By now, everyone has heard about the “fiscal cliff” bill signed into law on January 2, 2013, but what you might not understand is how it affects you. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look.

What is the “Fiscal Cliff”?

The term “fiscal cliff” refers to the $503 billion in federal tax increases and $200 billion in spending cuts (according to recent Congressional Budget Office projections) that took effect at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013–before Congress passed ATRA. It is the abruptness of these measures and possible negative economic impacts such as an increase in unemployment and a recession that has resulted in the use of the metaphor “fiscal cliff”.

What Could Have Happened?

According to the Tax Policy Center the arrival of the fiscal cliff would have meant that nearly 90% of all households would see their taxes rise. The top 20 percent of Americans would see their effective tax rate rise about 5.8 percentage points on average, while the bottom 20 percent of Americans would see their tax rate rise about 3.7 percentage points as a result of the Bush-era tax cuts to income, estate, and capital gains tax.

Further, in addition to a rise in tax rates, middle class and the lower-income working families are affected by the fiscal cliff in other ways–among them child-related credits and deductions for dependent care and education, and the EITC.

What Actually Happened: The “Fiscal Cliff” Deal

On January 1, 2013, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which President Obama signed into law the following day. The “fiscal cliff” bill, as it’s referred to, extended a number of tax provisions that expired in 2011 and 2012, as well as increasing taxes on higher income individuals.

All Wage Earners

Personal tax rate. Marginal tax rates remained the same for most taxpayers (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%) except for those taxpayers with taxable income greater than $400,000 (single filers) or $450,000 for married filers, whose rate increased to 39.6%.

Payroll taxes. The payroll tax holiday expired at the end of 2012 and was not extended. This means that you’ll see 6.2% taken out of your paycheck for Social Security for the first $113,700 in wages for 2013 instead of 4.2%. For the average family making $50,000 a year, this amounts to $1,000 less in their pocket. The self-employed tax rate reverts to 15.3% up from 13.3% in 2012.

Unemployment Insurance. Federally funded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, scheduled to end on December 29, 2012, were extended for another year, through December 29, 2013.

Middle Income Families

Child-Related Tax Credits. Child-related tax credits, used by families to offset their tax burden, have been extended under ATRA. The child tax credit remains at $1,000 and is still refundable. It is phased out for married couples who earn over $110,000 and single filers who earn more than $75,000. The dependent care tax credit is equal to 35% of the first $3,000 ($6,000 for two or more) of eligible expenses for one qualifying child.

Education. The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which was scheduled to revert to the Hope Credit ($1,500), has been extended through 2017. The credit is used to offset education expenses and is worth up to $2,500.

EITC. The EITC or Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits low to middle income working families, is extended for five years through the end of 2017. In 2013 the maximum credit is $5,981.

Higher Income Earners

AMT. The AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) “patch” (exemption amounts) was made permanent and indexed for inflation for tax years beginning in 2013 and made retroactive for 2012. In addition, nonrefundable personal credits can be used to offset AMT liability. For 2012, the exemption amounts are $78,750 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $50,600 for single filers.

Marriage Penalty. The larger standard deduction for married couples filing joint tax returns is retained ($12,200 in 2013) as is the increased size of the 15% income tax bracket. Generally, each spouse would need to earn income in excess of $80,000 (with no itemized deductions) in order to be hit with the marriage penalty; however, the higher your income, the harder you get hit with the penalty. Despite this, it usually makes more sense to file joint tax returns and not married filing separately. If you’re not sure which filing status to use, give us a call.

Retirees

Long Term Capital Gains and Dividends. For retirees (and others) whose investment income is at or above $400,000 (single filers) or $450,000 (married filing jointly), long term capital gains and dividends are both taxed at 20%. However, taxpayers in the lower brackets (10% and 15%) however, the tax rate is zero. For middle tax brackets, long-term capital gains and dividends are taxed at 15%.

Even if that dividend income is part of an IRA or other retirement plan (and not in and of itself subject to taxes), retirees in the highest tax bracket ($400,000 for single filers) will still be affected by higher income tax rates in 2013 of 39.6%.

Wealthier Taxpayers

Estate and Gift Taxes. The exclusion for a decedent’s estate remains at $5 million (adjusted for inflation) and the top tax rate increases to 40% for taxpayers with income of $400,000 ($450,000 married filing jointly). The “portability” election of exemptions between spouses remains in effect for decedents dying after 2012. The gift tax is increased to $14,000.

