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.

imagesP3A56VEQ

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.

Congress retroactively extends tax breaks for 2014

In its final session of the year, Congress extended a long list of tax breaks that had expired, retroactive to the beginning of 2014. But the reprieve is only temporary. The extensions granted in the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 remain in effect through December 31, 2014. For these tax breaks to survive beyond that point, they must be renewed by Congress in 2015.

Although certain extended tax breaks are industry-specific, others will appeal to a wide cross-section of individuals and businesses. Here are some of the most popular items.

  • The new law retains an optional deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of deducting state and local income taxes. This is especially beneficial for residents of states with no income tax.
  •  The maximum $500,000 Section 179 deduction for qualified business property, which had dropped to $25,000, is reinstated for 2014. The deduction is phased out above a $2 million threshold.
  • A 50% bonus depreciation for qualified business property is revived. The deduction may be claimed in conjunction with Section 179.
  • Parents may be able to claim a tuition-and-fees deduction for qualified expenses. The amount of the deduction is linked to adjusted gross income.
  •  An individual age 70½ and over could transfer up to $100,000 tax-free from an IRA to a charity in 2014. The transfer counts as a required minimum distribution (RMD).
  •  Homeowners can exclude tax on mortgage debt cancellation or forgiveness of up to $2 million. This tax break is only available for a principal residence.
  •  The new law preserves bigger tax benefits for mass transit passes. Employees may receive up to $250 per month tax-free as opposed to only $130 per month.
  •  A taxpayer is generally entitled to credit of 10% of the cost of energy-saving improvements installed in the home, subject to a $500 lifetime limit.
  •  Educators can deduct up to $250 of their out-of-pocket expenses. This deduction is claimed “above the line” so it is available to non-itemizers.

The remaining extenders range from enhanced deductions for donating land for conservation purposes to business tax credits for research expenses and hiring veterans.

Finally, the new law authorizes tax-free accounts for disabled individuals who use the money for qualified expenses like housing and transportation. Another provision in the law provides greater investment flexibility for Section 529 accounts used to pay for college.

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.

Investing in Mutual Funds? Watch for year-end tax issues

untitledMutual funds offer an efficient means of combining investment diversification with professional management. Their income tax effects can be complex, however, and poorly timed purchases or sales can create unpleasant year-end surprises.

Mutual fund investors (excluding qualifying retirement plans) are taxed based on activities within each fund. If a fund investment generates taxable income or the fund sells one of its investments, the income or gain must be passed through to the shareholders. The taxable event occurs on the date the proceeds are distributed to the shareholders, who then owe tax on their individual allocations.

If you buy mutual fund shares toward the end of the year, your cost may include the value of undistributed earnings that have previously accrued within the fund. If the fund then distributes those earnings at year-end, you’ll pay tax on your share even though you paid for the built-up earnings when you bought the shares and thus realized no profit. Additionally, if the fund sold investments during the year at a profit, you’ll be taxed on your share of its year-end distribution of the gain, even if you didn’t own the fund at the time the investments were sold.

Therefore, if you’re considering buying a mutual fund late in the year, ask if it’s going to make a large year-end distribution, and if so, buy after the distribution is completed. Conversely, if you’re selling appreciated shares that you’ve held for over a year, do so before a scheduled distribution, to ensure that your entire profit will be treated as long-term capital gain.

Most mutual fund earnings are taxable (unless earned within a retirement account) even if you automatically reinvest them. Funds must report their annual distributions on Forms 1099, which also indicate the nature of the distributions (interest, capital gains, etc.) so you can determine the proper tax treatment.

Outside the funds, shareholders generate capital gains or losses whenever they sell their shares. The gains or losses are computed by subtracting selling expenses and the “basis” of the shares (generally purchase costs) from the selling price. Determining the basis requires keeping records of each purchase of fund shares, including purchases made by reinvestments of fund earnings. Although mutual funds are now required to track and report shareholders’ cost basis, that requirement only applies to funds acquired after 2011.

When mutual funds are held within IRAs, 401(k) plans, and other qualified retirement plans, their earnings are tax-deferred. However, distributions from such plans are taxed as ordinary income, regardless of how the original earnings would have been taxed if the mutual funds had been held outside the plan. (Roth IRAs are an exception to this treatment.)

If you’re considering buying or selling mutual funds and would like to learn more about them, give us a call.