Common Charges You’ll Want To Know Before You Invest

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Are you familiar with the charges imposed by the mutual funds you own? Since fund expenses affect your investment return, understanding the costs is an important step in making sound investment decisions.

Here are some common charges you’ll want to know about before you invest.

  • Load- A load is a sales charge imposed by the fund. You might think of it as similar to the fee you pay a broker to purchase a stock. Mutual funds fit in two broad categories: load and no-load.

Load funds include front-end, back-end, and level-load. A front-end load, as the name implies, is charged when you make your initial investment. A back-end load is charged when you sell your investment before a specified period of time has passed. A level-load charges you an ongoing fee (for instance, 1% per year) as long as you own the shares. A no-load fund has no sales charge. Keep in mind that no-load is not the same as no-fee. No-load funds can still charge purchase fees, redemption fees, exchange fees, and account fees. Look for information on fees and charges in a fee table located near the front of a fund’s prospectus under the heading “Shareholder Fees.”

  • Expense ratio- The expense ratio tells you the cost of operating and managing the fund. These costs include marketing fees (sometimes called 12b-1 fees), management fees, administrative fees, operating costs, and other asset-based costs incurred by the mutual fund. A high expense ratio can hurt your overall return.
  • Turnover and taxes- A fund’s turnover ratio indicates how often the fund buys and sells stocks. A high turnover ratio reflects active trading. Because funds pass capital gains through to shareholders, active trading could result in taxable income for you. A low turnover ratio indicates a “buy and hold” strategy that can postpone the tax bite.

If you have questions about mutual fund terminology, give us a call.

Every new business needs a record system

Many small start-up businesses are off and running before any record system has been set up. There is money deposited into the new business checking account, some from invested funds and some from sales. Money has been paid out for equipment and supplies, some by check and some by cash out of pocket or from sales receipts.

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This informal method of cash receipts and disbursements needs to be formalized. The bookkeeping system does not need to be complicated. In most cases, you can continue to operate much as you have. You just need to do it in a way that leaves a few more tracks.

For example, make all purchases by check. The small miscellaneous cash paid-outs from your pocket (or the petty cash box) are reimbursed by a check with a listing of the expense codes. All your cash receipts are deposited into the bank. No more taking cash from the till for lunches, supplies, etc.

If all the money received by the business is deposited into the bank and all expenses are paid by a company check, the proper journal entries are easy to create from the bank statement.

If you are starting a new business, don’t wait until the end of the year and surprise your accountant with a box of miscellaneous receipts. That is the most expensive and least effective use of your accounting information. In addition to setting up the proper record system, your accountant will provide you with guidance on other business, tax, and financial matters.

Do you owe the “nanny tax”?

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A good domestic worker can help take care of your children, assist an elderly parent, or keep your household running smoothly. Unfortunately, domestic workers can also make your tax situation more complicated.

Domestic workers of all types generally fall under the “nanny tax” rules. First, you must determine whether your household helper is an “employee” or an “independent contractor.” If you provide the place and tools for work and you also control how the work is done, your helper is probably an employee. For example, at one end of the spectrum, a live-in housekeeper is probably an employee. At the other end of the spectrum, a once-a-month gardening service may qualify as an independent contractor.

If your household worker is an employee, then you, as the employer, may be required to comply with various payroll tax requirements. For the years 2014 and 2015, the important threshold amount is $1,900. If you pay your employee $1,900 or more during either year, you are generally responsible for paying social security and Medicare taxes on your worker’s wages. In addition to social security taxes, you may be required to pay federal and state unemployment taxes as well as other state taxes. With these taxes go various deposit and filing requirements, including the requirement that you provide your employee with an annual W-2 form that shows total wages and withholding. February 2, 2015, is the deadline for providing W-2 forms to workers to whom the nanny tax applies for 2014.

As you might expect, most people need assistance complying with the nanny tax rules. If you need details about the rules or help in dealing with them, contact our office.

Setting your salary: What’s the right amount for a small business owner?

One of the greatest perks of owning a small business is flexibility. You can set your own hours and salary. untitledYou can plot the firm’s trajectory without consulting your boss, upper management, or even corporate policy. But that same flexibility may become a curse if handled unwisely. A small business owner without discipline and a well-thought-out strategy may fall into serious financial trouble. Employees in larger firms often rely on the human resources department to establish pay scales, retirement plans, and health insurance policies. In a small company, all those choices – and many more – fall to the owner, including decisions about personal compensation.

While there’s not a one-size-fits-all formula for determining how much to pay yourself as a business owner, here are three factors to consider:

  • Personal expenses. Determine how much you’re willing to draw from personal savings to keep your household afloat as the company grows. For a start-up company, owner compensation may be minimal. Beware, however, of going too long without paying yourself a reasonable salary. Be sure to document that you’re in business to make a profit; otherwise the IRS may view your perpetually unprofitable business as a hobby aimed at avoiding taxes.
  • The market. If you were working for someone else, what would they pay for your skills and knowledge? Start by answering that question; then discuss salary levels with small business groups and colleagues in your geographic area and industry. Check out the Department of Labor and Small Business Administration websites. In the early stages of your business, you probably won’t draw a salary that’s commensurate with the higher range of salaries, but at least you’ll learn what’s reasonable.
  • Affordability. Review and continually update your firm’s cash flow projections to determine the salary level you can reasonably sustain while keeping the business profitable. As the company grows, that level can be adjusted upward.
  • For assistance with this issue or other business concerns, contact our office.

Some very last-minute tax moves to consider

hurry-upThere’s not much time left to make tax-saving moves for 2014. Some ideas to consider:

  • Make your January mortgage payment before December 31 to squeeze an extra interest deduction into 2014.
  • Make tax-free gifts to use your annual gift tax exclusion for 2014. This year you can give up to $14,000 to as many individuals as you like without tax consequences. These gifts to individuals are not deductible by you; nor are they taxable to the recipients.
  • Sell appreciated stock to offset capital losses taken earlier in the year and vice versa. Any excess loss can offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income in 2014, and losses greater than that can be carried to future years.
  • Use your credit card to pay tax-deductible expenses by December 31 if you’re short of cash. You can deduct the expenses on your 2014 return even though you pay your credit card bill in 2015.
  • If you’re required to take a minimum distribution from your retirement plan, do so by December 31 or you face a 50% penalty. If you just turned 70½ this year, you could wait until April 1, 2015, to take a first distribution.
  • If a wedding or divorce is in your year-end plans, be aware that your marital status as of December 31 determines your tax status for the whole year. Changing the dates of a year-end event may save taxes.
  • To discuss these or other tax-cutting moves you might want to consider, give us a call now before it’s too late to act.

Could you benefit from a cost segregation?

Almost any taxpayer who owns commercial real estate can reduce his or her current income tax bill by using cost segregation. Just how much you save in taxes will depend on several variables. The greater the cost of your property, the greater the potential for current tax savings.

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Any building that was constructed, purchased, or remodeled since 1987 may be eligible for cost segregation. Retroactive tax deductions are available on older buildings without the need to file amended tax returns.

To pass an IRS audit for these deductions, you will want to use a cost-segregation specialist. This will usually be a construction engineer who can perform a detailed engineering study of all the building components (walls, ceilings, floors, plumbing, electric, telecommunications, heating and cooling systems, etc.) and assign the appropriate value to each. Those elements that qualify for five, seven, or fifteen year write off will provide the property owner with greater depreciation deductions and hence lower taxes in the early years.

The downside may be the cost to do the study versus the accelerated cash flow and possible penalties from the IRS for those who use cost segregation too aggressively.

The main elements of a proper cost segregation study are:

  • Conducted by someone with valid credentials as to experience and expertise.
  • A detailed description of the proper methodology.
  • Complete and proper documentation.
  • A full listing of all property that qualifies for shorter write off periods.

A properly conducted cost segregation study can provide a property owner with cash today that he or she would not otherwise get for several years.

An initial consultation with a cost segregation specialist can help you determine if your property is a candidate for a full blown study.