Whether you’re self-employed or an employee, if you use a car for business, you get the benefit of tax deductions.

There are two choices for claiming deductions:

  1. Deduct the actual business-related costs of gas, oil, lubrication, repairs, tires, supplies, parking, tolls, drivers’ salaries, and depreciation.
  2. Use the standard mileage deduction in 2013 and simply multiply 56.5 cents by the number of business miles traveled during the year. Your actual parking fees and tolls are deducted separately under this method. (In 2012 the standard rate for business miles driven was 55.5 cents.)

Which Method Is Better?

For some taxpayers, using the standard mileage rate produces a larger deduction. Others fare better tax-wise by deducting actual expenses.

Tip: The actual cost method allows you to claim accelerated depreciation on your car, subject to limits and restrictions not discussed here.

The standard mileage amount includes an allowance for depreciation. Opting for the standard mileage method allows you to bypass certain limits and restrictions and is simpler– but it’s often less advantageous in dollar terms.

Caution: The standard rate may understate your costs, especially if you use the car 100% for business, or close to that percentage.

Generally, the standard mileage method benefits taxpayers who have less expensive cars or who travel a large number of business miles.

How to Make Tax Time Easier

Keep careful records of your travel expenses and record your mileage in a logbook. If you don’t know the number of miles driven and the total amount you spent on the car, we won’t be able to determine which of the two options is more advantageous for you.

Furthermore, the tax law requires that you keep travel expense records and that you give information on your return showing business versus personal use. If you use the actual cost method for your auto deductions, you must keep receipts.

Tip: Consider using a separate credit card for business, to simplify your recordkeeping.

Tip: You can also deduct the interest you pay to finance a business-use car if you’re self-employed.

Note: Self-employed individuals and employees who use their cars for business can deduct auto expenses if they either (1) don’t get reimbursed, or (2) are reimbursed under an employer’s “non-accountable” reimbursement plan. In the case of employees, expenses are deductible to the extent that auto expenses (together with other “miscellaneous itemized deductions”) exceed 2% of adjusted gross income.

We will help you determine the best deduction method for your business-use car. Let us know if you have any questions about which records you need to keep.

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If you received income during 2012, you may need to file a tax return in 2013. The amount of your income, your filing status, your age and the type of income you received will determine whether you’re required to file. Even if you are not required to file a tax return, you may still want to file. You may get a refund if you’ve had too much federal income tax withheld from your pay or qualify for certain tax credits.

Even if you’ve determined that you don’t need to file a tax return this year, you may still want to file. Here are five reasons why:

1. Federal Income Tax Withheld. If your employer withheld federal income tax from your pay, if you made estimated tax payments, or if you had a prior year overpayment applied to this year’s tax, you could be due a refund. File a return to claim any excess tax you paid during the year.

2. Earned Income Tax Credit. If you worked but earned less than $50,270 last year, you may qualify for EITC. EITC is a refundable tax credit; which means if you qualify you could receive EITC as a tax refund. Families with qualifying children may qualify to get up to $5,891. You can’t get the credit unless you file a return and claim it. Give us a call if you’re not sure you qualify for the EITC.

3. Additional Child Tax Credit. If you have at least one qualifying child and you don’t get the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may qualify for this additional refundable credit. You must file and use new Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, to claim the credit. If you need help filling out this form, please give us a call.

4. American Opportunity Credit. If you or someone you support is a student, you might be eligible for this credit. Students in their first four years of postsecondary education may qualify for as much as $2,500 through this partially refundable credit. Even those who owe no tax can get up to $1,000 of the credit as cash back for each eligible student. You must file Form 8863, Education Credits, and submit it with your tax return to claim the credit. Don’t hesitate to give us a call if you need help with this form.

5. Health Coverage Tax Credit. If you’re receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance, Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance, Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance or pension benefit payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, you may be eligible for a 2012 Health Coverage Tax Credit. Spouses and dependents may also be eligible. Email or call us today to see whether you’re eligible for a 72.5 percent tax credit on payments you made for qualified health insurance premiums.

Want more information about filing requirements and tax credits? Give us a call. We’re here to help.

