Category Archives: Deductions

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.
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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.

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.

Road rules: Deducting business travel expenses

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

If you travel for business, you’ll want to ensure that the expenses you incur while doing so are tax deductible. IRS rules are strict, and improperly substantiated deductions can cost you.

Away from home rule

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Generally, ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for work are deductible. For the expenses to qualify, you must be away from your tax home — your regular place of business — substantially longer than an ordinary day’s work and need to sleep or rest to meet the work demands while away.

You don’t necessarily have to stay away from home overnight to satisfy the rest requirement. If you travel for business purposes throughout the day but return home that night to sleep, you may still be considered “away from home” for tax purposes. In this case, expenses you incur for such trips are still deductible.

Also, the trip must be primarily for business purposes. If your trip involves both business and personal activities, a portion of the travel expenses may be nondeductible personal expenses.

Deductible travel expenses

Most airfare, taxis, rental cars, lodging, meals (with exceptions), tips and business phone calls are tax deductible. But you can’t write off “lavish or extravagant” travel expenses, so be prepared to prove that your patronage of a high-end restaurant or five-star hotel was reasonable under the circumstances.

Generally, only 50% of business-related meal and entertainment expenses are deductible. If your employer reimburses you under an accountable plan (see below), the 50% limit applies to your employer rather than you.

You must substantiate deductions for lodging — and for other travel expenses greater than $75 — with adequate records. These include credit card receipts, canceled checks or bills. Records should indicate the amount, date, place, essential character of the expense and business purpose.

Be accountable

If your employer reimburses your travel expenses, an accountable plan enables the company to deduct the reimbursements, but the reimbursements aren’t included in your income as salary and aren’t subject to FICA and other payroll tax obligations. Although you may still be able to deduct some or all business travel expenses without an accountable plan, such deductions are available only if you itemize and your expenses and other miscellaneous deductions exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

For reimbursed expenses to qualify under an accountable plan, you must have paid or incurred them while on company business and reported the expenses to your employer within a reasonable time (usually within 60 days). You also must return any excess reimbursements — usually within 120 days after they were paid or incurred.

Generally, to be reimbursable on a tax-free basis, your travel must meet the “away from home” rule discussed earlier. However, your employer can reimburse local lodging expenses if the lodging is temporary and necessary for you to participate in or be available for a bona fide business meeting or function. The expenses involved must be otherwise deductible by you as a business expense (or be expenses that would otherwise be deductible if you paid them).

Exceptions happen

As with most IRS rules, there are exceptions to which travel expenses you can deduct. If you’re unsure about some expenses, give us a call.

Tips on Travel While Giving Your Services to Charity

The following is IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015-12:

Do you plan to donate your services to charity this summer? Will you travel as part of the service? If so, some travel expenses may help lower your taxes when you file your tax return next year. Here are several tax tips that you should know if you travel while giving your services to charity.

  • Qualified Charities.  In order to deduct your costs, your volunteer work must be for a qualified charity. Most groups must apply to the IRS to become qualified. Churches and governments are qualified, and do not need to apply to the IRS. Ask the group about its IRS status before you donate. You can also use the Select Check tool on IRS.gov to check the group’s status.
  • Out-of-Pocket Expenses. You may be able to deduct some costs you pay to give your services. This can include the cost of travel. The costs must be necessary while you are away from home giving your services for a qualified charity. All  costs must be:
    • Unreimbursed,
    • Directly connected with the services,
    • Expenses you had only because of the services you gave, and
    • Not personal, living or family expenses.
  • Genuine and Substantial Duty.  Your charity work has to be real and substantial throughout the trip. You can’t deduct expenses if you only have nominal duties or do not have any duties for significant parts of the trip.
  • Value of Time or Service.  You can’t deduct the value of your services that you give to charity. This includes income lost while you work as an unpaid volunteer for a qualified charity.
  • Deductible travel. The types of expenses that you may be able to deduct include:
    • Air, rail and bus transportation,
    • Car expenses,
    • Lodging costs,
    • The cost of meals, and
    • Taxi or other transportation costs between the airport or station and your hotel.
  • Nondeductible Travel. Some types of travel do not qualify for a tax deduction. For example, you can’t deduct your costs if a significant part of the trip involves recreation or a vacation.

For more on these rules, see Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms at any time.

Still Time to Make Your IRA Contribution for the 2014 Tax Year

The following is IRS Tax Tip 2015-50:

Did you contribute to an Individual Retirement Arrangement last year? Are you thinking about contributing to your IRA now? If so, you may have questions about IRAs and your taxes. Here are some IRS tax tips about saving for retirement using an IRA.

  • Age rules.  You must be under age 70½ at the end of the tax year in order to contribute to a traditional IRA. There is no age limit to contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Compensation rules.  You must have taxable compensation to contribute to an IRA. This includes income from wages and salaries and net self-employment income. It also includes tips, commissions, bonuses and alimony. If you are married and file a joint tax return, only one spouse needs to have compensation in most cases.
  • When to contribute.  You can contribute to an IRA at any time during the year. To count for 2014, you must contribute by the due date of your tax return. This does not include extensions. That means most people must contribute by April 15, 2015. If you contribute between Jan. 1 and April 15, make sure your plan sponsor applies it to the year you choose (2014 or 2015).
  • Contribution limits.  In general, the most you can contribute to your IRA for 2014 is the smaller of either your taxable compensation for the year or $5,500. If you were age 50 or older at the end of 2014, the maximum you can contribute increases to $6,500. If you contribute more than these limits, an additional tax will apply. The added tax is 6 percent of the excess amount that you contributed.
  • Taxability rules.  You normally won’t pay income tax on funds in your traditional IRA until you start taking distributions from it. Qualified distributions from a Roth IRA are tax-free.
  • Deductibility rules.  You may be able to deduct some or all of your contributions to your traditional IRA. Use the worksheets in the Form 1040A or Form 1040 instructions to figure the amount that you can deduct. You may claim the deduction on either form. You may not deduct contributions to a Roth IRA.
  • Saver’s Credit.  If you contribute to an IRA you may also qualify for the Saver’s Credit. The credit can reduce your taxes up to $2,000 if you file a joint return. Use Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to claim the credit. You can file Form 1040A or 1040 to claim the Saver’s Credit.

Additional IRS Resources: