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

Market Update: March 27, 2017

MarketUpdate_header

  • Equities slip after healthcare reform shelved. U.S. indexes are tracking global stocks lower this morning after Congress was unable to push through the American Health Care Act, casting some uncertainty over prospects for tax reform as well. On Friday, the S&P 500 (-0.1%) closed modestly lower, dragged down by materials (-0.9%) and energy (-0.5%); utilities (+0.4%) was the best performing sector. Overnight, Asian markets were led lower by Japan’s Nikkei (-1.4%) on yen strength; Hong Kong’s Hang Seng (-0.7%) and China’s Shanghai Composite (-0.1%) fared better. Stocks are also lower across the board in Europe, notably in Germany’s DAX (-0.9%) and Italy’s MIB (-0.9%). Elsewhere, the recent weakness in WTI crude oil ($47.21/barrel) continues, while the risk-off sentiment is boosting COMEX gold ($1262/oz.) and Treasuries, lowering the yield on the 10-year Note by five basis points (0.05%) to 2.35%.

MacroView_header

  • Our Final Four factors in today’s Weekly Market Commentary. With college basketball’s Final Four set, this week we share our “Final Four factors” for the stock market in 2017. We expect a hard-fought battle between these factors and market risks. But when the “tournament” is over on December 31, depending on the path of policy out of Washington, D.C., we expect the S&P 500 to be at or above current levels.
    1. Economic Growth – We continue to expect a modest pickup in economic growth in 2017 to near 2.5%, based on gross domestic product (GDP), supported by increasing business investment, steady consumer spending gains, and, later in the year, pro-growth fiscal policy to be enacted.
    2. Earnings – We expect high-single-digit S&P 500 earnings growth in 2017[1], supported by better U.S. economic growth, rebounding energy sector profits, a stable U.S. dollar, and resilient profit margins.
    3. Corporate Tax Reform – Corporate tax reform, which remains the centerpiece of the Trump economic agenda, is still likely to get done in the next year despite the failure to get the healthcare bill through the House last week. The Trump administration will immediately pivot to tax reform, though a comprehensive overhaul will be difficult to achieve.
    4. The Fed – We expect the Federal Reserve (Fed) to hike interest rates twice more in 2017 following the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) rate hike on March 15. We are encouraged by the Fed’s acknowledgement of the improved economic outlook and its stated plan to hike rates gradually.
  • Down seven in a row. The Dow closed lower on Friday for the seventh consecutive session. The last seven-day losing streak was ahead of the U.S. election, and it hasn’t been down eight in a row since August 2011. The S&P 500 meanwhile has closed lower six of the past seven days. Taking a closer look at the Dow’s seven-day losing streak, it has been green at some point each day. Also, the total loss during the streak is only 1.7%. To put this in perspective, since 1980, there have now been 20 seven-day losing streaks. The average drop during the previous 19 was 7.3% and the current drop of 1.74% ranks as the second smallest loss.

MonitoringWeek_header

 Monday

  • Evans (Dove)
  • Eurozone: M3 Money Supply (Feb)
  • China: PBOC’s Zhou Speech

Wednesday

  • Evans (Dove)

 Thursday

  • GDP (Revision) (Q4)
  • Eurozone: Industrial, Services & Consumer Confidence (Mar)
  • China: Mfg. & Non-Mfg. PMI (Mar)

 Friday

  • Personal Income (Feb)
  • Kashkari (Dove)

 

 

 

 

[1] We expect S&P 500 gains to be driven by: 1) a pickup in U.S. economic growth partially due to fiscal stimulus; 2) mid- to high-single-digit earnings gains as corporate America emerges from its year-long earnings recession; 3) an expansion in bank lending; and 4) a stable price-to-earnings ratio (PE) of 18 – 19.

