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Education Finance Planning

03/09/2018

College Students Reap Rewards of Tax Credit

College costs tax credits piggy bankNearly 10 million taxpayers have claimed the American Opportunity Tax Credit saving an average of $2,277 per family according to new IRS statistics.  To claim this popular tax credit, the taxpayer, their spouse or their dependent must have been a student who was enrolled at least half time for one academic period. The credit is available for four years of post-secondary education and can be worth up to $2,500 per eligible student.

AOTC is a tax credit that helps pay a taxpayer back for qualified education expenses for the first four years of higher education.  While $2,500 may seem like a drop in the bucket when considering the high price of a college education, taxpayers with college expenses find this tax credit is a big help.  Also, another bonus that is unusual for tax credits, if the credit brings the amount of overall income taxes owed to zero, 40% (up to $1,000) of any remaining amount of the credit may be refunded to the taxpayer.

Families with multiple qualifying students have the right to claim up to the full AOTC tax credit amount for each student.  Newly released data show roughly 775,000 taxpayers had two children that qualified for the credit in their household, and more than 60,000 families who qualified for the tax credit had three children in college.

Students and families who want to apply, are required to have a Form 1098-T Tuition Statement from the school they attend. Then the taxpayer would fill out a Form 8863 to request the education credit and file it with their tax return.

An qualifying academic period can be a semester, quarter, trimester or summer school session which is determined by the school.  For higher education schools that do not use clock or credit hours nor academic terms, the student’s required payment period may be treated as an academic period.

Warning: make certain when you claim this tax credit that you are qualified as well as understand the guidelines and the need for accuracy.  Keep copies of your documentation.  If you are audited and the IRS finds that the AOTC claim is incorrect or you don’t have proper documentation, you may have to pay back not only the amount of the tax credit you received, but also interest and a possible fraud penalty. You may also be banned from claiming the credit again for two to ten years.

To be eligible for AOTC, the student must:

  • be pursuing a degree or another recognized education credential,
  • be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period beginning in the tax year,
  • not have finished the first four years of higher education at the beginning of the tax year,
  • not have claimed the AOTC (or the former Hope credit) for more than four tax years, and
  • not have a felony drug conviction at the end of the tax year (this was added as part of the national effort to cut drug abuse).

There are income limits based on a taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) which must be no more than $80,000 (or $160,000 for married filing jointly).  You cannot claim the credit if your MAGI is over $90,000 (or $180,000 for joint filers).

Many students complete their higher education with degrees that cost tens of thousands of dollars and have major student loan debt. This kind of tax credit is bringing some relief to millions of Americans as they seek more ways to finance their or their dependent’s college education.

If you have any questions or need more information about the AOTC, please contact one of our tax preparation specialists at McRuer CPAs online or by calling 816.7431.7882.

12/19/2017

What the Tax Reform Bill Means For Individuals

Although the exact details are not yet confirmed, we expect a number of changes in the new tax reform bill will affect individuals of all incomes.   The Journal of Accountancy, a leading resource on legislative matters affecting accounting regulations, has issued the following summary of the tax bill's expected reforms.  As a service to you, we are providing this summary in its entirety for your review.  Please contact us to set up a tax planning session to review strategies that you may now need to include in your individual tax plan.

What the Tax Reform Bill Means For Individuals

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, H.R. 1, agreed to by a congressional conference committee on Friday and expected to be voted on by both houses of Congress during the week of Dec. 18, contains a large number of provisions that would affect individual taxpayers. However, to keep the cost of the bill within Senate budget rules, all of the changes affecting individuals would expire after 2025. At that time, if no future Congress acts to extend H.R. 1’s provision, the individual tax provisions would sunset, and the tax law would revert to its current state.

Here is a look at many of the provisions in the bill affecting individuals.

