What You Need to Know About the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

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Don’t overlook the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. It can reduce the taxes you pay. Here are the facts from the IRS about this important tax credit:

1. Child, Dependent or Spouse. You may be able to claim the credit if you paid someone to care for your child, dependent or spouse last year.

2. Work-Related Expense. The care must have been necessary so you could work or look for work. If you are married, the care also must have been necessary so your spouse could work or look for work. This rule does not apply if your spouse was disabled or a full-time student.

3. Qualifying Person. The care must have been for “qualifying persons.” A qualifying person can be your child under age 13. A qualifying person can also be your spouse or dependent who lived with you for more than half the year and is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.

4. Earned Income. You must have earned income for the year, such as wages from a job. If you are married and file a joint tax return, your spouse must also have earned income. Special rules apply to a spouse who is a student or disabled.

5. Credit Percentage / Expense Limits. The credit is worth between 20 and 35 percent of your allowable expenses. The percentage depends on the amount of your income. Your allowable expenses are limited to $3,000 if you paid for the care of one qualifying person. The limit is $6,000 if you paid for the care of two or more.

6. Dependent Care Benefits. If your employer gives you dependent care benefits, special rules apply.

7. Qualifying Person’s SSN. You must include the Social Security number of each qualifying person to claim the credit.

8. Care Provider Information. You must include the name, address and taxpayer identification number of your care provider on your tax return.

 Contact us today at (877)305-1040 or (310)820-1080 or email us at info@onts9.com to make sure all your Tax credits are done correctly.

We are here all year round to help you with all your Tax and Accounting needs.

Make a Wise Choice when Selecting a Tax Preparer

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While there is still time before the next tax filing season, choosing a return preparer now allows more time for taxpayers to consider appropriate options and to find and talk with prospective tax preparers rather than during tax season when they’re most busy.

Furthermore, it enables taxpayers to do some wise tax planning for the rest of the year. If a taxpayer prefers to pay someone to prepare their return, the Internal Revenue Service encourages them to choose that person wisely as the taxpayer is legally responsible for all the information included on the return.

Below are some tips taxpayers can keep in mind when selecting a tax professional:

  • Select an ethical preparer. Taxpayers entrust some of their most vital personal data with the person preparing their tax return, including income, investments and Social Security numbers.
  • Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others. Taxpayers need to ensure that any refund due is sent to them or deposited into their bank account, not into a preparer’s account.
  • Be sure to use a preparer with a preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Paid tax return preparers must have a current PTIN to prepare a tax return. It is also a good idea to ask the preparer if they belong to a professional organization and attend continuing education classes.
  • Research the preparer’s history. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. For the status of an enrolled agent’s license, check with the IRS Office of Enrollment (enrolled agents are licensed by the IRS and are specifically trained in federal tax planning, preparation and representation). For certified public accountants, verify with the state board of accountancy; for attorneys, check with the state bar association.
  • Ask for e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically.
  • Provide tax records. A good preparer will ask to see records and receipts. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file a return using the latest pay stub instead of the Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
  • Make sure the preparer is available after the filing due date. This may be helpful if questions come up about the tax return. Taxpayers can designate their paid tax return preparer or another third party to speak to the IRS concerning the preparation of their return, payment/refund issues and mathematical errors. The third party authorization check box on Form 1040, Form 1040A and Form 1040EZ gives the designated party the authority to receive and inspect returns and return information for one year from the original due date of the return (without regard to extensions).
  • Review the tax return and ask questions before signing. Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their return, regardless of whether someone else prepared it. Make sure it’s accurate before signing it.
  • Never sign a blank tax return. If a taxpayer signs a blank return the preparer could then put anything they want on the return — even their own bank account number for the tax refund.
  • Preparers must sign the return and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give the taxpayer a copy of the return.

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Is Canceled Debt Taxable?

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Is Canceled Debt Taxable?

Generally, debt that is forgiven or canceled by a lender is considered taxable income by the IRS and must be included as income on your tax return. Examples include a debt for which you are personally liable such as mortgage debt, credit card debt, and in some instances, student loan debt.

When that debt is forgiven, negotiated down (when you pay less than you owe), or canceled you will receive Form 1099-CCancellation of Debt, from your financial institution or credit union. Form 1099-C shows the amount of canceled or forgiven debt that was reported to the IRS. If you and another person were jointly and severally liable for a canceled debt, each of you may get a Form 1099-C showing the entire amount of the canceled debt. Give the office a call if you have any questions regarding joint liability of canceled debt.

