Essentials for Your Year-End Financial Checklist

The year-end deadline for many key financial decisions is approaching. Check your finances now to avoid unpleasant surprises.

December 31 marks the deadline for decisions that can significantly affect your wealth. Taking action now might enable you to reduce your taxes and increase your retirement savings. It’s also a great time to review your entire wealth plan with a professional financial advisor.

Take tax losses on your positions. Your investment portfolio probably has one or more poor performers. You may wish to sell losing positions to realize the losses and offset them against your capital gains. You can deduct up to $3,000 of excess capital losses against your ordinary income. Reevaluate and rebalance your holdings to achieve your desired asset allocations.

Fund your retirement accounts. Although you have until April 15 of next year to fund your retirement accounts, now is the time to determine your remaining contributions to your 401(k) plan and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA). If your income exceeds Roth IRA limits, consider a partial conversion of traditional IRA assets to a Roth IRA*. Also, don’t forget to take any required minimum distributions if you’ve reached age 701/2.

Review your flexible spending accounts. It’s a good time to review your health insurance coverage with your financial advisor and insurance agent. Make sure you don’t let your flexible spending account (FSA) balance exceed $500, the maximum amount you can carry forward into the next year. Some employers offer a grace period until March 15 to use last year’s funds. However, you can only use one of these options. You should check with your employer to see what their policy is.1

Review your beneficiary designations. Circumstances might have changed during the year, prompting changes to the designated beneficiaries in your will, trusts, retirement plans, insurance policies, and charitable gift plans. Review your estate plan to evaluate moving assets to new or existing trusts. Finalize your gifting to family and friends based on the latest gift tax limits. Review your insurance policies to determine if the coverage is still appropriate.

Year-end financial reviews are essential. Contact me today to schedule a review session that will help you find opportunities to manage your tax burden, control your bequests, and start planning your financial goals for the new year.

* Traditional IRA account owners should consider the tax ramifications, age and income restrictions in regards to executing a conversion from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The converted amount is generally subject to income taxation.



1 irs.gov, “Plan now to Use Health Flexible Spending Arrangements in 2018; Contribute up to $2,650; $500 Carryover Option Available to Many” 11/15/17

Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going it Alone

1. Determine What You Owe

As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.

The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.

I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.

Now you’re ready to begin:

  • Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
  • If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
  • Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
  • On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
  • In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
  • For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.

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2. Eliminate Joint Debt

Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:

Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?

Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.

Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?

Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.

Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?

Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.

Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?

Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.

 

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3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt

Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.

Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?

Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.

Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?

Huffstetler:

  • Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
  • TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
  • Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)

Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?

Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.

 

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4. Pay Off Your Debt

The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:

  1. Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
  2. Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
    • Choose one debt to focus on.
    • Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
    • Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
    • You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
  3. Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.

 

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5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%

 

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6. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

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7. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

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8. Become Even More Frugal

Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.

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9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In

Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:

  • Pay any bills that are due.
  • If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
  • Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
  • Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
  • This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
  • Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.

An attitude of gratitude and finances.

 

 

References:
Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008, 
Huffstetler, Erin. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
Sources:
Caldwell, Miriam. Email interview. 27 Oct. 2008, Hammond, Bob. “Debt Free Key: 10 Steps for Coping With Credit Problems.” Life Without Debt. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1995. 31-32, Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
“Spending Plan Online Calculator.” Crown Financial Ministries. 11 Oct. 2008.

Written By: Jennifer Wolf

Source: thebalance

 

 

 

29 Biggest Tax Problems For Married Couples

Preparing your annual income tax return is a chore. It’s even more complex when you’re married. You might have two sets of income, assets, debts and deductions. Further, if you were separated, widowed or divorced during the year, you might have a thorny tax situation.

A qualified accountant can advise you on the basic tax problems that married couples face. For a brief introduction, read through to see 29 of the most significant tax problems married people might encounter. Understanding these challenges can help you get more tax breaks this year.

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1. YOU’RE NOT SURE OF THE YOUR MARITAL STATUS FOR THE TAX YEAR

When preparing taxes, you first need to determine your marital status. It might seem like a straightforward task. However, life is not always so simple.

The IRS considers you to be married if you were lawfully wed on the last day of the tax year. For example, if you tied the knot at any time in the past and were still married on Dec. 31, 2016, you were married to your spouse for the entire year in the eyes of the IRS. The laws of the state where you live determine whether you were married or legally separated for the tax year.

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2. YOU’RE NOT SURE OF YOUR MARITAL STATUS IN A SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIP

Married, same-sex couples are treated the same as married, heterosexual couples for federal tax purposes. However, same-sex couples in a registered domestic partnership or civil union cannot choose to file as married couples, as state law doesn’t consider those types of couples to be married.

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3. YOU DON’T KNOW WHICH FILING STATUS TO CHOOSE

If you weren’t married on Dec. 31 of the tax year, the IRS considers you to be single, head of household or a qualified widow(er) for that year.

If you were married, there are three filing possibilities:

  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household

If more than one category might apply to you, the IRS permits you to pick the one that lets you pay the least amount in taxes.

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4. YOU CAN’T DECIDE WHETHER TO FILE JOINTLY OR SEPARATELY

If you’re married and don’t qualify to file as head of household, you typically have two choices: filing jointly or separately. It’s best to choose the one that allows you to pay the least amount in taxes, which all comes down to your particular circumstances.

Sometimes it makes sense to file separately, said Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York-based accounting firm. “A joint return means that your finances are linked, so you’re both liable for each other’s debts, penalties and liabilities,” he said. “So if either of you has some financial issues or baggage, then filing separately will better protect your spouse from your bad record, or vice versa.”

