Category Archives: Tax Planning

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.

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.

PA Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Participation

Many of you may be wondering what is up with your EITC application and tax credits.

Unfortunately, the EITC program is a part of the state budget.  At this point, our governor and legislation have not been able to come to an agreement on the budget.  As such, participation in the program cannot be approved by DCED and the award letters are not being mailed.

At this point, it does not appear that the program is in jeopardy.  However, the legislation is talking about passing a partial budget so that social services and education services can be funded.  What is unknown is whether or not the EITC would be included in this partial budget or would be held out as a special project.

IMPORTANT – ALL PARTICIPANTS

  1. Do not make a contribution under the program until you have received the award letter from DCED.  Contributions made prior to the award letter may not be accepted by the state.
  2.  Contact us as soon as you have received your award letter.  Depending upon your fiscal year (see below), you could have only a day or two to make your contribution.

IMPORTANT – Business with fiscal years ending between 9/30/15 and 11/30/15.

If the budget does not pass before the end of your fiscal year, you will be ineligible to receive the tax credits.  Your tax planning assumed that these corporate or personal credits will be available.  This means you may be forced to pay significant personal or business taxes to the state immediately and may be subject to underpayment penalties and interest.

Assuming you are approved to participate in the program, you will be able to use your credits in the following tax year.  However, it will create a timing issue where you essentially will not be participating in the program during one tax year.

IMPORTANT – Business with fiscal years ending on 12/31/15

The budget impasse is not currently a significant issue for you.  In the event the budget crisis extends into December, it could become a problem in the future, but we don’t anticipate that this would occur.

If you have any questions on this matter, please contact us immediately!

Hershey Advisors PC

Planning to Avoid or Minimize the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax

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

The net investment income tax, or NIIT, is a 3.8% surtax on investment income collected from higher-income individuals. It first took effect in 2013. After filing your 2014 return, you may have been hit with this extra tax for two years, and you may now be ready to get proactive by taking some steps to stop, or at least slow, the bleeding for this year and beyond.3

NIIT Basics. The NIIT can affect higher-income individuals who have investment income. While the NIIT mainly hits folks who consistently have high income, it can also strike anyone who has a big one-time shot of income or gain this year or any other year. For example, if you sell some company stock for a big gain, get a big bonus, or even sell a home for a big profit, you could be a victim. The types of income and gain (net of related deductions) included in the definition of net investment income and, therefore, exposed to the NIIT, include—

  • Gains from selling investment assets (such as gains from stocks and securities held in taxable brokerage firm accounts) and capital gain distributions from mutual funds.
  • Real estate gains, including the taxable portion of a big gain from selling your principal residence or a taxable gain from selling a vacation home or rental property.
  • Dividends, taxable interest, and the taxable portion of annuity payments.
  • Income and gains from passive business activities (meaning activities in which you don’t spend a significant amount of time) and gains from selling passive partnership interests and S corporation stock (meaning you don’t spend much time in the partnership or S corporation business activity).
  • Rents and royalties.

Are You Exposed? Thankfully, you are only exposed to the NIIT if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) exceeds $200,000 if you are unmarried, $250,000 if you are a married joint-filer, or $125,000 if you use married filing separate status. However, these thresholds are not all that high, so many individuals will be exposed. The amount that is actually hit with the NIIT is the lesser of: (1) net investment income or (2) the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold. MAGI is your “regular” Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) shown on the last line on page 1 of your Form 1040 plus certain excluded foreign-source income net of certain deductions and exclusions (most people are not affected by this add-back).

Planning Considerations. As we just explained, the NIIT hits the lesser of: (1) net investment income or (2) the amount by which MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold. Therefore, planning strategies must be aimed at the proper target to have the desired effect of avoiding or minimizing your exposure to the tax.

  • If your net investment income amount is less than your excess MAGI amount, your exposure to the NIIT mainly depends on your net investment income. You should focus first on strategies that reduce net investment income. Of course, some strategies that reduce net investment income will also reduce MAGI. If so, that cannot possibly hurt.
  • If your excess MAGI amount is less than your net investment income amount, your exposure to the tax mainly depends on your MAGI. You should focus first on strategies that reduce MAGI. Of course, some strategies that reduce MAGI will also reduce net investment income. If so, that cannot possibly hurt.

Perhaps the most obvious way to reduce exposure to the NIIT is to invest in tax-exempt bonds via direct ownership or a mutual find. There are other ways, too. Contact us to identify strategies that will work in your specific situation.