Summer Camp Costs May Brighten Your Tax Return

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Business Alert.

The coming and going of Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer in the minds of many Americans. Although the kids might still be in school for another week or two, summer day camp is rapidly approaching for many families. If yours is among them, did you know that sending your child to day camp might make you eligible for a tax break?
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Day camp is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit. This tax break is worth 20% of qualifying expenses, subject to a cap — and could be worth even more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000. For 2016, the maximum expenses allowed for the credit are $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more.
Be aware, however, that overnight camp costs don’t qualify for the credit, nor do expenses related to summer school tutoring. In addition, certain types of child care are ineligible. These include care provided by a spouse and care provided by a child who’s under age 19 at the end of the year.
A variety of additional rules may apply. For example, eligible costs for care must be work-related. In other words, parents need to pay for the care so that they can work (or look for work). If you think you might qualify for the child and dependent care credit, please contact us. We can help you determine whether you’re eligible and then properly claim this potentially valuable tax break.

Organizing Your Financial Records for Best Results

With tax time long over and midyear officially here, it’s a great time to organize your financial records. And the key word here is indeed “organize.” Throwing all your important documents into a drawer won’t help much when an emergency occurs and you (or a family member) need to find a certain piece of paper.
TBAjun16_3Make a list
Of course, emergencies aren’t the only reason to organize your records. For example, you may need to be able to access relevant personal records if you’re ever audited or a victim of theft. Or your home could be damaged in a storm or fire. Or you may need proof to cash in investments or claim insurance benefits.

To get started, make a list of important records. These include items related to:

  • Bank and investment accounts,
  • Real estate and homeownership,
  • Insurance policies,
  • Credit card accounts,
  • Health care benefits and medical history, and
  • Marriage and your estate.

Grouping the items into broad categories such as these will make them easier to file and find later.

Establish your approach

With your list in hand, it’s time to start organizing and storing your records. Here are some tips for streamlining the process:

Create a central filing system. The ideal storage medium for personal documents is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. Create a master list of the cabinet contents and provide a copy of the key to your executor or a trusted family member.

Designate a second storage location. Maintain a duplicate set of the records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box, and provide access to a trusted individual (preferably not the same individual with access to the original documents). Consider keeping originals of your important legal documents, such as your will, with your attorney.

Back up records electronically. It also makes sense to store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to a trustworthy external storage device. If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.

Follow the ritual

Make organizing your records an annual ritual and not just a one-time event. Need assistance? We can help you identify the specific documents pertinent to your situation and organize them appropriately.

Sidebar: Create an emergency checklist to cope with calamity

Having an emergency checklist of important personal records handy is essential in the event you must evacuate your home. In a crisis, you’ll likely be able to take only what you can easily carry with you. That means storing the bare essentials in a portable container. Include these items:

  • Driver’s license, passport and Social Security card,
  • Credit cards,
  • Vital medical condition and medication information,
  • Health insurance cards, and
  • Emergency family and physician contacts.

Also set up an “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) directory in your cell phone. In your phone directory, simply type in “ICE” before each contact (ICE-1 Jane Smith, ICE-2 Dr. John Smith, etc.). Also consider storing and carrying electronic copies of key personal records on a USB flash drive.

IRS to Parents: Don’t Miss Out on These Tax Savers

The following is IRS Tax Tip 2016-17:

Children may help reduce the amount of taxes owed for the year. If you’re a parent, here are several tax benefits you should look for when you file your federal tax return:

  • Dependents.  In most cases, you can claim your child as a dependent. You can deduct $4,000 for each dependent you are entitled to claim. You must reduce this amount if your income is above certain limits. For more on these rules, see Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.
  • Child Tax Credit.  You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your qualifying children under the age of 17. The maximum credit is $1,000 per child. If you get less than the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. For more information, see Schedule 8812 and Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit.  You may be able to claim this credit if you paid for the care of one or more qualifying persons. Dependent children under age 13 are among those who qualify. You must have paid for care so that you could work or look for work. See Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses, for more on this credit.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit.  You may qualify for EITC if you worked but earned less than $53,267 last year. You can get up to $6,242 in EITC. You may qualify with or without children. Use the 2015 EITC Assistant tool at IRS.gov to find out if you qualify. See Publication 596, Earned Income Tax Credit, to learn more.
  • Adoption Credit.  You may be able to claim a tax credit for certain costs you paid to adopt a child. For details see Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.
  • Education Tax Credits.  An education credit can help you with the cost of higher education.  Two credits are available. The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may get a refund. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify. You must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim these credits. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can claim them. Visit the IRS’s Education Credits Web page to learn more on this topic. Also, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
  • Student Loan Interest.  You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan. You can claim this benefit even if you do not itemize your deductions. For more information, see Publication 970.
  • Self-employed Health Insurance Deduction.  If you were self-employed and paid for health insurance, you may be able to deduct premiums you paid during the year. This may include the cost to cover your children under age 27, even if they are not your dependent. See Publication 535, Business Expenses, for details.

