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 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-Few changes to retirement plan contribution limits for 2017

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Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, most of the limits remain unchanged for 2017. The only limit that has increased from the 2016 level is for contributions to defined contribution plans, which has gone up by $1,000.

 

 

Type of limit 2017 limit
Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans $18,000
Contributions to defined contribution plans $54,000
Contributions to SIMPLEs $12,500
Contributions to IRAs $5,500
Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans $6,000
Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs $3,000
Catch-up contributions to IRAs $1,000

Nevertheless, if you’re not already maxing out your contributions, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2017. And if you turn age 50 in 2017, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.

However, keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions. If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2017, check with us.

 

Should you make a “charitable IRA rollover” in 2016?

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Last year a break valued by many charitably inclined retirees was made permanent: the charitable IRA rollover. If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions.

 
Satisfy your RMD
A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year in which you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (An RMD deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)
So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid out to you.

 
Additional benefits
You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD payout and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation. This has two more possible downsides:

 
• The reported RMD income might increase your income to the point that you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket, certain additional taxes are triggered and/or the benefits of certain tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. It could even cause Social Security payments to become taxable or increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges.

• If your donation would equal a large portion of your income for the year, your deduction might be reduced due to the percentage-of-income limit. You generally can’t deduct cash donations that exceed 50% of your adjusted gross income for the year. (Lower limits apply to donations of long-term appreciated securities or made to private foundations.) You can carry forward the excess up to five years, but if you make large donations every year, that won’t help you.

 
A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.

 
Have questions about charitable IRA rollovers or other giving strategies? Please contact us. We can help you create a giving plan that will meet your charitable goals and maximize your tax savings.

 

 

 

 

Don’t be forced out of a 401(k) from your former job

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When you change jobs and abandon vested amounts in your 401(k), your former employer has to follow IRS rules and plan provisions for dealing with your account balance. Pursuant to these guidelines, the 401(k) plan may have a “force-out” provision. That means when your vested balance is less than $5,000, you can be forced to take your money out of the plan.

Your former employer is required to give you advance notice of this rule so you can decide what to do with the money. Your choices are to cash out your account and receive a check, or roll your account balance into an IRA or your new employer’s plan.

What happens if you fail to respond to the notice? If your vested balance is more than $1,000, your former employer must transfer the money to an IRA. For balances under $1,000, you will either get a check or your former employer will open an IRA on your behalf.

Neither outcome is optimal, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. If you receive the money, you’ll owe federal income tax. When the balance is transferred to an IRA, account fees may outpace investment returns and your balance will be eroded over time.

Protecting assets you worked for and earned is always a smart move. Call us for assistance.

Turn stock market volatility into a tax-saving opportunity with a Roth IRA conversion

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This year’s stock market volatility can be unnerving, but if you have a traditional IRA, this volatility may provide a valuable opportunity: It can allow you to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at a lower tax cost.

 
Traditional IRAs
Contributions to a traditional IRA may be deductible, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and whether you participate in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Funds in the account can grow tax-deferred.
On the downside, you generally must pay income tax on withdrawals, and, with only a few exceptions, you’ll face a penalty if you withdraw funds before age 59½ — and an even larger penalty if you don’t take your required minimum distributions (RMDs) after age 70½.

 
Roth IRAs
Roth IRA contributions, on the other hand, are never deductible. But withdrawals — including earnings — are tax-free as long as you’re age 59½ or older and the account has been open at least five years. In addition, you’re allowed to withdraw contributions at any time tax- and penalty-free.
There are also estate planning advantages to a Roth IRA. No RMD rules apply, so you can leave funds growing tax-free for as long as you wish. Then distributions to whoever inherits your Roth IRA will be income-tax-free as well.
The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA, however, is subject to limits based on your MAGI. Fortunately, anyone is eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. The catch? You’ll have to pay income tax on the amount you convert.

 
Saving tax
This is where the “benefit” of stock market volatility comes in. If your traditional IRA has lost value, converting to a Roth now rather than later will minimize your tax hit. Plus, you’ll avoid tax on future appreciation when the market stabilizes.
Of course, there are more ins and outs of IRAs that need to be considered before executing a Roth IRA conversion. If your interest is piqued, discuss with us whether a conversion is right for you.

Unexpected retirement plan disqualification can trigger serious tax problems

umbrella-1163700_960_720It’s not unusual for the IRS to conduct audits of qualified employee benefit plans, including 401(k)s. Plan sponsors are expected to stay in compliance with numerous, frequently changing federal laws and regulations.

 
For example, have you identified all employees eligible for your 401(k) plan and given them the opportunity to make deferral elections? Are employee contributions limited to the amounts allowed under tax law for the calendar year? Does your 401(k) plan pass nondiscrimination tests? Traditional 401(k) plans must be regularly tested to ensure that the contributions don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.
If the IRS uncovers compliance errors and the plan sponsor doesn’t fix them, the plan could be disqualified.

 
What happens if qualified status is lost?
Tax law and administrative details that may seem trivial or irrelevant may actually be critical to maintaining a plan’s qualified status. If a plan loses its tax-exempt status, each participant is taxed on the value of his or her vested benefits as of the disqualification date. That can result in large (and completely unexpected) tax liabilities for participants.
In addition, contributions and earnings that occur after the disqualification date aren’t tax-free. They must be included in participants’ taxable incomes. The employer’s tax deductions for plan contributions are also at risk. There are also penalties and fees that can be devastating to a business.
Finally, withdrawals made after the disqualification date cannot be rolled over into other tax-favored retirement plans or accounts (such as IRAs).

 
Voluntary corrections
The good news is that 401(k) plan errors can often be voluntarily corrected. We can help determine if changes should be made to your company’s qualified plan to achieve and maintain compliance. Contact us for more information.

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.