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Estate Tax Planning

03/17/2017

Saver's Credit Option Offers Rewards

Hand holding moneyThere’s a little known tax credit for people who have low to moderate income and are putting money aside to save for retirement.  The Saver’s Credit is available to eligible taxpayers to use in conjunction with the tax deduction they may already have qualified for by contributing to an IRA.

If your adjusted gross income is below $30,750 as an individual, $46,125 as a head of household or $61,500 as a married couple in 2016, you might be eligible for tax credit.  It can be worth between 10 and 50 percent of the amount you contribute to an IRA up to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.  You would receive the tax credit on top of the benefits of a tax-free or tax-deferred retirement fund contribution.

The Saver’s Credit applies to contributions made to a traditional or Roth IRA, a 401(K) plan, a SIMPLE IRA, a SARSEP, your 403(b) plan, 501(c)(18) plan or a governmental 457(b) plan.  Voluntary after-tax employee contributions to a qualified retirement and 403(b) plans may also be eligible for the tax credit.

Find out more by clicking here for detailed information.

Splitting Your Tax Refund

Many taxpayers are choosing to split their tax refunds. Splitting refunds is easy and is done electronically through direct deposit allowing the Department of Treasury to deposit your refund dollars in any proportion you want. You may split funds for deposits in up to three different accounts with U.S. financial institutions.

Splitting wood with axe 1A taxpayer may also choose to have a portion of a refund deposited into an Individual Retirement Account or make a deposit into an account with a pre-paid debit card. A refund should only be deposited into an account or accounts that are in the taxpayer’s own name or spouse’s name, if it’s a joint account.

By splitting your refund, you benefit from the convenience of opting to have some of the money deposited into your checking account for immediate use and some deposited to an interest-bearing savings for future use.  In addition, you receive the safety and speed of direct deposit, allowing access to your refund faster than if you opt to receive a paper check. (See more about the direct deposit option in our blog “Going Digital with Direct Deposits”.)

You also may use part or all of your refund to buy U.S. Series I Savings Bonds for yourself or someone else.  The splitting of refunds is a rapidly growing choice among taxpayers as more digital resources become available and security concerns increase about paper trails and identity theft.

03/16/2017

IRA Moves That Save Tax Dollars

There’s still time to reduce your 2016 tax bill as you take steps to maximize the benefits of saving money for retirement.  There are different strategies that can save money or defer taxes through contributing to IRAs and retirement funds each tax year.  For the 2016 tax year, you have until April 18th to make a move. However, if you do make a qualifying IRA contribution between January 1 and April 18, make certain you specifically instruct your financial institution to apply the deposit to the 2016 tax year.  Otherwise, the deposit may automatically be considered a 2017 deposit.

Taxes and moneyUsing a Tax Refund for Tax Savings  Here’s another tip regarding your tax refund and saving for retirement: consider depositing all or part of your tax refund directly into an IRA.  It saves a step by directly depositing the money, it can speed up the timing of the contribution and ensures the deposit is made as you intend.  With a direct deposit, you can even choose to use your 2016 refund to pay for the amount of your 2016 IRA contribution as long as the tax return can be processed and the refund paid before the April 18th deadline. You would designate on Form 8888 “Allocation of Refund” how much of your refund should be deposited directly into your IRA and that it should be designated as your 2016 contribution.

How Much You Can Save  A working taxpayer can defer paying income tax on a contribution of pre-tax dollars up to $5,500 to a Traditional IRA and may split contributions to more than one IRA.  Income tax won’t be due on the money until it is withdrawn from the account.  Contributions to a Roth IRA are after-tax dollars and do not qualify for a tax deduction, though qualified distributions may be withdrawn tax-free at retirement. Contributions to both Traditional and Roth IRAs are limited depending upon modified adjusted gross income.

The actual amount of the tax deduction on a Traditional IRA depends upon the taxpayer’s income tax rate.  For example, a worker in the 25% tax bracket may save $1,375 in income taxes by making the maximum IRA contribution.  Workers in the 35% tax bracket may save $1,925 for the same contribution amount.