Creditors who forgive $600 or more of debt are required to issue this form. If you receive a Form 1099-C and the information is incorrect, contact the lender to make corrections.

If you receive a Form 1099-C, don’t ignore it. You may not have to report that entire amount shown on Form 1099-C as income. The amount, if any, you must report depends on all the facts and circumstances. Generally, however, unless you meet one of the exceptions or exclusions discussed below, you must report any taxable canceled debt reported on Form 1099-C as ordinary income on:

  • Form 1040 or Form 1040NR, if the debt is a nonbusiness debt;
  • Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040), if the debt is related to a nonfarm sole proprietorship;
  • Schedule E (Form 1040), if the debt is related to non-farm rental of real property;
  • Form 4835, if the debt is related to a farm rental activity for which you use Form 4835 to report farm rental income based on crops or livestock produced by a tenant; or
  • Schedule F (Form 1040), if the debt is farm debt and you are a farmer.

Exceptions and Exclusions

If you’ve had debt forgiven or canceled this year and receive a Form 1099-C, you might qualify for an exception or exclusion. If your canceled debt meets the requirements for an exception or exclusion, then you don’t need to report your canceled debt on your tax return. Under the federal tax code, there are five exceptions and four exclusions for tax year 2015. Here are the five most commonly used:

Note: The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007, which applied to debt forgiven in calendar years 2007 through 2014, allowed taxpayers to exclude income from the discharge of debt on their principal residence. Up to $2 million of forgiven debt was eligible for this exclusion ($1 million if married filing separately) and debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in connection with a foreclosure, also qualified for the relief. As of this writing, Congress has yet to reauthorize the Act for calendar year 2015.

1. Amounts specifically excluded from income by law such as gifts, bequests, devises or inheritances

In most cases, you do not have income from canceled debt if the debt is canceled as a gift, bequest, devise, or inheritance. For example, if an acquaintance or family member loaned you money (and for whom you signed a promissory note) died and relieved you of the obligation to pay back the loan in his or her will, this exception would apply.

2. Cancellation of certain qualified student loans

Certain student loans provide that all or part of the debt incurred to attend a qualified educational institution will be canceled if the person who received the loan works for a certain period of time in certain professions for any of a broad class of employers. If your student loan is canceled as the result of this type of provision, the cancellation of this debt is not included in your gross income.

3. Canceled debt, that if it were paid by a cash basis taxpayer, would be deductible

If you use the cash method of accounting, then you do not realize income from the cancellation of debt if the payment of the debt would have been a deductible expense.

For example, in 2014, you obtain accounting services for your farm using credit. In 2015, due to financial troubles you are not able to pay off your farm debts and your accountant forgives a portion of the amount you owe for her services. If you use the cash method of accounting you do not include the canceled debt as income on your tax return because payment of the debt would have been deductible as a business expense.

4. Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case

Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case is not included in your income.

5. Debt canceled during insolvency

Do not include a canceled debt as income if you were insolvent immediately before the cancellation. In the eyes of the IRS, you would be considered insolvent if the total of all of your liabilities was more than the FMV of all of your assets immediately before the cancellation.

For purposes of determining insolvency, assets include the value of everything you own (including assets that serve as collateral for debt and exempt assets which are beyond the reach of your creditors under the law, such as your interest in a pension plan and the value of your retirement account).

Here’s an example. Let’s say you owe $25,000 in credit card debt, which you are able to negotiate down to $5,000. You have no other debts and your assets are worth $15,000. Your canceled debt is $20,000. Your insolvency amount is $10,000. Because you are insolvent at the time of the cancellation, you are only required to report the $10,000 on your tax return.

If you exclude canceled debt from income under one of the exclusions listed above, you must reduce certain tax attributes (certain credits, losses, basis of assets, etc.), within limits, by the amount excluded. If this is the case, then you must file Form 982Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment), to report the amount qualifying for exclusion and any corresponding reduction of those tax attributes.

Exceptions do not require you to reduce your tax attributes.

Questions?

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about whether you qualify for debt cancellation relief.

Recordkeeping for Charitable Contributions

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Record keeping for Charitable Contributions

 

You must keep records to prove the amount of any cash and non cash contributions you make during the year. Which records you must keep depends on the amount you contribute and whether they are cash or property contributions. New record keeping requirements were established for all contributions made after January 1, 2007. You cannot deduct a cash contribution, regardless of the amount, unless you keep as a record of the contribution, bank records (such as a cancelled check or bank statement containing the name of the charity, date and the amount) or a written communication from the charity.