 

Important Disclosures: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide or be construed as providing specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual security. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal. Investing in foreign and emerging markets securities involves special additional risks. These risks include, but are not limited to, currency risk, political risk, and risk associated with varying accounting standards. Investing in emerging markets may accentuate these risks. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are subject to interest rate risk and opportunity risk. If interest rates rise, the value of your bond on the secondary market will likely fall. In periods of no or low inflation, other investments, including other Treasury bonds, may perform better. Bank loans are loans issued by below investment-grade companies for short-term funding purposes with higher yield than short-term debt and involve risk. Because of its narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies. Commodity-linked investments may be more volatile and less liquid than the underlying instruments or measures, and their value may be affected by the performance of the overall commodities baskets as well as weather, disease, and regulatory developments. Government bonds and Treasury bills are guaranteed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value. However, the value of fund shares is not guaranteed and will fluctuate. Investing in foreign and emerging markets debt securities involves special additional risks. These risks include, but are not limited to, currency risk, geopolitical and regulatory risk, and risk associated with varying settlement standards. High-yield/junk bonds are not investment-grade securities, involve substantial risks, and generally should be part of the diversified portfolio of sophisticated investors. Municipal bonds are subject to availability, price, and to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rate rise. Interest income may be subject to the alternative minimum tax. Federally tax-free but other state and local taxes may apply. Investing in real estate/REITs involves special risks such as potential illiquidity and may not be suitable for all investors. There is no assurance that the investment objectives of this program will be attained. Currency risk is a form of risk that arises from the change in price of one currency against another. Whenever investors or companies have assets or business operations across national borders, they face currency risk if their positions are not hedged. This research material has been prepared by LPL Financial LLC.

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

Here’s Some Good News…

Medical
DarkoStojanovic/Pixabay

Healthcare spending is expected to increase more slowly during 2016! It’s projected to grow by 6.5 percent this year, according to a report from PWC. That’s still a lot faster than inflation. The Economist projects overall consumer prices in the United States will increase by 1.2 percent this year.

The report suggested several factors are contributing to lower healthcare spending, including:

  • The Affordable Care Act’s Cadillac Tax. PWC reported the tax “…is motivating businesses to enact high cost-sharing. Their workers are already responding to the higher deductibles by scrutinizing what services are necessary and which are not…cost sharing can backfire if the employee foregoes preventative care and faces years of chronic illness.” Twenty-five percent of employers offer only high-deductible healthcare plans for employees.
  • Virtual healthcare. Telemedicine appears to be the next big thing in medicine. Doctors making house calls using real-time audio and video is the gold standard for service, according to the Modern Medicine Network. Remote patient monitoring, pre-recorded videos, and computer-assisted or message-based communications also are being offered.
  • New health advisors. A new variety of healthcare company is making information about facilities, providers, services, and pricing more accessible. In some cases, financial incentives encourage employees to seek treatment at a preferred facility.

These gains are more than offset by factors that are pushing healthcare spending higher, including:

  • High-cost specialty drugs. PWC reported specialty drugs are becoming a focus for the pharmaceutical industry. “With 700 specialty products currently in development, these investments will soon surpass traditional drug investments…According to a recent Express Scripts report, total national prescription spending increased 13.1 percent last year to about $980 per person.”
  • Cyber security investments. Healthcare organizations are spending heavily on cyber security to protect patients from data breaches. The cost of a breach is about $200 per patient record. The cost of security is about $8 per patient record.

It’s critical to factor healthcare spending into retirement plans. In 2015, the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) found a 65-year-old man needs $124,000 in savings and a 65-year-old woman needs $140,000 if each wants a 90 percent chance of having enough money saved to cover healthcare expenses in retirement. EBRI’s analysis did not include the savings needed to cover long-term care expenses.

These Millionaires Get Obamacare Subsidies

 
Adam Berry/Getty Images

This one weird trick can help even rich people buy Obamacare at sharply reduced prices. Really.

A number of wealthy individuals, some of whom were “disgusted” with Obamacare when it first went into effect, nonetheless are now taking advantage of federal financial aid available under that health-care law to help significantly reduce their monthly insurance premiums.

Carolyn McClanahan, a Jacksonville, Fla., financial advisor and medical doctor, told CNBC that she’s steered at least five such clients, whose individual net worths range between $1 million and $3 million, toward buying Obamacare health plans because of the federal subsidies available due to their taxable income levels.

Those clients are saving between $4,600 and $8,800 in annual premium payments as a result of subsidies. On top of that, McClanahan said, those customers are getting extra financial help to pay their out-of-pocket health expenses — the copayments, coinsurance and deductibles that aren’t covered by their insurance plan.