If you file jointly, you can’t later uncouple yourselves to file married filing separately. “On the other hand, if you file separate returns and then realize you should have filed jointly, you can amend your returns to file jointly, within three years,” Zimmelman said.

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5. YOU ASSUME MARRIED FILING JOINTLY IS ALWAYS THE BEST OPTION

Even if married filing jointly has been your best choice in the past, don’t assume it will always be that way. Do the calculations each year to determine whether filing singly or jointly will give you the best tax result.

Changes in your personal circumstances or new tax laws might make a new filing status more desirable. What was once a marriage tax break might turn into a reason to file separately, or vice versa.

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6. YOU’RE NOT CLEAR ABOUT HEALTHCARE REQUIREMENTS

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — more commonly known as “Obamacare” — requires that you and your dependents have qualifying health care coverage throughout the year, unless you qualify for an exemption or make a shared responsibility payment.

Even if you lose your health insurance coverage because of divorce, you still need continued coverage for you and your dependents during the entire tax year.

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7. YOU CHANGED YOUR LAST NAME

If you want to change your last name after a marriage or divorce, you must officially inform the federal government. Your first stop is the Social Security Administration. Your name on your tax return must match your name in the SSA records. Otherwise, your tax refund might be delayed due to the mismatched records. Also, don’t forget to update the changed names of any dependents.

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8. YOUR SPOUSE DIED DURING THE TAX YEAR

If your spouse died during the year, you’ll need to figure out your filing status. If you didn’t marry someone else the same year, you may file with your deceased spouse as married filing jointly.

If you did remarry during that tax year, you and your new spouse may file jointly. However, in that case, you and your deceased spouse must file separately for the last tax year of the spouse’s life.

In addition, if you didn’t remarry during the tax year of your spouse’s death, you might be able to file as qualifying widow(er) with dependent child for the following two years if you meet certain conditions. This entitles you to use joint return tax rates and the highest standard deduction amount.

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9. YOU FILE JOINTLY AND YOU’RE BOTH LIABLE

If you use the status married filing jointly, each spouse is jointly and severally liable for all the tax on your combined income, said Gail Rosen, a Martinsville, N.J.-based certified public accountant. “This means that the IRS can come after either one of you to collect the full amount of the tax,” she said.

“If you are worried about your spouse and being responsible for their share of their taxes — including interest and penalties — then you might consider filing separately,’ she said.

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10. YOU FILE SEPARATELY AND LOSE TAX BENEFITS

Although filing separately might protect you from joint and several liabilities for your spouse’s mistakes, it does have some disadvantages.

For example, people who choose the married filing separately status might lose their ability to deduct student loan interest entirely. In addition, they’re not eligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and they might also lose the ability to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit or Adoption Tax Credit, said Eric Nisall, an accountant and founder of AccountLancer, which provides accounting services to freelancers.

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11. YOU DON’T MEET THE MEDICAL EXPENSE DEDUCTION THRESHOLD

To include non-reimbursed medical and dental expenses in itemized deductions, the expenses must meet a threshold of exceeding 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. However, when you file jointly — and thus report a larger combined income — it can make it more difficult for you to qualify.

A temporary exception to the 10 percent threshold for filers ages 65 or older ran through Dec. 31, 2016. Under this rule, individuals only need to exceed a lower 7.5 percent threshold before they are eligible for the deduction. The exception applies to married couples even if only one person in the marriage is 65 or older.

Starting Jan. 1, 2017, all filers must meet the 10 percent threshold for itemizing medical deductions, regardless of age.

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12. YOU DON’T TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MARRIAGE BONUS

Many people complain about the marriage tax penalty. “Married filing jointly may result in a higher tax bill for the couple versus when each spouse was filing single, especially if both spouses make roughly the same amount of income,” said Andrew Oswalt, a certified public accountant and tax analyst for TaxAct, a tax-preparation software company.

However, you might have an opportunity to pay less total tax — a marriage tax break — if one spouse earns significantly less. “When couples file jointly with largely differing income levels, this may result in a ‘marriage tax benefit,’ potentially resulting in less tax owed than when the spouses filed with a single filing status,” Oswalt said.

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13. YOU’RE DIVORCED BUT STILL NEED TO FILE A FINAL MARRIED RETURN

If your divorce became official during the tax year, you need to agree with your ex-spouse on your filing status for the prior year when you were still married. As to whether you should file your final return jointly or separately, there is no single correct answer. It partially depends on your relationship with your ex-spouse and whether you can agree on such potentially major financial decisions.

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14. YOU HAVE TO DETERMINE THE STATUS OF DEPENDENTS AFTER A DIVORCE

Tax laws about who qualifies as a dependent are quite complex. Divorcing parents might need to determine which parent gets to claim the exemption for dependent children.

Normally, the custodial parent takes the deduction, Zimmelman said. “So if your child lives with you more than half the year and you’re paying at least 50 percent of their support, then you should claim them as your dependent,” he said.

In cases of shared custody and support, you have a few options. “You might consider alternating every other year who gets to claim them,” said Zimmelman. Or if you have two children, each parent can decide to claim one child, he said.

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15. YOU DEDUCT VOLUNTARY ALIMONY PAYMENTS

If you want to deduct alimony payments you made to a former spouse, it must be in accordance with a legal divorce or separation decree. You can’t deduct payments you made on a voluntary basis.

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16. YOU DEDUCT CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS

Even if you don’t take the standard deduction and instead itemize your deductions, you can’t claim child support payments you paid to a custodial parent.

