Plan for changes to social security

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The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 made two changes to social security benefit strategies.

“File and suspend” was a way for married couples to allow the higher earning spouse to claim benefits at full retirement age but suspend the benefits until a later date. Under the Act, this strategy will no longer be available after April 30, 2016.
“Restricted application” applied to married couples who had reached full retirement age and who were eligible for both a spousal benefit and a personal retirement benefit. These couples could file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, then delay applying for personal retirement benefits. If you’ll turn 62 after 2015, the Act eliminated the ability to file a restricted application for only spousal benefits. However, if you were already 62 or older in 2015, you can continue to use the restricted application method for spousal benefits, but only upon reaching full retirement age.

 

Is your budget stopping you from saving for retirement?

 

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If you haven’t yet begun saving for retirement, a myRA may be a reason to start. “myRA” is an acronym for “my Retirement Account.” myRAs cost nothing to open, have no fees, and let you start saving with any amount that fits your budget. You can open a myRA even if you have other retirement accounts. Your myRA belongs entirely to you and can be moved to any new employer that offers direct deposit capability.
myRAs generally follow Roth IRA rules. That means the maximum contribution for 2015 and 2016 is $5,500 ($6,500 when you’re over age 50). Contributions to your myRA are invested in a U.S. Treasury savings bond. The balance in your account earns interest and is guaranteed to retain its value.
The Department of the Treasury recently added new ways to fund myRAs. As before, you can choose to fund your account from your paycheck by completing a direct deposit authorization form and giving it to your employer. And now you also have the option of making direct deposits from a checking or savings account or from your federal income tax refund.
To learn more about myRAs, please contact us.

 

How to max out education-related tax breaks

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If there was a college student in your family last year, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2015 return. To max out your education-related breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that will provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.
Credits vs. deductions
Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:
1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.
But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.
If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative.
Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.
How much can your family save?
Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however.

To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2015 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.

Major tax deadlines for March

period-481478__180● March 1 – Due date for farmers and fishermen who chose not to make 2015 estimated tax payments to file 2015 tax returns and pay taxes in full to avoid underpayment penalties.
● March 15 – 2015 calendar-year corporation income tax returns are due.
● March 15 – Deadline for calendar-year corporations to elect S corporation status for 2016.
● March 31 – Payers who file electronically must submit 2015 information returns (such as 1099s) to the IRS.
● March 31 – Employers who file electronically must submit 2015 W-2 copies to the Social Security Administration.

 

 

No need to itemize to claim these deductions

 

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Are you part of the approximately 68% of taxpayers who IRS statistics say claim the standard deduction instead of itemizing? If so, you can still deduct some expenses on your 2015 federal income tax return.
● Individual retirement account (IRA) contributions – For 2015, you may qualify to deduct up to $5,500 in contributions to a traditional IRA. That increases to $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older. Income limitations may apply in some cases. The same limits apply to Roth IRA contributions, which are not deductible.
● Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions – HSAs are IRA-like accounts set up in conjunction with a high-deductible health insurance policy. The annual contributions you make to your HSA are deductible. Contributions are invested and grow tax-free, and you withdraw the money tax-free to pay unreimbursed medical expenses. The HSA contribution limit for 2015 is $3,350 for individuals and $6,650 for families. You can contribute an additional $1,000 when you’re age 55 and older.
● Student loan interest and tuition fees – Deduct up to $2,500 of interest on student loans for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. For 2015, you can also deduct up to $4,000 of tuition and fees for qualified higher education courses. Income limitations apply, and you must coordinate these deductions with other education tax breaks.
● Self-employment deductions – If you’re self-employed, you can generally deduct the cost of health insurance premiums, retirement plan contributions, and one-half of self-employment taxes.
● Other deductions – Don’t overlook deductions for alimony you pay, certain moving expenses, and early savings withdrawal penalties. Educators can deduct up to $250 for classroom supplies purchased in 2015.
Contact our office for more information on these and other deductions you may be entitled to claim on your 2015 return.

Depreciation breaks boost tax deductions

stop-sign-35069_960_720Did you buy equipment or other business assets during 2015? Here are the current rules for maximizing your tax deduction.
● Section 179. Under code Section 179, you can expense many types of otherwise depreciable property used in your business. Both new and used assets qualify for Section 179.
For 2015, the maximum amount you can expense is $500,000 of the cost of qualifying property you began to use during the year. The $500,000 is reduced when the cost of the property you purchased during the year exceeds $2,000,000. Your deduction may also be limited by the amount of your business income.
Planning tip: The Section 179 amounts are now permanent. Beginning in 2016, both will be adjusted annually for inflation.
● Bonus depreciation. In addition to Section 179, you can benefit from the 50% bonus depreciation deduction for tangible personal property that you purchased and placed in service during 2015. Bonus depreciation is generally available for new assets that have a useful life of 20 years or less.
Planning tip: The December “extenders” tax law made bonus depreciation available through 2019, though the deductible amount will decrease in 2018 and 2019.
Please contact us about the latest depreciation breaks available to your business.

