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03/26/2015

New Tax Laws Affecting 2015 Income Taxes

What's new?As we complete and file our 2014 federal income tax returns, this is a good time to make adjustments as needed affecting our current-year 2015 income tax plan.  To help, the IRS has released its list of new income tax changes, rates and updates that are now in effect.

As a reminder, federal income tax is designed to be a pay-as-you-go tax.  You are obligated to pay taxes throughout the year as you earn or receive income, and you may be subject to penalties if you don’t.  You may pay through payroll withholding, or by paying estimated taxes.  

The new updates regarding deductions and exemptions may directly affect the tax you owe.  Consider our tax planning services to give you a year-round tax perspective so the annual tax preparation season will go smoother with fewer surprises.

Standard Mileage Rates:  For taxpayers claiming itemized deductions, including deducting the cost of operating your personal vehicle for business purposes, the standard mileage rate allowed for business miles driven is now 57.5 cents per mile, up from 56 cents in 2014.

The business standard mileage rate is based on a combination of annual averages of fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle including not only gas and oil, but also depreciation, insurance, tires and average maintenance and repairs.  Some taxpayers may enjoy a greater tax benefit by itemizing their actual annual vehicle costs, but they must choose between the actual costs method and the standard mileage rate deduction.

If you will drive more than usual for medical expenses or because of a move this year, the rate has dropped to 23 cents per mile for this year, down a bit from 2014’s rate of 23.4 cents.  The mileage rate allowed for miles driven in service of a charitable organization remains at 14 cents per mile.

Personal Exemptions ChangesFor 2015, the personal exemption amount has increased for certain taxpayers.  It has increased to $4,000 for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes at or below $309,900 if married filing jointly or if a qualifying widow(er), $284,050 if a head of household, $258,250 if single, or $154,950 if married filing separately. The allowed personal exemption amount for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes above these thresholds has been reduced from 2014 and may be calculated using a new Personal Allowances Worksheet.

Itemized Deductions Limitation:  Now in 2015, the total amount allowed for itemized deductions is reduced for taxpayers with adjusted gross income above $309,900 if married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er), $284,050 if head of household, $258,250 if single, and $154,950 if married filing separately.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemption: The AMT exemption amount is increased to $53,600 ($83,400 if married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er); $41,700 if married filing separately).

Lifetime Learning Credit Income Limits: In order to claim a Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000, your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) must be less than $55,000, that’s down considerably from $64,000 in 2014 ($110,000 if married filing jointly, down from $128,000).

Adoption Credit or Exclusion: The maximum adoption credit or exclusion for employer-provided adoption benefits has increased to $13,400.  In order to claim either the credit or exclusion, your MAGI must be less than $241,010.

Earned Income Credit (EIC): You may be able to claim the EIC in 2015 if: three or more children lived with you and you earned less than $47,747 ($53,267 if married filing jointly), two children lived with you and you earned less than $44,454 ($49,974 if married filing jointly), one child lived with you and you earned less than $39,131 ($44,651 if married filing jointly), or a child did not live with you and you earned less than $14,820 ($20,330 if married filing jointly).

To learn more about how the 2015 tax year will affect your income tax planning, contact us at McRuer CPAs.

02/19/2015

Tax Software vs Professional Accountants

As we enter into the peak of tax preparation season, we are often asked about the difference between using tax preparation software and using the services of a professional accountant.  Today there are dozens of preparation software options online and in software packages that can help a taxpayer complete their tax return.  This as today's tax liabilities and concerns are growing more complicated than they've ever been. 

1040 form with glasses and penniesA recent Wall Street Journal article revealed as taxpayers try out new tax software tools, they are making more and more mistakes.  Often, it has to do with not knowing the right questions to ask to discover their best options.  Many times, incorrectly entered numbers cause automatic equations to produce the wrong totals.  

Don't misunderstand, there are good reasons to choose tax software to help you complete your income tax return on your own.  There are also good reasons to choose a professional accountant.  We came across an interesting and concise article online on Investopedia that explains your options clearly.

Here is that article for your consideration as you choose the best steps to take regarding the preparation of your federal and state income tax returns. 

