• Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals
• Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses
• Tips for Taxpayers with Foreign Income
• Three Most Common Budgeting Errors
• Ten Facts about Capital Gains and Losses
• Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home
• Tax Relief to Drought-Stricken Farmers
• Four Things to Know about Net Investment Tax
 

This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.
 
Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

Once again, tax planning for the year ahead presents more challenges than usual, this time due to the numerous tax extenders that expired at the end of 2013.

These tax extenders, which include nonbusiness energy credits and the sales tax deduction that allows taxpayers to can elect to deduct state and local general sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes, may or may not be reauthorized by Congress and made retroactive to the beginning of the year.

More significant however, is taxable income in relation to threshold amounts that might bump a taxpayer into a higher or lower tax bracket, thus, subjecting taxpayers to additional taxes such as the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) or an additional Medicare tax.

In the meantime, let's take a look at some of the tax strategies that you can use right now, given the current tax situation.

Tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing income and accelerating deductions, as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning. General tax planning strategies that taxpayers might consider include the following:

  • Sell any investments on which you have a gain or loss this year. For more on this, see Investment Gains and Losses, below.

  • If you anticipate an increase in taxable income in 2015 and are expecting a bonus at year-end, try to get it before December 31. Keep in mind however, that contractual bonuses are different, in that they are typically not paid out until the first quarter of the following year. Therefore, any taxes owed on a contractual bonus would not be due until you file a tax return for tax year 2015.

  • Prepay deductible expenses such as charitable contributions and medical expenses this year using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken based on when the expense was charged on the credit card, not when the bill was paid. For example, if you charge a medical expense in December, but pay the bill in January, assuming it's an eligible medical expense, it can be taken as a deduction on your 2014 tax return.

  • If your company grants stock options, you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option this year if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2015. Exercise of the option is often but not always a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.

  • If you're self-employed, send invoices or bills to clients or customers this year in order to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Accelerating Income and Deductions

Accelerating income into 2014 is an especially good idea for taxpayers who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year or whose earnings are close to threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married filing jointly) that make them liable for additional Medicare tax or Net Investment Income Tax (see below).

Here are several examples of what a taxpayer might do to accelerate deductions:

  • Pay a state estimated tax installment in December instead of at the January due date. However, make sure the payment is based on a reasonable estimate of your state tax.

  • Pay your entire property tax bill, including installments due in year 2015, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.

  • It may be beneficial to pay 2015 tuition in 2014 to take full advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an above the line deduction worth up to $2,500 per student to cover the cost of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year. Forty percent of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, which means you can get it even if you owe no tax.

  • Try to bunch "threshold" expenses, such as medical and dental expenses (10 percent of AGI starting in 2013) and miscellaneous itemized deductions. For example, you might pay medical bills and dues and subscriptions in whichever year they would do you the most tax good.

    Threshold expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI). By bunching these expenses into one year, rather than spreading them out over two years, you have a better chance of exceeding the thresholds, thereby maximizing your deduction.

In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of accelerating income and deductions might allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2014, depending on your situation.

The latter benefits include Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child credits, higher education tax credits and deductions for student loan interest.

Caution: Taxpayers close to threshold amounts for the Net Investment Income Tax (3.8 percent of net investment income) should pay close attention to "one-time" income spikes such as those associated with Roth conversions, sale of a home or other large assets that may be subject to tax.

Tip: If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, increasing your withholding before year-end can avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due.

Tip: On the other hand, the penalty could be avoided by covering the extra tax in your final estimated tax payment and computing the penalty using the annualized income method.

Healthcare Reform

If you haven't signed up for health insurance this year, it's not too late to do so--and avoid or educe any penalty you might be subject to. Healthcare subsidies are also a potential tax planning issue. Please contact us if you need assistance with this.

Additional Medicare Tax

Taxpayers whose income exceeds certain threshold amounts ($200,000 single filers and $250,000 married filing jointly) are liable for an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on their tax returns, but may request that their employers withhold additional income tax from their pay to be applied against their tax liability when filing their 2014 tax return next April.

High net worth individuals should consider contributing to Roth IRAs and 401(k) because distributions are not subject to the Medicare Tax.

If you're a taxpayer close to the threshold for the Medicare Tax, it might make sense to switch Roth retirement contributions to a traditional IRA plan, thereby avoiding the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax as well (more about the NIIT below).

Alternate Minimum Tax

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exemption "patch" was made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) and is indexed for inflation. It's important not to overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2014 and 2015.

Items that may affect AMT include deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions.

Note: AMT exemption amounts for 2014 are as follows:

  • $52,800 for single and head of household filers,

  • $82,100 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers,

  • $41,050 for married people filing separately.

