Two tax-smart ideas for your tax refund

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If you have a tax refund coming, consider investing it in your future.

Are you looking forward to your tax refund? By now you know how much you’ll be getting and approximately when the cash will land in your bank account. The only question is, what’s the best way to put the money to work for you?
Here are two tax-smart ideas.

Fund your IRA. Depending on your income, making a contribution to a Traditional IRA could result in a deduction on next year’s tax return – and possibly a credit of as much as $2,000. For 2016, you can contribute a maximum of $5,500 to your IRA. Add another $1,000 for a total of $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older.

Invest in knowledge. Establish a qualified tuition plan, commonly called a Section 529 plan, or a Coverdell Education Savings Account. While contributions are not tax-deductible, the account earnings grow tax-free, and distributions used for educational expenses are also generally tax-free.

Do you need work-related training? Education required by your employer or courses that improve or maintain skills necessary for your present job, can qualify for a deduction.

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You may be asked for more information if you claim certain credits

thjntenazsDon’t be surprised if you’re required to answer additional questions this year if you claim the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), or American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). For the CTC and ACTC credits, 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 forms for incorrect Social Security numbers and dates of birth for the dependents on your return, as these are two common sources of error.

These common errors have helped to make the EIC and the other credits 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. As a result, the IRS is requiring tax preparers to ask more questions. Starting this year, tax preparers who don’t document their compliance with these new requirements could face fines of up to $510 per return.

If you get more questions than usual or are asked for additional documents, be aware that it’s just a new requirement.

Want to save for education? Make 2016 ESA contributions by December 31

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There are many ways to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education. But one has annual contribution limits, and if you don’t make a 2016 contribution by December 31, the opportunity will be lost forever. We’re talking about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

How ESAs work

With an ESA, you contribute money now that the beneficiary can use later to pay qualified education expenses:

  • Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred, and distributions used for qualified education expenses are tax-free.
  • You can contribute until the child reaches age 18 (except beneficiaries with special needs).
  • You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Not just for college

One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.

Another advantage is that you have more investment options. So ESAs are beneficial if you’d like to have direct control over how and where your contributions are invested.

Annual contribution limits

The annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income.

The limit begins to phase out at a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000 for married filing jointly and $95,000 for other filers. No contribution can be made when MAGI hits $220,000 and $110,000, respectively.

Maximizing ESA savings

Because the annual contribution limit is low, if you want to maximize your ESA savings, it’s important to contribute every year in which you’re eligible. The contribution limit doesn’t carry over from year to year. In other words, if you don’t make a $2,000 contribution in 2016, you can’t add that $2,000 to the 2017 limit and make a $4,000 contribution next year.

However, because the contribution limit applies on a per beneficiary basis, before contributing make sure no one else has contributed to an ESA on behalf of the same beneficiary. If someone else has, you’ll need to reduce your contribution accordingly.

Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact 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.

 

Did you know that you can claim a federal income tax credit when you pay someone to care for your kids while you’re at work or school?

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The Child and Dependent Care Credit is valuable because it reduces the amount of tax you owe dollar-for-dollar. Here’s an overview of the rules.

 
● Child care expenses must be work-related. This requirement means you have to pay for child care so you can work or actively look for work. If you’re married, you and your spouse must both work. Exceptions to this “earned income” rule include spouses who are full-time students or who are not able to care for themselves due to mental or physical limitations.

 
● Expenses generally must be paid for care of your under-age-13 child. However, expenses you pay to care for a physically or mentally disabled spouse or adult dependent may also count.

 
● Expenses must be paid to someone who is not your dependent. Amounts you pay your spouse, your child’s parent (such as an ex-spouse), anyone claimed as a dependent on your tax return, or your own child age 18 or younger do not qualify for the credit. For example, if you pay your 17-year-old dependent child to watch a younger sibling, that expense doesn’t count for purposes of claiming the credit.

 
● The care provider has to be identified on your tax return. You’ll typically need to show the name, address, and taxpayer identification number. You can request this information by asking your provider to complete Form W-10, Dependent Care Provider’s Identification and Certification.

 
● The amount you can claim depends on how much you spend for the care up to a dollar limit of $3,000 of expenses for one dependent and $6,000 for two or more dependents.

 
Contact us for more information.

Teach your child this vital skill

 

training-469591_640Financial literacy is a vital skill in today’s world. Will your children be able to handle their finances when they became adults? Here are tips to help ensure the answer is yes.

 
Shave spending. Take the weekly allowance to the next level by helping your child develop a budget. Review the results to reinforce good habits.

 
Stress savings. Even young children can grasp the power of compound interest. A simple example is asking your child to put a dollar in a piggy bank. Offer to pay five percent interest if the money is still there in a week or a month. Make the same offer at the end of the first time period, and pay “interest on the interest” as well.

 
Introduce investments. Create a portfolio, either real or paper, consisting of shares of one or more stocks or mutual funds. Make a game of charting the investment’s progress on a regular basis.

 
Cover credit. Take on the role of lender and let your child request an advance on a weekly allowance. Charge interest.

 
Talk taxes. Use word search or crossword puzzles to teach tax terminology. Consider creating a “Family Economy” game using examples from your own budget.

 

 
Lessons in financial responsibility can benefit your children now and in the future. Get them started on the right path.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.