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Year End Tax Saving Ideas For Individuals
There are a number of steps you might take by year-end to cut your 2011 tax bill, such as deferring income, accelerating deductions and capital gains planning.
In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of deferring income and accelerating deductions may also allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2011. 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.
Residential Energy Tax Credits
If you haven't taken advantage of energy tax credits for your home, 2011 is your last chance. The credits--10% of cost up to $500 or a specific amount from $50 - $300--expire on December 31, 2011 and only apply to improvements in an existing home that is your principal residence. New construction and rentals do not qualify.
The tax credits are as follows:
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.
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%) than long-term gains, which in 2011 and 2012 are taxed at rates of zero and 15 percent depending on your tax bracket. Consider where feasible to reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000 as well.
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.
In spite of these tax consequences, it may 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.
Call us if you'd like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes.
Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate 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.
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.
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 2011 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".
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.
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 ($16,500 for 2011 and $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 2011, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,200 (single coverage) or $2,400 (family). It remains unchanged for 2012.
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.
Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses
There are a number of end of year tax strategies businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2011. Here's the lowdown on some of the best options.
Purchase New Business Equipment
Section 179 Expensing. Business should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that starting in tax year 2010 and continuing into tax year 2011, the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases increased to $500,000 ($535,000 for qualified enterprise zone property) and the bonus depreciation increased to 100% for qualified property. Beginning in tax year 2012 however, the Section 179 deduction is scheduled to drop to $125,000 and the bonus depreciation to be reduced to 50 percent and then be phased out completely.
In other words, in 2011 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to $500,000 (subject to a dollar-for-dollar reduction in that $500,000 for property placed in service that exceeds the maximum amount of $2,000,000).
Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.
Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding qualified property and bonus depreciation.
Timing. If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here's a simplified explanation:
Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include "conventions" or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.
If you're planning on buying equipment for your business, call us first. We'll help you figure out the best time to buy it to take full advantage of these tax rules.
Other Year-End Moves To Take Advantage Of
Partnership or S Corporation Basis. Partners or S corporation shareholders in entities that have a loss for 2011 can deduct that loss only up to their basis in the entity. However, they can take steps to increase their basis to allow a larger deduction. Basis in the entity can be increased by lending the entity money or making a capital contribution by the end of the entity's tax year.
Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2011. Call us today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.
Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders, which continue to be taxed at the 15 percent rate through 2012.
Budgets. Every business, whether small or large should have a budget. The need for a business budget may seem obvious, but many companies overlook this critical business planning tool.
A budget is extremely effective in making sure your business has adequate cash flow and in ensuring financial success. Once the budget has been created, then monthly actual revenue amounts can be compared to monthly budgeted amounts. If actual revenues fall short of budgeted revenues, expenses must generally be cut.
For more on this topic, see the article below about common budgeting errors, but if you need help developing a budget for your business don't hesitate to call us today.
Call Us First
These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2011. But the best advice we can give you is to give us a call. We'll sit down with you, discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.
Retirement Contributions Limits Announced for 2013
The IRS has announced the maximum contribution limits for your 401(k) and other retirement plans for 2012. In general, many of the pension plan limitations will change for 2012 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. However, other limitations will remain unchanged. Highlights include:
Looking Ahead to 2012
The value of each personal and dependent exemption will increase $100 to $3,800 in 2012.
The new standard deduction is $11,900 in 2012 for married couples filing jointly. Individuals and married people filing separately will see the standard deduction rise to $5,950 and the standard deduction for head of household rises to $8,700. Nearly two out of three taxpayers take the standard deduction, rather than itemizing deductions.
Annual gift tax exclusion remains at $13,000 in 2012. The basic exclusion from estate tax amount increases to $5,120,000, from $5,000,000 in 2011
Three Most Common Budgeting Errors
When it comes to creating a budget, it's essential to estimate your spending as realistically as possible. Here are three budget-related errors commonly made by small businesses, and some tips for avoiding them.
Call our office if you want to discuss setting up a budget to meet your business financial goals. We're happy to help.
Income from Foreign Sources
Many U.S. citizens earn money from foreign sources. But unless it is exempt under federal law, taxpayers sometimes forget that they have to report all such income on their tax return.
U.S. citizens are taxed on their income regardless of whether they live inside or outside the United States. The foreign income rule also applies regardless of whether the person receives a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099.
Foreign source income includes earned and unearned income, such as:
But there is some good news. Citizens living outside the United States may be able to exclude up to $92,900 of their 2011 foreign source income if they meet certain requirements. This will increase to $95,100 in 2012.
If you're married and you and your spouse both work abroad and meet either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, each of you can choose the foreign earned income exclusion. Together, you can exclude as much as $185,800 for the 2011 tax year.
If you earn income from outside the country, please be sure to meet with us about it. We can advise you on how to address all of the tax implications of this situation.
