- First, decide what records you need to keep for the current year. Generally speaking, you'll need records of income items and deductible expenses. Use your 2012 tax return as a guide.
- You'll also need to keep some items for longer periods. For example, you may need purchase records for your house and other investments years later to calculate your capital gains.
- Set up a filing place for each category. Use folders or plastic pouches for paper records, such as charitable receipts, property tax payments, and mortgage reports.
- If you manage your banking and finances online, open up a series of folders on your hard drive. Save copies of electronic statements or transaction receipts in the relevant folder. Remember to make regular data backups.
- Then stay current with your records as you go through the year. It's easier to spend a few minutes each month than to have to spend hours reconstructing everything at the end of twelve months.
- At the end of each month, highlight income and deduction items in your check register. Use one color for charitable contributions, another for work expenses, and so on. You can do this whether you keep your register on paper or on a computer. Make sure any associated receipts are filed away correctly.
- At year-end, you should know exactly what falls into each category and where the records are.
Did you spend hours pulling together your tax records in preparation for filing your 2012 tax return? It doesn't have to be that way. Avoid the problem next year by taking a few simple steps now.
The timing of taxable income and deductions for federal income tax purposes is relatively straightforward. Generally, income is taxable in the year it is earned and received. Likewise, deductible expenses incurred and paid this year can offset taxable income on this year’s return. The Internal Revenue Code is riddled with exceptions, but these basic rules usually apply, especially for calendar-year taxpayers.
The tax law also includes several provisions commonly referred to as “carrybacks” and “carryforwards” (or “carryovers”). As their names imply, the tax item can be carried back to a prior year or carried forward to a succeeding year.
Two items that are often carried forward by individuals are capital losses and excess charitable deductions. For instance, capital losses realized in 2012 offset capital gains plus up to $3,000 of ordinary income for the year. If you have an excess capital loss of $10,000, you can carry forward $7,000 to 2013 after offsetting $3,000 of ordinary income in 2012.
Similarly, your current deduction for charitable donations may be limited by one or more percentage thresholds in the law. For example, donations of appreciated property are generally limited to 30% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). If you exceed the 30%-of-AGI limit this year, you may carry over the excess for up to five years.
Carrybacks aren’t as common, but may also be available in certain situations. Take a “net operating loss” (NOL) sustained by your small business. If you have an NOL in 2012, you can carry back the loss for two years. Thus, you’re effectively able to reduce your tax liability for one or two of the previous years for a refund of taxes already paid. Then you can carry forward any remaining NOL for up to 20 years. If it suits your purposes, you can elect to waive the NOL carryback. For more information on carrybacks and carryforwards, give us a call. We can help you make the best tax return choices for your situation.
The IRS announced several areas it is focusing on for audits of small businesses.
The announcement comes as the IRS said it is increasing its oversight of small businesses and the reporting of taxes. The IRS believes that small businesses routinely under-report, and that this under-reporting is responsible for 84% of the $450 billion tax gap, reports the Examiner.
Below are eight areas the IRS is targeting, as compiled by the Examiner:
September 17 – Third quarter installment of 2012 individual estimated income tax is due.
September 17 – Filing deadline for 2011 tax returns for calendar-year corporations that received an automatic extension of the March 15 filing deadline.
September 17 – Filing deadline for 2011 partnership tax returns that received an extension of the April 17 filing deadline.
October 1 – Generally, the deadline for businesses to adopt a SIMPLE retirement plan for 2012.
October 15 – Deadline for filing 2011 individual tax returns on extension.
With the recent economic downturn experienced by many taxpayers, there is a tax concept that is very important: cancellation of debt. You would think that the cancellation of debt by a credit card company or mortgage company would be a good thing for the taxpayer. And it can be, but it can also be considered taxable income by the IRS. Here is a quick review of various debt cancellation situations.
Consumer debt. If you have gone through some type of credit “workout” program on consumer debt, it’s likely that some of your debt has been cancelled. If that is the case, be prepared to receive IRS Form 1099-C representing the amount of debt cancelled. The IRS considers that amount taxable income to you, and they expect to see it reported on your tax return. The exception is if you file for bankruptcy. With bankruptcy, generally the debt cancelled is not taxable.
Even if you are not legally bankrupt, you might be technically insolvent (where your liabilities exceed your assets). If this is the case, you can exclude your debt cancellation income by reporting your financial condition and filing IRS Form 982 with your tax return.
Primary home. If your home is “short” sold or foreclosed and the lender receives less than the total amount of the outstanding loan, you can also expect that amount of debt cancellation to be reported to you and the IRS. But special rules allow you to exclude up to $2 million in cancellation income in many circumstances. You will again need to complete IRS Form 982, but the exclusion from taxable income brought about by the debt cancellation on your primary residence is incredibly liberal. So make sure to take advantage of these rules should they apply to you.
