How to calculate the amount of your loss and ease financial burdens when violent weather wreaks havoc.

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Violent weather can wreak emotional and financial havoc. If your home, vehicle, or other personal property is damaged or destroyed by a sudden, unexpected casualty, an itemized tax deduction may help ease the financial burden.

 
In most cases, you claim a casualty loss in the taxable year the calamity strikes. However, if you’re in a federally declared disaster area, you have the option of amending your prior year return. Either way, to receive the maximum benefit you’ll need to calculate the amount of your loss. Here’s how.

 
File an insurance claim. If your property is insured, file a timely claim.

 
Get an appraisal. An appraisal determines the decline in fair market value caused by the casualty. Tax rules require that you measure the difference between what your home or property would have sold for before the damage and the probable sales price afterward.

 
Establish basis. Generally, adjusted basis is what you originally paid for the damaged property, plus improvements. If your records were lost in the casualty, recreate them using reasonable estimates or the best information you have.

 
Keep receipts for repairs. In some situations, repairs you make to restore your property to pre-casualty condition can be used as an indicator of the decline in the fair market value.

 
Remember, you’re not alone. In the aftermath of a casualty, we’re here to help you resolve the tax issues.

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#Documentation is the key to #business #expense #deductions

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If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.

 
Case 1: Insufficient records
In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.

 
The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred ”caring for his business.“ That isn’t enough. ”The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,“ the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce ”records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.” (TC Memo 2016-158)

 
Case 2: Documents destroyed
In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.

 
The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.

 
There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to ”undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.”

 
The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)

 
Be prepared
Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.

Work-related education costs may be deductible

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Are you going to school this fall to earn an advanced degree or to brush up on your work skills? If so, you might be able to deduct what you pay for tuition, books, and other supplies.

 

If you’re self-employed or working for someone else, you may be able to claim a deduction for out-of-pocket educational costs if the training is necessary to maintain your skills or is required by your employer.

Just remember that even when the education meets those two tests, if you’re qualified to work in a new trade or business when you’ve completed the course, your expenses are personal and nondeductible. That’s true even if you do not get a job in the new trade or business.

Work-related education expenses are an itemized deduction when you’re an employee and a business expense when you’re self-employed. You may also be eligible for other tax benefits, such as the lifetime learning credit.

For more information, please contact our office.

 

Now’s the time to start thinking about “bunching” — miscellaneous itemized deductions, that is

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Many expenses that may qualify as miscellaneous itemized deductions are deductible only to the extent they exceed, in aggregate, 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching these expenses into a single year may allow you to exceed this “floor.” So now is a good time to add up your potential deductions to date to see if bunching is a smart strategy for you this year.

 
Should you bunch into 2016?
If your miscellaneous itemized deductions are getting close to — or they already exceed — the 2% floor, consider incurring and paying additional expenses by Dec. 31, such as:
• Deductible investment expenses, including advisory fees, custodial fees and publications
• Professional fees, such as tax planning and preparation, accounting, and certain legal fees
• Unreimbursed employee business expenses, including vehicle costs, travel, and allowable meals and entertainment.
But beware …
These expenses aren’t deductible for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. So don’t bunch them into 2016 if you might be subject to the AMT this year.
Also, if your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold, certain deductions — including miscellaneous itemized deductions — are reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If you’d like more information on miscellaneous itemized deductions, the AMT or the itemized deduction limit, let us know.

 

 

Combining business and vacation travel: What can you deduct?

post-it-819682_640If you go on a business trip within the United States and tack on some vacation days, you can deduct some of your expenses. But exactly what can you write off?

Transportation expenses

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, then generally none of your transportation expenses are deductible.

What costs can be included? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.

Business days vs. pleasure days

The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home.

Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t called upon to work those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (such as local transportation difficulties).

You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. These expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible.

We can help

Questions? Contact us if you want more information about business travel deductions.

Looking for larger deductions? Throw a company picnic this summer.

 

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Many businesses host a picnic for employees in the summer. It’s a fun activity for your staff and you may be able to take a larger deduction for the cost than you would on other meal and entertainment expenses.

 
Deduction limits
Generally, businesses are limited to deducting 50% of allowable meal and entertainment expenses. But certain expenses are 100% deductible, including expenses:
• For recreational or social activities for employees, such as summer picnics and holiday parties,
• For food and beverages furnished at the workplace primarily for employees, and
• That are excludable from employees’ income as de minimis fringe benefits.
There is one caveat for a 100% deduction: The entire staff must be invited. Otherwise, expenses are deductible under the regular business entertainment rules.

 
Recordkeeping requirements
Whether you deduct 50% or 100% of allowable expenses, there are a number of requirements, including certain records you must keep to prove your expenses.
If your company has substantial meal and entertainment expenses, you can reduce your tax bill by separately accounting for and documenting expenses that are 100% deductible. If doing so would create an administrative burden, you may be able to use statistical sampling methods to estimate the portion of meal and entertainment expenses that are fully deductible.

 
For more information about deducting business meals and entertainment, including how to take advantage of the 100% deduction, please contact us.

Looking for a great way to fund a portion of your vacation costs?

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Are you thinking about turning a business trip into a family vacation this summer? This can be a great way to fund a portion of your vacation costs. But if you’re not careful, you could lose the tax benefits of business travel.

