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Retirement 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.

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.

02/14/2017

Saving with myRA

The US Department of Treasury is offering the new myRA retirement savings account for people who have no access to a retirement savings plan at their job or lack other options to save.  It is a simple fund that is easy and free to open.  The idea is that if you give people a bit of help, they will learn the benefits of saving money and begin new habits that will last a lifetime.

MyRA logoA myRA account earns interest at the same rate as investments in the Government Securities Fund (average annual return of 2.94% over the last ten years) which are backed by the US Treasury.  It costs nothing to open the account and there are no fees.  A myRA is operated under Roth IRA Rules, so there is an annual contribution limit of $5,500 ($6,500 for individuals 50 years of age or older).  The fund is limited to a maximum $15,000.

The fund’s owner may withdraw any amount of money at any time tax-free and with no penalty.  The money can also be transferred to a private-sector Roth IRA at any time with no penalty.

Contributions may be made from direct deposits from a person’s paycheck, checking or savings account, and a federal income tax refund by marking the “savings” box on the refund section of a return.

The fund is designed to be a part of what is described as a “larger savings journey” with online tracking tools including a myRA Savings Goal calculator.  For more information, click here to visit the “Get Answers” page of the myRA website.

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.

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.

03/18/2015

Divorce, Death, Benefits and Taxes

The emotional stress and damage of divorce can have even more lasting consequences if personal finances and assets are not updated to reflect your changed situation.

It’s particularly important to address what will happen after your death, when certain assets and benefits may unintentionally be passed to your former spouse or his or her family.

Divorce-money-fightFor example, a current New York court case involving the assets of a woman who died at age 43 has now reached that state’s appellate court.  The woman’s family is battling her former in-laws who stand to inherit her home that her family has owned for generations, all because she did not update her will.  New York divorce laws automatically prevent her ex-husband from inheriting the property, but her secondary beneficiaries remain her ex-in-laws; so they are fighting over the property now.

It may be emotionally difficult to address your financial assets in the midst of divorce, but if you are going through a divorce or have even been divorced several years, it will pay off in the long run for you and your family to review and update your financial documents.

Be sure you have updated your estate plans, check insurance and other beneficiary designations and beneficiary deeds.  Also provide your loved ones with copies of the updated documents, or let them know where to find them.  Divorcing couples should also consider individually seeking a new financial adviser to avoid any conflicts of interest. 

Make certain your will clearly states your intentions, and that your powers of attorney, health-care proxy, and beneficiary designations on IRAs, insurance policies, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and annuities name the people that you wish.  Remember, no matter what a will says, these financial accounts and policies will pass to the individuals named on them, so having updated directives for each account is extremely important.

As we have detailed in our blog IRAs Need Updated Beneficiary Forms, changes in beneficiaries for annuities and IRAs must be submitted in writing and require a signed and dated document be sent to the financial institution handling the account or policy.

For some accounts, the original financial agreements stipulate the ex-spouse cannot be removed as a beneficiary, so the beneficiary may want to take steps to clarify the arrangements to ensure his or her name remains on the account.

When a divorce is final, the final divorce decree may be sent to the plan administrator directing how money in IRA accounts should be divided and transferred into separate accounts.  Company-sponsored qualified retirement plans will need additional steps.  In those cases, the court must issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) properly apportioning retirement plan assets between the former spouses.

However you wish to change your beneficiary status or account information, it’s also a good idea to request a written confirmation notice from your insurance company, financial planner and/or banker confirming they have received and acted on your changes.  Then, keep all the updated documents in a secure location that can be found in the event that you may become incapacitated or die.

Divorce may also affect a person’s current and future income tax obligation, and may affect future taxes owed on assets and retirement accounts.  Receiving or paying alimony payments or child support may also have tax consequences.

Divorce is painful.  Planning your next steps both personally and financially can help ease concerns as time passes.

Consider meeting with a McRuer CPAs expert who will help you identify and act upon the best financial strategy to help you now and in the years ahead.  Contact us online or call 816.741.7882 for a consultation.

02/21/2015

How to Know When You Need a CPA

The DIY (Do It Yourself) industry is flourishing these days.  This trend also extends to accounting and income tax services.  The availability of affordable computing power, improved entry-level accounting and income tax software, and cloud-based applications and storage options are attractive because they may help you save money by doing it yourself.  Added to that is some very effective advertising claiming that at the push of a button your business accounting and income tax filings will be worry free.  However, be warned; our clients often turn to us when their experience with DIY solutions show the ease and efficiency of using these products has been oversold.

In today’s highly regulated environment, innocent omissions and mistakes from simply not knowing An-accountant-helping-clientshow transactions should be recorded, or how to properly comply with new federal, state or local tax
law, can be costly, and sometimes devastating.  Instead of spending time increasing sales, improving processes and growing their businesses, some business owners say they grow frustrated and waste time trying to learn to use and update the latest software as well as keep up with filing deadlines and regulations by themselves.  That’s when they call us.

Let’s consider how engaging professional help with your business accounting and finances can pay big benefits that will help your bottom line both short-term and long-term. 

For those business owners who have a solid accounting or bookkeeping background and a good understanding of business finances, with McRuer CPAs’ MyMcRuer/BackOffice service offering you may benefit by a combination of some DIY and some professional on-demand services.

MyMcRuer/BackOffice helps business owners control costs by personally managing their business’s books.  In addition, when a difficult issue or a question arises, they have access to a local experienced accounting professional who will view the issue real time to identify the problem and quickly provide a solution.  Then as the business grows and its operations need more of an owner's or manager’s time, a smooth transition can be made to full-time professional accountants and bookkeepers who already know the business.