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If you are having trouble paying your debts, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Doing nothing leads to much larger problems in the future, whether it’s a bad credit record or bankruptcy resulting in the loss of assets and even your home. If you’re in financial trouble here are some steps to take to avoid financial ruin in the future.

If you’ve accumulated a large amount of debt and are having difficulty paying your bills each month, now is the time to take action–before the bill collectors start calling.

1. Review each debt. Make sure that the debt creditors claim you owe is really what you owe and that the amount is correct. If you dispute a debt, first contact the creditor directly to resolve your questions. If you still have questions about the debt, contact your state or local consumer protection office or, in cases of serious creditor abuse, your state Attorney General.

2. Contact your creditors. Let your creditors know you are having difficulty making your payments. Tell them why you are having trouble-perhaps it is because you recently lost your job or have unexpected medical bills. Try to work out an acceptable payment schedule with your creditors. Most are willing to work with you and will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness.

Tip: Most automobile financing agreements permit your creditor to repossess your car any time you are in default, with no advance notice. If your car is repossessed you may have to pay the full balance due on the loan, as well as towing and storage costs, to get it back. Do not wait until you are in default. Try to solve the problem with your creditor when you realize you will not be able to meet your payments. It may be better to sell the car yourself and pay off your debt than to incur the added costs of repossession.

3. Budget your expenses. Create a spending plan that allows you to reduce your debts. Itemize your necessary expenses (such as housing and health care) and optional expenses (such as entertainment and vacation travel). Stick to the plan.

4. Try to reduce your expenses. Cut out any unnecessary spending such as eating out and purchasing expensive entertainment. Consider taking public transportation or using a car sharing service rather than owning a car. Clip coupons, purchase generic products at the supermarket and avoid impulse purchases. Above all, stop incurring new debt. Leave your credit cards at home. Pay for all purchases in cash or use a debit card instead of a credit card.

5. Pay down and consolidate your debts. Withdrawing savings from low-interest accounts to settle high-rate loans or credit card debt usually makes sense. In addition, there are a number of ways to pay off high-interest loans, such as credit cards, by getting a refinancing or consolidation loan, such as a second mortgage.

Tip: Selling off a second car not only provides cash but also reduces insurance and other maintenance expenses.

Caution: Be wary of any loan consolidations or other refinancing that actually increase interest owed, or require payments of points or large fees.

Caution: Second mortgages greatly increase the risk that you may lose your home.

You can regain financial health if you act responsibly. But don’t wait until bankruptcy court is your only option. If you’re having financial troubles, don’t hesitate to call us. We can help you get back on your feet.

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Consumers should protect themselves against online identity theft and other scams that increase during–and after–the filing season. Such scams may appropriate the name, logo, or other appurtenances of the IRS or U.S. Department of the Treasury to mislead taxpayers into believing the communication is legitimate.

The Internal Revenue Service receives thousands of reports each year from taxpayers who receive suspicious emails, phone calls, faxes or notices claiming to be from the IRS. Many of these scams fraudulently use the IRS name or logo as a lure to make the communication appear more authentic and enticing. The goal of these scams, referred to as phishing, is to trick you into revealing your personal and financial information. The scammers can then use your information — like your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers — to commit identity theft or steal your money.

Scams involving the impersonation of the IRS usually take the form of e-mails, tweets, or other online messages to consumers. Scammers may also use phones and faxes to reach intended victims. Some scammers set up phony Web sites.

The IRS and E-mail

Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. Further, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. The IRS does not request financial account security information, such as passwords and PIN numbers, from taxpayers.

Most Scams Impersonating the IRS are Identity Theft Schemes

In this type of scam, the scammer poses as a legitimate institution to trick consumers into revealing personal and financial information – such as passwords and Social Security, PIN, bank account and credit card numbers – that can be used to gain access to their bank, credit card, or other financial accounts.

Attempted identity theft scams that take place via e-mail are known as phishing. Other scams may try to persuade a victim to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a larger gain. These are known as advance fee scams.

How an Identity Theft Scam Works

Typically, a consumer will receive an e-mail that claims to come from the IRS or Treasury Department. The message will contain an enticing or intimidating subject line, such as “Tax Refund,” “Inherited Funds,” or “IRS Notice.” Usually, the message will state that the recipient needs to provide the IRS with information to obtain the refund or avoid some penalty. The message will instruct the consumer to open an attachment or click on a link in the e-mail. This may lead to an official-looking IRS Web site. The look-alike site will then contain a phony but genuine-looking online form or interactive application that requires personal and financial information, which the scammer then uses to commit identity theft.

