It’s that time again and the holidays are fast approaching.  It’s a time of excitement, family, get togethers, and…finances!  For most, year-end is the time when we start thinking about taxes and our financial situation for the year.  December 31st is too late, but if you’re reading this now, you have a good chance to get things in order to make tax time and other year-end tasks less stressful.  Keep reading to see how to get ready!

Catch Up Your Bookkeeping

If you have some a back log of bookkeeping to do, now is the time to get caught up and ready for January.  Bookkeeping can be as simple as a spreadsheet if you’re a sole proprietor, or if you have LLC or Corporation, then you really should use software like Xero.  Don’t spend hours and hours on this.  Technology is come along away in the past 5 years so chances are “there’s an app for that”!

Having your books caught up will tell you how much income and expenses you have for the year.  Once you know that, then you’ll have a good idea of what your tax bill is going to look like.

Taxes

If you’re self-employed chanced are that you should be paying estimated tax payments–which are basically tax prepayments.  Reviewing how much you’ve paid in, and making any necessary catch up payments will help ensure you don’t have a large tax bill and will help you avoid any pre-payment penalties.

Additionally, you should review your net income to ensure you aren’t getting caught with a large unexpected tax bill.  Reviewing this will help you know what to expect when it’s time to file taxes.  And if you have extra cash, you can even pay some or all of your tax liability before you file your return.

 

Retirement Accounts

Saving for retirement has almost become a cliché term.  But did you know most business owners aren’t taking advantage of having their company pay themselves for retirement?  It’s one of the great tax planning tools that a business owner can use!  The company (which you own) pays into a retirement account for you.  So it’s like getting a double benefit!  Every business owner should be doing this.

There are many different options for retirement accounts.  Whether it’s a 401K, SEP, or SIMPLE IRA, find the one that works for you and get it started.

Re-evaluate Your Pricing & Costs

End of year is a great time to look at your pricing and costs.  It’s also a great time to review your Gross Profit % and make sure you’re charging enough for your products/services, or adjust your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS).  Keep in mind that generally speaking, your COGS should be no more than 30% of your revenue.  If it is, you could be bleeding cash and you may soon run out.  If you run out of cash, guess what?  The jig is up and you may be out of business.  In order to do this you’ll need to of course have your bookkeeping caught up so do that first, and then review these numbers.

 

…your COGS should be no more than 30% of your revenue

Review Your Systems and Processes

Finally, review your internal systems and processes.  Or, maybe this is the time where you commit to write them down.  Mapping out your systems and processes does a few things for you:

  1. You can discover inefficiencies that you may have never seen.  Writing something down  has the amazing effect of providing objectivity!  You can use paper or online tools like Google Docs or Evernote to do this.  That way, if you ever have staff taking over certain jobs, they’ll know what to do.
  2. It also prepares you to be able to hire staff and delegate tasks or jobs.  Doing this allows you to take on more of a managerial/strategy role and be less of a technician.  As business owners, we should all be moving away from the technical side of the business so we can work on the vision and growing the company.

 

As business owners we should all be moving away from the technical side of the business so we can work on the vision and growing the company

 

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, but it should get you started.  If you need help, just ask!  We’ve helped countless businesses do these things and we can offer down-to-earth advice that will make doing this, easy!

 

 

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What should you do if you already filed your federal tax return and then discover a mistake? First of all, don’t worry. In most cases all you have to do is file an amended tax return. But before you do that, here are 10 facts you should be aware of when filing an amended tax return.

1. Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to file an amended tax return. An amended return cannot be e-filed. You must file it on paper. Contact us if you need assistance or have any questions about Form 1040X.

2. Consider filing an amended tax return if there is a change in your filing status, income, deductions or credits.

3. In most cases, you do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors because the IRS automatically makes those changes for you. Also, do not file an amended return because you forgot to attach tax forms, such as W-2s or schedules. The IRS normally will send a request asking for those.

4. Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original tax return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. Be sure to enter the year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X.

5. If you are amending more than one tax return, prepare a 1040X for each return and mail them to the IRS in separate envelopes. You will find the appropriate IRS address to mail your return to in the Form 1040X instructions.

6. If your changes involve the need for another schedule or form, you must attach that schedule or form to the amended return.

7. If you are filing an amended tax return to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original tax refund before filing Form 1040X. Amended returns take up to 12 weeks to process. You may cash your original refund check while waiting for the additional refund.

8. If you owe additional taxes with Form 1040X, file it and pay the tax as soon as possible to minimize interest and penalties.

9. You can track the status of your amended tax return for the current year three weeks after you file. You can also check the status of amended returns for up to three prior years.

10. To use the “Where’s My Amended Return” tool on the IRS website, just enter your taxpayer identification number (usually your Social Security number), date of birth and zip code. If you have filed amended returns for more than one year, you can select each year individually to check the status of each.