Second home, rental property, investment property, business property. The rules for debt cancellation on second homes, rental property, and investment or business property can be extremely complicated. Generally speaking, the new laws that cover debt cancellation don’t apply to these properties, and the IRS considers any debt cancellation income taxable. Nevertheless, given your cost of these properties, your financial condition, and the amount of debt cancelled, it’s still possible to have this debt cancellation income taxed at a preferred capital gains rate, or even considered not taxable at all.
Be aware that many of the special debt cancellation provisions are set to expire at the end of 2012. If you’re unsure as to how debt cancellation affects you, contact our office to review your situation and determine how much, if any, cancelled debt will be taxable income to you.
You only have to examine your paycheck to realize certain income is tax-free. For example, health insurance premiums paid by your employer are generally not includible in your income.
Do you know the tax status of other types of income? Here’s a short quiz to test your knowledge.
You tell your son he’ll be the sole beneficiary of your estate, and that you’ve decided to give him an advance on his inheritance. You hand him a check for $10,000. He wants to know how much he’ll have to pay in taxes. What do you tell him?
Answer: Gifts, bequests, devises, and inheritances are generally not taxable to the beneficiary. Income produced from those sources is taxable to the beneficiary.
You withdraw $20,000 of the contributions you made to your Roth IRA over the past five years, but you’re not of retirement age. Do you have a taxable event?
Answer: Unlike traditional IRAs, distributions from Roths are first allocated to amounts you contributed to the account. To the extent the distribution is a return of your contributions, it’s not included in your income and you can withdraw it penalty- and tax-free.
June 15, 2012, is the due date for making your second installment of 2012 individual estimated tax. Your check to the United States Treasury should be accompanied by Form 1040-ES. June 15 is also the due date for calendar-year corporations to make their second quarter 2012 estimated tax payment.
Savvy investors often spread their risks by investing in a variety of asset classes such as stocks, bonds, commodities, and real estate. But with a changing tax landscape, investors might consider three more classes: taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free.
In days gone by, taxpayers often worked under the assumption that their tax bracket would be lower after they retire. Therefore, a common strategy was to defer as much taxable income as possible to the golden years. Now, however, with the possibility of higher tax rates in the future, it could be more efficient to pay those taxes today while rates remain lower. Since no one knows for sure what Washington will do, it might be time to hedge your tax risk and allocate your portfolio between accounts with differing tax consequences.
Taxable accounts, such as savings or brokerage accounts, result in current taxation on earnings, but they do provide maximum flexibility. You can withdraw as much as you wish whenever you wish, with no IRS penalties or taxes. Keeping some of your nest egg in this type of account will provide immediate funds for major purchases or debt reduction.
Tax-deferred accounts, such as IRAs or 401(k)s, only postpone the payment of taxes; eventually you will have to pay Uncle Sam when you withdraw the funds. But in the meantime, you generally receive a current-year tax deduction when you contribute, and the account can grow tax-free until you take it out at retirement.
Tax-free accounts, such as Roth IRAs, are funded with after-tax dollars. What you put in, including any investment earnings, can be later withdrawn tax-free. The downside? You generally must wait until after age 59½ (and the account has to be open for five years) to make a tax-free withdrawal.
Diversifying your portfolio is only the first step. The next (and trickiest) step is properly investing in each type. For instance, your goal for a taxable account might be to generate growth while keeping taxable earnings to a minimum. This could be done by investing in tax-exempt municipal bonds or low-dividend yielding growth stocks.
In a tax-deferred account, investment income is not taxed until withdrawn, so earnings can come from any source without immediate tax implications. However, since you must start withdrawing funds from an IRA or 401(k) at age 70 ½, you might want to stay away from highly volatile investments as you approach that age. Your account will have less time to rebound from a down market.
Tax-free Roth IRAs offer the longest time horizon for investing since you are not required to make a withdrawal at any age. So investments with higher risks or lower liquidity might fit best here.
In an era of high uncertainty and low expectations, tax-efficient investing has never been more important. To review the tax implications of your investments, give our office a call today.
Recent events here and abroad are reminders that disasters can occur at any time - often with staggering human and financial costs. If you're an unlucky victim of a disaster, you may receive help from insurance and federal disaster aid. But the tax code also offers some relief. You may be able to take an itemized deduction for part of your loss. In tax terms, it's a "casualty loss," and it can also apply to events such as a car crash, a house fire, or theft.
* The loss or damage must be due to an unexpected and sudden event. Losses due to slow deterioration over the years, such as rot, rust, or insect damage, don't qualify.
* Your tax deduction won't equal your total loss. You must subtract any insurance or other reimbursement. Then you must also deduct $100 for each loss and 10% of your adjusted gross income.
* Your loss may also be limited by your adjusted basis in the property. That's generally what you paid for it, plus or minus any improvements or previous losses.
* In a widespread disaster, the area may be classified a "Presidentially declared disaster area." If that happens, you have a special option. You can claim your casualty loss against the current year's taxes. Or you can amend the previous year's return and claim your loss against that year's taxes. That usually generates a faster refund, but it may change the amount of your deduction.
If you suffer a casualty loss, please contact us. We'll explain the rules and help you claim the maximum possible tax benefit.