The idea of giving rich people discounted Obamacare plans raises the eyebrows of even McClanahan’s clients, who were initially skeptical when she described the option.

“Everybody was like, ‘Are you sure this is going to work?'” McClanahan said of her clients’ reaction.

“And I’m like, ‘Yes, I’m sure it’s going to work.'”

And it’s legal as well, because of the way the Affordable Care Act focuses on income rather than net worth to establish eligibility for Obamacare aid.

“The law was set up that way, so I’m going to help them take advantage of it.”

The ACA was enacted primarily to help uninsured people get health coverage at a price they could afford. To help do that, the ACA authorized the federal government to issue tax credits, or subsidies, to people with low or moderate incomes who buy health plans sold on government-run Obamacare exchanges.

For 2016, individuals with annual taxable income between $11,770 and $47,070 qualify for such aid.

McClanahan’s Obamacare customer clients were all retirees who stopped working before they were 65 years old. They no longer had the option of getting health insurance through their jobs, and were too young to qualify for Medicare, the federal health insurance program for senior citizens.

Those people, while having relatively high net worths due to investments and real estate, also were in a position to have taxable income that was low enough to qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

But that income could still be high enough to keep them above 100 percent of the poverty level. If their incomes fell below that, they would not qualify for the subsidies to help buy private plans, and also would not qualify for government-run Medicaid because Florida rejected expanding that program to cover more low-income people.

McClanahan said she helped the clients structure their income stream — and the taxable component of it — “just right.”

“The first thing you’ve got to figure out is how much money do they need to live on,” she said.

The clients, all of whom had paid off their homes, needed “anywhere between $5,000 and $7,000 a month” to live on, she said.

Helping that strategy was the clients’ use of bond ladders, which gave them steady income as the bonds matured over time, and also spun off interest payments from the bonds’ coupons. While the interest payment is taxable, the initial investment in the bonds is not, McClanahan noted.

“For most people, we’re aiming for like $18,000, $19,000 in income” that is taxable, she said.

That level of income also was low enough that all of the clients qualified for the added Obamacare aid of “cost-sharing reductions,” which are available to people with taxable incomes below about $29,000 who enroll in so-called silver plans. Without cost-sharing reductions, silver plans cover about 70 percent of customers’ medical expenses, with the balance owed out-of-pocket by the customer.

Angie Koury Lieb, a Jacksonville insurance broker, helped McClanahan’s clients get into those plans, which in Florida are sold on the federally run Obamacare exchange HealthCare.gov.

Lieb said that some clients initially “were pretty disgusted about the subsidies and how it all works” when Obamacare first began taking effect.

“I think a lot of it was very politically motivated, that they didn’t necessarily agree with the Affordable Care Act itself,” she said.

“Then they said, ‘Well, shoot, I’m going to try to qualify myself,'” Lieb said. “I think they were more, ‘If I can’t beat them, join them.'”

Lieb said that when she helped McClanahan’s clients sign up on HealthCare.gov and pick their plans, “they were usually pretty pleased and excited” when they saw how much subsidies they would be getting to lower their premiums.

On the lower end of the prices, one client qualified for a $423-per-month subsidy, which reduced the price of their plan from $663 per month down to $240 per month, she said. On the high end, another client qualified for a $737 subsidy, reducing their premium from $1,172 per month to $435.

And “with the cost-sharing reduction, I think people were extremely happy,” Lieb said. “It reminds people of what health insurance looked like 25 years ago, when they had a $10 copay and no deductible.”

Lieb and McClanahan both noted the fact that their clients, due to their financial position, came under scrutiny from the government when they applied for their subsidies. To obtain those subsidies, customers have to indicate how much income they expect to earn in the coming year.

Every client, McClanahan said, was flagged for review of their subsidy eligibility when they applied because tax forms revealed they previously had high incomes.

“We had to provide a lot of supporting documentation,” McClanahan said.

Clients also must be conscientious about reporting income changes during the course of the year. If people end up earning more than they had estimated when they applied for their subsidies, they could end up owing some or all of the subsidy back when they file their tax returns the following year.

