#TaxTipTuesday-Be sure to claim all the home-related tax breaks you’re entitled to

home

 

Saving tax with home-related deductions and exclusions

Currently, home ownership comes with many tax-saving opportunities. Consider both deductions and exclusions when you’re filing your 2016 return and tax planning for 2017:

Property tax deduction. Property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible.

Home equity debt interest deduction. Interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. But keep in mind that, if home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes.

Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.

Home office deduction. If your home office use meets certain tests, you generally can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, and the depreciation allocable to the space. Or you may be able to use a simplified method for claiming the deduction.

Rental income exclusion. If you rent out all or a portion of your principal residence or second home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses directly associated with the rental, such as advertising and cleaning, won’t be deductible.

Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Be aware that gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.

Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.

The debt forgiveness exclusion and mortgage insurance premium deduction aren’t the only home-related breaks that might not be available in the future. There have been proposals to eliminate other breaks, such as the property tax deduction, as part of tax reform.

Whether such changes will be signed into law and, if so, when they’d go into effect is uncertain. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So contact us for information on the latest tax reform developments or which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim.

#TaxTipTuesday- Did you know you may be able to deduct miles driven for purposes other than business?

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Deduct all of the mileage you’re entitled to — but not more

Rather than keeping track of the actual cost of operating a vehicle, employees and self-employed taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate to compute their deduction related to using a vehicle for business. But you might also be able to deduct miles driven for other purposes, including medical, moving and charitable purposes.

 

 

What are the deduction rates?

The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:

Business: 54 cents (2016), 53.5 cents (2017)

Medical: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)

Moving: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)

Charitable: 14 cents (2016 and 2017)

The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the medical, moving and charitable rates because the business rate contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the medical, moving or charitable use of a vehicle.

In addition to deductions based on the standard mileage rate, you may deduct related parking fees and tolls.

 

 

What other limits apply?

The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify.

For example, miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense deduction. But medical expenses generally are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. (For 2016, the deduction threshold is 7.5% for qualifying seniors.)

And while miles driven related to moving can be deductible, the move must be work-related. In addition, among other requirements, the distance from your old residence to the new job must be at least 50 miles more than the distance from your old residence to your old job.

 

 

Other considerations

There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates.

So contact us to help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2016 tax return — but not more. You don’t want to risk back taxes and penalties later.

And if you drove potentially eligible miles in 2016 but can’t deduct them because you didn’t track them, start tracking your miles now so you can potentially take advantage of the deduction when you file your 2017 return next year.

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.

#TaxTipTuesday-Deduction for state and local sales tax benefits some, but not all, taxpayers

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The break allowing taxpayers to take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes was made “permanent” a little over a year ago. This break can be valuable to those residing in states with no or low income taxes or who purchase major items, such as a car or boat.

 
Your 2016 tax return
How do you determine whether you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2016 return? Compare your potential deduction for state and local income tax to your potential deduction for state and local sales tax.

 
Don’t worry — you don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases (for which you will need substantiation).

 
2017 and beyond
If you’re considering making a large purchase in 2017, you shouldn’t necessarily count on the sales tax deduction being available on your 2017 return. When the PATH Act made the break “permanent” in late 2015, that just meant that there’s no scheduled expiration date for it. Congress could pass legislation to eliminate the break (or reduce its benefit) at any time.

 
Recent Republican proposals have included elimination of many itemized deductions, and the new President has proposed putting a cap on itemized deductions. Which proposals will make it into tax legislation in 2017 and when various provisions will be signed into law and go into effect is still uncertain.

 
Questions about the sales tax deduction or other breaks that might help you save taxes on your 2016 tax return? Or about the impact of possible tax law changes on your 2017 tax planning? Contact us — we can help you maximize your 2016 savings and effectively plan for 2017.

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

deductions

 

 

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-Reduce Your 2016 Tax Bill by Accelerating Your Property Tax Deduction

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Smart timing of deductible expenses can reduce your tax liability, and poor timing can unnecessarily increase it. When you don’t expect to be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) in the current year, accelerating deductible expenses into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? Because it will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. One deductible expense you may be able to control is your property tax payment.

 
You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2016 but that are due in 2017, and deduct the payment on your return for this year. But you generally can’t prepay property taxes that relate to 2017 and deduct the payment on this year’s return.

 
Should you or shouldn’t you?
As noted earlier, accelerating deductible expenses like property tax payments generally is beneficial. Prepaying your property tax 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.

 
However, under the President-elect’s proposed tax plan, some taxpayers (such as certain single and head of household filers) might be subject to higher tax rates. These taxpayers may save more tax from the property tax deduction by holding off on paying their property tax until it’s due next year.

 
Likewise, taxpayers who expect to see a big jump in their income next year that would push them into a higher tax bracket also may benefit by not prepaying their property tax bill.

 
More considerations
Property tax isn’t deductible for AMT purposes. If you’re subject to the AMT this year, a prepayment may hurt you because you’ll lose the benefit of the deduction. So before prepaying your property tax, make sure you aren’t at AMT risk for 2016.