You can get related forms and publications on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Married Filers, the Choice is Yours

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Business Alert.

4 (1)Some married couples assume they have to file their tax returns jointly. Others may know they have a choice but not want to rock the boat by filing separately. The truth is that there’s no harm in at least considering your options every year.

Granted, married taxpayers who file jointly can take advantage of certain credits not available to separate filers. They’re also more likely to be able to make deductible IRA contributions and less likely to be subject to the alternative minimum tax.

But there are circumstances under which filing separately may be a good idea. For example, filing separately can save tax when one spouse’s income is much higher than the others, and the spouse with lower income has miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeding 2% of his or her adjusted gross income (AGI) or medical expenses exceeding 10% of his or her AGI — but jointly the couple’s expenses wouldn’t exceed the applicable floor for their joint AGI. However, in community property states, income and expenses generally must be split equally unless they’re attributable to separate funds.

Many factors play into the joint vs. separate filing decision. If you’re interested in learning more, please give us a call.

Ways to Pay Your Tax Bill

The following is IRS Tax Tip 2016-14:

If you owe federal tax, the IRS offers many easy ways to pay. Make sure you pay by the April 18 deadline, even if you get an extension of time to file your 2015 tax return. You can get an automatic extension of time to file when you make an electronic payment by April 18. Here are some of the ways to pay your tax:

  • Use Direct Pay.  IRS Direct Pay offers taxpayers a free, secure and easy way to pay. You can schedule a payment in advance to pay your tax directly from your checking or savings account. You don’t need to register, write a check or find a mailbox. Direct Pay gives you instant confirmation after you make a payment.
  • Pay by Debit or Credit Card.  Choose a payment processor  to make a tax payment online, by phone or by mobile device. It’s safe and secure. The payment processor will charge a processing fee. The fees vary by service provider and may be tax deductible. No part of the fee goes to the IRS.
  • Use IRS2Go. IRS2Go is a free app that you can use to make a payment with Direct Pay and by debit or credit card. Simply download IRS2Go from Google Play, the Apple App Store or Amazon.
  • Pay When You E-file. If you file your federal tax return electronically, you can schedule a payment at the time that you file. You can pay directly from your bank account using Electronic Funds Withdrawal.  You choose the date and amount of the payment, and as long as it is on or before April 18, it will be on time. Some software that you use to e-file also allows you to pay by debit or credit card with a processing fee.
  • Choose Other Options to Pay. The IRS offers other ways to pay:
    • Use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System to pay your taxes online or by phone. This free system provides security, ease and accuracy. To enroll or for more information, call 888-555-4477 or visit EFTPS.gov.
    • Pay by Check or Money Order. Make the check, money order or cashier’s check payable to the U.S. Treasury. Do not staple, clip or attach your payment to the tax form. Include your name, address, daytime phone number and Social Security number or Employer Identification Number on the front of the payment. Use the SSN shown first if it’s a joint return. Also include the tax year and related tax form or notice number. Do not send cash through the mail.
  • Can’t Pay Now?  If you are unable to pay in full, you have options:
    • Apply for an online payment agreement to pay your tax liability over time. Use the IRS.gov tool to set up a direct debit installment agreement. With a direct debit plan there is no need to write a check and mail it each month.
    • Owe more than you can afford? An offer in compromise may allow you to settle for less than the full amount you owe. It may be an option for you if you can’t pay your full tax liability. It may also be an option if paying in full creates a financial hardship. Not everyone qualifies. Use the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool to see if you are eligible for an OIC.

In short, remember to pay your tax bill on time. If you are suffering a financial hardship, the IRS is willing to work with you.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

IRS YouTube Video:

IRS Tax Payment Options[View]

Reacquainting yourself with the Roth IRA

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Business Alert.

If you’ve looked into retirement planning, you’ve probably heard about the Roth IRA. Maybe in the past you decided against one of these arrangements, or perhaps you just decided to sleep on it. Whatever the case may be, now’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with the Roth IRA and its potential benefits, because you have until April 18, 2016, to make a 2015 Roth IRA contribution.