Pease amendment and PEP. The Pease amendment, which enabled wealthier taxpayers to get the full value of their itemized deductions, expired in 2012. As a result, taxpayers with incomes of $250,000 $300,000 married filing jointly) will see higher taxes, especially when taking into account higher personal tax rates, Medicare tax increases (see Higher Income Earners above), and the return of the personal exemption phaseout (PEP) provision in 2013 as well. Threshold amounts for PEP are $250,000 for single filers and $300,000 married filing jointly.

If you have questions or need help understanding how the fiscal cliff impacts you, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’ll help you figure it out and plan ahead for the future.

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You chose QuickBooks for a variety of reasons, a major one being its simplicity and usability.

But the software is more than 20 years old now, and hundreds of features have been added over the years. QuickBooks looks old, tired and in need of a makeover.

Not anymore. Intuit has totally redesigned the program’s interface and navigational tools, providing a more consistent, streamlined, state-of-the-art look and feel. For the first time in a few years, there’s a compelling reason to consider moving up.


Figure 1: The QuickBooks 2013 home page.

Clean, Efficient, Customizable

What Intuit heard from customers was that they wanted a clean, simple experience. They wanted QuickBooks optimized for efficiency, and they wanted to be able to customize quickly.

So Intuit built a brand new interface, one that offers:

  • An across-the-board, consistent look and feel
  • A minimal learning curve, aided by familiar software conventions
  • A clearer, more obvious workflow

QuickBooks’ 2013’s dramatic changes are evident from its first screen. The home page has been cleaned up, and many icons removed (with their functions available elsewhere). But the interactive flowchart graphic is still there, along with icons for other commonly-used features.

You can still use the software’s standard drop-down menus. But you now have a choice between the old horizontal Icon Toolbar and a new vertical navigational panel (or neither of the latter two). You can customize the new panel to give you quick access to the functions and reports you use most often, saving time and unnecessary clicking.


Figure 2: The new vertical navigational panel can be customized to display the icons you want. 

Familiarity, and Clear Signals

Whether you just handle a subset of your company’s financial data or you’re the only one working with QuickBooks, your workflow will be faster and more intuitive.

QuickBooks 2013 uses colors and other visual cues to provide helpful hints and speed up your work. If the same option occurs within more than one screen, it’s always the identical color. When you’re completing an invoice, for example, the Save & New button is a bright blue color, as it is on many other screens. The Save & Close and OK icons are the same shade within the forms and records where they occur.

Color is also used to signify related actions in the new navigational Ribbon, a familiar interface convention that replaces the mismatched icons that used to be displayed at the top of transaction forms. In QuickBooks 2013, the icons for related tasks are the same color, and the graphics themselves are much cleaner and well-positioned.


Figure 3: 2013’s new navigational Ribbon is designed to accelerate workflow. 

A Pleasure to Use

No area of QuickBooks remained untouched in this massive overhaul. Every screen has been modified to enhance readability and speed. Fonts look larger and clearer, and the overall design is more aesthetically pleasing.

So besides making your accounting chores zip along faster, the new look and navigation have a positive psychological effect: It’s simply more enjoyable and less frustrating to interact with QuickBooks 2013. Its more modern, attractive look has a lot of appeal.

There are a few new things under the hood in this new version — it’s not just an interface update. For example, customer and vendor records are more flexible and thorough. You can attach to-do’s to them, assign multiple contacts and store more contact options, like Facebook addresses and Twitter handles.


Figure 4: Contact records in QuickBooks 2013 are more readable and thorough. 

Starting Fresh

There are other changes that will make your work life easier, like one-click access to both the Intuit App Center (where you’ll find hundreds of integrated QuickBooks add-ons) and your most often-accessed reports.

The last few versions of QuickBooks have been rather ho-hum in terms of new usability and functionality. But we encourage you to seriously consider upgrading to QuickBooks 2013. We’d be happy to help you get it up and running. Together, we can take a fresh look at your workflow to see if you and QuickBooks can build a better accounting experience.

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Figure 1: Clearly-defined items result in precise reports. 

Obviously, you’re using QuickBooks because you buy and/or sell products and/or services. You want to know at least weekly — if not daily — what’s selling and what’s not, so you can make informed plans about your company’s future.

You get that information from the reports that you so painstakingly customize and create. But their accuracy depends in large part on how carefully you define each item. This can be a laborious process, but it’s a critical part of QuickBooks’ foundation.

