You might believe a “dependent” is a minor child who lives with you. While that is essentially correct, dependents can include parents, other relatives and nonrelatives, and even children who don’t live with you. Here’s an overview of the dependency exemption. Exemptions and your taxable income Each dependent deduction is worth $4,000 on your 2015 federal income tax return, and reduces your taxable income by this amount. You’ll lose part of the benefit when your adjusted gross income reaches a certain level. For 2015, the phase-out begins at $309,900 when you’re married filing jointly and $258,250 when you’re single. Definition of a dependent A dependent is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. While there are specific rules, very broadly speaking, a dependent is someone who lives with you and who meets several tests, including the 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.
Today it’s becoming more common to work from home. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it.
If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.
Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space. A valuable break
If you are eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You may be able to deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space.
Or you can take the simpler “safe harbor” deduction in lieu of calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 per square foot up to a maximum of 300 square feet.
For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income.
Finally, be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction, contact us for more information.
What supporting documentation do you need to claim charitable deductions on your federal income tax return?
In general, you can support monetary contributions of any amount with a cancelled check, credit card statement, proof of payroll deduction, or a receipt from the charity. The paperwork must show the organization’s name and the amount and date of your contribution.
When you contribute cash of $250 or more, get a written acknowledgement from the charity. The receipt must show the name of the charity, the date of your donation, and the amount donated, as well as a description and the estimated value of any nondeductible item (such as a book or dinner) provided to you.
For property donations, keep copies of support for the value you claimed. The allowable deduction for a property donation is generally limited to the lesser of cost (or other basis) or fair market value. That means you’ll need records showing what you paid for the item, as well as support for the current value. For example, you might use ads from second-hand stores or consignment shops to determine the fair market value of donated clothing and household items.
Be aware that the higher the value of a property donation, the more support you need. When you donate an item with a value under $250, ask for a receipt from the charity showing the organization’s name, the date and location of the contribution, and a description of the property. For items valued up to $500, the receipt also needs to include a statement indicating whether you were given any goods or services in exchange for your contribution. In addition, the receipt must provide a description and estimated value for those goods or services. If you donate property with a value between $500 and $5,000, your paperwork must show how and when you got the property and its cost or other basis. Items valued over $5,000 generally need a written appraisal from a qualified appraiser.
Additional requirements apply when you donate property that has appreciated in value. Call us for more information.
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.
Certain tax numbers are adjusted for inflation each year. This year, many of the numbers are unchanged or change only slightly from 2015 amounts.
Here are some of the tax numbers to use in your 2016 tax planning.
● The maximum earnings subject to social security tax in 2016 is $118,500, unchanged from 2015. The $15,720 earnings limit for those under full retirement age is also unchanged. If you’ve reached full retirement age, there is no earnings limit.
● The “nanny tax” threshold is $2,000 in 2016, up from $1,900 for 2015. If you pay household employees $2,000 or more during the year, you’re generally responsible for payroll taxes.
● The “kiddie tax” threshold remains $2,100 for 2016. If your under-age 19 child (under age 24 for students) has more than $2,100 of unearned income, such as dividends and interest income, this year, the excess could be taxed at your highest rate.
● The maximum individual retirement account (IRA) contribution you can make in 2016 remains unchanged – $5,500 if you’re under age 50 and $6,500 if you are 50 or older.
● The maximum amount of wages employees can put into a 401(k) plan remains at $18,000. The 2016 maximum allowed for SIMPLE plans is $12,500. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute up to $24,000 to your 401(k) and $15,500 to your SIMPLE plan.
● For 2016, the maximum amount you can contribute to a health savings account is $3,350 for individuals and $6,750 for families. The catch-up contribution when you’re age 55 or older is $1,000.
Contact us for additional information about these and other inflation-adjusted tax numbers.
1. Check whether your children need to file a 2015 tax return. They’ll need to file if wages exceeded $6,300, self-employment income was over $400, or investment income exceeded $1,050. When income includes both wages and investment income, other thresholds apply.
2. Consider whether you’ll contribute to a Roth or traditional IRA. Since you have until April 18 to make a 2015 contribution (April 19 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts), you can schedule an amount to set aside from each paycheck for the next few months. The maximum contribution for 2015 is the lesser of your earned income for the year or $5,500 ($6,500 when you’re age 50 or older). Be sure to tell your bank or other trustee that these 2016 contributions are for 2015 until you reach the 2015 limit. You can then deduct these 2016 amounts on your 2015 tax return for a quicker tax benefit.
