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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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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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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