Unexpected retirement plan disqualification can trigger serious tax problems

umbrella-1163700_960_720It’s not unusual for the IRS to conduct audits of qualified employee benefit plans, including 401(k)s. Plan sponsors are expected to stay in compliance with numerous, frequently changing federal laws and regulations.

 
For example, have you identified all employees eligible for your 401(k) plan and given them the opportunity to make deferral elections? Are employee contributions limited to the amounts allowed under tax law for the calendar year? Does your 401(k) plan pass nondiscrimination tests? Traditional 401(k) plans must be regularly tested to ensure that the contributions don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.
If the IRS uncovers compliance errors and the plan sponsor doesn’t fix them, the plan could be disqualified.

 
What happens if qualified status is lost?
Tax law and administrative details that may seem trivial or irrelevant may actually be critical to maintaining a plan’s qualified status. If a plan loses its tax-exempt status, each participant is taxed on the value of his or her vested benefits as of the disqualification date. That can result in large (and completely unexpected) tax liabilities for participants.
In addition, contributions and earnings that occur after the disqualification date aren’t tax-free. They must be included in participants’ taxable incomes. The employer’s tax deductions for plan contributions are also at risk. There are also penalties and fees that can be devastating to a business.
Finally, withdrawals made after the disqualification date cannot be rolled over into other tax-favored retirement plans or accounts (such as IRAs).

 
Voluntary corrections
The good news is that 401(k) plan errors can often be voluntarily corrected. We can help determine if changes should be made to your company’s qualified plan to achieve and maintain compliance. Contact us for more information.

What 2015 tax records can you toss once you’ve filed your return?

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The short answer is: none. You need to hold on to all of your 2015 tax records for now. But this is a great time to take a look at your records for previous tax years and determine what you can purge.

 
The 3-year rule
At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you likely can shred and toss most records related to tax returns for 2012 and earlier years.

 
What to keep longer
You’ll need to hang on to certain records beyond the statute of limitations:
• Keep tax returns themselves forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return.)
• For W-2 forms, consider holding them until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Why? In case a question arises regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year.
• For records related to real estate or investments, keep documents as long as you own the asset, plus three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return.

 
Just a starting point
This is only a sampling of retention guidelines for tax-related documents. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.

 

Include your tax paperwork in your spring cleaning

 

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Looking to minimize clutter? Here are record-keeping guidelines that will help you do just that while retaining what’s important.

 
● Income tax returns. Keep these at least seven years. Hang on to the back-up documents, such as Forms W-2, mortgage interest statements, year-end brokerage statements, and interest and dividend statements, for the same amount of time.

 
● Supporting paperwork. Keep cancelled checks, receipts, and expense and travel diaries for a minimum of three years.

 
● Stock, bond, or mutual fund purchase confirmations. Retain these while you own the investment. You can destroy them three years after you sell.

 
● Real property escrow and title statements. Retain these documents as long as you own the property so you can prove your purchase price when you sell. They can be destroyed three years after the date of the sale.

 
As you purge your financial clutter, be sure to shred or otherwise destroy the discarded paperwork. These documents often reveal your social security number, bank and brokerage account activity, and other personal information that could lead to the theft of your identity.

 
Contact us for more record-keeping tips.

 

Are you planning a new enterprise? Remember these key points!

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Starting a new business is an exciting time. But before you even open the doors, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.

 
Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away.

 
How expenses are handled on your tax return

 
When planning a new enterprise, remember these key points:
• Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one. Organizational costs include the costs of creating a corporation or partnership.
• Under the federal tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs. The $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
• No deductions or amortization write-offs are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business commences. That usually means the year when the enterprise has all the pieces in place to begin earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts will generally ask: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Has the activity actually begun?

 
An important decision
Time may be of the essence if you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year. You need to decide whether to take the elections described above. Recordkeeping is important. Contact us about your business start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new venture.

Should you make estimated tax payments?

 

3If you’re required to make quarterly estimated tax payments this year, the first one is due on the same day as your federal income tax return. Failing to pay estimates, or not paying enough, may lead to penalties. Here’s what to consider.

 
Do you need to make estimates? If you operate your own business, or receive alimony, investment, or other income that’s not subject to withholding, you may have to pay the tax due in installments. Each estimated tax installment is a partial prepayment of the total amount you expect to owe for 2016. You make the payment yourself, typically four times a year.

 
How much do you need to pay? To avoid penalties, your estimated payments must equal 90% of your 2016 tax or 100% of the tax on your 2015 return (110% if your adjusted gross income was over $150,000).

 
There are exceptions to the general 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.

 
Contact us for more information about estimated tax payments.

Need more time to finish your federal income tax return?

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Can’t finish your federal income tax return by the April deadline? Requesting an extension to shift the due date to October 17, 2016, takes three steps.

First, estimate your 2015 tax liability. Second, enter that number on the extension request form (Form 4868). Third, file Form 4868 by the regular due date of your return. You can request the extension on paper, by phone, or online. Be aware that an extension doesn’t give you more time to pay the tax you owe.

 

Is it time to update your W-4 to adjust your withholding?

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Did you receive a big tax refund or owe the IRS a lot of money for 2015? Then it’s time to update the form that tells your employer how to calculate your federal income tax withholding. That’s Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, and here’s what you need to know.

 
Filing a new Form W-4 with your employer allows you to adjust your income tax withholding to avoid overpaying or underpaying tax for 2016. The form comes with a worksheet to figure out how many allowances you should claim. These allowances are similar to dependency exemptions on your income tax return. However, the total allowances on your W-4 don’t have to agree with the exemptions you claim on your return. For example, say you’re single and you want to have the maximum amount withheld from your paycheck. You can claim zero allowances on Form W-4. You’ll still claim your personal exemption on the federal income tax return you file next April.

 
One caution: You should not claim more exemptions than you’re entitled to on Form W-4.

 
Updating Form W-4 can help adjust your withholding to match the tax you expect to owe. If you need assistance completing the form, give us a call.

 

Has your tax-exempt organization completed the upcoming filing requirement?

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Tax-exempt organizations are required to file annual reports with the IRS. Those with gross receipts below $50,000 can file an e-Postcard (Form 990-N) rather than a longer version of Form 990.
The deadline for nonprofit filings is the 15th day of the fifth month after the year-end. For calendar-year organizations, the filing deadline for 2015 reports is May 16, 2016.

Filing for an extension isn’t without perils

 

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Yes, the federal income tax filing deadline is slightly later than usual this year — April 18 — but it’s now nearly upon us. So, if you haven’t filed your return yet, you may be thinking about an extension.

 
Extension deadlines
Filing for an extension allows you to delay filing your return until the applicable extension deadline:
• Individuals — October 17, 2016
• Trusts and estates — September 15, 2016

 
The perils
While filing for an extension can provide relief from April 18 deadline stress, it’s important to consider the perils:
• If you expect to owe tax, keep in mind that, to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by April 18.
• If you expect a refund, remember that you’re simply extending the amount of time your money is in the government’s pockets rather than your own.

 
A tax-smart move?
Filing for an extension can still be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about avoiding interest and penalties.

Are you missing a refund?

 

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Did you forget to file your 2012 federal income tax return? You’re not alone. The IRS says an estimated one million taxpayers did not file a return for that year, leaving refunds totaling $950 million unclaimed. If you’re one of those taxpayers, you must file a 2012 federal income tax return no later than this year’s April tax deadline.

 
There is no penalty for failure to file if you are due a refund. Contact us for an appointment today.