Apply for an extension if you can’t file by April 18

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Tax time can be stressful, but don’t panic if you can’t file your tax return on time. There’s still time to get an automatic six-month deadline extension.

 

 

 
There are four ways to obtain an extension:
1. File a paper copy of Form 4868 with the IRS and enclose your payment of estimated tax due.
2. File for an extension electronically using the IRS e-file system on your computer.
3. Using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, pay all or part of your estimated income tax due and indicate that the payment is for an extension.
4. Have your tax preparer e-file for an extension on your behalf.

 
Remember that even if you file for an extension, you are still required to pay any taxes you owe by the April 18 filing deadline. An extension gives you more time to file your tax return, but not more time to pay the taxes you owe. You will be charged interest on any taxes you owe and do not pay by the filing deadline. If you are unable to pay on time, contact the IRS to set up a payment agreement.

 
Special extension rules apply to members of the military serving in combat zones and to certain others who live outside the U.S. Give us a call so we can discuss whether or not an extension is right for your situation.

#TaxTipTuesday- Who can-and who should-take the American Opportunity Credit?

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If you have a child in college, you may be eligible to claim the American Opportunity credit on your 2016 income tax return. If, however, your income is too high, you won’t qualify for the credit — but your child might. There’s one potential downside: If your dependent child claims the credit, you must forgo your dependency exemption for him or her. And the child can’t take the exemption.

 The limits

The maximum American Opportunity credit, per student, is $2,500 per year for the first four years of postsecondary education. It equals 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000 of such expenses.

The ability to claim the American Opportunity credit begins to phase out when modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) enters the applicable phaseout range ($160,000–$180,000 for joint filers, $80,000–$90,000 for other filers). It’s completely eliminated when MAGI exceeds the top of the range.

Running the numbers

If your American Opportunity credit is partially or fully phased out, it’s a good idea to assess whether there’d be a tax benefit for the family overall if your child claimed the credit. As noted, this would come at the price of your having to forgo your dependency exemption for the child. So it’s important to run the numbers.

Dependency exemptions are also subject to a phaseout, so you might lose the benefit of your exemption regardless of whether your child claims the credit. The 2016 adjusted gross income (AGI) thresholds for the exemption phaseout are $259,400 (singles), $285,350 (heads of households), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).

If your exemption is fully phased out, there likely is no downside to your child taking the credit. If your exemption isn’t fully phased out, compare the tax savings your child would receive from the credit with the savings you’d receive from the exemption to determine which break will provide the greater overall savings for your family.

We can help you run the numbers and can provide more information about qualifying for the American Opportunity credit.

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.