Alternatively, the clicked link may secretly download malware to the consumer’s computer. Malware is malicious code that can take over the computer’s hard drive, giving the scammer remote access to the computer, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.

Phony Web or Commercial Sites

In many IRS-impersonation scams, the scammer sends the consumer to a phony Web site that mimics the appearance of the genuine IRS Web site, IRS.gov. This allows the scammer to steer victims to phony interactive forms or applications that appear genuine but require the targeted victim to enter personal and financial information that will be used to commit identity theft.

The official Web site for the Internal Revenue Service is IRS.gov, and all IRS.gov Web page addresses begin with http://www.irs.gov/.

In addition to Web sites established by scammers, there are commercial Internet sites that often resemble the authentic IRS site or contain some form of the IRS name in the address but end with a .com, .net, .org, or other designation instead of .gov. These sites have no connection to the IRS. Consumers may unknowingly visit these sites when searching the Internet to retrieve tax forms, publications, and other information from the IRS.

Frequent or Recent Scams

There are a number of scams that impersonate the IRS. Some of them appear with great frequency, particularly during and right after filing season, and recur annually. Others are new.

  • Refund Scam: This is the most frequent IRS-impersonation scam seen by the IRS. In this phishing scam, a bogus e-mail claiming to come from the IRS tells the consumer that he or she is eligible to receive a tax refund for a specified amount. It may use the phrase “last annual calculations of your fiscal activity.” To claim the tax refund, the consumer must open an attachment or click on a link contained in the e-mail to access and complete a claim form. The form requires the entry of personal and financial information. Several variations on the refund scam have claimed to come from the Exempt Organizations area of the IRS or the name and signature of a genuine or made-up IRS executive. In reality, taxpayers do not need to complete a special form to obtain their federal tax refund. Refunds are triggered by the tax return they submitted to the IRS.
  • Lottery winnings or cash consignment: These advance fee scam e-mails claim to come from the Treasury Department to notify recipients that they’ll receive millions of dollars in recovered funds, lottery winnings, or cash consignment if they provide certain personal information, including phone numbers, via return e-mail. The e-mail may be just the first step in a multi-step scheme in which the victim is later contacted by telephone or further e-mail and instructed to deposit taxes on the funds or winnings before they can receive any of it. Alternatively, they may be sent a phony check of the funds or winnings and told to deposit it but pay 10 percent in taxes or fees. Thinking that the check must have cleared the bank and is genuine, some people comply. However, the scammers, not the Treasury Department, will get the taxes or fees. In reality, the Treasury Department does not become involved in notification of inheritances or lottery or other winnings.
  • Beneficial Owner Form: This fax-based phishing scam, which generally targets foreign nationals, recurs periodically. It’s based on a genuine IRS form, the W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding. The scammer, though, invents his or her own number and name for the form. The scammer modifies the form to request passport numbers, information that is often used for account security purposes (such as mother’s maiden name), and similar detailed personal and financial information, and states that the recipient may have to pay additional tax if he or she fails to immediately fax back the completed form. In reality, the real W-8BEN is completed by banks, not individuals.

Other Known Scams

The contents of other IRS-impersonation scams vary but may claim that the recipient will be paid for participating in an online survey or is under investigation or audit. Some scam e-mails have referenced Recovery-related tax provisions, such as Making Work Pay, or solicited for charitable donations to victims of natural disasters. Taxpayers should beware an e-mail scam that references underreported income and the recipient’s “tax statement,” since clicking on a link or opening an attachment is known to download malware onto the recipient’s computer.

