Are you a gambler? Don’t roll the dice with your taxes!

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For anyone who takes a spin at roulette, cries out “Bingo!” or engages in other wagering activities, it’s important to be familiar with the applicable tax rules. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk for interest or penalties — or missing out on tax-saving opportunities.

 
Wins
You must report 100% of your wagering winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income because comps are considered gambling winnings. Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate, which may be as high as 39.6%.

 
Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, keep in mind that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.

 
Losses
You can write off wagering losses as an itemized deduction. However, allowable wagering losses are limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried over to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth don’t count as gambling losses and, therefore, can’t be deducted.

 
Documentation
To claim a deduction for wagering losses, you must adequately document them, including:
1. The date and type of specific wager or wagering activity.
2. The name and address or location of the gambling establishment.
3. The names of other persons (if any) present with you at the gambling establishment. (Obviously, this is not possible when the gambling occurs at a public venue such as a casino, race track, or bingo parlor.)
4. The amount won or lost.

 
The IRS allows you to document income and losses from wagering on table games by recording the number of the table that you played and keeping statements showing casino credit that was issued to you. For lotteries, your wins and losses can be documented by winning statements and unredeemed tickets.

 
Please contact us if you have questions or want more information. If you qualify as a “professional” gambler, some of the rules are a little different.

 

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Could you save more by deducting state and local sales taxes?

 

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For the last several years, taxpayers have been allowed to take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes. 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. But it had expired December 31, 2014. Now the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) has made the break permanent.

So see if you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2015 return. 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.

Questions about this or other PATH Act breaks that might help you save taxes on your 2015 tax return? Contact us — we can help you identify which tax breaks will provide you the maximum benefit

 

2 Ways To Reduce Taxes Dollar-For-Dollar

post-it-819682_640The 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!

Are You Thinking About Refinancing Your Home? Here Are Two Tax Consequences To Consider

post-it-819682_640Now may be a great time to refinance because mortgage rates are still low but expected to increase. Before deciding to refinance, however, here are a couple of tax consequences to consider:

1. Cash-out refinancing. If you borrow more than you need to cover your outstanding mortgage balance, the tax treatment of the cash-out portion depends on how you use the excess cash. If you use it for home improvements, it’s considered acquisition indebtedness and the interest is deductible subject to a $1 million debt limit. If you use it for another purpose, such as buying a car or paying college tuition, it’s considered home equity debt and deductible interest is subject to a $100,000 debt limit.

2. Prepaying interest. “Points” paid when refinancing generally are amortized and deducted ratably over the life of the loan, rather than being immediately deductible. If you’re already amortizing points from a previous refinancing and you refinance with a new lender, you can deduct the unamortized balance in the year you refinance. But if you refinance with the same lender, you must add the unamortized points from the old loan to any points you pay on the new loan and then deduct the total over the life of the new loan.

Is your head spinning? Don’t worry; we can help you understand exactly what the tax consequences of refinancing will be for you. Contact us today!

Don’t take the standard deduction on your tax return just because it’s easier; keep track of itemized deductions for comparison

cutting-153742_640If you itemize deductions, you may be able to deduct some of the miscellaneous expenses you pay during the year. These miscellaneous deductions can be taken only if their total exceeds two percent of your adjusted gross income. Deductions include such expenses as the following:

  • Unreimbursed employee expenses.
  • Job hunting expenses (in your same line of work).
  • Certain work clothes and uniforms.
  • Tools needed for your job.
  • Union or professional dues.
  • Work-related travel and transportation (not commuting costs).

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.

Scammers preying on taxpayers

phone-449836__180The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is advising consumers about a tax scam that has resulted in an “explosion of complaints about callers who claim to be IRS agents – but are not.” These IRS impersonation scams count on people’s lack of knowledge about how the IRS contacts taxpayers. The IRS never calls a taxpayer about unpaid taxes or penalties; the initial contact is made by a mailed letter. If you get a call purporting to be from the IRS telling you to send money for unpaid taxes, hang up and report the scam to the FTC and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.tigta.gov.

Are you wondering how your social security payments are taxed?

Did you sign up for social security benefits last year? If so, you may have questions about how those payments are taxed on your federal income tax return.