Tax rates

For tax years 2018 through 2025, the following rates would apply to individual taxpayers:

Single taxpayers

Taxable income over

But not over

Is taxed at

$0

$9,525

10%

$9,525

$38,700

12%

$38,700

$82,500

22%

$82,500

$157,500

24%

$157,500

$200,000

32%

$200,000

$500,000

35%

$500,000

 

37%


Heads of households

Taxable income over

But not over

Is taxed at

$0

$13,600

10%

$13,600

$51,800

12%

$51,800

$82,500

22%

$82,500

$157,500

24%

$157,500

$200,000

32%

$200,000

$500,000

35%

$500,000

 

37%


Married taxpayers filing joint returns and surviving spouses

Taxable income over

But not over

Is taxed at

$0

$19,050

10%

$19,050

$77,400

12%

$77,400

$165,000

22%

$165,000

$315,000

24%

$315,000

$400,000

32%

$400,000

$600,000

35%

$600,000

 

37%


Married taxpayers filing separately

Taxable income over

But not over

Is taxed at

$0

$9,525

10%

$9,525

$38,700

12%

$38,700

$82,500

22%

$82,500

$157,500

24%

$157,500

$200,000

32%

$200,000

$300,000

35%

$300,000

 

37%


Estates and trusts

Taxable income over

But not over

Is taxed at

$0

$2,550

10%

$2,550

$9,150

24%

$9,150

$12,500

35%

$12,500

 

37%


Special brackets would apply for certain children with unearned income.

Standard deduction: The bill would increase the standard deduction through 2025 for individual taxpayers to $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of households, and $12,000 for all other individuals. The additional standard deduction for elderly and blind taxpayers is not changed by the bill.

Personal exemptions: The bill would repeal all personal exemptions through 2025. The withholding rules will be modified to reflect the fact that individuals can no longer claim personal exemptions.

Passthrough income deduction

For tax years after 2017 and before 2026, individuals would be allowed to deduct 20% of “qualified business income” from a partnership, S corporation, or sole proprietorships, as well as 20% of qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends, qualified cooperative dividends, and qualified publicly traded partnership income. (Special rules would apply to specified agricultural or horticultural cooperatives.)

A limitation on the deduction would be phased in based on W-2 wages above a threshold amount of taxable income. The deduction would also be disallowed for specified service trades or businesses with income above a threshold.

For these purposes, “qualified business income” would mean the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss with respect to the qualified trade or business of the taxpayer. These items must be effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States. They do not include specified investment-related income, deductions, or losses.

“Qualified business income” would not include an S corporation shareholder’s reasonable compensation, guaranteed payments, or—to the extent provided in regulations—payments to a partner who is acting in a capacity other than his or her capacity as a partner.

“Specified service trades or businesses” include any trade or business in the fields of accounting, health, law, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, or any business where the principal asset of the business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees.

The exclusion from the definition of a qualified business for specified service trades or businesses phases in for a taxpayer with taxable income in excess of $157,500 or $315,000 in the case of a joint return.

For each qualified trade or business, the taxpayer is allowed to deduct 20% of the qualified business income with respect to such trade or business. Generally, the deduction is limited to 50% of the W-2 wages paid with respect to the business. Alternatively, capital-intensive businesses may yield a higher benefit under a rule that takes into consideration 25% of wages paid plus a portion of the business’s basis in its tangible assets. However, if the taxpayer’s income is below the threshold amount, the deductible amount for each qualified trade or business is equal to 20% of the qualified business income with respect to each respective trade or business.

Child tax credit

The bill would increase the amount of the child tax credit to $2,000 per qualifying child. The maximum refundable amount of the credit would be $1,400. The bill would also create a new nonrefundable $500 credit for qualifying dependents who are not qualifying children. The threshold at which the credit begins to phase out would be increased to $400,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

Other credits

The House version of the bill would have repealed several credits that are retained in the final version of the bill. These include:

  • The Sec. 22 credit for the elderly and permanently disabled;
  • The Sec. 30D credit for plug-in electric drive motor vehicles; and
  • The Sec. 25 credit for interest on certain home mortgages.

The House bill’s proposed modifications to the American opportunity tax credit and lifetime learning credit also did not make it into the final bill.

Education provisions

The bill would modify Sec. 529 plans to allow them to distribute no more than $10,000 in expenses for tuition incurred during the tax year at an elementary or secondary school. This limitation applies on a per-student basis, rather than a per-account basis. Certain homeschool expenses would also qualify as eligible expenses for purposes of the Sec. 529 rules.

The bill would modify the exclusion of student loan discharges from gross income, by including within the exclusion certain discharges on account of death or disability.

The House bill’s provisions repealing the student loan interest deduction and the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses were not retained in the final bill.

The House bill’s proposed repeal of the exclusion for interest on Series EE savings bond used for qualified higher education expenses and repeal of the exclusion for educational assistance programs also do not appear in the final bill.

Itemized deductions

The bill would repeal the overall limitation on itemized deductions, through 2025.