How to Spot a Scam

Many e-mail scams are fairly sophisticated and hard to detect. However, there are signs to watch for, such as an e-mail that:

  • requests detailed or an unusual amount of personal and/or financial information, such as name, SSN, bank or credit card account numbers, or security-related information, such as mother’s maiden name, either in the e-mail itself or on another site to which a link in the e-mail sends the recipient;
  • dangles bait to get the recipient to respond to the e-mail, such as mentioning a tax refund or offering to pay the recipient to participate in an IRS survey;
  • threatens a consequence for not responding to the e-mail, such as additional taxes or blocking access to the recipient’s funds;
  • gets the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agency names wrong;
  • uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing (many of the e-mail scams originate overseas and are written by non-native English speakers);
  • uses a really long address in any link contained in the e-mail message or one that does not start with the actual IRS Web site address (http://www.irs.gov). The actual link’s address, or url, is revealed by moving the mouse over the link included in the text of the e-mail.

What to Do

Taxpayers who receive a suspicious e-mail claiming to come from the IRS should take the following steps:

  • Do not open any attachments to the e-mail, in case they contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
  • Do not click on any links, for the same reason. Alternatively, the links may connect to a phony IRS Web site that appears authentic and then prompts for personal identifiers, bank or credit card account numbers, or PINs.
  • Do not respond to the email. Instead, visit the IRS website to use the “Where’s My Refund?” interactive tool to determine if you are really getting a refund.
  • Forward the suspicious e-mail or url address to the IRS mailbox phishing@irs.gov, and then delete the e-mail from your inbox. Alternatively, you can visit the IRS website and click on “Report Phishing” at the bottom of the home page.
  • Consumers who believe they are or may be victims of identity theft or other scams may visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission website for guidance on what to do. The IRS is one of the sponsors of this site.

If you’ve received an email claiming to be from the IRS, call us to talk it over before taking any action. We don’t want you to fall victim to a scam.

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Thanks to the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), many tax provisions that expired in 2011 were retroactively extended (or made permanent) that are of benefit to taxpayers filing 2012 returns this year. Here are six of them:

1. Education-Related Tax Deductions

ATRA extended, through 2017 and retroactive to 2012, two popular and widely used education-related tax benefits that expired in 2011: the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses and the deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers. Both are above-the-line deductions, which means that they can be taken before calculating adjusted gross income (AGI).

2. Limited Non-Business Energy Property Credits

Non-business energy credits expired in 2011, but were extended (retroactive to 2012) through 2013 by ATRA. For 2012 (as in 2011), this credit generally equals 10 percent of what a homeowner spends on eligible energy-saving improvements, up to a maximum tax credit of $500 (down significantly from the $1,500 combined limit that applied for 2009 and 2010).

Because of the way the credit is figured however, in many cases, it may only be helpful to people who make energy-saving home improvements for the first time in 2012. That’s because homeowners must first subtract any non-business energy property credits claimed on their 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 returns before claiming this credit for 2012. In other words, if a taxpayer claimed a credit of $450 in 2011, the maximum credit that can be claimed in 2012 is $50 (for an aggregate of $500).

The cost of certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass all qualify, along with labor costs for installing these items. In addition, the cost of energy-efficient windows and skylights, energy-efficient doors, qualifying insulation and certain roofs also qualify for the credit, though the cost of installing these items do not.

3. Mortgage Insurance Deductible as Qualified Interest

ATRA extended, through 2013 (and retroactive to 2012), a tax provision that expired in 2011 that allows taxpayers to deduct mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest. As such, taxpayers can deduct, as qualified residence interest, mortgage insurance premiums paid or accrued before Jan. 1, 2014, subject to a phase-out based on the taxpayer’s AGI.

4. AMT “Patch” Made Permanent

The AMT ‘patch” was made permanent by ATRA; however, exemption amounts for 2012 and beyond are higher than in years’ past and are now indexed to inflation. For tax-year 2012, the alternative minimum tax exemption amounts increase to the following levels:

  • $78,750 for a married couple filing a joint return and qualifying widows and widowers, up from $74,450 in 2011.
  • $39,375 for a married person filing separately, up from $37,225 in 2011.
  • $50,600 for singles and heads of household, up from $48,450 in 2011.

5. Transportation “Fringe Benefits”

Parity for transportation fringe benefits provided by employers for the benefit of their employees expired at the end of 2011; however, ATRA reinstated this parity retroactive to 2012. As such, the monthly limit for qualified parking is $240 and the benefit for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle or a transit pass is $245 for tax year 2012.