Free withdrawals2

With a Roth IRA, you give up the deductibility of contributions for the freedom to make tax-free qualified withdrawals. This differs from a traditional IRA, where contributions may be deductible and earnings grow on a tax-deferred basis, but withdrawals (less any prorated nondeductible contributions) are subject to ordinary income taxes — plus a 10% penalty if you’re under age 59½ at the time of the distribution.

With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions tax-free and penalty-free anytime. Withdrawals of account earnings (considered made only after all your contributions are withdrawn) are tax-free if you make them after you’ve had the Roth IRA for five years and you’re age 59½ or older. Earnings withdrawn before this time are subject to ordinary income taxes, as well as a 10% penalty (with certain exceptions) if withdrawn before you are age 59½.

On the plus side, you can leave funds in your Roth IRA as long as you want. This differs from the required minimum distributions starting after age 70½ for traditional IRAs.

Limited contributions

For 2016, the annual Roth IRA contribution limit is $5,500 ($6,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older), reduced by any contributions made to traditional IRAs. Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may also affect your ability to contribute, however.

In 2016, the contribution limit phases out for married couples filing jointly with MAGIs between $184,000 and $194,000. The 2016 phaseout range for single and head-of-household filers is $117,000 to $132,000.

Conversion question

Regardless of MAGI, anyone may convert a traditional IRA into a Roth to turn future tax-deferred potential growth into tax-free potential growth. From an income tax perspective, whether a conversion makes sense depends on whether you’re better off paying tax now or later.

When you do a Roth conversion, you have to pay taxes on the amount you convert. So if you expect your tax rate to be higher in retirement than it is now, converting to a Roth may be advantageous — provided you can afford to pay the tax using funds from outside an IRA. If you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, however, it may make more sense to leave your savings in a traditional IRA or employer-sponsored plan.

Retirement radar

Roth IRAs have become a fundamental part of retirement planning. Even if you’re not ready for one just yet, be sure to keep the idea of opening one on your radar.

Good eats, tax breaks: Deducting employee meal costs

One thing about human resources — they need to eat. Just about every employer encounters situations in which it needs to provide meals to its employees. No matter how often you do so, be sure you’re aware of the tax rules for deducting these costs.

Claim half or all1

Generally, a business may deduct only 50% of the cost of business meals for federal tax purposes. But food provided to employees may be fully deductible in circumstances such as when meals:

  • Are provided as additional compensation (and thus included in employee taxable income), or
  • Qualify as tax-free de minimis fringe benefits.

You may also write off food, and exclude it from employees’ income, if it’s furnished for your convenience and on your premises.

Furnish with a purpose

Under IRS regulations, the “convenience of the employer test” is met only if meals are furnished for a “substantial noncompensatory business purpose.” Although whether meals pass this test depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, the IRS has given examples of a number of acceptable circumstances.

For instance, food provided to keep employees available for emergency calls during the meal period generally qualifies for the full deduction. But such calls must actually occur or be reasonably expected to occur.

Another example is when the nature of the employer’s business tends to shorten a meal to, say, 30 to 45 minutes. The furnishing of meals, however, isn’t considered to be for a substantial noncompensatory business purpose if a meal period is shortened in order to allow employees to leave early.

A third instance is when employees cannot otherwise secure proper meals within a reasonable period. The regulations state that meals are fully deductible under this test if there aren’t enough eateries near the workplace.

Important note: Under the current tax rules, if more than 50% of the employees fed on premises are furnished meals for the employer’s convenience, then all meals furnished on premises are treated as furnished for the employer’s convenience. Therefore, these meals are excludable from employees’ income, regardless of whether every employee meets the convenience test.

Enjoy your meals

From a tax perspective, providing meals to employees can be deceptively simple. On their face, the rules seem straightforward, but many exceptions and caveats apply. Stay apprised of the latest IRS guidance and double-check your company’s meal deductions every year.

Sidebar: Considering a cafeteria?

Years ago, only the largest companies had on-site cafeterias. But some midsize businesses are now establishing them, too. There are a number of potential advantages to doing so. Keeping employees on your premises can cut down on excessively long lunch breaks and foster collaboration among team members. A good cafeteria could also attract better job candidates.

From a tax perspective, an employer-operated eating facility is usually considered a de minimis fringe benefit. So the costs of providing meals there are generally 100% deductible as long as the cafeteria is located on or near your premises.

But there are a number of complex rules involved. For instance, the eating facility’s revenue must normally equal or exceed its direct operating costs. We would be glad to work with you to ensure that the facility qualifies for tax-advantaged treatment when established and on an annual basis.