If you are age 50 and above, you may contribute an additional $1,000 to an IRA up to a total tax-deductible contribution of no more than $6,500. For example, the tax deduction can range from $975 for individuals in the 25% income tax bracket to $2,275 for those who are in a 35% tax bracket.

Married couples can double their tax deduction if they make the maximum contribution to an IRA in each spouse’s name.  Even if one of the spouses doesn’t work, a contribution can be made for that spouse subject to the spousal IRA limit. The combined contributions must be no more than $11,000 if both are under age 50, $12,000 if one spouse is 50 or older and $13,000 if both are at least 50 years old.

Who Qualifies For Tax Deduction  A taxpayer must earn income in order to save in an IRA. If a worker has no retirement plan at work, the tax deduction for Traditional IRA contributions is allowed in full regardless of income.  If a person or spouse has a retirement plan at work, the tax deduction and the contributions may be limited.  Amounts for both the allowable deduction and contributions phase out at higher income levels calculated as modified adjusted gross income.

People aged 70 ½ and older may no longer claim a tax deduction for their contributions to Traditional IRAs. Upon reaching that age, the fund’s owner must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs).  Any deductible contributions and earning withdrawn from a Traditional IRA are taxable. Early withdrawals by a person under the age of 59 ½ may be subject to a 10% penalty.  Contributions made to a Roth IRA can be made after age 70 ½ and the amount in the account can be left there as long as the person lives. Qualified distributions are generally not taxable, but early withdrawals are subject to a 10% penalty.

Click here for a description of the difference between Traditional and Roth IRAs.

11/30/2016

Trump's Take on Taxes

President-Elect Donald Trump’s tax plan promises to take a hatchet to the current tax code affecting individuals and businesses alike.  Experts and analysts have varied views about what his administration will do and how soon, but they agree that the Republican control of both the House and Senate will enable faster action and more radical moves.

Trump speakingComprehensive tax plans which would reduce tax rates for individuals and businesses while eliminating many deductions and tax breaks have been in the works, but politics prevented their introduction.  Because most of this legislation has already been written, pulling together the plans into a Trump-approved tax bill for debate could happen at lightning speed.

Considering ordinary income taxes only, the current tax code charges individuals complicated graduated tax rates from 10% to 39.6%.  Trump’s proposal includes only three individual income tax brackets: 12%, 25% and 33%.  Itemized deductions would be capped or no longer allowed and personal exemptions would be eliminated.

Under the Trump tax plan business taxes would be slashed and corporations would pay 15% instead of 35% on earnings.  A more simplified tax structure would eliminate most business deductions including interest on debt.  Depreciation of assets would also be calculated differently through a more limited and simplified tax code.

Trump plans to eliminate estate taxes which currently charge 40% tax on assets above $5.45 million.  His plan would still allow an income tax on the appreciation inherent in the assets for larger estates that would be paid when the assets are sold by the beneficiary.

America’s new President is set to be sworn in January 20th.  In the footsteps of two former Presidents, John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover, as billionaire real estate mogul Trump has opted to forego the annual Presidential salary of $400,000.  He is quickly putting together a team of lawmakers who will fulfill his campaign promises to slash taxes and repeal major provisions of the Affordable Care Act (see more below in “2017 Tax Rates (If Nothing Changes)”) among his first days in office.

This is a good time to review and understand your options. Contact us now to confirm your year-end tax planning session and we’ll help you determine the best tax strategy during changing times.

03/07/2016

Money Fights and Millennials

A new survey of Millennial couples says choices about finances are among the top reasons they argue. There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S. alone, and they are expected to be spending up to $200 billion annually by 2017. This is the reason business, political and social experts are keeping a close eye on their habits and lifestyle choices.