Check Your Withholdings
With less than two months remaining in the calendar year, it's a great time to double check your federal withholding to make sure enough taxes are being taken out of your pay.
The average refund for 2010 was just over $3,000. Although in part due to tax credits associated with the economic stimulus package, it's still an increase of nearly 10 percent from the previous year. In addition, even though the Making Work Pay Tax Credit lowered tax withholding rates in 2010 for millions of American households, some workers and retirees still need to take steps to make sure enough tax is being taken out of their checks.
Certain folks should pay particular attention to their withholding. These include:
Taxpayers who wind up owing too much tax because not enough money was withheld from their paychecks during 2011 may qualify for special relief on a penalty that sometimes applies. Depending on their personal situation, some people could have less withheld from their paychecks than they need or want.
Failure to adjust withholding could result in potentially smaller refunds or, in limited instances, a taxpayer may owe tax rather than receive a refund next year.
If you're not sure how much you need to withhold from your paycheck, just give us a call and we'll figure it out with you.
Expanded Adoption Credit
The Affordable Care Act raises the maximum adoption credit to $13,360 per eligible child in 2011, up from $13,170 in 2010. It also makes the credit refundable, meaning that eligible taxpayers can get it even if they owe no tax for that year. In general, the credit is based on the reasonable and necessary expenses related to a legal adoption, including adoption fees, court costs, attorney's fees, and travel expenses. In order to claim the credit or refund however, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be less than $225,210.
If you adopted a child this year, you may be eligible for this credit. Make sure you contact us early, though. To claim this tax relief, we must file a paper return, which means your refund will be slower than if you could file electronically.
QuickBooks 2012: Better Financial Management
As it usually does this time of year, Intuit has introduced new versions of its Pro and Premier products. QuickBooks 2012 promises to help you get better organized, save steps, and acquire more in-depth financial insights.
The new Express Start is designed for businesses that want to blast through setup and start entering customers and invoices. You have two other options though.
Advanced Setup is the old EasyStep interview that solicits more details. You can also open an existing file or convert data from Quicken or other accounting software.
Express Start requires minimal input. Company name, industry, company type, tax ID, and contact information is all that's required. After you save your company file, it lets you start adding or importing customers/vendors/employees, products/services, and bank accounts.
Figure 1: Express Start simplifies company setup
An Activity-Driven Calendar
QuickBooks' Reminders keep you apprised of each day's tasks, but they don't provide any information about the past or future. QuickBooks 2012 solves this problem with its new Calendar. When you enter an appointment, to-do, or key business task (invoices, bills, purchase orders, etc.), it appears in the calendar. You can display a graphical view of the month that tallies activities for each day and lists them below. Daily and weekly views are in list form and links open the original documents.
Figure 2: The new Calendar displays daily, weekly, and monthly views of your financial transactions
Save Excel Formatting
Once you've formatted a QuickBooks report in Excel, it's frustrating to have to reformat it each time you run it for different time periods and/or with your ever-changing content. Excel Integration Refresh simplifies this process. You can now export a report to Excel, make formatting changes and save them, and then reapply them later to the same type of report using different date ranges and your updated QuickBooks data. Acceptable alterations include:
You can do this by opening your report in QuickBooks and clicking Update an existing worksheet, or by launching your report in Excel and clicking the QuickBooks tab on the toolbar, then the Update Report button.
Figure 3: This window opens when you click Update Report in Excel
A New Report Community
There's always room for more report formats. QuickBooks 2012 offers a library of Contributed Reports, variations created either by Intuit or your fellow users. You can select one of these, like Customer Sales By Quantity By Item Detail and instantly populate it with your own data.
You can sort these templates by industry and rating, and view them as a list, in a grid, or in the Report Center's Carousel view.
QuickBooks 2012 also saves you time with its new Centers. The Inventory Center works similarly to those available for customers, vendors, and employees. It's a clearinghouse of item records and transactions that can be viewed and sorted. You can also do inventory housekeeping tasks here, like adding items and launching transactions.
The Lead Center helps you carefully track new leads that you either paste in from Excel or enter manually. You can add to-dos and notes to contact records, and convert them into customers.
Upgrading Can Be Tricky
Intuit has included other, smaller time-saving organizational and reporting tools in QuickBooks 2012, like One-Click Transactions, which lets you create related transactions from existing ones (i.e., invoice to credit memo) with one click.
There's nothing especially difficult about using most of QuickBooks 2012's new features. But upgrading and setup are sometimes quirky, and the Excel Integration Refresh tool has a learning curve. We're happy to help you start your company file on the right foot or get acclimated to this latest version.
Figure 4: Track your leads and convert them into customers in the new Lead Center
Financial Tips for November 2011
Make Gifts to Minimize Estate Taxes
Year-End Tax Review Meeting
Review October's Budget vs. Actuals
Tax Due Dates for November 2011
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