3. Do you need to file a gift tax return? For 2015, you may need to file a return if you gave gifts totaling more than $14,000 to someone other than your spouse. Some gifts, such as direct payments of medical bills or tuition, are not subject to gift tax. Gift tax returns are due at the same time as your federal income tax return.
Call us for more tips on getting ready for filing your 2015 income taxes.
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) extended a wide variety of tax breaks, in some cases making them permanent. Extended breaks include many tax credits — which are particularly valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar (compared to deductions, for example, which reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed).
Here are two extended credits that can save businesses taxes on their 2015 returns:
1. The research credit. This credit (also commonly referred to as the “research and development” or “research and experimentation” credit) has been made permanent. It rewards businesses that increase their investments in research. The credit, generally equal to a portion of qualified research expenses, is complicated to calculate, but the tax savings can be substantial.
2. The Work Opportunity credit. This credit has been extended through 2019. It’s available for hiring from certain disadvantaged groups, such as food stamp recipients, ex-felons and veterans who’ve been unemployed for four weeks or more. The maximum credit ranges from $2,400 for most groups to $9,600 for disabled veterans who’ve been unemployed for six months or more.
Want to know if you might qualify for either of these credits? Or what other breaks extended by the PATH Act could save taxes on your 2015 return? Contact us!
Exchanging gifts, entertaining family and friends, and extending goodwill to others are the activities that make holidays joyful. But sometimes the enjoyment is followed by financial headaches. January’s bank statements and credit card bills bring the unhappy realization that you lost control of your finances.
How can you prevent this financial hangover? Start with a budget. Estimate the cost of what you plan to purchase. Include gifts, holiday decorations, entertaining, and special events. If the total cost is manageable, stick to your budget as you shop.
But what if the cost grows – and grows some more? There’s no need to resort to miserly behavior to trim that out-of-control gift list. One option is to draw names of family members and give one nice gift to each person, rather than multiple small gifts to everyone. Elderly relatives might appreciate “gift certificates” that can be redeemed for your help with home or garden chores. Other cost-saving ideas: make or bake gifts instead of buying them; give combined gifts from parents and children instead of individual gifts; agree on a spending limit with close friends.
While you no doubt want to splurge on the kids during this time of year, don’t feel you have to give your children every gift they ask for. When they make their list, have them prioritize the things they really want. At the store, take a lesson from your own childhood, when your favorite gifts were simple toys that encouraged you to use your imagination.
Remember, too, the holidays are more than gift-receiving time. Create a family tradition of choosing and wrapping a present for those less fortunate. Encourage your children to make gifts for family and friends. Arrange family outings and fun activities so the holidays become a series of enjoyable events.
An emphasis on holiday experiences in place of shopping extravaganzas will let you enjoy the season more – both this month and next, when the bills come due.
While tax consequences should never drive investment decisions, it’s critical that they be considered — especially by higher-income taxpayers, who may be facing the 39.6% short-term capital gains rate, the 20% long-term capital gains rate and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
Holding on to an investment until you’ve owned it more than one year so the gains qualify for long-term treatment may help substantially cut tax on any gain. Here are some other tax-saving strategies:
Use unrealized losses to absorb gains.
Avoid wash sales.
See if a loved one qualifies for the 0% rate (or the 15% rate if your rate is 20%).
Many of the strategies that can help you save or defer income tax on your investments can also help you avoid or defer NIIT liability. And because the threshold for the NIIT is based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), strategies that reduce your MAGI — such as making retirement plan contributions — can also help you avoid or reduce NIIT liability.
These are only a few of the year-end strategies that may help you reduce taxes on your investments. For more ideas, contact us.
Celebrate your 65th birthday with federal income tax benefits. Here are some of the breaks available once you reach age 65.
Higher standard deduction. Your standard deduction is the sum of the basic standard deduction plus an additional standard deduction if you are age 65 or older at the end of the tax year. You are considered to be 65 on the day before your 65th birthday. For your 2015 tax return, you can add an extra $1,550 to your standard deduction if you’re single. If you and your spouse are both 65 or older, your combined extra deduction is $2,500.
Tax credit for the elderly. You may qualify for this direct reduction of your federal income tax if you’re age 65 or older. There are limitations if tax-free pension benefits such as social security exceed certain levels. Income limitations may also apply.
Medical expense deduction. Generally, when you itemize, unreimbursed medical expenses can be deducted only when they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. However, for 2015, when you’re 65 or over, you can deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your income. Are you married? Only one spouse needs to be 65 or older to qualify.
Please contact our office to make sure you’re receiving all the tax breaks for which you qualify at any age.