Reduce taxes on your investments with these year-end strategies

post-it-819682_640While tax consequences should never drive investment decisions, it’s critical that they be considered — especially by higher-income taxpayers, who may be facing the 39.6% short-term capital gains rate, the 20% long-term capital gains rate and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).

Holding on to an investment until you’ve owned it more than one year so the gains qualify for long-term treatment may help substantially cut tax on any gain. Here are some other tax-saving strategies:

  • Use unrealized losses to absorb gains.
  • Avoid wash sales.
  • See if a loved one qualifies for the 0% rate (or the 15% rate if your rate is 20%).

Many of the strategies that can help you save or defer income tax on your investments can also help you avoid or defer NIIT liability. And because the threshold for the NIIT is based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), strategies that reduce your MAGI — such as making retirement plan contributions — can also help you avoid or reduce NIIT liability.

These are only a few of the year-end strategies that may help you reduce taxes on your investments. For more ideas, contact us.

 

Need money to pay bills? Why raiding your 401(k) is not a good idea.

funny-dog-picture-not-a-good-idea (1)When you’re short of cash, raiding your 401(k) plan may seem like a good idea. Here are two reasons why it isn’t.

Penalties and taxes. If you’re not at least 59½ years old, you’ll be hit with a 10% penalty for early withdrawals except in certain limited cases, and the money you withdraw will be taxed at your regular tax rate.

Lost opportunity. If your 401(k) earns an annual return of 5% over the next 30 years, an account with a balance of $50,000 could grow to over $215,000. A withdrawal taken and spent today will cost you that growth.

Bottom line: If possible, find other ways to pay your bills, even if that means contributing less to your 401(k) in the short term. While it’s wise to match funds your company provides, you might consider temporarily reducing contributions that exceed the matching amount.

What about loans? A 401(k) loan also has drawbacks. Again, money that’s not in your account won’t grow. In addition, if you lose your job, you’ll have to repay the outstanding loan balance or face tax penalties.

If you need assistance with financial issues, give us a call.

Protect Your Deduction

post-it-819682_640Verify that a charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions before you donate. Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. But before you donate, it’s critical to make sure the charity you’re considering is indeed a qualified charity — that it’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.
Also, with the 2016 presidential election heating up, it’s important to remember that political donations aren’t tax-deductible.
Of course, additional rules affect your charitable deductions, so please contact us if you have questions about whether a donation you’re planning will be fully deductible. We can also provide ideas for maximizing the tax benefits of your charitable giving.

Are you 65 or older? Include these tax breaks in year-end planning.

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Celebrate your 65th birthday with federal income tax benefits. Here are some of the breaks available once you reach age 65.

Higher standard deduction. Your standard deduction is the sum of the basic standard deduction plus an additional standard deduction if you are age 65 or older at the end of the tax year. You are considered to be 65 on the day before your 65th birthday. For your 2015 tax return, you can add an extra $1,550 to your standard deduction if you’re single. If you and your spouse are both 65 or older, your combined extra deduction is $2,500.

Tax credit for the elderly. You may qualify for this direct reduction of your federal income tax if you’re age 65 or older. There are limitations if tax-free pension benefits such as social security exceed certain levels. Income limitations may also apply.

Medical expense deduction. Generally, when you itemize, unreimbursed medical expenses can be deducted only when they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. However, for 2015, when you’re 65 or over, you can deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your income. Are you married? Only one spouse needs to be 65 or older to qualify.

Please contact our office to make sure you’re receiving all the tax breaks for which you qualify at any age.

Charity scams: IRS issues another warning

untitledThe IRS has once again issued an alert for scams relating to fake charities. This time the fraudsters are looking to profit from the severe flooding in South Carolina that led to the declaration of a federal disaster area.

If you’re planning to donate, watch for these signs that a fundraiser isn’t on the up-and-up:

  • The fly-by-night charity. Every legitimate charitable association started sometime, and some are still being formed. But natural disasters seem to spawn an inordinate share of bogus charities that capitalize on human suffering. Beware. Donate to charities that you trust, which means those with a proven track record. If you’re unsure, check out the organization with the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, Guidestar, or similar watchdog groups.
  • The evasive fundraiser. A legitimate caller should be upfront about the charity, the percentage of funds allocated to administration and marketing, and what target groups will be aided by your donation. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions and expect direct answers. If the fundraiser hedges responses or knows little about the supposed cause to which you’re contributing, consider sending your dollars elsewhere. Beware of vague claims like “educating the public” or “promoting awareness.”
  • The urgent on-line request. Widespread use of social media has provided fraudsters a golden opportunity to take the money and run. Websites made to mimic legitimate charities have conned many otherwise prudent contributors. Emails brimming with desperate pleas for money may originate from the backroom computer of some scam artist. Never divulge your financial information via email and don’t assume that social media messages about a particular charity are legitimate. Call the charity directly and find out if it’s registered in your state (if required). Ask for written information. When in doubt, check it out.

Many charitable organizations are seeking your aid to address genuine hardships. Avoid the schemes of unethical hucksters and your donations will provide help where it’s needed most.

Looking for a smart way to fund college expenses?

The 529 savings plan: A tax-smart way to fund college expenses

piggy-bank-968302_640If you’re saving for college, consider a Section 529 plan. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. (Some states do offer tax incentives for contributing.)

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, equipment, supplies and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

529 plans offer other benefits as well:

  • They usually offer high contribution limits, and there are no income limits for contributing.
  • There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions.
  • You can control the account, even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions and make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse).

The biggest downside may be that your investment options — and when you can change them — are limited. Please contact us for more information on 529 plans and other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.

Insurance enrollment begins this month

friendly-reminder-1Beginning this month, you can sign up for a new 2016 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 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 2015? You may owe a penalty on your 2015 federal income tax return. The penalty for 2015 is the greater of $325 per adult and $162.50 per child under 18 (up to a maximum per-family penalty of $975) or 2% of your modified adjusted gross income (with a maximum of the national average premium for a Bronze plan).

Turning Part-Time Employees Into Winners

checker-flags-296805_640Part-time employees play a valuable role in a small business. They help deal with fluctuations in workload and can job-share with full-timers. In addition, because part-timers often look for flexibility in hours, you may find a skilled worker whose schedule fits perfectly with existing staff.

But part-timers can turn into a liability if not managed well. You could end up with poorly motivated workers who are unsure of their duties, unfamiliar with your company, and uncertain who they report to. Here are tips to keep this from happening.

Think before you hire. Decide what you want your new employee to do, what work hours are expected, and who he or she will report to. Does the position have well-defined duties? Or does the work involve filling in wherever needed? Decide on the pay and benefits.

Communicate clearly with your new parttimer. Explain the required duties and the chain of authority. Be very clear on hours and benefits, while remaining flexible enough to accommodate school or other commitments.

Communicate clearly with your fulltime staff. Explain why you’re hiring a part-time employee. Clarify what the new employee will and will not be expected to do. Designate who will manage and assign work to the part-timer.

Make the parttimer feel like part of the company. Provide introductory training on specific duties and the company’s business and policies. Assign a mentor or “buddy” – someone the new person can turn to with everyday questions.

Monitor progress. Don’t forget about your new employee after hiring. Provide feedback on performance and recognition for tasks well done.

With a sound plan, hiring a part-time employee can be a win-win situation.