The last month or so of the year offers accrual-basis taxpayers an opportunity to make some timely moves that might enable them to save money on their 2016 tax bill.
Record and recognize
The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2017. This will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2016 federal tax return. Common examples of such expenses include:
• Commissions, salaries and wages,
• Payroll taxes,
• Insurance, and
• Property taxes.
You can also accelerate deductions into 2016 without actually paying for the expenses in 2016 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.) Accelerating deductible expenses into 2016 may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.
Look at prepaid expenses
Also review all prepaid expense accounts and write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year. If you prepay insurance for a period of time beginning in 2016, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2016 and 2017, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.
Miscellaneous tax tips
Here are a few more year-end tax tips to consider:
• Review your outstanding receivables and write off any receivables you can establish as uncollectible.
• Pay interest on all shareholder loans to or from the company.
• Update your corporate record book to record decisions and be better prepared for an audit.
Consult us for more details on how these and other year-end tax strategies may apply to your business.
Beginning this month, you can sign up for a new 2017 health insurance policy on the health insurance Marketplace. You can also change or renew the policy you purchased during the last enrollment period. Even if your current policy has an automatic renewal feature, you’ll want to verify that you’re getting the best deal, and that you are still eligible for the federal premium tax credit.
What if you didn’t sign up last winter and didn’t have health insurance coverage in 2016? You may owe a penalty on your 2016 federal income tax return. The penalty is calculated in one of two ways: as a percentage of your income, or on a per-person basis. You pay whichever is higher.
For 2016, the penalty is 2.5% of your annual household income, up to a maximum of the national average premium for a Bronze plan. The per-person penalty is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child under 18 (up to a maximum per-family penalty of $2,085).
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.
Disasters, natural or otherwise, could ultimately lead to your company’s demise. Fortunately, advance planning can keep you on track. Here are seven scenarios to be prepared for.
1. A natural disaster. To paraphrase the old saying, you can talk about the weather, but there’s not much you can do about it – except have a plan in place in the event a natural disaster damages your business premises. Two tips: Maintain adequate insurance and store valuable business data at a secure off-location site.
2. A key employee quits. Cross-training can avoid business interruptions if a key employee leaves unexpectedly. You might also want to consider asking key employees to sign a reasonable non-compete agreement to protect confidential information. Typically, these agreements prohibit an employee from working for a competitor for a certain period.
3. An employee embezzles company funds. To safeguard your business assets, divide responsibilities so one person doesn’t have complete control over the books. Set up a system of checks and balances.
4. Your biggest customer leaves. To keep your business from going under, update your marketing plan, stay in touch with former customers, establish an emergency budget, and diversify your revenue stream.
5. You become disabled. “Key-person” disability insurance can provide funding to keep your business afloat. The policy may also cover employees who are vital to operations.
6. Your company or partnership splits up. Draft a buy-sell agreement to ensure a smooth transition due to the sale of a business interest, including a forced sale on the death of one of your shareholders or partners. The agreement can establish the terms of a buy-out and set a value for the respective business interests.
7. Your computer system crashes. Extra hardware, such as tablets or laptops, regular off-site backups, and cloud storage for important documents can avoid a crisis when your computer fails.
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.
What springs to mind when you hear “insurance?” Most likely, you think about auto, health, home, and life. But what if an illness or accident were to deprive you of your income? Even a temporary setback could create havoc with your finances. And statistics show that your chances of being disabled for three months or longer between ages 35 and 65 are almost twice those of dying during the same period.
Yet you may overlook disability insurance as part of your financial planning. Here’s how to fill that gap and get the right coverage to protect your financial well-being.
● Scrutinize key policy terms. First, ask how “disability” is defined. Some policies use “any occupation” to determine if you are fit for work following an illness or accident. A better definition is “own occupation.” That way you receive benefits when you cannot perform the job you held at the time you became disabled.
● Check the benefit period. Ideally, you want your policy to cover disabilities until you’ll be eligible for Medicare and social security.
● Determine how much coverage you need. Tally the after-tax income you would have from all sources during a period of disability and subtract this sum from your minimum needs.
● Decide what you can afford. Disability insurance can be expensive. You may opt to forego adding riders and options that boost premiums significantly. If your budget won’t support the ideal benefit payment, consider lengthening the elimination period. Just be sure that accumulated sick leave and savings will carry you until the benefits kick in.
As a business owner, monitoring operations and dealing with everyday problems no doubt takes up the bulk of your day. But carving out time for a comprehensive review can benefit your business. Here are 5 key areas to consider.
Insurance coverage. Automatic renewal may appear to be a time-saver. But you might be missing out on necessary updates and the opportunity to revise your coverage. Sit down with your insurance agent and discuss your business operations, focusing on risks from new ventures or changes in laws. Make sure you have suitable liability coverage.
Tax Strategy. A month after you file your tax return, make an appointment with your tax advisor. Go over your return together and identify opportunities for tax savings. Question everything, starting with whether you’re using the right form of business entity. Ask about recent changes in the tax code and how they might benefit your business. Make your advisor a partner in your business strategy.