Tax Software Vs. An Accountant: Which Is Right For You?    By Jason Steele | Updated January 29, 2014

""With every important job comes the question of whether or not individuals should do it themselves or hire a professional. While the ever-improving selection of tax preparation software certainly makes it easier to do your own taxes, it has hardly put Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and other personal tax preparers out of business. 

The Advantages of Using Tax Software
Price
There is no way around the fact that you will pay less for a software package than you will to hire a CPA or another qualified tax professional. The price of tax preparation software ranges from the $10 to $120 range to websites that offer the service for free. On the other hand, the least expensive tax preparers will cost at least $100 and a CPA is likely to charge at least twice that amount. The upfront savings of using tax software over an accountant is one of the most attractive benefits of filing your own taxes. 

The Advantages of Using Tax Software
Price
There is no way around the fact that you will pay less for a software package than you will to hire a CPA or another qualified tax professional. The price of tax preparation software ranges from the $10 to $120 range to websites that offer the service for free. On the other hand, the least expensive tax preparers will cost at least $100 and a CPA is likely to charge at least twice that amount. The upfront savings of using tax software over an accountant is one of the most attractive benefits of filing your own taxes. 

The Benefits of Hiring a Professional Accountant
Better Software
Accountants pay around $1,000 to $6,000 for their software, which is far more sophisticated than the products sold to consumers. These more advanced programs have the ability to quickly scan your information and organize line items and forms correctly. By automating much of the data entry and organization, there's less chance for human error to hurt your tax return.

Human Touch
Like a good family doctor that knows your medical history, you can develop a relationship with an accountant so that he or she understands your family's financial situation and future goals. According to Wehner, who has been preparing taxes for 45 years, "A tax professional is often able to make valuable tax savings suggestions that a software program just can't anticipate." The value of this advice can easily exceed the additional cost of consulting with a professional. For example, a tax accountant can provide you advice on tax-friendly ways to save for your children's education, or how to reduce taxes on your capital gains.

Accountants Can Answer Your Questions Year Round
As a trusted professional, a good accountant will be able to answer important questions that arise not just during your annual consultation, but at other times during the year.

Calculator help and form 1040A CPA Saves You Time When Handling Complicated Issues
Taxpayers who find themselves at the center of complicated business and investment matters may even have the skill to sort through their taxes on their own, but is it worth their time? A professional tax preparer is so familiar with the system; he or she can quickly and easily accomplish tasks that might take even skilled taxpayers hours of research. For busy non-tax professionals, their time can generally be better spent earning money in their area of expertise. Even if your tax situation is straightforward, hiring a professional will save you the time and stress of doing your taxes.

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there is no universally correct answer to the question of hiring a tax professional or doing your taxes yourself with software. Your comfort and familiarity with IRS rules will be part of your decision, but the complexity of your finances should be the key deciding factor. Those with a single employer and few investments may save hundreds of dollars by preparing their own taxes, while those with business income or rental properties will find the expense of hiring an accountant to be worth their peace of mind and potential tax saving.""

##  So, as we add one final thought to the article above, consider that the more complicated your taxes are, the more likely you need comprehensive accounting services and an accounting professional to help you make the best decisions. For us at McRuer CPAs, it's all about making certain you pay no more taxes than you owe.

If you have any questions, or would like to review your income tax situation with an accountant, contact us at McRuer CPAs to set up a consultation.  We'll take a look and provide you options so you can make the best choice.  Call us:  816.741.7882 or contact us online.

 

02/26/2013

Education Expense Relief

The new tax law package has some good news for families who are seeking tax relief for education expenses.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, a refundable tax credit for undergraduate college expenses, has been expanded for another 5 years to 2017.  This credit provides up to $2,500 on the first $4,000 of qualified education expenses.

Holding booksCoverdell Education Savings Accounts (aka Education IRAs) have been made permanent and now allow higher contribution limits of $2,000 a year.  Money in these accounts grows tax-free and is tax-free when withdrawn if used for eligible education expenses. You can make 2012 contributions through April 15, 2013. 

The Lifetime Learning Credit is available for anyone who is taking a college course.  It allows a nonrefundable tax credit on eligible expenses even if you are only taking one class.  Parents or the student may be able to claim up to $2,000 of qualified expenses.  There is no limit on the number of years the credit can be claimed. 

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