Millennials are the generation generally born in the mid 1980s and up to the early 2000s.  In a joint effort, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the Ad Council surveyed couples who were between 25 to 34 years of age, employed, and married or living with a partner.  The results revealed 88% say financial decisions cause tension. Of that number, 31% say they argue about money weekly, and 20% say they argue about finances daily.

Couple fight over moneyExperts define Millennials as racially diverse, sociable (especially active on social networks), community-minded, health conscious and more liberal politically. They are apt to spend money on higher-priced goods if the products or services are connected to a “good cause” or a “healthy standard.” The problem, the survey shows, is that while Millennials seem to enjoy discussing and supporting important issues with their dollars, they fail to share their feelings and habits about money with the person they are closest to and who would be the most affected. When asked, less than 50% said they had discussed finances in detail with their loved one before marriage.

Many Millennials today enter into long-term relationships already burdened with high monthly expenses connected to credit card bills and higher education loans. Even though the survey results showed nearly half of the couples paid an equal share of household expenses, the couples said their partner had different financial habits and debt issues that made saving difficult.

The National CPA Financial Literacy Commission warns Millennials that greater spending power comes with a greater responsibility to understand a potential partner’s financial values and beliefs. A news release emphasizes, “We encourage couples to have a serious conversation about their financial hopes and dreams and the steps they need to take to get there.”

The AICPA features a “Feed the Pig” website that provides tips for Millennial couples to help them think beyond the honeymoon phase to daily money matters. If you are thinking about getting married or want to confirm financial choices to build a better financial future as a couple, contact us at McRuer CPAs.

01/15/2016

Tax Extenders & The Deficit Dilemma

Though Congress has received some applause for reviving a set of more than 50 tax breaks, called “tax extenders,” there is as much dismay-driven head shaking over the fact that the bipartisan agreement and the now signed budget bill dig the federal deficit hole even deeper.

The new tax law, entitled the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, and the newly signed funding bill provide $1.1 trillion to cover spending for most government agencies to the end of fiscal year 2016, perhaps coincidentally past the upcoming presidential election. The defense sector, NASA, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health received a bit of a boost with most other agency funding remaining flat. ENews 2016 pic tax-credit3

IRS funding restrictions remain, so it’s expected that taxpayers will continue experiencing communication and customer service problems and an increase in computer-generated correspondence audits throughout 2016 and 2017. The new National Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report to Congress blasts the IRS for planning to “substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face interaction with taxpayers,” turning that job over to tax return preparers and tax software companies.

Meanwhile, the good news for taxpayers is that the PATH Act makes permanent several charitable tax provisions, indicating that lawmakers support using tax incentives to encourage charitable giving. For example, those 70 ½ or older may contribute up to $100,000 from an IRA directly to a charity with the contribution qualifying for their required minimum distribution (also known as Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) rules).

Other permanently renewed tax provisions include the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college expenses and the deduction for state and local sales taxes. The schoolteacher expense deduction has been enhanced and made permanent, as has the child tax credit.

The mortgage insurance premiums and qualified residence interest deductions have been extended for another year. Taxpayers who suffered losses from selling their home for less than the outstanding mortgage will also be able to avoid the tax consequences from debt cancellation under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act for another year.

Companies that utilize bonus depreciation like those involved in the telecommunications industry or who invest in capital-intensive projects will continue enjoying this helpful tax provision for a few more years. The tax law also makes permanent the research and development tax credit, which encourages important business R&D like that in the pharmaceutical and defense sectors.

The solar investment tax credit (ITC) and the wind production tax credit (PTC) are being phased out but will remain active through 2019 and 2021 respectively. The energy industry overall has received both tax incentives and funding resources, adding a boost of confidence to alternative energy producers.

Tax increases levied on individuals and businesses to pay for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) continue to be unpopular, and some were not enacted. Now it’s possible the two most controversial taxes may be repealed. These are the proposed tax on medical devices and the 40% excise “Cadillac” taxes on higher-priced employer-sponsored health plans that compete with government-sponsored plans.