 

This article discusses which records you must keep.

 

Cash Contributions

 

Cash contributions include those paid by cash, check, electronic funds transfer, debit card, credit card, or payroll deduction. You cannot deduct a cash contribution, regardless of the amount, unless it is substantiated by one of the following:

 

  1. A bank record that shows the name of the qualified organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. Bank records may include: a canceled check, a bank or credit union statement or a credit card statement.
  2. A receipt (or letter or other written communication) from the qualified organization showing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.
  3. Payroll deduction records. The payroll records must include a pay stub, Form W-2 or other document furnished by the employer that shows the date and the amount of the contribution, and a pledge card or other document prepared by or for the qualified organization that shows the name of the organization.

 

Cash Contributions of $250 or More: You can claim a deduction for a contribution of $250 or more only if you have an acknowledgement of your contribution from the qualified organization or certain payroll deduction records. If you made more than one contribution of $250 or more, you must have either a separate acknowledgment for each or one acknowledgment that lists each contribution and the date of each contribution and shows your total contributions.

 

To determine whether a contribution is $250 or more, do not combine separate contributions. For example, if you gave to the church $25 each week, your weekly payments do not need to be combined. Each payment is a separate contribution. The acknowledgment must be written and state whether you received any goods or services in return. If something was received in return, a description and good faith estimate of the value of the goods or services must be included.

 

For payroll deductions, the payroll records must include a pay stub, Form W-2 or other document furnished by the employer that shows the date and the amount of the contribution, and a pledge card or other document prepared by or for the qualified organization that shows the name of the organization. If the pay stub, Form W-2, pledge card, or other document does not show the date of the contribution, you must also have another document that does show the date of the contribution.

 

Non cash Contributions

 

For a contribution not made in cash, these general rules apply:

 

The records you must keep depends on whether your deduction for the contribution is:

 

  1. Less Than $250
  2. At least $250 but not more than $500,
  3. Over $500 but not more than $5,000, or
  4. Over $5,000.

 

Amount of contribution. In figuring whether your contribution is $500 or more, combine separate contributions of similar items during the year. If you received goods or services in return, reduce your contribution by the value of those goods or services. If you figure your deduction by reducing the fair market value of the donated property by its appreciation, your contribution is the reduced amount.

 

Deductions of Less Than $250

 

If you make any non cash contribution, you must get and keep a receipt from the charitable organization showing:

 

  1. The name of the charitable organization,
  2. The date and location of the charitable contribution, and
  3. A reasonably detailed description of the property.

 

A letter or other written communication from the charitable organization acknowledging receipt of the contribution and containing the information in (1), (2), and (3) will serve as a receipt. You are not required to have a receipt where it is impractical to get one (for example if you leave property at a charity’s unattended drop site).

 

Additional records. You must also keep reliable written records for each item of donated property. Your written records must include the following information.

 

  1. The name and address of the organization to which you contributed.
  2. The date and location of the contribution.
  3. A description of the property in detail reasonable under the circumstances. For a security, keep the name of the issuer, the type of security, and whether it is regularly traded on a stock exchange or in an over-the-counter market.
  4. The fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution and how you figured the fair market value. If it was determined by appraisal, you should also keep a signed copy of the appraisal.
  5. The cost or other basis of the property if you must reduce its fair market value by appreciation.
  6. The amount you claim as a deduction for the tax year as a result of the contribution, if you contribute less than your entire interest in the property during the tax year. Your records must include the amount you claimed as a deduction in any earlier years for contributions of other interests in this property. They must also include the name and address of each organization to which you contributed the other interests, the place where any such tangible property is located or kept, and the name of any person in possession of the property, other than the organization to which you contributed.
  7. Any conditions attached to the gift of property.

 

Deductions of At Least $250 But Not More Than $500

 

If you claim a deduction of at least $250 but not more than $500 for a non cash charitable contribution, you must get and keep an acknowledgement of your contribution from the qualified organization. If you made more than one contribution of $250 or more, you can have either a separate acknowledgement for each or one acknowledgement that shows your total contributions.

 

The acknowledgement must contain the information in items (1) through (3) listed under Deductions of Less Than $250, earlier, and your written records must include the information listed in that discussion under Additional Records.