Please call us if you'd like more information or if you're not sure whether AMT applies to you. We're happy to assist you.

Residential Energy Tax Credits

Non-Business Energy Credits

ATRA extended the non-business energy credit, which expired in 2011, through 2013 (retroactive to 2012); however, it has not been reauthorized by Congress. For years prior to 2014, taxpayers could claim a credit of 10 percent of the cost of certain energy saving property that was added to their main home.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credits

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit is available to individual taxpayers to help pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment and residential wind turbines. In addition, taxpayers are allowed to take the credit against the alternative minimum tax (AMT), subject to certain limitations.

Qualifying equipment must have been installed on or in connection with your home located in the United States.

Geothermal pumps, solar energy systems, and residential wind turbines can be installed in both principal residences and second homes (existing homes and new construction), but not rentals. Fuel cell property qualifies only when it is installed in your principal residence (new construction or existing home). Rentals and second homes do not qualify.

The tax credit is 30 percent of the cost of the qualified property, with no cap on the amount of credit available, except for fuel cell property.

Generally, labor costs can be included when figuring the credit. Any unused portions of this credit can be carried forward. Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify so be sure you have the manufacturer's tax credit certification statement, which can usually be found on the manufacturer's website or with the product packaging.

What's included in this tax credit?

  • Geothermal Heat Pumps. Must meet the requirements of the ENERGY STAR program that are in effect at the time of the expenditure.

  • Small Residential Wind Turbines. Must have a nameplate capacity of no more than 100 kilowatts (kW).

  • Solar Water Heaters. At least half of the energy generated by the "qualifying property" must come from the sun. The system must be certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) or a comparable entity endorsed by the government of the state in which the property is installed. The credit is not available for expenses for swimming pools or hot tubs. The water must be used in the dwelling. Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement.

  • Solar Panels (Photovoltaic Systems). Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement.
  • Fuel Cell (Residential Fuel Cell and Microturbine System.) Efficiency of at least 30 percent and must have a capacity of at least 0.5 kW.

Charitable Contributions

Property, as well as money, can be donated to a charity. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the property; however, for certain property, the deduction is limited to your cost basis. While you can also donate your services to charity, you may not deduct the value of these services. You may also be able to deduct charity-related travel expenses and some out-of-pocket expenses, however.

Keep in mind that a written record of charitable contribution is required in order to qualify for a deduction. A donor may not claim a deduction for any contribution of cash, a check or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a cancelled check) or written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Tip: Contributions of appreciated property (i.e. stock) provide an additional benefit because you avoid paying capital gains on any profit.

Investment Gains and Losses

This year, and in the coming years, investment decisions are likely to be more about managing capital gains than about minimizing taxes per se. For example, taxpayers below threshold amounts in 2014 might want to take gains; whereas taxpayers above threshold amounts might want to take losses.

If your tax bracket is either 10 or 15 percent (married couples making less than $73,800 or single filers making less than $36,900), then you might want to take advantage of the zero percent tax rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains. If you fall into the highest tax bracket (39.6 percent), the maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains is capped at 20 percent for tax years 2013 and beyond.

Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term capital gains, which are usually taxed at a much higher tax rate than long-term gains--up to 39.6 percent in 2014 for high income earners ($406,750 single filers, $457,600 married filing jointly).

Where feasible, reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000.

Tip: As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.

Tip: After selling securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.

Tip: If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free, your original investment is restored and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).

Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

Starting in 2013, a 3.8 percent tax is applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains for earners above certain threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly). Short term capital gains are subject to ordinary income tax rates as well as the 3.8 percent NIIT. This information is something to think about as you plan your long term investments. Business income is not considered subject to the NIIT provided the individual business owner is materially active in the business.

Please call us if you need assistance with any of your long term tax planning goals.

Mutual Fund Investments

Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the next year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.

Example: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund at the end of 2014. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends. In late December of 2014, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.

Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund's long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.

The mutual fund's distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as "ordinary dividends" that don't qualify for relief.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date.

Tip: To find out a fund's ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.

Be sure to call us if you'd like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.

Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax

The federal gift and estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $5.340 million is projected to increase to $5.43 million in 2015 (Bloomberg BNA). ATRA set the maximum estate tax rate set at 40 percent.

Gift Tax. For many, sound estate planning begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor's assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.

Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $14,000 a year per donee.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn't carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2014, you must make your gift by December 31.

Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $28,000 ($14,000 each). Though what's given may come from either you or your spouse or from both of you, both of you must consent to such "split gifts".

Gifts of "future interests", assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don't qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.

Tip: If you're considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, then don't hesitate to call us. We can help you set it up.

Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift's true value when given.