If you intend to grow your business, the benefits of professional accounting services cannot be overestimated.  Is it time that you utilized a professional for your combined personal and business tax preparation?  When is it cost effective to hire an accounting firm’s experts to help with your business accounting and bookkeeping needs?

Consider the following as a mental checklist to help you find an answer to the question: 

How Do I Know When I Need a Professional Accountant or CPA?

You know you need a professional accountant or CPA when…

(circle the sentence numbers that apply to you and when finished add up the total number of sentences that describe your financial situation)

  1. You are considering investing significant time, money and passion into a business idea. Before you “take the leap” you want input about your business plan from an independent professional who will review the numbers and help you analyze your idea’s future growth potential.
  2. You are starting a new business and want to select the best business structure that fits the marketplace, your proficiency and your goals.  You have been told there are different types of business entities that may limit your personal liability for your business activities, but you don’t understand the tax consequences of this decision.
  3. Your income and deductions have changed and you no longer file a simple tax return, or you suspect you must make quarterly estimated tax payments.
  4. You need new or additional business financing, and your lender or insuror is requesting financial information that must be provided by a third party.
  5. You want to better understand your business’s financial information, and use it to improve profitability, inventory management, and cash flow.
  6. You need more information in order to prepare to sell your business.
  7. You are shutting down your business.
  8. You hire other people to help you, and you need information about employees versus independent contractors.
  9. You have become responsible for another person’s affairs, either during their life or after their passing.
  10. The IRS or another regulatory agency has contacted you about an upcoming audit or other collection actions.
  11. You wish to develop and act on a plan to provide for your financial future, including saving for retirement, your childrens’ education, and/or other obligations.
  12. You want to ensure you have the best estate plan in place by understanding the tax, financial and time-based consequences of that plan.
  13. You want to create a succession plan for passing your business on to the next person when you’re ready to retire or sell.
  14. You want to take responsibility for your business and personal financial affairs, and want a trusted advisor to help you succeed.
  15. You must prepare and file Forms W2 and 1099 annually.
  16. You need to understand your best choices on property purchase versus equipment leasing.

How many of the above statements apply to you?

These are just a few of the practical reasons that you need a professional accountant on your business’ financial team.  If you circled 3 to 5 of the above business and personal accounting points, it’s probably time you considered using an upgraded business accounting tool that provides a live accountant when you need one.  If you circled more than 5, it’s time you connect with a professional accountant long-term with comprehensive services and experience to ensure business success.

Accountant over shoulderConsider using a CPA (Certified Professional Accountant) that is experienced and trained specifically to be your business and personal financial planner, management consultant, management information specialist, business consultant and more. 

Yet, don’t forget to consider whether the professional you bring on board is someone you get along with personally.  Financial decisions are a reflection of the production and goals of real people like you who are working to make profits in order to enjoy the life you love.  It’s important to find an accountant who will work well with your business team and shares your concerns about accuracy, reliability, efficiency, and long-term effectiveness.

When you know you need an accountant, we’re here.

At McRuer CPAs, we know business “numbers” are personal and we make the extra effort to match the personalities of our professional accountants with you and your business team.  You may discover the latest online tools with the on-demand help of a CPA are the best choice for you and your business.  Maybe it's time to have a full-time accounting professional join your team?  How do you what to do?

Let’s find out what will work best for you.  Contact us for a strategic planning session by calling 816.741.7882 or contact us through our confidential online resource.  We’ll review your goals and help you make the best choice.

09/16/2014

Being Deskilled by Technology: Losing Jobs to Computers

Computerized automation and software upgrades continue to push workers out of their jobs.  This phenomenon is now being called “deskilled”; i.e. If your job has been "deskilled", it means you’ve been replaced by technology. 

Computer man versus human worker imageA new report by one of the largest online placement agencies, CareerBuilder, says 25% of companies have replaced workers with technology in the last 18 months. Organizations with more than 500 employees report a higher deskill rate of 30%.

Researchers say while the technology is replacing many occupations, the replacement technology itself must have people to customize, maintain, and operate it; so, while companies are deskilling one position, they may be creating another position requiring new technology-related skills.  Yet, numbers show the correlation of jobs lost to jobs created is far below one-to-one.

In fact, the research shows overall one third of American occupations are experiencing a deceleration on the path to being replaced by other more rapidly growing technology-related occupations like web and software developers, market research analysts/specialists and management analysts.

Among those who have lost their jobs, 4 in 10 of these jobless are now classified as long-term unemployed because they have been actively looking for work for more than 27 weeks. The percent of long-term unemployed who are aged 50 and older is now at more than 30% of all unemployed who want to work.  Most of them report what they are experienced at doing is disappearing in the job market.

In an interesting twist, the report reveals that 35% of the firms who deskilled workers had to either hire them back or replace them because the technology did not work as promised, or the cost savings backfired when customers complained.

Jobs that are most in danger of being deskilled:

  • Customer Service  35%
  • Information Technology  33%
  • Accounting and Finance   32%
  • Assembly and Production   30%
  • Shipping and Distribution   25%
  • Sales   17%

Overall, the researchers say a marked transition is occurring that shows today’s workforce requirements will continue to be more deeply connected to technology, engineering, science, and math.  The question is, what kind of training and how long will it take to help deskilled workers re-enter the job market and at what economic cost?

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