 
Also, don’t forget the income-based itemized deduction reduction. If your income is high enough that the reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment will be reduced.

 
Not sure whether you should prepay your property tax bill or what other deductions you might be able to accelerate into 2016 (or should consider deferring to 2017)? Contact us. We can help you determine the best year-end tax planning strategies for your specific situation.

Are you contemplating year-end-tax-related moves? Focus on the big picture.

big-picture

 

Some tax-cutting strategies make good financial sense. Others are simply bad ideas, often because tax considerations are allowed to override basic economics.

 

 

 

Here’s one example of the tax tail wagging the economic dog. Let’s say that you operate an unincorporated consulting business. You want an additional tax write-off, so you decide to buy $10,000 of office furniture that you don’t really need. If you’re in the 28% tax bracket and you deduct the entire cost, this purchase will trim your tax bill by $2,800 (28% of $10,000). But even after the tax break, you’ll still be out of pocket $7,200 ($10,000 minus $2,800) – and stuck with furniture that you don’t really need.

Other situations in which the focus on tax considerations ignores the bigger financial picture include:

● Increasing the size of a home mortgage, solely to get a larger tax deduction for mortgage interest.

● Hesitating to pay off a mortgage, just to keep the interest deduction.

● Turning down extra income, due to worries about being “pushed into a higher tax bracket.”

● Holding an appreciated asset indefinitely, solely to avoid paying the capital gains tax.

Tax-cutting strategies are part of a bigger financial picture. If you’re contemplating year-end tax-related moves, we can help make sure that everything stays in focus.

Wrap up #TaxBenefits for Year-End Charitable Gifts

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Are you contemplating gifts to charity at the end of this year? Not only do you help out a worthy cause, you can also reduce your 2016 tax bill if you itemize your deductions. Here’s how to make sure you’ll get the full benefit.

 
The general rule. Generally, you can deduct the full amount of contributions you make to a qualified charitable organization, up to 50% of your adjusted gross income for the year. Did you make a large contribution? You can carry the excess forward for five years. Just remember that you have to get written acknowledgment from the charity for monetary gifts of $250 or more.
     Tip: A contribution made by credit card late in the year is still deductible if posted to your account this year. You can charge an online donation on December 31, and take a deduction on your 2016 return, even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2017.

 
“This for that” gifts. When you make a gift of more than $75 that entitles you to receive goods or services in return, the charity must provide a good faith estimate of the goods or services received and the amount of payment exceeding the value of the gift. You can deduct the portion that exceeds the fair market value.

 
Gifts of your time. Although you can’t deduct the value of volunteer services you provide, you can write off out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of a charity. Examples include long-distance travel, lodging, and local transportation.

 
Gifts of property. In general, the annual deduction for gifts of property is 30% of your adjusted gross income. You can carry the remainder forward for five years. If you donate appreciated property you’ve owned for more than a year, in most cases you can deduct the property’s fair market value. You’ll need an independent appraisal for gifts over $5,000.
     Tip: To claim the full deduction, the gift must be used to further the charity’s tax-exempt mission. For instance, if you donate a painting to your alma mater, it must be displayed where students can study it.
If you have questions about charitable giving tax rules, contact us. We’ll help you lock in deductions before January 1.

#TaxTipTuesday-Beware of income-based limits on itemized deductions and personal exemptions

Tax deduction concept

Many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated for higher-income taxpayers. Two of particular note are the itemized deduction reduction and the personal exemption phaseout.

Income thresholds

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the applicable threshold, most of your itemized deductions will be reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately). The limitation doesn’t apply to deductions for medical expenses, investment interest, or casualty, theft or wagering losses.

Exceeding the applicable AGI threshold also could cause your personal exemptions to be reduced or even eliminated. The personal exemption phaseout reduces exemptions by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which a taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the applicable threshold (2% for each $1,250 for married taxpayers filing separately).

The limits in action

These AGI-based limits can be very costly to high-income taxpayers. Consider this example:

Steve and Mary are married and have four dependent children. In 2016, they expect to have an AGI of $1 million and will be in the top tax bracket (39.6%). Without the AGI-based exemption phaseout, their $24,300 of personal exemptions ($4,050 × 6) would save them $9,623 in taxes ($24,300 × 39.6%). But because their personal exemptions are completely phased out, they’ll lose that tax benefit.

The AGI-based itemized deduction reduction can also be expensive. Steve and Mary could lose the benefit of as much as $20,661 [3% × ($1 million − $311,300)] of their itemized deductions that are subject to the reduction — at a tax cost as high as $8,182 ($20,661 × 39.6%).

These two AGI-based provisions combined could increase the couple’s tax by $17,805!

Year-end tips

If your AGI is close to the applicable threshold, AGI-reduction strategies — such as contributing to a retirement plan or Health Savings Account — may allow you to stay under it. If that’s not possible, consider the reduced tax benefit of the affected deductions before implementing strategies to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016. If you expect to be under the threshold in 2017, you may be better off deferring certain deductible expenses to next year.

For more details on these and other income-based limits, help assessing whether you’re likely to be affected by them or more tips for reducing their impact, please contact us.