Written by Dan Mangan of CNBC

(Source: CNBC)

Three Financial Facts of the Week: January 19, 2016

instant-messaging-apps
Provided by Tech Media Street

Fact #1
The average finance rate on 48-month new-car loans was just 4.1% through August 2015, according to the Federal Reserve. The rate exceeded 6% as recently as 2010.
Source: Wall Street Journal

Fact #2
Roughly 20% of people under age 65 with health insurance still reported having problems paying their medical bills over the last year, according to a new poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Source: New York Times

Fact #3
Today, about 2.5 billion people are registered to use at least one messaging app, according to advisory firm Activate. By 2018, the firm expects that number to be 3.6 billion, 90% of the world’s internet-enabled population.
Source: Wall Street Journal

Fourth Quarter, a Look Back…

ECB Announces Monthly Rate Decision
Photographer: Hannelore Foerster/Bloomberg

The Federal Reserve pulled the trigger. At the December Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the Fed finally acted, tightening monetary policy by raising the funds rate from 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent. It’s important to remember the Fed doesn’t actually set interest rates. It takes actions designed to influence financial behaviors. The Fed has given rates a push, it remains to be seen whether its efforts will bear fruit.

The European Central Bank (ECB) acted, too. Although, its monetary policy moved in a different direction, offering additional stimulus measures to support European economies. Investors were enthusiastic when the ECB announced its intentions; however, markets were underwhelmed when the economic measures delivered were less stimulative than many had expected.

China’s currency gained status. The International Monetary Fund decided to add the Chinese yuan (a.k.a. the renminbi) to its Special Drawing Rights basket, effective October 1, 2016. After the renminbi is added, the U.S. dollar will comprise 42 percent of the basket, the euro will be 31 percent, the renminbi will be 11 percent, the Japanese yen will be 8 percent, and the British pound will also be 8 percent.

Congress tweaked Social Security. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) averted a U.S. default and deferred further discussion of U.S. debt and spending levels until after 2016’s presidential and congressional elections. It also did away with two popular social security claiming strategies. The restricted application strategy was discontinued at the end of 2015, and file and suspend strategies will be unavailable after May 1, 2016.

Medicare premiums go up, but not for everyone. The BBA also limited increases in Medicare premiums. About 14 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will pay higher premiums in 2016. The new premium will be $121.80, up from $104.90 in 2015. Original proposals suggested the premium amount increase to $159.30.

Medicare Part B Premiums Will Rise by 16 Percent in 2016 for Some Seniors

Medicare
Shutterstock

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has quietly made it official: Medicare Part B premiums for 30% of Medicare recipients will jump next year, but not as high as they would have without the bipartisan budget deal passed late last month. While 70% of Medicare beneficiaries will have their premiums held to the same $104.90 per person a month they paid in 2015, the unlucky 30% will face a 16% increase in their base premium from $104.90 to $121.80 per person per month. And the 5% of beneficiaries who pay a high income surcharge, will pay a 16% increase in that surcharge, along with paying the higher base.

Without the budget deal, both the base and the surcharges for Part B, which covers doctors’ and outpatient services, would have risen by 52%. “By historical standards it (16%) is a very, very large increase,” says Joe Antos, health policy expert at American Enterprise Institute. “It’s not as much as it would have been, but it’s big.”
As for the high income premium payers, they’re “in a permanent state of shock,” Antos observes. Graduated high-income premium surcharges for seniors kick in for singles with a modified adjusted gross income of more than $85,000 and for couples with a MAGI of more than $170,000. (The premiums for 2016 are based on the AGI reported on 2014 tax returns.)

An individual earning more than $85,000, but less than or equal to $107,000, will pay $170.50 a month in 2016, up from $146.90 a month this year. A wealthy senior couple with AGI of $428,000 or more will pay $9,355 a year in Part B Medicare premiums, up from $8,056 in 2015.

The Part B premium debacle is set against the backdrop of falling oil prices, which means that overall inflation has been almost nil, and Social Security recipients will get no cost of living increase for 2016, their first year since 2011 without a boost. A 1987 “hold harmless” provision, designed to keep recipients’ Social Security net checks from shrinking, provides that for ordinary retirees who have Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks, the standard premium can’t go up in any year by more than the extra dollars they’re getting as a cost of living adjustment in their Social Security checks. That protects 70% of recipients.