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17. YOU CLAIM CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS AS INCOME

Do not report court-ordered child support payments as part of your taxable income. You don’t need to report it anywhere on your tax return. On the other hand, you must report alimony you receive as income on line 11 of your Form 1040.

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18. YOU DON’T CLAIM ALIMONY YOU PAID AS A DEDUCTION

Unlike child support that isn’t tax deductible, you are permitted to deduct court-ordered alimony you paid to a former spouse. It’s a deduction you can take even if you don’t itemize your deductions.

Make sure you include your ex-spouse’s Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number on line 31b of your own Form 1040. Otherwise, you might have to pay a $50 penalty and your deduction might be disallowed.

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19. YOUR SPOUSE DOESN’T WORK AND MISSES TAX SAVINGS

Saving for retirement is important. Contribute to a 401k plan and you will both save money for your golden years and lower your taxable income now. If your employer offers a 401k plan, you can contribute money on a pretax basis, subject to certain limits.

However, nonworking spouses can’t contribute to a 401k because they don’t have wages from an employer.

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20. YOU MISS QUARTERLY TAX PAYMENTS

Single or married, you might have to pay quarterly tax payments to the IRS, especially if you are self-employed. Make sure you know how to calculate estimated taxes. If you are required to make such payments but do not do so, you might have to pay an underpayment penalty, Rosen said.

All taxpayers must pay in taxes during the year equal to the lower of 90 percent of the tax owed for the current year, or 100 percent — 110 percent for higher-income taxpayers — of the tax shown on your tax return for the prior year, Rosen said. “The problem for married couples is that often they do not realize they owe more taxes due to the combining of the two incomes,” she said.

You should be proactive each year. “To avoid owing the underpayment penalty, make sure to do a projection of your potential tax for 2017 when you finish preparing your 2016 taxes,” she said, adding that you should make sure to comply with the payment rules outlined above.

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21. YOU PHASE OUT OF PASSIVE LOSSES

Crystal Stranger — a Los Angeles-based enrolled agent, president of 1st Tax and author of “The Small Business Tax Guide” — said she sees a lot of married couples who have issues with passive loss limitation rules.

“With these rules, if you have a passive loss from rental real estate or other investments, you are allowed to take up to $25,000 of passive losses against your other income,” she said. “But this amount phases out starting at $100,000 (of) adjusted gross income, and is fully lost by $150,000 (of) adjusted gross income.”

Married filers lose out, as the phaseout amount is the same for a single taxpayer as for a married couple. “This is a big marriage penalty existing in the tax code,” Stranger said. “It gets even worse if a married couple files separately. The phaseout then starts at $12,500, meaning almost no (married filing separately) filers will qualify.”

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22. YOU CLAIM A CHILD AS A DEPENDENT, BUT YOUR INCOME IS HIGH

You are not obligated to claim your kids as dependents on your own tax return. In fact, it might be beneficial not to claim them.

“High earners lose the personal exemption after crossing certain income thresholds,” said Nisall. So in some cases, it might make more sense to let working children claim the exemption for themselves on their own return, he said.

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23. YOU MISS OUT ON THE CHILD TAX CREDIT

Married couples might be able to claim the Child Tax Credit up to a limit of $1,000 for each qualifying child.

“The Child Tax Credit phases out starting at $55,000 for couples electing to use the married filing separately filing status, and (at) $110,000 for those choosing the married filing jointly status,” said Oswalt. “But married couples receive twice the standard deduction that individuals receive, so the phaseout limitations may not negatively impact a married couple’s return if they choose to file jointly.”

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24. YOU NEGLECT THE TAX BREAK FROM A HOME SALE

The IRS provides a tax break when you sell your home, subject to certain conditions. Generally, you must meet a minimum residency period by owning and living in the house for two of the five years previous to the sale.

A single person who owns a home that has increased in value can qualify to exclude up to $250,000 in gains from income, said Oswalt. However, married people can exclude up to $500,000 in gains. This rule can become tricky if one person in the couple purchased the house prior to marriage.

“If you are married when you sell the house, only one of you needs to meet the ownership test for the $250,000 exclusion,” Oswalt said. “You both must meet the residency period to exclude up to the full $500,000 of gain from your income, however.”

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25. YOU DON’T CLAIM THE CHILD AND DEPENDENT CARE CREDIT

Married tax filers might be eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit if they paid expenses for the care of a qualifying individual so that they could work or look for work. The rules for who can be a dependent and who can be a care provider are strict. This credit is not available if you file separately.

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26. YOU CAN’T DEDUCT STUDENT LOAN INTEREST

If you’re paying back student loans, you might be looking forward to taking the student loan interest deduction. However, if you’re married, it might not be so easy to do that.

“For a single filer, the deduction begins to phase out when the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income is greater than $65,000,” said Oswalt. “This amount is doubled to $130,000 when filing jointly.”

“So if both spouses are making $65,000 or less, then their deduction will not be affected by the phaseout,” he explained. “However, if one is making $60,000 and the other $75,000, the deduction begins to phase out, which will ultimately result in a larger tax bill.”

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27. YOU INCORRECTLY ACCOUNT FOR GAMBLING WINS AND LOSSES

Imagine a married couple where both spouses like to gamble in Las Vegas. He’s not so lucky and has losses, while she has winnings. If they file a joint return, they might have to report the gambling winnings as taxable income. Meanwhile, the losses might be deductible if the couple itemizes their deductions instead of taking the standard deduction.