 

1. It must be written.

 

2. It must include:

 

  • A description (but not necessarily the value) of any property you contributed,
  • Whether the qualified organization gave you any goods or services as a result of your contribution (other than certain token items and membership benefits), and
  • A description and good faith estimate of the value of any goods or services described above. If the only benefit you received was an intangible religious benefit (such as admission to a religious ceremony) that generally is not sold in a commercial transaction outside the donation context, the acknowledgement must say so and does not need to describe or estimate the value of the benefit.

 

3. You must get the acknowledgement on or before the earlier of:

 

  • the date you file your return for the year you make the contribution, or
  • The due date, including extensions, for filing the return.

 

Deductions Over $500 But Not Over $5,000

 

If you claim a deduction over $500 but not over $5,000 for a non cash charitable contribution, you must have the acknowledgement and written records described under Deductions of At Least $250 But Not More Than $500. Your records must also include:

 

  1. How you got the property, for example, by purchase, gift, bequest, inheritance, or exchange.
  2. The approximate date you got the property or, if created, produced, or manufactured by or for you, the approximate date the property was substantially completed.
  3. The cost or other basis, and any adjustments to the basis, of property held less than 12 months and, if available, the cost or other basis of property held 12 months or more. This requirement, however, does not apply to publicly traded securities.

 

If you are not able to provide information on either the date you got the property or the cost basis of the property and you have a reasonable cause for not being able to provide this information, attach a statement of explanation to your return.

 

Deductions Over $5,000

 

If you claim a deduction of over $5,000 for a charitable contribution of one property item or a group of similar property items, you must have the acknowledgement and the written records described under Deductions Over $500 But Not Over $5,000. In figuring whether your deduction is over $5,000, combine your claimed deductions for all similar items donated to any charitable organization during the year.

 

Generally, you must also obtain a qualified written appraisal of the donated property from a qualified appraiser.

 

Qualified conservation contribution. If the gift was a “qualified conservation contribution,” your records must also include the fair market value of the underlying property before and after the gift and the conservation purpose furthered by the gift.

 

Out of Pocket Expenses

 

If you render services to a qualified organization and have unreimbursed out of pocket expenses related to those services, the following three rules apply.

 

  1. You must have adequate records to prove the amount of the expenses.
  2. You must get an acknowledgment from the qualified organization that contains a description of the services you provided and a statement of whether or not the organization provided you any goods and services to reimburse you for the expenses incurred. If so, the statement must include a description and good faith estimate of the value of any goods or services (other than intangible religious benefits). If the only benefit you received was an intangible religious benefit, you must receive a statement stating this; however, the acknowledgment does not need to describe or estimate the value of an intangible religious benefit.
  3. You must get the acknowledgment on or before the earlier of: (a) The date you file your return for the year you make the contribution, or the due date, including extensions, for filing your return.

 

Car Expenses. If you claim expenses directly related to use of your car in giving services to a qualified organization, you must keep reliable written records of your expenses. Whether your records are considered reliable depends on all the facts and circumstances. Generally, they are reliable if you made them regularly and at the time you incurred the expense.

 

Your records must show the name of the organization you were serving and the date each time you used your car for a charitable purpose. If you use the standard mileage rate of 14 cents a mile for 2015, your records must show the miles you drove. If you use actual expenses to complete the deduction, your records must show the costs of operating the car for charitable purposes only.

 

Questions about record keeping requirements for charitable contributions?

Help is just a phone call away. @(877)305-1040

 

 

Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

Once again, tax planning for the year ahead presents more challenges than usual, this time due to the numerous tax extenders that expired at the end of 2013.

These tax extenders, which include nonbusiness energy credits and the sales tax deduction that allows taxpayers to deduct state and local general sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes, may or may not be reauthorized by Congress and made retroactive to the beginning of the year.

More significant however, is taxable income in relation to threshold amounts that might bump a taxpayer into a higher or lower tax bracket, thus, subjecting taxpayers to additional taxes such as the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) or an additional Medicare tax.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the tax strategies that you can use right now, given the current tax situation.

Tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing income and accelerating deductions, as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning. General tax planning strategies that taxpayers might consider include the following:

  • Sell any investments on which you have a gain or loss this year. For more on this, see Investment Gains and Losses, below.
  • If you anticipate an increase in taxable income in 2015 and are expecting a bonus at year-end, try to get it before December 31. Keep in mind, however, that contractual bonuses are different, in that they are typically not paid out until the first quarter of the following year. Therefore, any taxes owed on a contractual bonus would not be due until you file a tax return for tax year 2015.
  • Prepay deductible expenses such as charitable contributions and medical expenses this year using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken based on when the expense was charged on the credit card, not when the bill was paid. For example, if you charge a medical expense in December, but pay the bill in January, assuming it’s an eligible medical expense, it can be taken as a deduction on your 2014 tax return.
  • If your company grants stock options, you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option this year if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2015. Exercise of the option is often but not always a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.
  • If you’re self-employed, send invoices or bills to clients or customers this year in order to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Year-End Tax Planning For Individuals

Accelerating Income

In most years, taxpayers adopt a strategy of deferring income, but with the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire on December 31, 2012, income tax rates and capital gains taxes set to rise, and a 0.9 percent Hospital Insurance (HI) tax applicable to earnings of self-employed individuals or employee wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly) effective January 1, 2013, it might make more sense to accelerate income into 2012 instead of deferring it to 2013. Here are some of the ways you can do this:

  • Sell any investments on which you have a gain this year and take advantage of the zero percent long-term capital gains tax rate if you’re in the 10% or 15% tax bracket, or a 15% tax rate for higher tax brackets.
  • If you are expecting a bonus at year-end, try to get it before December 31. However, keep in mind that contractual bonuses are different, in that they are typically not paid out until the first quarter of the following year. Therefore, any taxes owed on a contractual bonus would not be due until you file a tax return for tax year 2013.
  • If your company grants stock options, you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option this year if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2013. Exercise of the option is often but not always a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.
  • If you’re self employed, send invoices or bills to clients or customers this year in order to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Accelerating Deductions

  • Pay a state estimated tax installment in December instead of at the January due date. However, make sure the payment is based on a reasonable estimate of your state tax.
  • Pay your entire property tax bill, including installments due in year 2013, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.
  • Try to bunch “threshold” expenses, such as medical expenses and miscellaneous itemized deductions. Threshold expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI). By bunching these expenses into one year, rather than spreading them out over two years, you have a better chance of exceeding the thresholds, thereby maximizing your deduction.

For example, you might pay medical bills and dues and subscriptions in whichever year they would do you the most tax good.

Tip: Now is the time to bunch deductible medical expenses. Medical expense deductions are 7.5% of AGI this year, but in 2013 increase to 10% of AGI.

In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of accelerating income and deductions might allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2012, depending on your situation. The latter benefits include Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child credits, higher education tax credits and deductions for student loan interest.

Tip: Accelerating income into 2012 is an especially good idea for taxpayers who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year.

Tip: If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, increasing your withholding before year-end can avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due.

On the other hand, the penalty could be avoided by covering the extra tax in your final estimated tax payment and computing the penalty using the annualized income method.

If you have any questions about estimated taxes, please call us.

Caution: The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) no longer just impacts the wealthy! Do not overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2012.

Due to tax changes in recent years, AMT impacts many more taxpayers than ever before and, the tax is not indexed to inflation. As a result, growing numbers of middle-income taxpayers have been finding themselves subject to this higher tax.

Items that may affect AMT include deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions.

Note: The AMT “Patch” expired in 2011. As such, AMT exemption amounts have reverted to 2000 levels. For example, the AMT exemption amount for married filing jointly is $45,000 in 2012, down from $74,450 in 2011.

Unless Congress takes action and enacts an AMT “patch” before year-end, AMT exemption amounts for 2012 are as follows:

  • $33,750 for single and head of household filers,
  • $45,000 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers,
  • $22,500 for married people filing separately.

Please call us if you’d like more information or if you’re not sure whether AMT applies to you. We’re happy to assist you.

Strategize tuition payments

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which offsets higher education expenses, is set to expire after 2012. It may be beneficial to pay 2013 tuition in 2012 to take full advantage of this tax credit, up to $2,500, before it expires.

Residential Energy Tax Credits

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit is available to individual taxpayers to help pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment and residential wind turbines. Qualifying equipment must have been installed on or in connection with your home located in the United States.

Geothermal pumps, solar energy systems, and residential wind turbines can be installed in both principal residences and second homes (existing homes and new construction), but not rentals. Fuel cell property qualifies only when it is installed in your principal residence (new construction or existing home). Rentals and second homes do not qualify.

The tax credit is 30% of the cost of the qualified property, with no cap on the amount of credit available, except for fuel cell property.

Generally, labor costs can be included when figuring the credit. Any unused portions of this credit can be carried forward. Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify so be sure you have the manufacturer’s tax credit certification statement, which can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website or with the product packaging.