6. State and Local Sales Taxes

Retroactive to 2012, ATRA extended (through 2013) the tax provision that allows taxpayers who itemize deductions the option to deduct state and local general sales and use taxes instead of state and local income taxes.

If you have questions about these or other tax changes, please call us. We’d be happy to assist you.

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Welcome 2013! As the new year rolls around, it’s always a sure bet that there will be changes to the current tax law and 2013 is no different. From health savings accounts to retirement contributions here’s a checklist of tax changes to help you plan the year ahead.

Individuals

For 2013, the big news is the signing of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), which modified, made permanent or extended a number of tax provisions that expired in 2012 and 2011, for both individuals and businesses. Standard mileage, health savings account contribution limits, and foreign earned income exclusion, as well as most retirement contribution limits have been adjusted upward to reflect inflation as well.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
Exemption amounts for the AMT are now permanent and indexed for inflation and allow the use of nonrefundable personal credits against the AMT. Retroactive to January 1, 2012, exemption amounts are $50,600 (individuals) and $78,750 (married filing jointly). These amounts are indexed for inflation in 2013.

“Kiddie Tax” 
For taxable years beginning in 2013, the amount that can be used to reduce the net unearned income reported on the child’s return that is subject to the “kiddie tax,” is $1,000 (up from $950 in 2012). The same $1,000 amount is used to determine whether a parent may elect to include a child’s gross income in the parent’s gross income and to calculate the “kiddie tax”. For example, one of the requirements for the parental election is that a child’s gross income for 2013 must be more than $1,000 but less than $10,000.

For 2013, the net unearned income for a child under the age of 19 (or a full-time student under the age of 24) that is not subject to “kiddie tax” is $2,000.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
Contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) are used to pay current or future medical expenses of the account owner, his or her spouse, and any qualified dependent. Medical expenses must not be reimbursable by insurance or other sources and do not qualify for the medical expense deduction on a federal income tax return.

A qualified individual must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and not be covered by other health insurance with the exception of insurance for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, or long-term care.

For calendar year 2013, a qualifying HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,250 (up $50 from 2012) for self-only coverage or $2,500 (up $100 from 2012) for family coverage (unchanged from 2011) and must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses of the beneficiary to $6,250 for self-only coverage (up $200 from 2012) and $12,500 for family coverage (up $400 from 2012).

Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs)
There are two types of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs): the Archer MSA created to help self-employed individuals and employees of certain small employers, and the Medicare Advantage MSA, which is also an Archer MSA, and is designated by Medicare to be used solely to pay the qualified medical expenses of the account holder. To be eligible for a Medicare Advantage MSA, you must be enrolled in Medicare. Both MSAs require that you are enrolled in a high deductible health plan (HDHP).

 

Self-only coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2013, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for self-only coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $2,150 (up $50 from 2012) and not more than $3,200 (up $50 from 2012), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $4,300 (up $100 from 2012). 

Family coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2013, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for family coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $4,300 (up $100 from 2012) and not more than $6,450 (up $150 from 2012), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $7,850 (up $200 from 2012).

 

Increased AGI Limit for Deductible Medical Expenses
In 2013, the amount individuals can deduct for medical expenses increases to 10 percent of AGI. The 7.5 percent threshold continues through 2016 for taxpayers aged 65 and older, including those turning 65 by December 31, 2016.

Eligible Long-Term Care Premiums
Premiums for long-term care are treated the same as health care premiums and are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations. For individuals age 40 or less at the end of 2013, the limitation is $360. Persons over 40 but less than 50 can deduct $680. Those over age 50 but not more than 60 can deduct $1,360, while individuals over age 60 but younger than 70 can deduct $3,640. The maximum deduction $4,550 and applies to anyone over the age of 70.

Medicare Taxes 
Starting in 2013, there will be an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages above $200,000 for individuals ($250,000 married filing jointly). Also starting in 2013, there is a new Medicare tax of 3.8 percent on investment (unearned) income for single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,00 joint filers). Investment income includes dividends, interest, rents, royalties, gains from the disposition of property, and certain passive activity income. Estates, trusts and self-employed individuals are all liable for the new tax.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the foreign earned income exclusion amount is $97,600, up from $95,100 in 2012.