QuickBooks’ Item Lineup

You may not be aware of all of your options here. So let’s take a look at what you see when you go to Lists | Item List | Item | New:

Service. Simple enough. Do you or your employees do something for clients? Training? Construction labor? Web design? This is usually tracked by the hour.

Inventory Part. If you want to maintain detailed records about inventory that contain up-to-date information about value, quantities on hand and cost of goods sold, you must define these items as inventory parts. Before you start creating individual records, make sure that QuickBooks is set up for this purpose. Go to Edit | Preferences | Items & Inventory | Company Preferences and select the desired options there, like this:


Figure 2: QuickBooks needs to know that you’re planning to track at least some items as inventory parts. 

Inventory Assembly. Just what it sounds like; it’s sometimes referred to as a Bill of Materials. Do you sell items that actually consist of multiple individual products, services and/or other charges (though you may also sell the parts separately)? If you’re planning to track the compilations as individual units, then you must define them as assemblies.

Non-Inventory Parts. If you don’t track inventory, you can set up items as non-inventory parts. Even if you do track inventory, there may be times when you’ll want to use this designation. For instance, you might sell something to a customer that they asked you to obtain, but you don’t plan to stock it. In that case, QuickBooks only records the incoming and outgoing funds.


Figure 3: The New Item window looks a bit intimidating, but it’s critical that you complete it thoroughly and correctly. We can help you get started. 

Other Charges. This is a catch-all category for items like delivery charges or setup fees. You can’t designate a unit or measure here; they’re just standard costs.

Groups. Unlike assemblies, these are not recorded as individual inventory units. Use this designation when you sell a combination of items together frequently but you don’t want them tracked as one entity.

Discount. This is a fixed amount or a percentage that you subtract from a subtotal or total.

Payment. Normally, you would use the Receive Payments window to record a payment made. But if your customer has made a partial or advance payment upfront, use this item to subtract it from the total when you create the invoice or statement.


Figure 4: Use the Payment item to record an upfront remittance. 

Sales Tax Item. One sales tax, one rate, one agency.

Sales Tax Group. If a sale requires two or more sales tax items, QuickBooks calculates the total and displays it for the customer, but the items are tracked individually.

Additional Actions

The Item menu provides other options for working with items. You can:

      • Edit or delete
      • Duplicate
      • Make inactive
      • Find in transactions and
      • Customize the list’s columns.

Let us know if you’re not confident about items you’ve already created or if you’re just getting started with this important QuickBooks feature. Some extra work and attention upfront can save you from hours of back-tracking and frustration–and from reports that don’t tell the truth.

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Whether you file as a corporation or sole proprietor here’s what business owners need to know about tax changes in 2012.

Standard Mileage Rates 
The standard mileage rate in 2012 is 55.5 cents per business mile driven, 23 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, and 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

Health Care Tax Credit for Small Businesses 
Small business employers who pay at least half the premiums for single health insurance coverage for their employees may be eligible for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit as long as they employ fewer than the equivalent of 25 full-time workers and average annual wages do not exceed $50,000. The credit can be claimed in tax years 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that. The maximum credit that can be claimed is an amount equal to 35% of premiums paid by eligible small businesses.

Credit for Hiring Qualified Veterans
The maximum credit that employers can take for hiring qualified veterans in 2012 is $9,600 per worker for employers that operate for-profit businesses, or $6,240 per worker for tax-exempt organizations. See Tax Credit for Employers Hiring Veterans This Year (below) for additional details on this tax credit.

Section 179 Expensing 
In 2012 the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases is $139,000 ($174,000 for qualified enterprise zone property) of the first $560,000 of certain business property placed in service during the year. The bonus depreciation is 50% for qualified property that exceeds the threshold amount.

Please contact us if you need help understanding which deductions and tax credits you are entitled to. We are always available to assist you.

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Here’s what individuals and families need to know about tax changes for 2012.

From personal deductions to tax credits and educational expenses, many of the tax changes relating to individuals remain in effect through 2012 and are the result of tax provisions that were either modified or extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 that became law on December 17, 2010.

Personal Exemptions 
The personal and dependent exemption for tax year 2012 is $3,800, up $100 from 2011.

Standard Deductions
In 2012 the standard deduction for married couples filing a joint return is $11,900, up $300 from 2011 and for singles and married individuals filing separately it’s $5,950, up $150. For heads of household the deduction is $8,700, up $200 from 2011.

The additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens in 2012 is unchanged from 2011, remaining at $1,150 for married individuals and $1,450 for singles and heads of household.

Income Tax Rates 
Due to inflation, tax-bracket thresholds will increase for every filing status. For example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $70,700 for a married couple filing a joint return, up from $69,000 in 2011.

Estate and Gift Taxes 
The recent overhaul of estate and gift taxes means that there is an exemption of $5.12 million per individual for estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes, with a top rate of 35%. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $13,000.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) 
AMT exemption amounts for 2012 have reverted to 2000 levels and will remain significantly lower than in 2011 unless Congress takes action before year-end: $33,750 for single and head of household fliers, $45,000 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers, and $22,500 for married people filing separately.

Marriage Penalty Relief 
For 2012, the basic standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly is $11,900, up $300 from 2011.

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout) 
Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) limitations do not apply for 2012, but like many other tax provisions, are set to expire at the end of the year.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) 
FSA (Flexible Spending Arrangements) are limited to $2,500 per year starting in 2013 and indexed to inflation after that and applies only to salary reduction contributions under a health FSA. However, IRS guidance issued this year recognizes that the term “taxable year” refers to the plan year of the cafeteria plan, which is typically the period during which salary reduction elections are made.

Specifically, in the case of a plan providing a grace period (which may be up to two months and 15 days), unused salary reduction contributions to the health FSA for plan years beginning in 2012 or later that are carried over into the grace period for that plan year will not count against the $2,500 limit for the subsequent plan year.

Further, the IRS is providing relief for certain salary reduction contributions exceeding the $2,500 limit that are due to a reasonable mistake and not willful neglect and that are corrected by the employer.

Long Term Capital Gains 
In 2012, long-term gains for assets held at least one year are taxed at a flat rate of 15% for taxpayers above the 25% tax bracket. For taxpayers in lower tax brackets, the long-term capital gains rate is 0%.

 

 

Individuals – Tax Credits

Adoption Credit 
In 2012 a refundable credit of up to $12,650 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child. The available adoption credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $189,710 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $229,710 or more.

 

Child and Dependent Care Credit 
If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) in order to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses.

For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher income earners the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income.

Child Tax Credit 
The $1,000 child tax credit has been extended through 2012 as well. A portion of the credit may be refundable, which means that you can claim the amount you are owed, even if you have no tax liability for the year. The credit is phased out for those with higher incomes.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
For tax year 2012, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low and moderate income workers and working families rises to $5,891, up from $5,751 in 2011. The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $50,270 (up from $49,078 in 2011). The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

 

Individuals – Education Expenses

Coverdell Education Savings Account 
You can contribute up to $2,000 a year to Coverdell savings accounts in 2012. These accounts can be used to offset the cost of elementary and secondary education, as well as post-secondary education.

American Opportunity Tax Credit
For 2012, the maximum Hope Scholarship Credit that can be used to offset certain higher education expenses is $2,500, although it is phased out beginning at $160,000 adjusted gross income for joint filers and $80,000 for other filers.

Employer Provided Educational Assistance 
Through 2012, you, as an employee, can exclude up to $5,250 of qualifying post-secondary and graduate education expenses that are reimbursed by your employer.

Lifetime Learning Credit 
A credit of up to $2,000 is available for an unlimited number of years for certain costs of post-secondary or graduate courses or courses to acquire or improve your job skills. For 2012, The modified adjusted gross income threshold at which the lifetime learning credit begins to phase out is $104,000 for joint filers, up from $102,000, and $52,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $51,000.

Student Loan Interest 
For 2012 (same as 2011), the $2,500 maximum student loan interest deduction for interest paid on student loans is not limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction begins to phase out for married taxpayers filing joint returns at $125,000, and phases out completely at $155,000, an increase of $5,000 from the phase out limits for tax year 2011. For single taxpayers, the phase out ranges remain at the 2011 levels.

Individuals – Retirement

Contribution Limits
For 2012, the elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $16,500 to $17,000. For persons age 50 or older in 2012, the limit is $22,500 (up from $22,000 in 2011). Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans remain at $11,500 for persons under age 50 and $14,000 for persons age 50 or older in 2012. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $250,000.

Saver’s Credit 
In 2012, the AGI limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low-and moderate-income workers is $57,500 for married couples filing jointly, $43,125 for heads of household, and $28,750 for married individuals filing separately and for singles.