However, they can’t take the amount of gambling winnings, subtract the losses and claim the net amount as winnings. Instead, they must report the entire amount of gambling winnings as income, whereas the losses are reported as an itemized deduction up to the amount of the winnings. The IRS requires you to keep accurate records of your winnings and losses.

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28. YOU BECAME A VICTIM OF TAX IDENTITY THEFT

Identify theft is a financial nightmare, no matter how it happens. Tax identity theft happens when someone files a tax return using one or both of the spouse’s Social Security numbers in hopes of scooping up your legitimate refund. If this happens to you, “contact the IRS immediately and fill out an identity-theft affidavit,” said Zimmelman. “You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, contact your banks and credit card companies, and put a fraud alert on your and your spouse’s credit reports.”

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29. YOU CAN’T GET YOUR 2015 RETURN

The IRS and state tax agencies work to develop safeguards to avoid identity theft related to tax returns. In 2017, they will be particularly concerned about the implications of taxpayers who file using tax software.

The IRS has alerted taxpayers that they might need to have their 2015 adjusted gross income handy if they are changing software products this year. This number might be required to submit your return electronically.

Getting your 2015 adjusted gross income might be difficult if you are a member of a divorced couple that is not on positive terms, or that hasn’t even been in contact the past few years.

However, you still have options. You might be able to get the information if you go to the IRS website and use the Get Transcript service.

 

 

Written By: Valerie Rind
Source: GOBankingRates

The 10 Most Commonly Googled Tax Questions — Answered

Taxes can be confusing. We’re here to help. To find out what people’s most burning questions about taxes are, MONEY asked Google for a list of its top tax-related queries—and assembled the information you need.

1. When are taxes due?

It’s April 18 this year. Usually, it’s the 15th — you can read why you get an extra three days here. (If you file for an extension, you get until Oct. 16 to file your return, because Oct. 15 is a Sunday. You must still pay what you estimate you owe by April 18, though.)

2. How to file taxes

This IRS page has links to online forms you can print as well as a locator tool where you can find an office if you prefer to pick up forms in person or don’t have access to a printer. You might also find tax forms at your local library or post office.

If you make less than $64,000, the IRS has a page where you can file your taxes electronically at no charge under the Free File program. If you plan to file with a simple form like a 1040A or 1040EZ, some tax preparation companies like TurboTax, H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and TaxAct have their own platforms you can use to do your taxes online for free.

If you’re not sure which form you should use, the IRS spells out the differences here. Not sure how to file state taxes? This IRS page has links to all of the state governments, including tax departments.

3. When can you file taxes?

The IRS began accepting electronic returns for 2016 on Jan. 23, 2017.
You technically have until 11:59:59 p.m. on April 18 to file your taxes if you’re filing online, according to TurboTax, but waiting until the last second is a bad idea: A pokey computer could cost you big in penalties. If you’re using U.S. mail, you have to have your return and payment postmarked by April 18. Some post offices stay open late for Tax Day; you can find out which ones have extended hours here.

If you (or your accountant) file your taxes electronically, you have the option of paying online using the IRS’s Electronic Funds Withdrawal function (which is free). You can also pay via credit or debit card (which will cost you a convenience fee of a bit under $3 if you use a debit card, or around 2% of the charge if you use a credit card).

4. How to file a tax extension

If you procrastinated and April 18 is looking like a long shot, experts say you should file for an extension. This doesn’t get you out of paying any taxes you owe by the deadline, but it gives you an extra six months to file. An extension will keep you from getting hit with a late-filing penalty of 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month you’re late, up to 25%.

That’s in addition to a late-payment penalty of 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month—plus interest at a rate of the federal short-term interest rate plus 3%.
If you expect a refund, you obviously have an incentive to get your return in as soon as possible to get those dollars in your pocket. If you file for an extension thinking you’ll get a refund and instead find that you owe, you’ll have to tack on the late-payment charges.

Don’t forget about state taxes. A handful of states will automatically give you an extension if you request one through the IRS, while others require a separate request to that state’s tax department. In some cases, the rules are different depending on whether you owe money or are due a refund.

5. How much do you have to make to file taxes?

There are various thresholds, depending on your filing status, age, and the type of income you receive. For instance, if you’re single, under 65 and your income was below $10,350 last year, you generally don’t need to file federal taxes. This IRS tool can help you figure out if you need to file a tax return.

Even if appears you don’t have to file, experts say it’s generally a good idea to fill in the blanks on a return and see what your bottom line would be. About 70% of Americans are expected to qualify for refunds this year, according to the IRS, but many people never file to collect. The average unclaimed refund is nearly $700. Especially for lower-income Americans, a number of credits and deductions could make you eligible for a refund.

6. How long to keep tax records

The IRS says you should hang onto your tax documents for three years; if you get audited, that’s generally the look-back period they’re allowed to cover. However, if they suspect fraud or underpayment of income tax, or if you’ve written off worthless securities, they can request up to seven years’ worth of tax records. Hang onto documents like receipts that justify deductions like business expenses, charitable donations and so on.

7. When is the last day to do taxes?

Yeah, there are clearly a lot of procrastinators out there. As explained above in No. 1, the filing deadline is pushed back a few days from the usual April 15 this year to the 18th. You have until midnight local time—but if you’re going to put it off that long you should consider just filing for an extension.

8. Is Social Security taxed?

It’s possible. Depending on your income, up to 85% of Social Security benefits may be taxable. If you’re a single filer and your combined income—that is, adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest from municipal bonds and half of your Social Security benefits—is more than $25,000, you will have to pay taxes. If you’re married and file jointly, the threshold is $32,000.