The 2015 year-end budget battle, which starts our new tax year without delays, was a fistfight compared to the combative, destructive delay-causing 2014 debate. Yet, even as lawmakers are cooling to budget debates, the looming budget deficit has not disappeared and continues to grow. Our 2016 budget will add to the deficit, rather than reduce it. The Congressional Budget Office reports that overall US Treasury debt has grown to 74% of GDP that “could have serious negative consequences for the nation, including restraining economic growth in the long term ... and eventually increasing the risk of financial crisis.”

Overall, the bipartisan tax bill was passed with the understanding that Congress is committed to comprehensive tax reform that will simplify the tax code, eliminate temporary provisions and lower tax rates by broadening the tax base. Lawmakers who supported the PATH Act stated in a news release, “Americans deserve a simpler, fairer and flatter tax code that’s built for growth, and this bill will help make that possible.” The 2016 election year will likely determine how far that ship will sail.

If you have any questions about how the current tax law affects your individual and/or business tax obligation, please contact us now at McRuer CPAs for a tax planning session.

12/18/2015

2015 Tax Extenders Summary

After months of uncertainty and speculation, it appears Congress has finally sufficiently collaborated to propose the “Tax Extenders” legislation in which a large number of expired tax provisions will be extended, some permanently.  Some tax credits that would be made permanent include the Child Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit

Of particular interest, it appears Section 179 will be permanently fixed at $500,000 of qualified assets for years in which taxpayers place in service up to $2,000,000 of assets.  For amounts above $2,000,000, the Section 179 deduction is reduced dollar for dollar until $2,500,000, at which time no asset additions are eligible.  Bonus depreciation is temporarily extended at 50% for 2015, 2016 and 2017, then stepped down to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019, after which time it is scheduled to be completely phased out.

To find out more information about the specifics of the legislation, here are some online resources:

If you have any questions about how these tax extenders may affect you or your business bottom line, please contact us at McRuer CPAs by calling 816.741.7882 or click here to connect with us online.

04/13/2015

Financial Transaction Tax and How It May Affect You

Washington lawmakers are watching the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) debate in Europe as Democrat party leaders have made enacting this kind of tax a central part of their economic proposals for 2015.  The effects of this debate could reach across international money markets into the pockets of common American taxpayers.

NYSEA FTT is a  monetary transactions tax usually associated with the financial sector as compared to consumption taxes that consumers pay on products and services.  Democrat Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota has introduced an even more specific “Inclusive Prosperity Act” which would tax the sale of stocks, bonds and derivatives.  It is part of the on-going party theme of supporting “Main Street over Wall Street.”  He claims the tax would reduce market speculation, discourage high-volume and high-speed trading, and slow down the proliferation of complex derivatives.

Republican FTT opponents argue these kinds of taxes would do little to harm Wall Street, even admitting they would raise badly needed revenue, but disagree about where the money would come from.  They claim FTTs would put financial stress on working Americans by increasing the costs of having individual, family and employee retirement accounts.  This would occur at a time when retirement plans operated by corporations are disappearing and Americans are already struggling with costs, both in time and money, associated with managing their own IRAs.  They say the new taxes would make it more difficult for common people to save and invest.

Financial transaction taxes in general are usually proposed at very small percentage rates, but they could affect all transactions, of which there may be dozens (or even hundreds depending upon the size and scope) per account every day.  Proponents believe the taxes would raise billions of dollars in new revenues.  While experts predict the debate will not lead to a specific action this year, the issue will remain on the burner ready to heat up in time for the 2016 Presidential race.

Worldwide, there are several types of financial transaction taxes being implemented by various organizations and regions.  Some are domestic meaning they are imposed only within one nation or financial region.  Others are multinational, and affect transactions made between countries.  Nearly 50 nations have some form of FTT today.