But medical costs, and in particular Medicare’s costs, are increasing. And a different law requires that premiums paid by beneficiaries cover 25% of Part B total costs. The odd result: the increases the 70% of recipients don’t pay are shifted onto the 30% who aren’t protected by the hold harmless provision. That unlucky 30% includes those who are better off, those who don’t have Medicare premiums withheld from their Social Security, and those who didn’t receive Social Security in 2015.

Here’s the table of what you’ll pay per month for 2016, depending on your income, for individuals and for couples filing a joint tax return:

Beneficiaries who file an individual tax return with income: Beneficiaries who file a joint tax return with income:

Income-related monthly adjustment amount

Total monthly premium amount

Less than or equal to $85,000 Less than or equal to $170,000

$0.00

$121.80

Greater than $85,000 and less than or equal to $107,000 Greater than $170,000 and less than or equal to $214,000

48.70

170.50

Greater than $107,000 and less than or equal to $160,000 Greater than $214,000 and less than or equal to $320,000

121.80

243.60

Greater than $160,000 and less than or equal to $214,000 Greater than $320,000 and less than or equal to $428,000

194.90

316.70

Greater than $214,000 Greater than $428,000

268.00

389.80

Note these officially-released numbers are slightly higher than those talked about after the budget deal: $120.70 for the base monthly premiums for those not held harmless. “This is actuarial nitpicking at its finest,” Antos says.The last time we saw hikes like these was in 2011, when premiums for high income folks rose 15%, and Antos warns that we could see them again for 2017. Starting in 2020, the high income premium brackets will be adjusted for inflation, so that promises to keep some out of reach of the income surcharges. But don’t count on it. “We’re going to have several years of Congress looking for money from Medicare,” says Antos. “It’s easy to remove that indexing. It’s always easier to pick on high income people than anybody else.”

Is there a way around these high premiums? Use strategies now that will let you control your adjusted gross income in retirement. The income-related premiums are based on your income two years prior. Planning ahead with Roth conversions can help manage your bracket in retirement. Fidelity’s latest retiree healthcare cost is $245,000 a couple and that’s not including income-related Part B surcharges.

If you have a high deductible health insurance plan now, fund a health savings account and invest it until you need it for medical expenses in retirement (you can use money in a health savings account for Medicare premiums but not for Medigap policies). It’s possible to build a $150,000-plus health savings account. If you’re already getting hit with Medicare income-related premiums, bunching income into one year can help keep premiums down another year.

Written by Ashlea Ebeling of Forbes

(Source: Forbes)

Costs from Regulations Pile Up, Hurt Small Business Profits

© AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
© AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

NEW YORK — It’s getting more expensive to be an employer and small business owners say that’s making it harder for them to make money.

The health care law, minimum wage increases and paid sick leave laws in some states and cities are increasing costs. Small companies also face the prospect of higher overtime expenses under a proposed federal regulation.

“We’re going beyond the point where we can comfortably operate a functioning business and meet the requirements of these laws,” says Diana Lamon, who owns a Los Angeles restaurant, Poppy & Rose and a food truck, Peaches’ Smokehouse and Southern Kitchen, with her husband Ryan.

The growing costs the Lamons face include:

—The $9 hourly minimum wage in the city will rise to $10.50 next July, the first step toward a $15 minimum in 2020.

—They may be required to offer health insurance starting Jan. 1 if they go ahead with plans to offer dinner at the restaurant, which now serves breakfast and lunch. The expansion could give the Lamons 50 or more workers, the point at which employers must provide coverage.

—Employees must be given paid time off when they’re sick under a new California law. When workers are out sick and need to be replaced, an employer pays two salaries.

—Four of the Lamons’ employees would have to be paid overtime under the proposed Labor Department regulation that would raise the threshold at which salaried workers are exempt from overtime. The regulation is expected to become final early next year.

Owners faced with these accumulating financial demands might be saying, “it’s always something.” But dealing with continual challenges is part of running a small company, says Phillip Kim, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College.