9. How long does it take to get taxes back?

The answer this year might be “longer than usual.” To combat tax fraud, the IRS is taking extra time checking filers’ tax information if they claimed either the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. Under a new law, the agency is holding back refunds claiming those credits until at least Feb. 15, and people aren’t likely to see those refunds until the end of February at the earliest. On top of that, “New identity theft and refund fraud safeguards put in place by the IRS and the states may mean some tax returns and refunds face additional review,” the agency warns. For everybody else, the IRS says refunds should be issued in its standard window of 21 days from the time it get your return.

10. Why do I owe taxes?

The first income tax in the U.S. was authorized by Congress in 1861 and levied the following year, to help pay for the Civil War, according to the Civil War Trust, but taxes have been around nearly as long as civilization itself. Historians have found tax records that go back to 6,000 B.C. in what is now Iraq, and the ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese cultures all had their own versions. In Biblical times, Roman emperor Caesar Augustus established rules around some personal and inheritance taxes that the English later used to create similar taxes centuries later, according to the Handbook on Tax Administration. Ironically, modern-day Italy has the lowest rate of income-tax compliance out of 10 major developed nations, with less than two-thirds of citizens giving the tax man his due.

And although plenty of Americans have argued in court that they shouldn’t have to pay taxes, the IRS has a helpful 71-page paper that methodically debunks these claims, The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments, (which might be equally helpful as a cure for tax-season-induced insomnia.)

 

 

Written By: Martha C. White
Source: MONEY

2017 Tax Planning Guide

During this Tax Season, we want to provide you with a great Tax Planning Guide to help you evaluate your options and outline tax planning strategies with your accounting professional.

In addition to referencing this guide during the tax season, it can also be a helpful year-round tool. Staying actively involved in these and other underlying areas of tax planning will keep you in a position to preserve and create longer-term wealth for yourself and your family.

Click Here for your Free 2017 Tax Planning Guide

 

 

Tax Changes for 2017: A Checklist

Welcome, 2017! As the New Year rolls around, it’s always a sure bet that there will be changes to current tax law and 2017 is no different. From health savings accounts to tax rate schedules and standard deductions, here’s a checklist of tax changes to help you plan the year ahead.

Individuals

For 2017, more than 50 tax provisions are affected by inflation adjustments, including personal exemptions, AMT exemption amounts, and foreign earned income exclusion.

While the tax rate structure, which ranges from 10 to 39.6 percent, remains the same as in 2016, tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. Standard deductions and the personal exemption have also been adjusted upward to reflect inflation. For details see the article, “Tax Brackets, Deductions, and Exemptions for 2017,” below.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

Exemption amounts for the AMT, which was made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) are indexed for inflation and allow the use of nonrefundable personal credits against the AMT. For 2017, the exemption amounts are $54,300 for individuals ($53,900 in 2016) and $84,500 for married couples filing jointly ($83,800 in 2016).

“Kiddie Tax”

For taxable years beginning in 2017, the amount that can be used to reduce the net unearned income reported on the child’s return that is subject to the “kiddie tax,” is $1,050 (same as 2016). The same $1,050 amount is used to determine whether a parent may elect to include a child’s gross income in the parent’s gross income and to calculate the “kiddie tax.” For example, one of the requirements for the parental election is that a child’s gross income for 2017 must be more than $1,050 but less than $10,500.

For 2017, the net unearned income for a child under the age of 19 (or a full-time student under the age of 24) that is not subject to “kiddie tax” is $2,100.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

Contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) are used to pay current or future medical expenses of the account owner, his or her spouse, and any qualified dependent. Medical expenses must not be reimbursable by insurance or other sources and do not qualify for the medical expense deduction on a federal income tax return.

A qualified individual must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and not be covered by other health insurance with the exception of insurance for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, or long-term care.

For calendar year 2017, a qualifying HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage and must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses of the beneficiary to $6,550 for self-only coverage and $13,100 for family coverage.

Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs)

There are two types of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs): the Archer MSA created to help self-employed individuals and employees of certain small employers, and the Medicare Advantage MSA, which is also an Archer MSA, and is designated by Medicare to be used solely to pay the qualified medical expenses of the account holder. To be eligible for a Medicare Advantage MSA, you must be enrolled in Medicare. Both MSAs require that you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP).

  • Self-only coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2017, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for self-only coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $2,250 and not more than $3,350 (same as 2016), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $4,500 (up $50 from 2016).
  • Family coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2017, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for family coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $4,500 and not more than $6,750 (up $50 from 2016), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $8,250 (up $100 from 2016).

Penalty for not Maintaining Minimum Essential Health Coverage

For calendar year 2017, the dollar amount used to determine the penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage is $695.

AGI Limit for Deductible Medical Expenses

In 2017, the deduction threshold for deductible medical expenses remains at 10 percent (same as 2016) of adjusted gross income (AGI). Prior to January 1, 2017, if either you or your spouse were age 65 or older as of December 31, 2016, the 7.5 percent threshold that was in place in earlier tax years continued to apply. That provision expired at the end of 2016, however, and starting in 2017, the 10 percent of AGI threshold applies to everyone.

Eligible Long-Term Care Premiums

Premiums for long-term care are treated the same as health care premiums and are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations. For individuals age 40 or younger at the end of 2017, the limitation is $410. Persons more than 40 but not more than 50 can deduct $770. Those more than 50 but not more than 60 can deduct $1,530 while individuals more than 60 but not more than 70 can deduct $4,090. The maximum deduction is $5,110 and applies to anyone more than 70 years of age.