What’s Included in the Tax Credit?

  • Geothermal Heat Pumps. Must meet the requirements of the ENERGY STAR program that are in effect at the time of the expenditure.
  • Small Residential Wind Turbines. Must have a nameplate capacity of no more than 100 kilowatts (kW).
  • Solar Water Heaters. At least half of the energy generated by the “qualifying property” must come from the sun. The system must be certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) or a comparable entity endorsed by the government of the state in which the property is installed. The credit is not available for expenses for swimming pools or hot tubs. The water must be used in the dwelling. Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement.
  • Solar Panels (Photovoltaic Systems). Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement.
  • Fuel Cell (Residential Fuel Cell and Microturbine System.) Efficiency of at least 30% and must have a capacity of at least 0.5 kW.

While these residential energy credits don’t expire until 2016, why not take advantage of the credit this year and start saving money now? Give us a call today. We’re happy to help you sort out the tax credits available for your “green” home improvements.

Make Charitable Contributions

You can donate property as well as money to a charity. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the property; however, for certain property, the deduction is limited to your cost basis. While you can also donate your services to charity, you may not deduct the value of these services. You may also be able to deduct charity-related travel expenses and some out-of-pocket expenses however.

Keep in mind that a written record of charitable contribution is required in order to qualify for a deduction. A donor may not claim a deduction for any contribution of cash, a check or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a cancelled check) or written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Tip: Contributions of appreciated property (i.e. stock) provide an additional benefit because you avoid paying capital gains on any profit.

Investment Gains And Losses

Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term gains, which are usually taxed at a much higher tax rate (up to 35% in 2012, but scheduled to rise to 39.6% in 2013) than long-term gains.

If your tax bracket is either 10% or 15% (married couples making less than $70,700 or single filers making less than $35,350), then now is the time to take advantage of the zero percent tax rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains. Even if you fall into a higher tax bracket, the maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains in 2012 is only 15%.

Consider where feasible to reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000 as well.

Tip: As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.

Tip: After selling securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.

Tip: If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free, your original investment is restored and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).

Note: Starting in 2013, a 3.8 percent Medicare tax will be applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains. This information is something to think about as you plan your long term investments.

Please call us if you need assistance with any of your long term tax planning goals.

Mutual Fund Investments

Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the next year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.

Example: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund at the end of 2012. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends. In late December of 2012, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.

Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund’s long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.

The mutual fund’s distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as “ordinary dividends” that don’t qualify for relief.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date.

Tip: To find out a fund’s ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.

Call us if you’d like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.

Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax

It may be time to reevaluate your estate plan. Unless Congress takes action before the end of the year, the federal gift and estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $5.12 million, drops to its pre-2010 level of $1 million ($2 million per couple) in 2013. In addition, the maximum estate tax rate is set to increase in 2013 from 35 percent to 55 percent.

Gift Tax. For many, sound estate planning begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor’s assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.

Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $13,000 a year per donee.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn’t carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2012, you must make your gift by December 31.

Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $26,000 ($13,000 each). Though what’s given may come from either you or your spouse or from both of you, both of you must consent to such “split gifts”.

Gifts of “future interests”, assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don’t qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.

Tip: If you’re considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, then don’t hesitate to call us. We can help you set it up.

Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift’s true value when given.

You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings, and built-in gain on sale.

Gift tax returns for 2012 are due the same date as your income tax return. Returns are required for gifts over $13,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $13,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $13,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not “adequately disclosed”.

Tip: Call us if you’re considering making a gift of property whose value isn’t unquestionably less than $13,000.

Income earned on investments you give to children or other family members is generally taxed to them, not to you. In the case of dividends paid on stock given to your children, they may qualify for the reduced 5% dividend rate.

Caution: In 2012, investment income for a child (under age 18 at the end of the tax year or a full-time student under age 24) that is in excess of $1,900 is taxed at the parent’s tax rate.

Other Year-End Moves

Retirement Plan Contributions. Maximize your retirement plan contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don’t already have one. (It doesn’t need to actually be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year’s return.)

If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($17,000 for 2012), plus an additional catch up contribution of $5,500 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this much and income restrictions don’t apply).

If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $5,000 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.

Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.

In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the excess over 7.5% of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later, and not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.

To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2012, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,200 ($1,250 in 2013) for single coverage or $2,400 ($2,500 in 2013) for a family.

Summary

These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact us for help in implementing these or other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable to your particular situation.

For more information: www.onts9.com