Succession planning. Have a specific plan for each key managerial position, including yours. Will you promote from within or recruit externally in the case of an unexpected vacancy? Which managers can be cross-trained to keep your business operating during the short-term absence of another employee?
Banking relationships. Schedule a meeting with your controller or chief financial officer to go over your cash balances and banking relationships. Then both of you meet with your banker. Address service concerns or problems that arose during the year. Look for ways to reduce idle cash, boost interest earned, and improve cash flows.
Personal Estate Planning. Your company is likely a significant part of your estate. A good estate plan is essential if you hope to pass it on to your heirs. But your company, your personal circumstances, and the tax laws are continually changing. Make sure your plans are current.
Contact us for more suggestions. We can assist you in securing your business’s long-term success.
Discussing finances with your parents may be a talk none of you are eager to tackle. But addressing the topic can benefit your entire family by clarifying your parents’ wishes and enabling you to help establish a joint plan for carrying those wishes to fruition. Here are questions that can start the dialogue.
● Legal – Do your parents have a will and an estate plan? Have they executed a trust, a durable power of attorney for finances, or an advance healthcare directive? Will they allow you to review the documents and/or speak with their attorney?
● Medical – What medical insurance policies are in place? Do your parents have long-term care insurance? Who is their personal physician and what significant medical issues exist?
● Income, expenses, and debt – What are the sources and amounts of your parents’ income and expenses? To whom do your parents owe money, and how much do they owe?
● Records – Where do your parents keep tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, and similar records? Who are their tax preparers, financial advisors, and/or stockbrokers? Will your parents allow you current access to those records and advisors?
Talking about finances with your parents can be a daunting prospect. Give us a call if you’d like us to be part of the conversation. We’re here to help.
The fourth quarter is often make-or-break time in sports. Likewise, tax-cutting steps you take in the last three months of the year can transform a financial plan into a bona fide winner.
Late-year tax planning is often a matter of reviewing your inflows and outflows. For instance, income from capital gains can be subject to both capital gains tax and the 3.8% Medicare surtax. To offset capital gains, you might sell investments that have lost value since you purchased them. Net capital losses can be used to reduce ordinary income by up to $3,000. A tax-saving examination of your portfolio is also a good time to rebalance your holdings between asset classes.
Interest and dividend income can be subject to the 3.8% Medicare surtax too. Plan for this by considering investments in municipal bonds that pay tax-free interest. If you are contemplating a mutual fund investment between now and the end of the year, check the fund’s expected dividend date. Purchasing a mutual fund now could bring an unwanted taxable dividend before December 31.
On the outflow side, look for opportunities to maximize deductions. Accelerate your charitable donations and consider donating appreciated securities you have owned for more than one year. This strategy can offer double value – you get the benefit of a deduction and you don’t have to pay tax on the gain.
Take advantage of increased retirement plan contribution limits for 2015. This year you can contribute as much as $5,500 to a Roth or traditional IRA ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or over). The limit for 401(k) plans is $18,000, plus an additional $6,000 if you’re 50 or older. While checking on the status of your retirement plan contributions, review your list of beneficiaries too.
Another important fourth quarter exercise is an analysis of your income tax withholdings and estimated payments. These can be affected by personal events such as a change in marital status, the sale of property, or a new job.
Effective tax planning is a matter of finishing well. Contact our office to discuss steps you can take to make the fourth quarter a strong one for you.
Catastrophes, thefts, natural disasters, accidents, fires – they happen. If such misfortunes strike, a well-researched and up-to-date homeowner’s insurance policy can keep your family’s finances afloat during trying times. Proceeds from a homeowner’s policy can provide necessary funds to replace your house and belongings. A good policy can also protect against unexpected liabilities.
If you’re considering a new homeowner’s policy (or already have one), watch out for some common pitfalls, including the following:
Inadequate policy limits. Some homeowners try to lower their premiums by purchasing a policy that doesn’t fund their home’s replacement value. That’s often a big mistake. If the cost to replace your home has risen over the years and policy limits haven’t kept pace, you could end up footing the bill for much of the replacement cost (or selling your property at fire sale prices).
Personal property not documented. If you need to file a claim, an insurance carrier will want solid evidence that you owned the items being claimed. It’s a good idea to take pictures or videos of all your household goods, and keep receipts of all expensive purchases. Place copies of the pictures and receipts in a safe deposit box and at home in a fireproof safe. You might even send copies to an out-of-town friend or relative. Being able to provide clear evidence of your personal belongings will simplify the claims process and help ensure that you get paid.
Valuables not covered. Check your policy to ensure that expensive jewelry, antiques, and other valuables are included. If not, consider adding a rider to the policy that specifically lists such items.
Deductible too low. Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. True, in the event a claim needs to be filed, you’ll pay a bigger chunk of the repair or replacement cost with a high deductible. On the other hand, with a high deductible you’ll generally pay lower premiums each year.
By doing careful research and avoiding some common mistakes, your homeowner’s insurance policy will be affordable and still provide solid protection should disaster strike.