Medicare Taxes

The additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages above $200,000 for individuals ($250,000 married filing jointly), which went into effect in 2013, remains in effect for 2017, as does the Medicare tax of 3.8 percent on investment (unearned) income for single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (AGI) more than $200,000 ($250,000 joint filers). Investment income includes dividends, interest, rents, royalties, gains from the disposition of property, and certain passive activity income. Estates, trusts, and self-employed individuals are all liable for the new tax.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

For 2017, the foreign earned income exclusion amount is $102,100, up from $101,300 in 2016.

Long-Term Capital Gains and Dividends

In 2017 tax rates on capital gains and dividends remain the same as 2016 rates; however threshold amounts are indexed for inflation. As such, for taxpayers in the lower tax brackets (10 and 15 percent), the rate remains 0 percent. For taxpayers in the four middle tax brackets, 25, 28, 33, and 35 percent, the rate is 15 percent. For an individual taxpayer in the highest tax bracket, 39.6 percent, whose income is at or above $418,400 ($470,700 married filing jointly), the rate for both capital gains and dividends is capped at 20 percent.

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout)

Both Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) have been permanently extended (and indexed to inflation) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2012, and in 2017, affect taxpayers with income at or above $261,500 for single filers and $313,800 for married filing jointly.

Estate and Gift Taxes

For an estate of any decedent during calendar year 2017, the basic exclusion amount is $5,490,000, indexed for inflation (up from $5,450,000 in 2016). The maximum tax rate remains at 40 percent. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $14,000.

Individuals – Tax Credits

Adoption Credit

In 2017, a non-refundable (only those individuals with tax liability will benefit) credit of up to $13,570 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child.

Earned Income Tax Credit

For tax year 2017, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low and moderate income workers and working families rises to $6,318, up from $6,269 in 2016. The credit varies by family size, filing status, and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

Child Tax Credits

For tax year 2017, the child tax credit is $1,000 per child. The enhanced child tax credit was made permanent this year by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2016 (PATH). In addition to a $1,000 credit per qualifying child, an additional refundable credit equal to 15 percent of earned income in excess of $3,000 has been available since 2009.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) in order to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses in 2017.For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher income earners the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income.

Individuals – Education

American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credits

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (formerly Hope Scholarship Credit) was extended to the end of 2017 by ATRA but was made permanent by PATH in 2016. The maximum credit is $2,500 per student. The Lifetime Learning Credit remains at $2,000 per return; however, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $112,000, up from $111,000 for tax year 2016.

Interest on Educational Loans

In 2017 (as in 2016), the $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on student loans is no longer limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction is phased out for higher-income taxpayers with modified AGI of more than $65,000 ($135,000 joint filers).

Individuals – Retirement

Contribution Limits

The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $18,000. Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans remain at $12,500. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $270,000 (up from $265,000 in 2016).

Income Phase-out Ranges

The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and have modified AGI between $62,000 and $72,000, up from $61,000 to $71,000.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the phase-out range increases to $99,000 to $119,000, up from $98,000 to $118,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s modified AGI is between $186,000 and $196,000, up from $184,000 and $194,000.

The modified AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $118,000 to $133,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $117,000 to $132,000. For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is $186,000 to $196,000, up from $184,000 to $194,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

Saver’s Credit

In 2017, the AGI limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contribution credit) for low and moderate income workers is $62,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $61,500 in 2016; $46,500 for heads of household, up from $46,125; and $31,000 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $30,750.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates

The rate for business miles driven is 53.5 cents per mile for 2017, down from 54 cents per mile in 2016.

Section 179 Expensing

The Section 179 expense deduction was made permanent at $500,000 by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2016 (PATH). For equipment purchases, the maximum deduction is $510,000 of the first $2,030,000 million of qualifying equipment placed in service during the current tax year. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2 million threshold (adjusted for inflation beginning in tax year 2017) amount and eliminated above amounts exceeding $2.5 million. In addition, Section 179 is now indexed to inflation in increments of $10,000 for future tax years.

The 50 percent bonus depreciation has been extended through 2019. Businesses are able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and placed in service during 2015, 2016, and 2017. However, the bonus depreciation is reduced to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

Extended through 2019, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit has been modified and enhanced for employers who hire long-term unemployed individuals (unemployed for 27 weeks or more) and is generally equal to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages paid to a new hire.

Research & Development Tax Credit

Starting in 2017, businesses with less than $50 million in gross receipts are able to use this credit to offset alternative minimum tax. Certain start-up businesses that might not have any income tax liability will be able to offset payroll taxes with the credit as well.

Employee Health Insurance Expenses

For taxable years beginning in 2017, the dollar amount is $26,200. This amount is used for limiting the small employer health insurance credit and for determining who is an eligible small employer for purposes of the credit.

Employer-provided Transportation Fringe Benefits

If you provide transportation fringe benefits to your employees, in 2017 the maximum monthly limitation for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle as well as any transit pass is $255 and the monthly limitation for qualified parking is $255. Parity for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits was made permanent by PATH.

While this checklist outlines important tax changes for 2017, additional changes in tax law are more than likely to arise during the year ahead.

 

 

 

Source: Abedian & Totlian

Tesla Might Use Loophole to get More Buyers a Big Discount

Tesla Model 3 in motion:   
Provided by MotorTrend

Some Tesla owners will be paying much less than others for their electric cars, thanks to tax credits offered by the federal government. A $7,500 credit is available to people buying one of the first 200,000 eligible vehicles made by an auto manufacturer.

