Is an automatic tax filing extension the right move for you?

question-mark-2010009__340Can’t finish your federal income tax return by the April 18 deadline? There’s still time to get an automatic six-month 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 IRS Direct Pay, you can pay all or part of your estimated income tax due and indicate 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.

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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.

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

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-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.

 

#TaxTipTuesday-Do you need to file a 2016 gift tax return by April 18?

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Last year you may have made significant gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs as part of your estate planning strategy. Or perhaps you just wanted to provide loved ones with some helpful financial support. Regardless of the reason for making a gift, it’s important to know under what circumstances you’re required to file a gift tax return.
Some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax. And sometimes it’s desirable to file a return even if it isn’t required.

 
When filing is required
Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2016 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
• That exceeded the $14,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
• That exceeded the $148,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
• That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $28,000 annual exclusions,
• To a Section 529 college savings plan for your child, grandchild or other loved one and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($70,000) into 2016,
• Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
• Of jointly held or community property.

 
When filing isn’t required
No return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, qualifying educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, and political or charitable contributions.
If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.

 
Meeting the deadline
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2016 returns, it’s April 18, 2017 (or October 16 if you file for an extension). If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is also April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension.
Have questions about gift tax and the filing requirements? Contact us to learn more.

Tax bracket, tax rate, what’s the difference?

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The difference between your tax bracket and your tax rate is more than a trick question. For example, knowing your tax rate gives you an accurate reflection of your tax liability in relation to your total income. Knowing your tax bracket is useful for planning purposes. For instance, you may want to spread a Roth conversion over several years in order to stay within the income limits of a particular tax bracket.

So, what’s the difference between the two? The main difference is that a tax bracket is a range of income to which a specific tax rate applies, while your effective tax rate is the percentage of your income that you actually pay in tax. Put another way, not every dollar is taxed at the same rate. Your tax bracket shows the rate of tax on the last dollar you made during the tax year. Your effective tax rate reflects the actual amount you paid on all your taxable income.

For example, say you’re single and in the 25% bracket for 2016. That means your taxable income is between $37,650 and $91,150.

Yet the tax you pay is less than 25% of your income.

Why? Because the 25% tax rate only applies to the amount of taxable income within the 25% bracket. The tax on income below $37,650 is calculated using the rate that applies to income in the 10% and 15% brackets.

So, if your 2016 taxable income is $40,000, only $2,350 is taxed at 25%. The remainder is taxed at 10% and 15%, leading to a “blended” overall rate. The result: a tax bracket of 25%, and an effective tax rate of less than that.

Good tax advice can affect both your bracket and your rate. Want to know how? Contact us.

#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.

#TaxTipTuesday-Ensure your year-end donations will be deductible on your 2016 return

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Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. To ensure your donations will be deductible on your 2016 return, you must make them by year end to qualified charities.

When’s the delivery date?

To be deductible on your 2016 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2016. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it.

Credit card. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Is the organization “qualified”?

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2016 tax bill.