Being in debt isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Between mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans, most people are in debt. Being debt-free is a worthwhile goal, but most people need to focus on managing their debt first since it’s likely to be there for most of your life.

Handled wisely, that debt won’t be an albatross around your neck. You don’t need to shell out your hard-earned money because of exorbitant interest rates or always feel like you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. You can pay off debt the smart way, while at the same time saving money to pay it off faster.

Assess the Situation

First, assess the depth of your debt. Write it down, using pencil and paper, a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, or a bookkeeping program like Quicken. Include every financial situation where a company has given you something in advance of payment, including your mortgage, car payment(s), credit cards, tax liens, student loans, and payments on electronics or other household items through a store.

Record the day the debt began and when it will end (if possible), the interest rate you’re paying, and what your payments typically are. Add it all up, painful as that might be. Try not to be discouraged! Remember, you’re going to break this down into manageable chunks while finding extra money to help pay it down.

Identify High-Cost Debt

Yes, some debts are more expensive than others. Unless you’re getting payday loans (which you shouldn’t be), the worst offenders are probably your credit cards. Here’s how to deal with them.

  • Don’t use them. Don’t cut them up, but put them in a drawer and only access them in an emergency.
  • Identify the card with the highest interest and pay off as much as you can every month. Pay minimums on the others. When that one’s paid off, work on the card with the next highest rate.
  • Don’t close existing cards or open any new ones. It won’t help your credit rating.
  • Pay on time, absolutely every time. One late payment these days can lower your FICO score.
  • Go over your credit-card statements with a fine-tooth comb. Are you still being charged for that travel club you’ve never used? Look for line items you don’t need.
  • Call your credit card companies and ask them nicely if they would lower your interest rates. It does work sometimes!

Save, Save, Save

Do whatever you can to retire debt. Consider taking a second job and using that income only for higher payments on your financial obligations. Substitute free family activities for high-cost ones. Sell high-value items that you can live without.

Do Away with Unnecessary Items to Reduce Debt Load

Do you really need the 800-channel cable option or that dish on your roof? You’ll be surprised at what you don’t miss. How about magazine subscriptions? They’re not terribly expensive, but every penny counts. It’s nice to have a library of books, but consider visiting the public library or half-price bookstores until your debt is under control.

Never, Ever Miss a Payment

Not only are you retiring debt, but you’re also building a stellar credit rating. If you ever move or buy another car, you’ll want to get the lowest rate possible. A blemish-free payment record will help with that. Besides, credit card companies can be quick to raise interest rates because of one late payment. A completely missed one is even more serious.

Pay With Cash

To avoid increasing debt load, make it a habit to pay with cash. If you don’t have the cash for it, you probably don’t need it. You’ll feel better about what you do have if you know it’s owned free and clear.

Shop Wisely, and Use the Savings to Pay Down Your Debt

If your family is large enough to warrant it, invest $30 or $40 and join a store like Sam’s or Costco. And use it. Shop there first, then at the grocery store. Change brands if you have to and swallow your pride. Use coupons religiously. Calculate the money you’re saving and slap it on your debt.

Each of these steps, taken alone, probably doesn’t seem like much. But if you adopt as many as you can, you’ll watch your debt decrease every month. If you need help managing debt give us a call. We can help.

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Canceled debt is normally taxable to you, but there are exceptions. One of those exceptions is available to homeowners whose mortgage debt is partly or entirely forgiven during tax years 2007 through 2012.

Here are 10 things you should know about Mortgage Debt Forgiveness.

1. Normally, debt forgiveness results in taxable income. However, under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, you may be able to exclude up to $2 million of debt forgiven on your principal residence.

2. The limit is $1 million for a married person filing a separate return.

3. You may exclude debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in a foreclosure.

4. To qualify, the debt must have been used to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence and be secured by that residence.

5. Refinanced debt proceeds used for the purpose of substantially improving your principal residence also qualify for the exclusion.

6. Proceeds of refinanced debt used for other purposes, to pay off credit card debt for example, do not qualify for the exclusion.

7. If you qualify, claim the special exclusion by filling out Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness, and attach it to your federal income tax return for the tax year in which the qualified debt was forgiven.

8. Debt forgiven on second homes, rental property, business property, credit cards or car loans does not qualify for the tax relief provision. In some cases, however, other tax relief provisions — such as insolvency — may be applicable.

9. If your debt is reduced or eliminated you normally will receive a year-end statement, Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from your lender. By law, this form must show the amount of debt forgiven and the fair market value of any property foreclosed.

10. Examine the Form 1099-C carefully. Notify the lender immediately if any of the information shown is incorrect. You should pay particular attention to the amount of debt forgiven in Box 2 as well as the value listed for your home in Box 7.

Don’t hesitate to give us a call if you need more information about mortgage debt forgiveness.

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If you’re a small business owner with fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees you may be eligible for the small business health care credit that went into effect in 2010.

What is the Small Business Health Care Credit?