Extension means businesses can take bonus depreciation on their 2015 returns – but should they?

 

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Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended 50% bonus depreciation through 2017.
The break had expired December 31, 2014, for most assets. So the PATH Act may give you a tax-saving opportunity for 2015 you wouldn’t otherwise have had. Many businesses will benefit from claiming this break on their 2015 returns. But you might save more tax in the long run if you forgo it.
What assets are eligible
For 2015, new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment) qualifies for bonus depreciation. So does off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified leasehold-improvement property.
Acquiring the property in 2015 isn’t enough, however. You must also have placed the property in service in 2015.
Should you or shouldn’t you?
If you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation (to the extent you’ve exhausted any Section 179 expensing available to you) is likely a good tax strategy. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.
But if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax for 2015, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re in a higher bracket.
We can help
If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2015 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.

 

How to start a “rainy day” fund

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A December 2015 survey by a consumer financial services company showed that 36% of the people who participated said they dealt with their most recent unexpected expense by using savings. Would you be part of that group?Here are tips for starting your “rainy day” fund.

Define how much emergency savings is enough. A good starting point is to plan for your emergency fund to cover three to six months of expenses. Another good starting point: Ask yourself how much you’ll need to cover minimum monthly expenses without resorting to credit cards or lines of credit. Your assessment of an adequate balance will vary based on your financial situation, including the vulnerability of your income. For example, a one-earner household is more vulnerable than a two-earner household when it comes to paychecks, so the one-earner family generally will need to set aside more for emergencies.

Track how much you already have set aside. Include all sources in your accounting. For instance, some companies provide payment for accrued vacation and/or sick leave to laid-off employees. If your company provides this benefit and you maintain significant balances, you may not need as much in an emergency fund to help you weather an unexpected layoff.

Decide whether to pay off bills first. Putting excess cash toward high interest credit card balances might make more sense than funding a savings account that earns a much lower rate of interest.

Keep your funds liquid. Emergency money should be easy to get at. You don’t want to have to sell investments at a potential loss or pay withdrawal penalties in order to cover an unexpected hit to your finances. Look into savings or money market accounts as places to accumulate cash.

We can help you estimate how much to stash away in your emergency fund. Give us a call for help establishing a savings goal for those stormy days.

 

Who can be your dependent?

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You might believe a “dependent” is a minor child who lives with you. While that is essentially correct, dependents can include parents, other relatives and nonrelatives, and even children who don’t live with you. Here’s an overview of the dependency exemption.
Exemptions and your taxable income  Each dependent deduction is worth $4,000 on your 2015 federal income tax return, and reduces your taxable income by this amount. You’ll lose part of the benefit when your adjusted gross income reaches a certain level. For 2015, the phase-out begins at $309,900 when you’re married filing jointly and $258,250 when you’re single.
Definition of a dependent                                                                                                          A dependent is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. While there are specific rules, very broadly speaking, a dependent is someone who lives with you and who meets several tests, including the support test. For qualifying children, the support test means the child cannot have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year. For qualifying relatives, the support test means you generally must provide more than half of that person’s total support during the year. There are many exceptions. For example, parents don’t have to live with you if they otherwise qualify, but certain other relatives do. If you’re divorced and a noncustodial parent, your child doesn’t necessarily have to live with you for the dependent deduction to apply.
Who can’t be claimed?                                                                                                    Your spouse is never your dependent. In addition, you generally may not claim a married person as a dependent if that person files a joint return with a spouse. Also, a dependent must be a U.S. citizen, resident alien, national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico for part of the year.
For a seemingly simple deduction, claiming an exemption for a dependent can be quite complex. You’ll want to get it right, because being able to claim someone as a dependent can lead to other tax benefits, including the child tax credit, education credits, and the dependent care credit.
Contact our office to learn who qualifies as your dependent. We’ll help you make the most of your federal income tax exemptions.

Deduct home office expenses-if you’re eligible

Today it’s becoming more common to work from home. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it.

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Eligibility requirements
If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.
Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.
A valuable break
If you are eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You may be able to deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space.
Or you can take the simpler “safe harbor” deduction in lieu of calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 per square foot up to a maximum of 300 square feet.

More considerations
For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income.
Finally, be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction, contact us for more information.