Mortgage interest: The home mortgage interest deduction would be modified to reduce the limit on acquisition indebtedness to $750,000 (from the current-law $1 million).

A taxpayer who has entered into a binding written contract before Dec. 15, 2017, to close on the purchase of a principal residence before Jan. 1, 2018, and who purchases that residence before April 1, 2018, will be considered to have incurred acquisition indebtedness prior to Dec. 15, 2017, under this provision, meaning that they will be allowed the current-law $1 million limit.

Home equity loans. The home equity loan interest deduction would be repealed through 2025.

State and local taxes: Under the final bill, individuals would be allowed to deduct up to $10,000 ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) in state and local income or property taxes.

The conference report on the bill specifies that taxpayers cannot take a deduction in 2017 for prepaid 2018 state income taxes.

Casualty losses: Under the bill, taxpayers can only take a deduction for casualty losses if the loss is attributable to a presidentially declared disaster.

Gambling losses: The bill would clarify that the term “losses from wagering transactions” in Sec. 165(d) includes any otherwise allowable deduction incurred in carrying on a wagering transaction. This is intended, according to the conference report, to clarify that the limitation of losses from wagering transactions applies not only to the actual costs of wagers, but also to other expenses incurred by the taxpayer in connection with his or her gambling activity.

Charitable contributions: The bill would increase the income-based percentage limit for charitable contributions of cash to public charities to 60%. It would also deny a charitable deduction for payments made for college athletic event seating rights. Finally, it would repeal the statutory provision that provides an exception to the contemporaneous written acknowledgment requirement for certain contributions that are reported on the donee organization’s return—a current-law provision that has never been put in effect because regulations have not been issued.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions: All miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor under current law would be repealed through 2025 by the bill.

Medical expenses: The bill would reduce the threshold for deduction of medical expenses to 7.5% of adjusted gross income for 2017 and 2018.

Other provisions

Alimony: For any divorce or separation agreement executed after Dec. 31, 2018, the bill would provide that alimony and separate maintenance payments are not deductible by the payor spouse. It would also repeal the provisions that provide that such payments are includible in income by the payee spouse.

Moving expenses: The moving expense deduction would be repealed through 2025, except for members of the armed forces on active duty who move pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station.

Archer MSAs: The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for contributions to Archer MSAs; the final bill does not include this provision.

Educator’s classroom expenses: The final bill does not change the current-law allowance of an above-the-line $250 deduction for educators’ expenses incurred for professional development or to purchase classroom materials.

Exclusion for bicycle commuting reimbursements: The bill would repeal through 2025 the exclusion from gross income or wages of qualified bicycle commuting expenses.

Sale of a principal residence: The bill would not change the current rules regarding exclusion of gain from the sale of a principal residence.

Moving expense reimbursements: The bill would repeal through 2025 the exclusion from gross income and wages for qualified moving expense reimbursements, except in the case of a member of the armed forces on active duty who moves pursuant to a military order.

IRA recharacterizations

The bill would exclude conversion contributions to Roth IRAs from the rule that allows IRA contributions to one type of IRA to be recharacterized as a contribution to the other type of IRA. This would prevent taxpayers from using recharacterization to unwind a Roth conversion.

Estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxes

The bill would double the estate and gift tax exemption for estates of decedents dying and gifts made after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2026. The basic exclusion amount provided in Sec. 2010(c)(3) would increase from $5 million to $10 million and would be indexed for inflation occurring after 2011.

Alternative minimum tax

While the House version of the bill would have repealed the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for individuals, the final bill keeps the tax, but increases the exemption.

For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and beginning before Jan. 1, 2026, the AMT exemption amount would increase to $109,400 for married taxpayers filing a joint return (half this amount for married taxpayers filing a separate return) and $70,300 for all other taxpayers (other than estates and trusts). The phaseout thresholds would be increased to $1 million for married taxpayers filing a joint return and $500,000 for all other taxpayers (other than estates and trusts). The exemption and threshold amounts would indexed for inflation.

Individual mandate

The bill would reduce to zero the amount of the penalty under Sec. 5000A, imposed on taxpayers who do not obtain insurance that provides at least minimum essential coverage, effective after 2018.

Alistair M. Nevius (Alistair.Nevius@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA’s editor-in-chief, tax.

If you have questions about how the tax law changes will affect your business and what your next steps should be, please contact us online or call 816.741.7882 to set up an appointment to discuss details with one of our tax planning experts at McRuer CPAs.

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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