose out on the 2014 gift tax exclusion

imagesR4686926Time is running out for making 2014 tax-free gifts. You have only a few more months to use your annual gift tax exclusion for this year, or it’s gone forever.

Each year you can make gifts up to a certain dollar limit to an unlimited number of people, free of any gift tax. For 2014, the dollar limit per recipient is $14,000. These gifts do not reduce your lifetime exemption from gift and estate taxes.

Why would you want to make annual tax-free gifts? There are a number of possible reasons. Tax-free gifts are often used in estate planning as a way of steadily reducing the value of a taxable estate during the owner’s lifetime. Another strategy is to transfer income-producing assets to children or other family members who are in a lower tax bracket. If done carefully to avoid the “kiddie tax,” the result can be a lower overall tax bill for the family unit.

If you fail to use this year’s exclusion, it is not carried over to future years. To qualify as a 2014 gift, the transaction must be completed by December 31, 2014. If you are writing a check as a 2014 gift, do so in time for the recipient to deposit it before year-end.

Check with us if you would like more information about making tax-free gifts in your situation.

Accurate inventory numbers are important

imagesKMV3V7G4For many companies, inventory is a significant dollar amount on the company’s financial statements. So it’s crucial that recorded inventory balances reflect actual values. When such accounts aren’t properly stated, the cost of goods sold and current ratios – numbers that often matter to decision makers – may be skewed. If banks discover that your company’s inventory accounts are overstated, they may not extend credit. If, when necessary, inventories aren’t “written down” (their values lowered in the accounting records), fraud may go undetected or the company’s net profits may appear unrealistically rosy.

Inventories decline in value for a variety of reasons. You might be in the business of selling electronic equipment to retail customers. Over time, yesterday’s “latest and greatest” gadgets become today’s ho-hum commodities. Such goods still have value, but they can’t be sold at last year’s prices. Your inventory is experiencing “obsolescence.”

Inventory “shrinkage” is another term that’s often used to describe declining inventory values. Let’s say you run a construction materials company. Unbeknownst to you, a dishonest supervisor is skimming goods from your shelves. A periodic inventory count that’s compared to your company’s general ledger might show that inventory is declining faster than it’s being sold. As a result, you may decide to investigate and to reduce inventory values in your accounting records.

Other examples of shrinkage might include a retail store that loses inventory due to shoplifting or a warehouse facility that’s hit by a storm. In both cases, inventories may need to be written down in the company books to more accurately reflect actual values. Under another scenario, a shady supplier might bill your company for goods that aren’t actually shipped or received. Your inventory may end up being overstated.

For some companies, several sources feed into inventory values. A manufacturing concern, for example, might add all the expenses needed to prepare goods for sale – including factory overhead, shipping fees, and raw material costs – into inventory accounts. When those supporting costs fluctuate, inventory accounts are often affected.

To ensure that your inventory numbers remain accurate, it’s a good idea to conduct regular physical counts and routinely analyze the accounts for shrinkage, obsolescence, and other evidence of diminishing value.

Avoid these 6 mistakes in selling your business

Most entrepreneurs eventually think about selling their businesses, whether as a prelude to retirement or to pursue other activities. In doing so, they often underestimate the effort required for a satisfactory outcome and overestimate the value and salability of their enterprises. If you’re contemplating selling, here are some common mistakes to avoid.

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  1. Overestimating the value of your business.

Your price should be based on the fair market value of the business in its current form. Buyers won’t care about the work you’ve put into building your business or your unique vision for its future.

  1. Failing to account for the nature and make-up of your business.

The values of most businesses proceed from a mixture of variables. If your business includes significant equipment, real estate, intellectual property, or other such assets, their values should be separately established before being factored into the overall price. If you’re selling a service or professional firm, much of its value may depend on the experience and skills of your managers and employees. In such a case, the price may vary according to the expected retention of key individuals.

  1. Failing to base your sale price upon independent appraisals.

Even if you think you know the value of your business, you should obtain two or more outside appraisals from professionals familiar with your industry. If the appraisals conflict with your opinion, they’ll provide a much-needed reality check. If they confirm your opinion, they’ll become a useful sales tool.

  1. Not hiring a professional business broker to handle the sale.

Owners are often too personally invested (and/or eager to sell) to effectively negotiate sales of their businesses. A broker familiar with your type of business will know what issues are important to buyers and what characteristics to emphasize or de-emphasize, without becoming emotionally involved.

  1. Neglecting to work with the buyer to ensure a smooth transition.

Nobody likes being thrust into unfamiliar circumstances without preparation. Notifying your managers, employees, and customers in advance and doing all you can to allay their concerns will serve your own best interests, as well as being the honorable thing to do. Discontent on the part of any of the affected parties could result in conflicts, reduced revenue for the buyer, withheld sale payments, and litigation.

  1. Being unwilling to help finance the sale.

If you’re unwilling to take back a note, your sale price is limited to the buyer’s cash and ability to obtain outside financing. At best this could limit the number of potential buyers, and at worst it could limit your sale proceeds. (Conversely, if you finance too much of the sale price, you’ll increase the risk of default.)

Selling your business is too important to attempt without professional help. If you’re considering selling, call us for an appointment to help formulate your plan.

Your wealthy Uncle Johnny gives you a Gift… Is it rude to ask the cost of the Gift?

Your wealthy Uncle Johnny is something of an art collector, buying paintings and sculptures from promising young artists. When he retires, he moves into a small condo in a retirement community and has to downsize his art collection. He gives away much of his art to family members, and you receive an abstract painting. He tells you that he paid $5,000 for it only two years ago.

A few years later Uncle Johnny passes away, and soon after that you decide to sell the painting. You’re delighted when an art dealer offers you $12,000 for the painting. Unfortunately the IRS audits your tax return for that year and informs you that you owe capital gains tax on the sale.

How much do you owe? In theory, you received Uncle Johnny’s cost basis in the picture when you received it as a gift. Your taxable gain would be $7,000 ($12,000 sales price less his $5,000 cost basis). But unless you can document the purchase price, the IRS might well claim that you owe tax on a $12,000 gain.

When you sell property you received as a gift, the general rule is that your basis is the donor’s cost basis. If you sell at a loss, your basis is the lower of the donor’s basis or the fair market value on the date you received the gift. There are adjustments to these numbers in some cases. But the important point is that without cost records, you have no way of proving the donor’s basis and no way of disputing an IRS claim.

While it might seem embarrassing to ask for records of the cost when you receive a gift, it could save you a significant amount of taxes in the future. And if you have received valuable gifts in recent years, it might be worth going back to recover the cost records before they’re lost forever. On the other hand, if you’re the one making the gift, give the cost records at the same time. If you don’t, you may end up giving a gift to the IRS in the form of unnecessary taxes.

Now not only can you ask that challenging question about the cost of a gift, but you can also explain your reasoning for asking to eliminateimagesV2F114NL any hurt feelings.