EU finance ministers have been fiercely debating the scope of the tax pushing for a wide tax base with low tax rates.  They have made a public commitment to start a EU FTT on January 1, 2016 with what’s called an “extra-territorial” reach across markets and nations.  Yet, the last meeting of the 28 Member States in February ended with little progress on key issues and they are not set to negotiate again until May.  Still to be worked out; who will collect the tax, the penalty for non-payment and who will be responsible for paying the penalty.

04/07/2015

Social Security Disability In Trouble

Officials report the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is in trouble financially and in less than two years is expected to not be able to pay full benefits.

Social-security-disabilitySSDI provides supplemental income to the mentally or physically disabled who cannot work full-time.  The Social Security Administration reports that more than 11 million Americans receive SSDI payments each year.

The SSDI has petitioned lawmakers to access funds in the broader, less financially stressed Social Security retirement program until its own funding deficit can be solved.

It’s not surprising that positions about this issue divide along party lines. Republicans want the SSDI to fix its underlying costly administration structure that drains funds, which could otherwise be paid as benefits.  They also want to change eligibility requirements to limit benefit payments to those who are most needy. 

Democrats claim the Republicans had already targeted SSDI for budget cuts and are using the current fiscal crisis as a way to cut benefits overall creating "a crisis where none exists.”  They say Republicans are refusing for political reasons to accept a proposal supported by President Obama that they claim could fix the problem.  A number of Democrats are pushing for increases in both disability and social security retirement benefits.

Financial and political analysts agree the issue will be a major debate topic and will be one of the first action items the next President must address in early 2016.

The health of the larger Social Security retirement fund remains unclear.  Annual reports predict the fund will be depleted by 2033.  The Heritage Foundation confirms the cash-flow deficit began in 2010 when $51 billion in benefits were paid above what was received in payroll taxes, and numbers show the deficit is getting worse each year.  An effort to reallocate funds from one resource to another is considered a temporary fix.  At the present payment rate all reserve funds may dry up in 20 years.

Some proposed solutions include increasing the Social Security tax from 6.2% to 7% of earnings, changing the cost-of-living adjustment, enacting a means test that would reduce or eliminate social security for retirees with higher incomes, and raising the retirement age to 68.

If you have questions about how your retirement plans may be affected by Social Security funding issues, contact McRuer CPAs for a review of your strategies and goals.

03/27/2015

Income Taxes When You Sell Your Home

With so much debate over taxes on assets and capital gains, many taxpayers are confused about the tax rules on gains or losses when selling their personal home.

House soldIf you sold a home in the 2014 tax year, you may be able to exclude part or all of the profit from your income.  This tax rule generally applies if you’ve owned and used the property as your main home for at least two out of five years before the date of sale.

A capital gain or loss is measured against the “basis” of the property; that is, the price that you paid for it when you purchased it originally plus the amounts you paid for any improvements.  Note that you cannot add the value of your own labor.  You can use an IRS worksheet called Publication 523 to calculate the gain (or loss) on the sale.

You are allowed to exclude from your income up to $250,000 of capital gains from the sale of a personal residence ($500,000 on a joint return).  Additionally, to be clear, any gain on the sale of a personal residence is not subject to the new Net Investment Income Tax that was enacted in 2013.

If you can exclude all of the gain, you don’t need to report the sale of the home on your income tax return.  But, know that you can exclude a gain from the sale of only one main home per two-year period.  If you own more than one home, the “main” home is the one where you reside most of the time.  You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home.

If you can’t exclude all of the gain on your home’s sale, you’ll need to report the home sale on your individual income tax return.  In that case, you will probably also receive a Form 1099-S indicating you have earned proceeds from a real estate transaction. You must submit that form with your income tax return.

If you sell your main home for which you received a first-time homebuyer credit, special rules may apply on any gains that may redirect the funds to repay the credit you previously received.

What if you sell your home at a loss?  If the money that you receive from selling your home is less than your cost basis, there is no tax benefit.  Even though it may be a loss, you cannot deduct the loss from your income.

If you sold a home, or are planning to sell your main home, and want to better understand the tax consequences, contact us at McRuer CPAs for an analysis.

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