Questions about amended returns? Give us a call today. We’ll take care of it so you don’t have to.

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Question: How do I know if I have to file quarterly individual estimated tax payments?

Answer: If you owed additional tax for the prior tax year, you may have to make estimated tax payments for the current tax year.

If you are filing as a sole proprietor, partner, S corporation shareholder, and/or a self-employed individual, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when you file your return.

If you are filing as a corporation you generally have to make estimated tax payments for your corporation if you expect it to owe tax of $500 or more when you file its return.

If you had a tax liability for the prior year, you may have to pay estimated tax for the current year; however, if you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings.

There are special rules for farmers, fishermen, certain household employers, and certain higher taxpayers.

Contact us if you are unsure whether you need to make an estimated tax payment. The first estimated payment for 2012 is due April 15, 2013.

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If you haven’t contributed funds to an Individual Retirement Arrangement for tax year 2012, or if you’ve put in less than the maximum allowed, you still have time to do so. You can contribute to either a traditional or Roth IRA until the April 15 due date for filing your tax return for 2012, not including extensions.

Be sure to tell the IRA trustee that the contribution is for 2012. Otherwise, the trustee may report the contribution as being for 2013 when they get your funds.

Generally, you can contribute up to $5,000 of your earnings for 2012 or up to $6,000 if you are age 50 or older in 2012. You can fund a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA (if you qualify), or both, but your total contributions cannot be more than these amounts.

Note: IRA contribution limits increase in 2013 to $5,500 ($6,500 if age 50 or older).

Traditional IRA: You may be able to take a tax deduction for the contributions to a traditional IRA, depending on your income and whether you or your spouse, if filing jointly, are covered by an employer’s pension plan.

Roth IRA: You cannot deduct Roth IRA contributions, but the earnings on a Roth IRA may be tax-free if you meet the conditions for a qualified distribution.

Each year, the IRS announces the cost of living adjustments and limitation for retirement savings plans.

Saving for retirement should be part of everyone’s financial plan and it’s important to review your retirement goals every year in order to maximize savings. If you need help with your retirement plans, give us a call. We’re happy to help.

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Confused about which credits and deductions you can claim on your 2012 tax return? You’re not alone. Even in an ordinary tax year, it’s hard to remember which tax breaks you can take, but the fiscal cliff fiasco this year made it even more difficult to keep everything straight. With that in mind here are six tax breaks for 2012 that you won’t want to overlook.

1. State Sales and Income Taxes

Thanks to the fiscal cliff deal, the sales tax deduction, which expired at the end of 2011, was reinstated retroactive to 2012 (it expires at the end of 2013). As such, IRS allows for a deduction of either state income tax paid or state sales tax paid, whichever is greater.

If you bought a big ticket item like a car or boat in 2012, it might be more advantageous to deduct the sales tax, but don’t forget to figure any state income taxes withheld from your paycheck just in case. If you’re self-employed you can include the state income paid from your estimated payments. In addition, if you owed taxes when filing your 2011 tax return in 2012, you can include the amount when you itemize your state taxes this year on your 2012 return.

2. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Most parents realize that there is a tax credit for daycare when their child is young, but they might not realize that once a child starts school, the same credit can be used for before and after school care, as well as day camps during school vacations. This child and dependent care tax credit can also be taken by anyone who pays a home health aide to care for a spouse or other dependent. The credit is worth a maximum of $1,050 or 35% of $3,000 of eligible expenses per dependent.

3. Job Search Expenses

Job search expenses are 100% deductible, whether you are gainfully employed or not currently working–as long as you are looking for a position in your current profession. Expenses include fees paid to join professional organizations, as well as employment placement agencies that you used during your job search. Travel to interviews is also deductible (as long as it was not paid by your prospective employer) as is paper, envelopes, and costs associated with resumes or portfolios. The catch is that you can only deduct expenses greater than 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

4. Student Loan Interest Paid by Parents

Typically, a taxpayer is only able to deduct interest on mortgages and student loans if he or she is liable for the debt; however, if a parent pays back their child’s student loans the money is treated by the IRS as if the child paid it. As long as the child is not claimed as a dependent, he or she can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest paid by the parent. The deduction can be claimed even if the child does not itemize.

5. Medical Expenses

Most people know that medical expenses are deductible as long as they are more than 7.5% of AGI for tax year 2012 (10% in 2013). What they often don’t realize is what medical expenses can be deducted such as medical miles (23 cents per mile) driven to and from appointments and travel (airline fares or hotel rooms) for out of town medical treatment.

Other deductible medical expenses that taxpayers might not be aware of include: health insurance premiums, prescription drugs, co-pays, and dental premiums and treatment. Long-term care insurance (deductible dollar amounts vary depending on age) is also deductible, as are prescription glasses and contacts, counseling, therapy, hearing aids and batteries, dentures, oxygen, walkers, and wheelchairs.