As of a few days ago, there were 325,000 pre-orders of Tesla’s new Model 3, each reserved with a $1,000 deposit. Tesla has already sold tens of thousands of other models–roughly 25,000 Model S cars in 2015, for instance–and these too count toward the company reaching the 200,000-sale mark.

At first glance, one might assume that anyone buying a Tesla after the company has already sold 200,000 units would be out of luck and miss out on the $7,500 tax credit. But there’s a loophole. The law actually doesn’t say that the credit expires with 200,001st vehicle sold, but rather at the end of the quarter in which the company hits the 200,000th vehicle. There’s potentially some significant wiggle room here.

According to Automotive News, Tesla could hit that number on the first day of a quarter and then have a few months to pump out as many cars as possible–each eligible for the full $7,500 credit.

Asked by a Twitter user whether this move was on the table, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested he would potentially employ it.

With the enormous amount of pre-orders, which amount to $14 billion worth of automobiles, Tesla will have to balance lowering the cost to customers—via the tax credit—with making sure everything runs smoothly. Tesla is already sailing in uncharted waters and is playing a high-stakes game, and a botched car at this level of popularity could scare consumers and push back the electric car’s mainstream adoption for another decade.

Written by Ethan Wolff-Mann of Money

(Source: Time)

Companies To Feel Pinch Of Tightened Tax Loopholes

money-tax-loopholes
Provided by IBT US
The upcoming U.S. tax filing deadline — Monday, April 18 — doesn’t just have regular Joes on edge. Massive corporate entities based in the U.S. are getting a little nervous, too, according to a report from the Financial Times.

The number of companies warning their investors about increased impact from taxes in 2015 has doubled from last year, the FT says.

The warnings come from the potential closing of myriad international tax loopholes, courtesy of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a consortium of 34 countries, including the Germany, the U.K. and the U.S.

Some of those loopholes include accounting tricks like shifting profits from Ireland, where tax rates are already relatively low, to Bermuda, where the company doesn’t pay any taxes. Companies are able to do this because the definitions of “residence” are different in U.S. and Irish tax law, allowing money made from sales in Ireland to wind up being “based” in Bermuda or another country considered a tax shelter.

The OECD estimates that various companies’ tax avoidance costs governments around $240 billion.

The companies that are likely to be hit hardest are those in the tech sector, like Apple, already-beleaguered Yahoo and Google. Travel site Priceline is already fighting a French tax penalty of 356 million euros ($397 million), and the U.K. is looking to take back 1 billion pounds ($1.4 billion) from corporations after eliminating a tax break on interest costs.

Google, the report notes, has included language about tax concerns for 10 years now. Other companies have also been proactive about warning investors that the tax hammer could fall at any moment.

But investors have been slow on the uptake. “I still think that investors are not asking the right questions. They are in early stages of understanding the issues,” Fiona Reynolds, the managing director of a network of fund managers, told the FT.

Written by Oriana Schwindt of International Business Times

(Source: MSN)

Which Presidential Tax Plan Comes Out on Top?

Provided by CNBC

With the field of six candidates, there’s a wide range of tax proposals, each of which have different effects on your wallet. For one, GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s plan would slash tax rates for everyone. The real estate mogul is seeking to eliminate the current top individual income tax rate of 39.6 percent and create three tax brackets: 10 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent.

That said, a few observers have their doubts.

“I don’t think it’s viable,” Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge told CNBC. “I think it’s a dramatic overreach and an over-promise.”

Established in 1937, The Tax Foundation is an independent, non-partisan tax policy research organization. For the current election cycle, the organization compared the economic effects of each of the candidates’ tax plans.

Studies from both the Tax Foundation and another group, the Tax Policy Center, estimate that Trump’s plan could cut tax revenues by more than $10 trillion dollars over the next 10 years, resulting in a large burgeoning of the national debt. Earlier this week, Trump responded by telling CNBC he could close that gap by cutting waste and fraud in government.

However, Hodge branded that as “unrealistic,” suggesting that Trump’s plan doesn’t have structural changes to the tax code that could improve the economy. “It’s really just a tax cut plan, it’s not a tax improvement plan.”

On the other side, Bernie Sanders is promising the opposite: Higher taxes for all. The Democratic candidate/senator from Vermont wants to raise all taxes by 2.2 percent and create four higher tax brackets for high earners. Sanders’ top bracket would tax income over $10 million at a 52 percent rate.

The Tax Foundation’s Hodge found that tax increase could raise $14 trillion but “would come at a dramatic cost to the economy overall.”

Hodge said Sanders’ plans “would reduce the size of the economy by almost 10 percent and eliminate almost five million jobs.”

Provided by CNBC

On Tuesday, primary votes in two battleground states, Ohio and Florida, will head to the polls. Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio are counting on victories in their home states to jump-start their campaigns.

Both candidates want to lower the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent, yet Kasich plans to change personal income tax rates to three brackets, with a top rate of 28 percent. Separately, Rubio wants a top bracket of 35 percent, and that top tax rate would apply to $150,000 in earnings for single filers, and $300,00 for joint filers.

The Tax Foundation found that Rubio’s plan would boost growth and wages by double digits over 10 years, but would cost more than $6 trillion in static revenue.

Hodge said Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is “living up to promises to tax high-income people making $250,000 or more.” Under Clinton’s plan, those with incomes above $1 million would pay at least 30 percent in taxes. And she’d add an additional 4 percent tax on income above $5 million.