Long-Term Capital Gains and Dividends
In 2013 tax rates on capital gains and dividends for taxpayers whose income is at or below $400,000 ($450,000 married filing jointly) remain the same as 2012 rates. As such, for taxpayers in the lower tax brackets (10% and 15%), the rate remains 0%. For taxpayers in the middle tax brackets, the rate is 15%. An individual taxpayer whose income is at or above $400,000 ($450,000 married filing jointly), the rate for both capital gains and dividends is capped at 20% (up from 15% in 2012).

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout) 
Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) is permanently extended for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2012 for taxpayers with income at or below $250,000 for single filers) and $300,000 for married filing jointly. The PEP (personal exemption phase-out) limitations was also reinstated, but with higher thresholds of $250,000 for single filers and $300,000 for married taxpayers filing joint tax returns.

Estate and Gift Taxes 
For an estate of any decedent during calendar year 2013, the basic exclusion amount is $5,120,000 (indexed for inflation–same as 2012). The maximum tax rate rises to 40% (up from 35% in 2012). The annual exclusion for gifts increases to $14,000 (up from $13,000 in 2012).

Individuals – Tax Credits

Adoption Credit
In 2013, a non-refundable (only those individuals with tax liability will benefit) credit of up to $10,000 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child.

Earned Income Tax Credit
For tax year 2013, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low and moderate income workers and working families rises to $5,981, up from $5,891 in 2012. 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.

Child Tax Credit
For tax year 2013, the child tax credit is $1,000 per child.

Child and Dependent Care Credit
The child and dependent care tax credit was permanently extended for taxable years beginning in 2013. 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.

Individuals – Education

American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credits
The American Opportunity Tax Credit (formerly Hope Scholarship Credit) is extended to the end of 2017. The maximum credit is $2,500 per student. The Lifetime Learning Credit remains at $2,000.

Interest on Educational Loans
Starting in 2013, the $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on student loans is repealed and no longer limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction is phased out for higher-income taxpayers.

Tuition and Related Expenses Deduction
In 2013, there is once again an above-the-line deduction of up to $4,000 for qualified tuition expenses. This means that qualified tuition payments can directly reduce the amount of taxable income, and you don’t have to itemize to claim this deduction. However, this option can’t be used with other education tax breaks, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and the amount available is phased out for higher-income taxpayers.

Individuals – Retirement

Contribution Limits 
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 $17,000 to $17,500. Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans increase from $11,500 to $12,000. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $255,000 (up $5,000 from 2012 levels).

Income Phase-out Ranges
The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross income (AGI) between $59,000 and $69,000, up from $58,000 and $68,000 in 2012.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the phase-out range is $95,000 to $115,000, up from $92,000 to $112,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s modified AGI is between $178,000 and $188,000, up from $173,000 and $183,000.

The modified AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $178,000 to $188,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $173,000 to $183,000 in 2012. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range is $112,000 to $127,000, up from $110,000 to $125,000. For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a retirement plan, the phase-out range remains $0 to $10,000.

Saver’s Credit
The AGI limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contribution credit) for low and moderate income workers is $59,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $57,500 in 2012; $44,250 for heads of household, up from $43,125; and $29,500 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $28,750.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates
The rate for business miles driven is 56.5 cents per mile for 2013, up from 55.5 cents per mile in 2012.

Section 179 Expensing 
For 2013 the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases increases to $500,000 of the first $2,000,000 of business property placed in service during 2013. The bonus depreciation of 50% is also extended through 2013.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) 
The WOTC is extended through 2013 (retroactive to 2012) and includes a one-year extension of the enhanced credit for hiring certain veterans. When a business hires a person from one of several specific economically disadvantaged groups it may claim a Work Opportunity Tax Credit, generally equal to 40 percent of the first $6,000 in wages paid to a new hire.

Transportation Fringe Benefits
If you provide transportation fringe benefits to your employees, for tax years beginning in 2013 (through 2017) the maximum monthly limitation for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle as well as any transit pass is $240. The monthly limitation for qualified parking is also $240.

While this checklist outlines important tax changes for 2013, additional changes in tax law are more than likely to arise during the year ahead.

Don’t hesitate to call us if you want to get an early start on tax planning for 2013. We’re here to help!