The small business health care tax credit, part of the Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010, is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations provide health insurance for their employees. Small employers that pay at least half of the premiums for employee health insurance coverage under a qualifying arrangement may be eligible for this credit.

How Does the Credit Save Me Money?

For tax years 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent for small business employers and 25 percent for small tax-exempt employers such as charities. An enhanced version of the credit will be effective beginning Jan. 1, 2014 and the rate will increase to 50 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

The amount of the credit you receive works on a sliding scale, so the smaller the business or charity, the bigger the credit. Simply put, if you have more than 10 FTEs or if the average wage is more than $25,000, the amount of the credit you receive will be less.

If you pay $50,000 a year toward workers’ health care premiums–and you qualify for a 15 percent credit–you’ll save $7,500. If you save $7,500 a year from tax year 2010 through 2013, that’s a total savings of $30,000. And, if in 2014 you qualify for a slightly larger credit, say 20 percent, your savings go from $7,500 a year to $12,000 a year.

Is My Business Eligible for the Credit?

To be eligible for the credit, you must cover at least 50 percent of the cost of single (not family) health care coverage for each of your employees. You must also have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and those employees must have average wages of less than $50,000 a year.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means. A full-time equivalent employee is defined as either one full-time employee or two half-time employees. In other words, two half-time workers count as one full-timer or one full-time equivalent. Here is another example: 20 half-time employees are equivalent to 10 full-time workers. That makes the number of FTEs 10 not 20.

Now let’s talk about average wages. Say you pay total wages of $200,000 and have 10 FTEs. To figure average wages you divide $200,000 by 10–the number of FTEs–and the result is your average wage. In this example, the average wage would be $20,000.

Can Tax-Exempt Employers Claim the Credit?

Yes. The credit is refundable for small tax-exempt employers too, so even if you have no taxable income, you may be eligible to receive the credit as a refund as long as it does not exceed your income tax withholding and Medicare tax liability.

Can I Still Claim the Credit Even If I Don’t Owe Any Tax This Year?

If you are a small business employer who did not owe tax during the year, you can carry the credit back or forward to other tax years. Also, since the amount of the health insurance premium payments are more than the total credit, eligible small businesses can still claim a business expense deduction for the premiums in excess of the credit. That’s both a credit and a deduction for employee premium payments.

Can I File an Amended Return and Claim the Credit for Previous Tax Years?

If you can benefit from the credit this year but forgot to claim it on your tax return there’s still time to file an amended return.

Businesses that have already filed and later find that they qualified in 2010 or 2011 can still claim the credit by filing an amended return for one or both years.

Give us a call if you have any questions about the small business health care credit. And, if you need more time to determine eligibility this year we’ll help you file an automatic tax-filing extension.

 

 



Lending money to a cash-strapped family member or friend is a noble and generous offer that just might make a difference. But before you hand over the cash, you need to plan ahead to avoid tax complications down the road.

Let’s say you decide to loan $5,000 to your daughter who’s been out of work for over a year and is having difficulty keeping up with the mortgage payments on her condo. While you may be tempted to charge an interest rate of zero percent, you should resist the temptation. Here’s why.

When you make an interest-free loan to someone, you will be subject to “below market interest rules”. IRS rules state that you need to calculate imaginary interest payments from the borrower. These imaginary interest payments are then payable to you and you will need to pay taxes on these interest payments when you file a tax return. Further, if the imaginary interest payments exceed $13,000 for the year, there may be adverse gift and estate tax consequences.

Exception: The IRS lets you ignore the rules for small loans ($10,000 or less), as long as the aggregate loan amounts to a single borrower are less than $10,000 and the borrower doesn’t use the loan proceeds to buy or carry income-producing assets.

In addition, if you don’t charge any interest, or charge interest that is below market rate (more on this below), then the IRS might consider your loan a gift, especially if there is no formal documentation (i.e. written agreement with payment schedule) and you go to make a nonbusiness bad debt deduction if the borrower defaults on the loan–or the IRS decides to audit you and decides your loan is really a gift.

Formal documentation generally refers to a written promissory note that includes the interest rate, a repayment schedule showing dates and amounts for all principal and interest, and security or collateral for the loan, such as a residence (see below). Make sure that all parties sign the note so that it’s legally binding.

As long as you charge an interest rate that is at least equal to the applicable federal rate (AFR) approved by the Internal Revenue Service, you can avoid tax complications and unfavorable tax consequences.

AFRs for term loans, that is, loans with a defined repayment schedule, are updated monthly by the IRS and published in the IRS Bulletin. AFRs are based on the bond market, which change frequently. For term loans, use the AFR published in the same month that you make the loan. The AFR is a fixed rate for the duration of the loan.

Any interest income that you make from the term loan is included on your Form 1040. In general, the borrower, in this case your daughter cannot deduct interest paid, but there is one exception: if the loan is secured by her home, then the interest can be deducted as qualified residence interest–as long as the promissory note for the loan was secured by the residence.

If you have questions about the tax implications of loaning a family member money, don’t hesitate to call us. We’re here to help.

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