But Hodge pointed to Clinton’s plan to change how profits on investments are taxed. According to the Tax Foundation, the plan has “increased incentives to delay capital gains realizations,” and would be a drag on growth and wages over a decade.

The former secretary of state “wants to control when people realize capital gains by taxing people at different rates when they actually realize those gains,” Hodge explained. “If you’re at a high income, your tax rate could be as high as 47 percent on your capital gains, and then it lowers to 27 percent over the next seven years.”

The foundation estimated that capital investment would fall by nearly 3 percent over a decade. “It could have a very chilling effect on the market and on investors overall,” Hodge added.

Hodge called Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s tax reform “a very interesting plan from a couple different perspectives.” Indeed, the organization gave Cruz’s plan high marks on growth, capital investment and jobs added and, of the major candidates’ plans, found it cost the least.

Cruz is calling for the Internal Revenue Service to be abolished, and wants to create a flat 10 percent income tax and add a consumption tax. Yet the left-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice recently branded both Cruz and Trump’s plans as bad for taxpayers.

Hodge said that the Texan “wants to eliminate the corporate income tax and replace payroll taxes with a ‘business activity tax’ … it’s really a Value-Added Tax, much like what they have in Europe.” Cruz wants the consumption tax to be 16 percent.

The VAT raises a lot of “revenue for the federal government, which allows (Cruz) to reduce individual income tax rates down to 10 percent, which is a dramatic cut for everyone,” Hodge added. However, he warned the consumption tax “adds to the price of goods by 16 percent.” He added the 10 percent income tax rate “offsets some of the burden that might come from higher prices.”

As with any legislative plan, Hodge cautioned it should be taken with a grain of salt. “You have to take them as guidelines rather than proposals,” he said.

Written by Trent Gillies of CNBC

(Source: MSN)

Users of Prepaid Debit Cards Find Their Tax Refunds Frozen

  
AP Photo/J. David Ake

Thousands of people have had their prepaid debit cards frozen when they try to direct their tax refund to their accounts, a result of financial industry efforts to combat an escalation in tax fraud.

It’s keeping people from their money, and delaying access to much-anticipated tax refunds. People who rely on prepaid debit card accounts are often poorer Americans who don’t have traditional bank accounts.

Shannon King had her money frozen for two weeks. She had planned to use it for car repairs and to help pay for a move, both of which then had to be delayed. “It was very frustrating,” King said.

King has a Wal-Mart MoneyCard, which is run by Green Dot. She said after her refund was deposited, Green Dot froze the card and asked her to send a picture of her Tennessee state identification card to verify the account. The process to release the money took more than two weeks, she had to submit photos of her ID a number of times — Green Dot said they weren’t readable — and she says she spent hours on the phone with customer service agents to resolve the problem.

The Associated Press reviewed documents sent to Green Dot by King, including her ID picture, and they appeared clear.

Prepaid debit card companies Green Dot, NetSpend and others say the problems are the result of tighter fraud protection measures. Both Green Dot and Wal-Mart have apologized, but emphasized the measures were there to protect their customers.

“We’re working with the company to ensure that any customer service issues are resolved as quickly as possible,” a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said.

The card companies, along with the IRS, are trying to stem a tide of tax fraud by identity thieves. Criminals file bogus tax returns using other people’s identities, claim a refund and collect the money. Many people do not know they are a victim until they try to file a legitimate return and are unable to.

The fraudsters often use prepaid debit cards to pull off their scams because the accounts can be relatively anonymous.

For example, in 2012 a Miami man was sentenced to five years in prison and three additional years of probation for filing nearly 500 fraudulent tax returns. Instead of having the refunds deposited in a bank or mailed, he had them electronically deposited to prepaid debit cards, including Green Dot, and gift cards. When he was arrested, prosecutors say the man had 11 Wal-Mart money cards loaded with more than $32,000 from fraudulent returns.

Tax and wage-related fraud was the most common form of identity theft reported to the FTC in 2015. It’s on the rise — about 45 percent of the identity theft complaints to the FTC last year were tax or wage-related, up from 33 percent in 2014 and 30 percent in 2013.

The IRS says tax-related identity theft is one of its biggest challenges. In 2015, it stopped 1.4 million confirmed identity theft returns, totaling $8.7 billion. For criminals, the IRS makes for a quick, easy score: the IRS processes most returns in less than 21 days, and the average return was $2,797 last year.

To combat the problem, the IRS held a security summit last year with states and tax-industry representatives to find ways to solve the problem together. As a result, efforts to fight fraud have intensified this year and banks and other prepaid debit card companies are tightening their protections.

The IRS and other industry representatives would not say if account delays or freezes were requested or required. But the IRS did say that it is working with banks and debit card issuers to obtain information that would be helpful in detecting and preventing fraud.

Green Dot estimates that 9,000 customers have had their accounts blocked this season, representing 0.2 percent of their customers. NetSpend, the second largest issuer, said they also have been freezing accounts, but declined to give a number impacted. American Express, which issues a prepaid debit card known as American Express Serve, also said it has been stepping up fraud protection measures.

A spokeswoman with American Express said customers can minimize the chances of being flagged for fraud by making sure their personal identification information on the account matches the information on their tax forms. And Jackson Hewitt, which uses American Express cards for its customers, requires two forms of ID to receive a prepaid bank product to help cut down on fraud.

While their intentions are good, the industry’s efforts still are somewhat frustrating for people like King.

“I understand the reasons, but it shouldn’t have taken two weeks,” she said.

Written by Ken Sweet and Sarah Skidmore Sell of Associated Press

(Source: MSN)

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