Please contact us if you need help understanding which deductions and tax credits you are entitled to. We are always available to assist you.

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Millions of Americans have hobbies such as sewing, woodworking, fishing, gardening, stamp and coin collecting, but when that hobby starts to turn a profit, it might just be considered a business by the IRS.

Definition of a Hobby vs a Business

The IRS defines a hobby as an activity that is not pursued for profit. A business, on the other hand, is an activity that is carried out with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.

The tax considerations are different for each activity so it’s important for taxpayers to determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit as a business or is just a hobby for personal enjoyment.

Of course, you must report and pay tax on income from almost all sources, including hobbies. But when it comes to deductions such as expenses and losses, the two activities differ in their tax implications.

Is Your Hobby Actually a Business?

If you’re not sure whether you’re running a business or simply enjoying a hobby, here are some of the factors you should consider:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Do you depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

An activity is presumed to be for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (or at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training, or racing horses).

The IRS says that it looks at all facts when determining whether a hobby is for pleasure or business, but the profit test is the primary one. If the activity earned income in three out of the last five years, it is for profit. If the activity does not meet the profit test, the IRS will take an individualized look at the facts of your activity using the list of questions above to determine whether it’s a business or a hobby. (It should be noted that this list is not all-inclusive.)

Business Activity: If the activity is determined to be a business, you can deduct ordinary and necessary expenses for the operation of the business on a Schedule C or C-EZ on your Form 1040 without considerations for percentage limitations. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate for your business.

Hobby: If an activity is a hobby, not for profit, losses from that activity may not be used to offset other income. You can only deduct expenses up to the amount of income earned from the hobby. These expenses, with other miscellaneous expenses, are itemized on Schedule A and must also meet the 2 percent limitation of your adjusted gross income in order to be deducted.

What Are Allowable Hobby Deductions?

If your activity is not carried on for profit, allowable deductions cannot exceed the gross receipts for the activity.

Note: Internal Revenue Code Section 183 (Activities Not Engaged in for Profit) limits deductions that can be claimed when an activity is not engaged in for profit. IRC 183 is sometimes referred to as the “hobby loss rule.”

Deductions for hobby activities are claimed as itemized deductions on Schedule A, Form 1040. These deductions must be taken in the following order and only to the extent stated in each of three categories:

  • Deductions that a taxpayer may claim for certain personal expenses, such as home mortgage interest and taxes, may be taken in full.
  • Deductions that don’t result in an adjustment to the basis of property, such as advertising, insurance premiums, and wages, may be taken next, to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions from the first category.
  • Deductions that reduce the basis of property, such as depreciation and amortization, are taken last, but only to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions taken in the first two categories.

If your hobby is regularly generating income, it could make tax sense for you to consider it a business because you might be able to lower your taxes and take certain deductions.

Still wondering whether your hobby is actually a business? Give us a call, we’ll help you figure it out.

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Most of us have heard of QuickBooks, and probably even use it for our day-to-day tasks in our businesses.  But believe it or not, and Intuit would never you tell you this, but there are some areas in which it lacks.

That’s where 3rd-party Apps come in.  We all know “Apps”, a popular buzz word made famous by the iPhone and mobile technology.  But Apps have crossed over from just being mobile, to being part of our everyday lives.  With the right combination of software, using Apps with QuickBooks can make your business processes a breeze!

Check out this article for more and tell us what you think!

http://www.inc.com/christina-desmarais/5-apps-that-make-quickbooks-better.html

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There are a number of end of year tax strategies businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2012. 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 in 2012 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $139,000 for property placed in service by December 31, 2012. The maximum threshold amount for capital purchases in 2012 is $560,000, but in 2013, that amount drops to $25,000. Also in 2012, businesses can take advantage of an accelerated first year bonus depreciation of 50% of the purchase price of new equipment and software placed in service by December 31, 2012 that exceeds the threshold amount of $560,000. This bonus depreciation is phased out in 2013.

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.

Note: Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.

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.

    1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as “placed in service” (or “disposed of”) at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

Example: You buy a $40,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

    1. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40% of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.
    2. The mid-month convention: This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

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 2012 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.

Caution: Remember that by increasing basis, you’re putting more of your funds at risk. Consider whether the loss signals further troubles ahead.

Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2012. 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.

Tip: Year-end is the best time for business owners to meet with their accountants to budget revenues and expenses for the following year.

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 2012. 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.

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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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