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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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Most people have taxes withheld from each paycheck or pay taxes on a quarterly basis through estimated tax payments. But each year millions of American workers have far more taxes withheld from their pay than is required. In fact, the average refund for 2011 was just under $3,000. Although it’s a slight decrease from 2010, ($2,973 vs. $3,003), taxpayers might want to consider adjusting their tax withholding to bring the taxes they must pay closer to what they actually owe–and put more money in their pocket right now.

On the flip side, is that some workers and retirees still need to take steps to make sure enough tax is being taken out of their checks to avoid penalties they might have to pay. Certain folks should pay particular attention to their withholding. These include:

    • Married couples with two incomes

 

    • Individuals with multiple jobs

 

    • Dependents

 

    • Some Social Security recipients who work

 

    • Workers who do not have valid Social Security numbers

 

    • Retirees who receive pension payments

 

Whether you’re starting a new job, retiring, or self-employed, you can use the following tips to help bring the taxes you pay during the year closer to what you will actually owe when you file your tax return.

Employees

    • New Job. When you start a new job your employer will ask you to complete Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer will use this form to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your paychecks. Be sure to complete the Form W-4 accurately.

 

  • Life Event. You may want to change your Form W-4 when certain life events happen to you during the year. Examples of events in your life that can change the amount of taxes you owe include a change in your marital status, the birth of a child, getting or losing a job, and purchasing a home. Keep your Form W-4 up-to-date.

You typically can submit a new Form W-4 anytime that you wish to change the number of your withholding allowances. However, if your life event results in the need to decrease your withholding allowances or changes your marital status from married to single; you must give your employer a new Form W-4 within 10 days of that life event.

Self-Employed

  • Form 1040-ES. If you are self-employed and expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in taxes for the year, then you normally must make estimated tax payments to pay your income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes. You can use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to find out if you are required to pay estimated tax on a quarterly basis. Remember to make estimated payments to avoid owing taxes at tax time.

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.

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All Social Security recipients should receive a Form SSA-1099 from the Social Security Administration which shows the total amount of their benefits.

But many people may not realize the Social Security benefits they received in 2012 may be taxable. The information outlined below should help you determine whether those benefits you receive in 2012 are taxable or not.

1. How much, if any, of your Social Security benefits are taxable depends on your total income and marital status.

2. Generally, if Social Security benefits were your only income for 2012, your benefits are not taxable and you probably do not need to file a federal income tax return.

3. If you received income from other sources, your benefits will not be taxed unless your modified adjusted gross income is more than the base amount for your filing status (see below).

4. Your taxable benefits and modified adjusted gross income are figured on a worksheet in the Form 1040A or Form 1040 Instruction booklet. Your tax software program will also figure this for you.

5. You can do the following quick computation to determine whether some of your benefits may be taxable:

  • First, add one-half of the total Social Security benefits you received to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest and other exclusions from income.
  • Then, compare this total to the base amount for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.

6. The 2012 base amounts are:

    • $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.
    • $25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child, or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year.
    • $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year.

Confused? Give us a call. We’ll make sure you receive all of the Social Security benefits you’re entitled to.

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While in the mode of holiday shopping, consider these 3 tax-smart purchases.

Make Charitable Contributions

Consider making charitable contributions before year-end both to obtain the maximum tax deduction and to fulfill any charitable programs or commitments you may have established for the year.

Pay Tax-Deductible Expenses

Consider paying tax-deductible expenses prior to year-end. Some common examples are real estate taxes, quarterly state or local income taxes, investment-related expenses, and dues. These must be paid by December 31 to obtain a deduction this year. Please call us if you’d like to discuss these deductions further.

Buy a New Car

If you need a new car, now is a great time to purchase or lease one. Frequently, dealers are anxious to clear out last year’s inventory prior to year-end. In making your choice, consider the federal tax (and occasional state tax) advantages for buying fuel-efficient vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

Evaluate Your Spending Plan

If you’re one of the rare few who are disciplined enough to create and hold yourself to a budget, December is a great time to evaluate how close your spending went compared to plan for the year. You’ll learn lessons from the areas you overspent that will help you create an even better plan for 2013.

For the rest of us mere mortals, recalculate your net worth. Compare it to the value at the beginning of the year. How did you do?

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