The real definition of “dependent” may surprise you

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Many people think of a “dependent” as a minor child who lives with you. This is true, but it’s important to remember dependents can include parents, other relatives and nonrelatives, and even children who don’t live with you.

Exemptions and your taxable income. Each dependent deduction is worth $4,050 on your 2016 and 2017 federal income tax returns. This exemption reduces your taxable income by this amount. You’ll lose part of the benefit when your adjusted gross income reaches a certain level. For 2016, the phase-out begins at $311,300 when you’re married filing jointly and $259,400 when you’re single.

Definition of a dependent. A dependent is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. While there are specific rules, generally, a dependent is someone who lives with you and who meets several tests, including a support test. For qualifying children, the support test means the child cannot have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year. For qualifying relatives, the support test means you generally must provide more than half of that person’s total support during the year. There are many exceptions. For example, parents don’t have to live with you if they otherwise qualify, but certain other relatives do. If you’re divorced and a noncustodial parent, your child doesn’t necessarily have to live with you for the dependent deduction to apply.

Who can’t be claimed? Your spouse is never your dependent. In addition, you generally may not claim a married person as a dependent if that person files a joint return with a spouse. Also, a dependent must be a U.S. citizen, resident alien, national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico for part of the year.

For a seemingly simple deduction, claiming an exemption for a dependent can be quite complex. You’ll want to get it right, because being able to claim someone as a dependent can lead to other tax benefits, including the child tax credit, education credits, and the dependent care credit.

Contact our office to learn who qualifies as your dependent. We’ll help you make the most of your federal income tax exemptions.

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TaxTipTuesday-The investment interest expense deduction: Less beneficial than you might think

 

 

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Investment interest — interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities — generally is deductible for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax purposes. But special rules apply that can make this itemized deduction less beneficial than you might think.

 
Limits on the deduction
First, you can’t deduct interest you incurred to produce tax-exempt income. For example, if you borrow money to invest in municipal bonds, which are exempt from federal income tax, you can’t deduct the interest.

 
Second, and perhaps more significant, your investment interest deduction is limited to your net investment income, which, for the purposes of this deduction, generally includes taxable interest, non-qualified dividends and net short-term capital gains, reduced by other investment expenses. In other words, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends aren’t included.

 
However, any disallowed interest is carried forward. You can then deduct the disallowed interest in a later year if you have excess net investment income.

 
Changing the tax treatment
You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates.

 
If you’re wondering whether you can claim the investment interest expense deduction on your 2016 return, please contact us. We can run the numbers to calculate your potential deduction or to determine whether you could benefit from treating gains or dividends differently to maximize your deduction.

You don’t have to itemize to claim these deductions on your 2016 return

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Can’t itemize? You can still claim some expenses on your 2016 federal income tax return. Here’s how you can benefit.

 

 

 

 

* IRA and HSA contributions

If you made a contribution to your traditional IRA for 2016, or if you plan to make a 2016 contribution by April 18, 2017, you may qualify to deduct up to the maximum contribution amount of $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). Income limitations apply in some cases, and you can’t deduct contributions to Roth IRAs.

Health Savings Accounts (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 on a tax-deferred basis, and you’re allowed to withdraw money in the account tax-free to pay for your unreimbursed medical expenses. For 2016, you can deduct up to the contribution limit of $3,350 if you’re filing single and $6,750 when you’re married filing jointly. You may also be able to deduct an additional $1,000 if you were age 55 or older and made a catch-up contribution to your HSA.

* Student loan interest and tuition fees

Deduct up to $2,500 of interest on student loans for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents on your 2016 return. For 2016 returns, 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

Alimony you pay, certain moving expenses, and early savings withdrawal penalties are also deductible on your 2016 return, even if you don’t itemize. Teachers can deduct up to $250 for classroom supplies purchased out-of-pocket in 2016.

Contact our office for more information on these and other costs you may be able to deduct on your 2016 tax return.

#TaxTipTuesday-Help prevent tax identity theft by filing early

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If you’re like many Americans, you might not start thinking about filing your tax return until close to this year’s April 18 deadline. You might even want to file for an extension so you don’t have to send your return to the IRS until October 16.

But there’s another date you should keep in mind: January 23. That’s the date the IRS will begin accepting 2016 returns, and filing as close to that date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.

Why early filing helps

In an increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.

A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.

Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

Another important date

Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2016 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2016 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.

Delays for some refunds

The IRS reminded taxpayers claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit to expect a longer wait for their refunds. A law passed in 2015 requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming these credits until at least February 15.

An additional benefit

Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2016 return early. If you’ll be getting a refund, an added bonus of filing early is that you’ll be able to enjoy your refund sooner.

Planning a wedding over the holidays? Plan for taxes too

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Will wedding bells be ringing for you along with holiday sleigh bells this year? If so, add tax planning to your to-do list. Here are tax tips for soon-to-be newlyweds.

 
Check the effect marriage will have on your tax bill. If you both work and earn about the same income, you may need to adjust your tax withholding to avoid an unexpected tax bill next April, as well as potential penalty and interest charges for underpayment of taxes.

 
Notify your employer. Both you and your spouse will need to file new Forms W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employers to reflect your married status.

 
Notify the IRS. You can use Form 8822, Change of Address, to update your mailing address if you move to a new home.

 
Notify the insurance marketplace. If you receive advance payments of the health insurance premium tax credit, marriage may change the amount you can claim.

 
Update your social security information. You’ll need a certified copy of your marriage certificate to accompany Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, if you change your name. Otherwise the IRS won’t be able to cross-match your new name and your social security number when you file your return with your spouse.

 
Review your financial paperwork. Update your estate plan, making appropriate changes to wills, powers-of-attorney, and health care directives. Also review the beneficiary designations on your retirement plans and insurance policies.

Have questions? Contact us. We’ll help you get the financial part of your married life off to a great start.

The timing of your business’s income and deductible expenses can have a big impact on your tax liability. Here’s how to determine the right timing strategies for you this year.

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Typically, it’s better to defer tax. One way is through controlling when your business recognizes income and incurs deductible expenses. Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses do this:

 

  1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
  2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before Dec. 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.

But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (or you expect tax rates to go up), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but can save you tax over the two-year period.

These are only some of the nuances to consider. Please contact us to discuss what timing strategies will work to your tax advantage, based on your specific situation.

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.

Access tax details online

 

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Transcripts of your federal income tax return, tax account, wages and income, and record of account, as well as a verification of non-filing, are once again available for no charge online at the IRS website. Sign up to view, print, or download your transcript, or request that a transcript be mailed to you. Remember, transcripts only provide line-by-line information. If you need a copy of your original return, use Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, instead. Contact us if you have questions.

 

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.