Taxable or not taxable? The taxability of income, gifts, or services you receive might surprise you.

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Have you ever wondered about the taxability of funds or services you receive? There are many areas in the tax code that cause confusion regarding what’s taxable. These are some of the most common.

 

 
Alimony. Alimony is taxable to the person who receives it and deductible to the person who pays it. Special rules apply. Make sure you have proper documentation as part of a divorce decree to ensure you can support your tax position.

 
Child support. Child support is not taxable to the person who receives it on behalf of their dependent. It is also not deductible for the person who pays it.

 
Free services. Free service is almost always taxable as ordinary income under IRS barter regulations. You should report the fair market value of services received as income on your tax return. If you exchange services, you can deduct allowable business expenses against the value of services received.
Illegal activities. Even income received from illegal activities is taxable income and must be reported. Incredibly, the IRS even states that stolen items should be reported at the fair market value on the date the thief stole the item.

 
Jury duty pay. This is taxable as ordinary income. Yes, even doing your civic duty can be a taxable event.

 
Legal settlements. A general rule of thumb with legal settlements is to consider what the settlement replaces. If the settlement revenue replaces a taxable item, like lost wages, the settlement often creates taxable income. This area is complex and often requires a detailed review.

 
Life insurance proceeds. Generally life insurance proceeds paid to you because of the death of an insured are not taxable. However, there are a number of exceptions to this general rule. For example, if you receive benefits in installments above the value of the life insurance policy at time of death, or if you receive a cash payout of a policy, you could have taxable income.

 
Prizes. Most prizes received should be reported as ordinary income using the fair market value of the item received. This area has been a major surprise to contestants on game shows and celebrities who have received large gifts at celebrations like the Academy Awards.

 
Unemployment compensation. Typically unemployment compensation is to be reported as taxable income. Many are confused by this because of a temporary federal tax law that made unemployment compensation non-taxable during the recent economic recession. This is no longer the case.

 
Some of these areas can be complicated. What is most important is to realize when to discuss your situation. Call us if you need help.

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.

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.