“It’s the nature of doing business, and those who can be resourceful and be able to be nimble in the process will have a better chance of succeeding,” he says.

The Lamons are looking at ways to increase revenue and cut expenses. One option is catering; their restaurant is surrounded by businesses and new high-rise apartments and they believe customers will be interested in ordering food for events and parties. They’re considering growing their own produce in a rooftop garden.

Higher expenses from regulations come on top of other rising costs. The Lamons are paying more for water because of California’s severe drought. Eggs, a staple in a breakfast restaurant, cost 30 percent more this year because of a bird flu that forced farmers to destroy thousands of hens.

At his restaurants and bookstores, Stephen Mayer is also trying to keep costs from wiping out profits.

“It’s piling on, health care, sick time, a little crazy,” says Mayer, who co-owns a restaurant and bookstores in San Francisco and is sole owner of a San Jose, California, restaurant.

A 14 percent increase in San Francisco’s minimum wage from $10.74 to $12.25 on May 1 will cost Mayer’s restaurant, Cafe de la Presse, about $225,000 a year, more than half the $400,000 profit it made in 2014, Mayer says. He’s already expecting that when the government’s overtime regulation becomes final, staffers at the restaurants and bookstores will work seven hours each day instead of eight. They’ll still be full-time workers, but if they end up working up to an hour past their shifts, the companies won’t have to pay overtime.

A thinner staff is an easier alternative than raising prices, especially in a bookstore, Mayer says.

“If (the price on) a book says $7.95, you can’t charge $8.95,” he says.

Karen Port is concerned about a bill to raise the current St. Louis minimum wage to $11 by 2020 from the current $7.65. She’s paying between $600 and $1,200 a month for each of her four employees for health insurance, and she’s worried that her costs from the health care law will keep going up. She has another problem: Many people haven’t been buying luxury items like the hot tubs that cost thousands of dollars that she sells at her business, Mirage Spa & Recreation. Raising prices is out of the question.

“I wonder about how I’m going to cover all of the bills that seem to be increasing at my current level of sales,” Port says.

Written by Joyce M. Rosenberg of Associated Press

(Source: Associated Press)

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Deciding to Retire

Few Americans save abundantly for retirement. Whether due to financial issues or a lack of foresight, a lot of people either don’t give much thought to retirement or are unable to save up enough to help them fund their elder years.

In fact, only 13 percent of people who haven’t retired yet say they’ve given a lot of thought to financial planning for retirement, according to the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2014 conducted by the Federal Reserve Board. Nearly 40 percent say they have given little to no thought to retirement planning.

Mapping out your retirement takes more than asking yourself, “When should I retire?” Consider these seven questions to help you better plan for financial and personal obstacles in retirement.

1. What kind of lifestyle do I want?

If you’re married, you’ll need to speak with your spouse to make sure your retirement plans are aligned.

© Blend Images/REX If you’re married, you’ll need to speak with your spouse to make sure your retirement plans are aligned.

Before you try to figure out how much money you need to retire, you need to consider what sort of lifestyle you want to have in retirement, said John Sweeney, Executive Vice President of Retirement and Investing Strategies at Fidelity. Do you want to stay in your current home or downsize? Will you want to move to a bigger city or someplace warmer? Maybe you want to travel the world.

No matter how you envision your retirement, you’ll need to plan ahead to fund it. Depending on your goals, you might need to save more than you originally planned. If you’re married, you’ll need to speak with your spouse to make sure your retirement plans are aligned.

2. What will my expenses in retirement be?

When to retire

© Provided by Gobankingrates When to retire

Sweeney said most people can expect to spend about 85 cents in retirement for every dollar spent before retirement. Depending on your health, however, you might need to save more to cover medical expenses. If you have a chronic condition or have mobility issues, over time you might end up needing to spend more money to maintain your quality of living.

To help you project rough estimates of your retirement costs, you can use an online retirement income calculator. With a financial planner, you can get a detailed cash-flow analysis and help managing taxes.