The good news is the formula is the same as prior years. That’s also the bad news, because the thresholds for determining taxability are not indexed for inflation, and did not change either. Those thresholds, or “base amounts,” remain at $32,000 when you’re married and file a joint return, and $25,000 when you’re single.

How much of your social security benefit is taxable? To determine the answer, calculate your “provisional income.” That’s your adjusted gross income plus tax-exempt interest, certain other exclusions, and one-half of the social security benefits you received.

crafts-279580__180When you’re married filing jointly, your benefits are 50% taxable if your provisional income is between $32,000 and $44,000. If your provisional income is more than $44,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable. For singles, the 50% taxability range is $25,000 to $34,000.

In some cases, diversifying the types of other retirement income you receive can reduce the tax burden on your social security benefits. Contact us if you want more information or planning assistance.

4 Important things to consider when going through a divorce

divorce-619195__180Divorce can be an emotionally draining process. If you are in the middle of one, you probably just want it to be over. But be careful. Divorce has serious tax implications, and the choices you make now may affect you for many years. Consider the following:

  • Alimony and child support. Alimony is tax-deductible if you pay it and taxable income if you receive it. Child support, on the other hand, is neither tax-deductible nor taxable as income.
  • If you are awarded physical custody of your child, you will usually be entitled to the tax benefits related to that child. Special rules may apply if you share custody. In addition to a $4,000 dependency tax deduction, tax benefits may include the dependent care credit, the child tax credit, the earned income credit, and education tax credits. You can transfer your right to claim your child to your former spouse each year, for tax purposes, by signing a special IRS form.
  • Retirement accounts and IRAs. Your former spouse may be awarded part of your retirement account or IRA. If your ex-spouse receives the benefits, he or she will generally be responsible for the taxes. But unless the accounts are divided and transferred in just the right way, you could end up paying the tax.
  • Property settlements. You are allowed to transfer property (house, cars, investments, etc.) to your ex-spouse without triggering income tax, if it’s part of your settlement agreement. But whoever ends up with your marital assets may owe taxes when the assets are sold. Take future taxes into consideration during your negotiations, or you might end up with large and unexpected tax liabilities.

Call us early in the divorce process, and let us help you and your attorney make informed choices.

4 Tax-Smart Decisions for 2015

Were you less than satisfied with your financial situation at the end of 2014? If so, making tax-smart decisions in 2015 could provide a helpful course correction. Here are some suggestions to get you started on the right path.ball-275711__180

1. Get structured. That out-of-control feeling from last year might be due to a lack of organization. Set up a simple filing system to arrange your tax papers and records. Once you’re organized, review your monthly expenses and establish a budget you can live with. Online tools can help make that job much easier, or you can give us a call. We’ll be happy to help.

Next, take your planning a step further and create an emergency fund. Consider setting aside six months of living expenses in an account you can tap easily.

2. Be strategic. Examine your investment portfolio for potential tax savings, such as selling stocks that are worth less than you paid to offset your capital gains. You might also donate appreciated stock that you have held for more than one year to charity and avoid capital gains altogether. With the new tax on unearned income to watch out for, consider buying investments that pay tax-free income, such as municipal bonds.

3. Look again. Some everyday tax moves deserve a second look. Review your employer’s list of benefits to make sure you are making the most of them, including the lesser-known perks, if available, such as flexible spending accounts, commuting reimbursements, and employer-paid college expenses. If you have a qualified high-deductible health insurance plan, consider the benefits of a health savings account.

This is also a good time to analyze your tax withholdings and estimates for 2015. Changes to your job, marital status or dependents, a new home, or a serious health issue – all of these life events can affect your tax situation. Adjustments now can put extra money in your pocket when you need it most.

4. Go long. In addition to strategies that yield immediate benefits, think about your long-term finances. Take full advantage of your employer’s retirement matching program. Consider contributing the maximum allowed by law, especially if you are nearing retirement age. In 2015, you can contribute up to $18,000 to your 401(k) plan, plus a $6,000 catch-up contribution if you’re age 50 or over.

Are you ready to think really long term? Review your will and estate plan. Even though the current high-dollar exclusions may shield you from the estate tax, there are still good reasons for you to have a solid plan in place.

If looking back at 2014 leaves you thinking you should have managed things better, take steps now to get your tax and financial plan back on track.