 
Reasonable and necessary
Generally, if the primary purpose of your trip is business, expenses directly attributable to business will be deductible (or excludable from your taxable income if your employer is paying the expenses or reimbursing you through an accountable plan). Reasonable and necessary travel expenses generally include:
• Air, taxi and rail fares,
• Baggage handling,
• Car use or rental,
• Lodging,
• Meals, and
• Tips.
Expenses associated with taking extra days for sightseeing, relaxation or other personal activities generally aren’t deductible. Nor is the cost of your spouse or children traveling with you.

 
Business vs. pleasure
How do you determine if your trip is “primarily” for business? One factor is the number of days spent on business vs. pleasure. But some days that you might think are “pleasure” days might actually be “business” days for tax purposes. “Standby days,” for example, may be considered business days, even if you’re not engaged in business-related activities. You also may be able to deduct certain expenses on personal days if tacking the days onto your trip reduces the overall cost.
During your trip it’s critical to carefully document your business vs. personal expenses. Also keep in mind that special limitations apply to foreign travel, luxury water travel and certain convention expenses.

 
Maximize your tax savings
For more information on how to maximize your tax savings when combining business travel with a vacation, please contact us. In some cases you may be able to deduct expenses that you might not think would be deductible.

Did you know summer day camp can save you taxes?

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Although the kids might still be in school for a few more weeks, summer day camp is rapidly approaching for many families. If yours is among them, did you know that sending your child to day camp might make you eligible for a tax credit?

 
The power of tax credits
Day camp (but not overnight camp) is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit, which is worth 20% of qualifying expenses (more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000), subject to a cap. For 2016, the maximum expenses allowed for the credit are $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more.
Remember that tax credits are particularly valuable because they reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar — $1 of tax credit saves you $1 of taxes. This differs from deductions, which simply reduce the amount of income subject to tax. For example, if you’re in the 28% tax bracket, $1 of deduction saves you only $0.28 of taxes. So it’s important to take maximum advantage of the tax credits available to you.

 
Rules to be aware of
A qualifying child is generally a dependent under age 13. (There’s no age limit if the dependent child is unable physically or mentally to care for him- or herself.) Special rules apply if the child’s parents are divorced or separated or if the parents live apart.
Eligible costs for care must be work-related, which means that the child care is needed so that you can work or, if you’re currently unemployed, look for work. However, if your employer offers a child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) that you participate in, you can’t use expenses paid from or reimbursed by the FSA to claim the credit.

 
Are you eligible?
These are only some of the rules that apply to the child and dependent care credit. So please contact us to determine whether you’re eligible.

 

Be aware of these four IRA rules

 
post-it-819682_640If you have an individual retirement account, you’re aware of how complicated the rules can get. Here are four to remember as you prepare your 2015 federal income tax return.
1. Are you searching for one more tax deduction? It’s not too late to contribute to your IRA and claim a deduction for 2015. Under current tax rules, you can establish and contribute to your IRA up until April 18, 2016 (April 19 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts). If the IRA is the traditional, tax-deductible kind, you can deduct that contribution on your 2015 federal income tax return. If you’re under age 50, the maximum contribution is $5,500. If you were 50 or older by December 31, 2015, you can contribute up to $6,500.
2. You can make a contribution to a traditional IRA and convert it to a Roth later. Although a conversion now will generate taxable income that’s reportable on next year’s federal tax return, qualifying withdrawals from the Roth will be tax-free when you retire. If your circumstances change, you can choose to “recharacterize” your new Roth as a traditional IRA by moving the funds back within a specified period. You also have the opportunity to “reconvert” the funds to a Roth again after a recharacterization.
3. If you turned 70½ in 2015, you’re now required to take an annual minimum distribution from your IRA (and, unless you’re still working, from other retirement plans also). If you chose to delay taking your first distribution last year, April 1, 2016, is an important deadline. That’s the last day you have to take your initial distribution or you’ll be subject to a 50% penalty on the amount you should have taken.
4. The age of 70½ also lets you benefit from the now-permanent tax break for making charitable contributions from your IRAs. While it’s too late to make a contribution for 2015, you can exclude direct transfers of up to $100,000 from your gross income this year. The donation counts as part of your required minimum distribution.
For more tax breaks related to IRAs and other retirement plans, contact our office.

Use taxes to reduce your tax

 

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Are you planning to itemize on your 2015 federal income tax return? If so, you can claim a deduction for taxes paid. According to IRS statistics, taxes are the most frequently claimed itemized deduction, as well as the largest. But what kind of taxes can you deduct on your personal return?

 
State and local income taxes or general sales tax. You can choose whichever gives you the most benefit.

 
Real estate taxes. Deductions include taxes you pay on your home or other real property you own (including property owned in a foreign country). Remember to check closing statements when you buy or sell property. You can claim the portion of current real estate taxes you’re responsible for. However, if you agree to pay delinquent taxes the seller owed at the time of closing, that expense is considered part of your basis in the property.

 
Personal property taxes. These taxes are imposed annually on the value of property other than real estate. Certain motor vehicle registration fees fit this description.

 
Foreign income taxes. Caution: Instead of deducting these taxes, you have the option of taking a credit, which will reduce your tax bill dollar-for-dollar and may offer more benefit.

 
Federal estate tax. If you inherit certain assets and are required to report the income from those assets on your personal return, you may be able to deduct a portion of the federal estate tax paid.

 
Some taxes, such as self-employment taxes, are deductible elsewhere on your return. Other taxes are not deductible at all. Examples include marriage licenses, gift taxes, and Medicare taxes (including the 3.8% net investment income tax). Feel free to contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a tax you paid during the year, or if you received a refund of a tax you deducted in a prior year.

We’re here to help.