6. Bad Debt

If you’ve loaned money to a friend, but were never repaid, you may qualify for a non-business bad debt tax deduction of up to $3,000 per year. To qualify however, the debt must be totally worthless, in that there is no reasonable expectation of payment.

Non-business bad debt is deducted as a short-term capital loss, subject to the capital loss limitations. You may take the deduction only in the year the debt becomes worthless. You do not have to wait until a debt is due to determine whether it is worthless. Any amount you are not able to deduct can be carried forward to reduce future tax liability.

Are you getting all of the tax credits and deductions you are entitled to? Maybe you are…but maybe you’re not. Why take a chance? Make an appointment with us today and we’ll make sure you get the tax breaks you deserve.

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One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in running your own business is staying on top of your numerous obligations to federal, state, and local tax agencies. Tax codes seem to be in a constant state of flux making the Internal Revenue Code barely understandable to most people.

The old legal saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is perhaps most often applied in tax settings and it is safe to assume that a tax auditor presenting an assessment of additional taxes, penalties, and interest will not look kindly on an “I didn’t know I was required to do that” claim. On the flip side, it is surprising how many small businesses actually overpay their taxes, neglecting to take deductions they’re legally entitled to that can help them lower their tax bill.

Preparing your taxes and strategizing as to how to keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year. Your best course of action to save time, frustration, money, and an auditor knocking on your door, is to have a professional accountant handle your taxes.

Tax professionals have years of experience with tax preparation, religiously attend tax seminars, read scores of journals, magazines, and monthly tax tips, among other things, to correctly interpret the changing tax code.

When it comes to tax planning for small businesses, the complexity of tax law generates a lot of folklore and misinformation that also leads to costly mistakes. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the more common small business tax misperceptions.

1. All Start-Up Costs Are Immediately Deductible

Business start-up costs refer to expenses incurred before you actually begin operating your business. Business start-up costs include both start up and organizational costs and vary depending on the type of business. Examples of these types of costs include advertising, travel, surveys, and training. These start up and organizational costs are generally called capital expenditures.

Costs for a particular asset (such as machinery or office equipment) are recovered through depreciation or Section 179 expensing. When you start a business, you can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs.

For tax years beginning in 2010, you can elect to deduct up to $10,000 of business start-up costs paid or incurred after 2009. The $10,000 deduction is reduced (but not below zero) by the amount such start-up costs exceed $60,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized.

2. Overpaying The IRS Makes You “Audit Proof”

The IRS doesn’t care if you pay the right amount of taxes or overpay your taxes. They do care if you pay less than you owe and you can’t substantiate your deductions. Even if you overpay in one area, the IRS will still hit you with interest and penalties if you underpay in another. It is never a good idea to knowingly or unknowingly overpay the IRS. The best way to “Audit Proof” yourself is to properly document your expenses and make sure you are getting good advice from your tax accountant.

3. Being incorporated enables you to take more deductions.

Self-employed individuals (sole proprietors and S Corps) qualify for many of the same deductions that incorporated businesses do, and for many small businesses, being incorporated is an unnecessary expense and burden. Start-ups can spend thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees to set up a corporation, only to discover soon thereafter that they need to change their name or move the company in a different direction. In addition, plenty of small business owners who incorporate don’t make money for the first few years and find themselves saddled with minimum corporate tax payments and no income.

4. The home office deduction is a red flag for an audit.

While it used to be a red flag, this is no longer true–as long as you keep excellent records that satisfy IRS requirements. Because of the proliferation of home offices, tax officials cannot possibly audit all tax returns containing the home office deduction. In other words, there is no need to fear an audit just because you take the home office deduction. A high deduction-to-income ratio however, may raise a red flag and lead to an audit.

5. If you don’t take the home office deduction, business expenses are not deductible.

You are still eligible to take deductions for business supplies, business-related phone bills, travel expenses, printing, wages paid to employees or contract workers, depreciation of equipment used for your business, and other expenses related to running a home-based business, whether or not you take the home office deduction.

6. Requesting an extension on your taxes is an extension to pay taxes.

Extensions enable you to extend your filing date only. Penalties and interest begin accruing from the date your taxes are due.

7. Part-time business owners cannot set up self-employed pensions.

If you start up a company while you have a salaried position complete with a 401K plan, you can still set up a SEP-IRA for your business and take the deduction.

A tax headache is only one mistake away, be it a missed payment or filing deadline, an improperly claimed deduction, or incomplete records and understanding how the tax system works is beneficial to any business owner, whether you run a small to medium sized business or are a sole proprietor.

And, even if you delegate the tax preparation to someone else, you are still liable for the accuracy of your tax returns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call today. We’re here to assist you.

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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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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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