3. Will I have enough savings to cover my expenses?

© Ocean/Corbis

Less than half of all workers say they’ve ever tried to calculate how much money they will need to save to live comfortably in retirement, according to The 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Scott Bishop, Director of Financial Planning at STA Wealth Advisors in Houston, recommends comparing your current monthly expenses with how much income you’ll have in retirement.

If your retirement savings can’t sustain your mortgage, insurance and other typical costs, you might want to reconsider your current savings plan. You will also want to calculate your Social Security benefit to determine how it will affect your monthly budget. When considering whether you’ll have enough income in retirement, assume you’ll be in retirement for 25 years and have access to four percent of your savings annually.

In retirement, you’ll want to revisit your withdrawal percentage, adjusting for your actual spending, said Bishop. Your retirement portfolio, which should include numerous asset types, should also be structured to outpace inflation. Sweeney recommends you have a mix of stocks — about 55 percent — in your early years of retirement to maintain growth, and fixed income, such as bonds, to guard against market volatility.

4. What impact will taxes have on my retirement income?

© Heide Benser/Corbis

Taxes don’t disappear when you stop working. In fact, your tax bill can take a big bite out of your retirement income.

Up to 85% of your Social Security benefits might be taxable if you have income in addition to your benefits. Withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, are also taxed. So, if you need $5,000 a month to cover expenses in retirement, you might need to withdraw up to $6,000, thanks to taxes, Bishop said.

Higher-income taxpayers will have to pay taxes on profits from the sale of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments not held in a tax-deferred retirement account. States have their own rules for taxing retirement income, so depending on where you live, you could be hit with an above-average tax bill.

The states that impose the highest taxes on retirees include California, Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, according to a 2014 analysis of state taxes conducted by Kiplinger, a publisher of business forecasts and personal finance advice. A financial planner can help you figure out how taxes will impact you in retirement and what strategies you can use to minimize your tax bill.

5. Where will I get my health care?

© REX/Blend Images

Chances are your employer won’t continue providing health care coverage for you in retirement. Only 28% of companies with 200 or more employees offer retiree health coverage, according to the 2013 Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits.

You are eligible for Medicare when you turn 65. You likely won’t need to pay a premium for Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient hospital stays, care at nursing facilities, hospice care and some home health care. If you want extended health benefits, however, you’ll need to pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part B, which covers most doctors’ services and outpatient services. Medicare Part B typically costs around $104.90.

If you retire early, you’ll have to get an insurance policy on your own. Couples who retire at 62 can expect to pay $17,000 a year for health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs until they’re eligible for Medicare, according to Fidelity. A retiree can expect to pay an average of $220,000 in medical expenses over the course of their retirement.

You also need to factor in long-term medical care, which could wipe out your retirement savings if you’re not prepared. The median annual cost of care in an assisted living facility is $43,200, and the average cost of a private nursing home room is more than double that, according to the Genworth 2015 Cost of Care Survey. To curb these types of costs, you can look into long-term care insurance.

6. How much debt do I have?

© JLP/Jose L. Pelaez/Corbis

The more debt you carry into retirement, the more retirement income you’ll need to pay off what you owe. When you’re deciding when to retire, you need to figure you how long it will take to pay off your existing debts. You should pay off any high-interest debts that aren’t tax-deductible first, such as credit card debt, said Bishop. If you have good credit, refinance any high-interest debt that’s tax-deductible, such as a mortgage, to get the lowest rate possible.

7. Am I emotionally ready to retire?

Glum businessman working in office

© Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images Glum businessman working in office

Ask yourself what you will do once you retire. If you don’t know — and most people don’t — you might have a problem, said Bishop. Few people still have the traditional view of retirement of doing little more than playing shuffleboard all day. In fact, only around 22 percent of people surveyed by the Federal Reserve Board say they plan to stop working entirely in retirement.

You need to figure out before you retire whether you want to continue working in some capacity. If you initially choose not to work in retirement, you might have a harder time becoming employed after being out of the workforce for a while.

Deciding to retire, much less knowing how to map out a retirement plan, takes work and careful thought. Consider meeting with a financial planner to help you determine how to decide when to retire and to create an action plan for retirement. Knowing how and when you will retire will allow you to look forward to retirement.

Written by Cameron Huddleston of GoBankingRates

(Source: GoBankingRates)