You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings, and built-in gain on sale.

Gift tax returns for 2014 are due the same date as your income tax return. Returns are required for gifts over $14,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $14,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $14,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not "adequately disclosed".

Tip: Call us if you're considering making a gift of property whose value isn't unquestionably less than $14,000.

Income earned on investments you give to children or other family members is generally taxed to them, not to you. In the case of dividends paid on stock given to your children, they may qualify for the reduced child tax rate, generally 10 percent, where the first $1,000 in investment income is exempt from tax and the next $1,000 is subject to a child's tax rate of 10 percent (0 percent tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends).

Caution: In 2014, investment income for a child (under age 18 at the end of the tax year or a full-time student under age 24) that is in excess of $2,000 is taxed at the parent's tax rate.

Other Year-End Moves

Retirement Plan Contributions. Maximize your retirement plan contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don't already have one. It doesn't need to actually be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year's return.

If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($17,500 for 2014), plus an additional catch up contribution of $5,500 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this much and income restrictions don't apply.

If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $5,500 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.

Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.

In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the excess over 10 percent of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later, and not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.

To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2014, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,250 for single coverage or $2,500 for a family.

Summary

These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact us for help in implementing these or other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable to your particular situation.

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Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

While the fate of several business-related tax extenders such as R & D credits, bonus depreciation, and Section 179 expensing that expired at the end of 2013 is uncertain, there are still a number of end of year tax strategies businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2014.

Purchase New Business Equipment

Section 179 Expensing. Business should still take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2014 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $25,000 for the first $200,000 of property placed in service by December 31, 2014. Keep in mind that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed net taxable business income. In addition, unless Congress reauthorizes it, the bonus depreciation expired at the end of 2013 and is not available for 2014.

While most businesses follow a calendar year, for those that don't there is an exception to the $25,000 cap that allows those business to take advantage of the $500,000 Section 179 benefit. However, only businesses whose calendar year begins in 2013 and ends in 2014 can take advantage of this.

Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.

Note: Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding qualified property.

Timing. If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here's a simplified explanation:

Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include "conventions" or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.

  1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as "placed in service" (or "disposed of") at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

  2. Example: You buy a $40,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

  3. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40 percent of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.

  4. The mid-month convention: This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

  5. If you're planning on buying equipment for your business, call us first. We'll help you figure out the best time to buy it to take full advantage of these tax rules.

Other Year-End Moves to Take Advantage Of

Business Energy Investment Tax Credit

Business energy investment tax credits are still available for eligible systems placed in service on or before December 31, 2016 and businesses that want to take advantage of these tax credits can still do so.

Business energy credits include solar energy systems (passive solar and solar pool-heating systems excluded), fuel cells and microturbines, and an increased credit amount for fuel cells. The extended tax provision also established new credits for small wind-energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. Utilities are allowed to use the credits as well.

Partnership or S-Corporation Basis. Partners or S corporation shareholders in entities that have a loss for 2014 can deduct that loss only up to their basis in the entity. However, they can take steps to increase their basis to allow a larger deduction. Basis in the entity can be increased by lending the entity money or making a capital contribution by the end of the entity's tax year.

Caution: Remember that by increasing basis, you're putting more of your funds at risk. Consider whether the loss signals further troubles ahead.

Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2014. Call us today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.

Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders.

Budgets. Every business, whether small or large should have a budget. The need for a business budget may seem obvious, but many companies overlook this critical business planning tool.

A budget is extremely effective in making sure your business has adequate cash flow and in ensuring financial success. Once the budget has been created, then monthly actual revenue amounts can be compared to monthly budgeted amounts. If actual revenues fall short of budgeted revenues, expenses must generally be cut.

Tip: Year-end is the best time for business owners to meet with their accountants to budget revenues and expenses for the following year.

For more on this topic, see the article below about common budgeting errors, but if you need help developing a budget for your business don't hesitate to call us.

Call Us First

These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2014. If you'd like more information about tax planning for 2015, give us a call. We'll sit down with you, discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.

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Tips for Taxpayers with Foreign Income

If you are living or working outside the United States, you generally must file and pay your tax in the same way as people living in the U.S. This includes people with dual citizenship. If you're a taxpayer with foreign income, here's what you should know:

1. Report Worldwide Income. The law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income. This includes income from foreign trusts, and foreign bank and securities accounts.

2. Review the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. Many Americans who live and work abroad qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion. This means taxpayers who qualify will not pay taxes on up to $99,200 of their wages and other foreign earned income they received in 2014. Please contact us if you have any questions about foreign earned income exclusion.

3. Don't Overlook Credits and Deductions. Taxpayers may be able to take either a credit or a deduction for income taxes paid to a foreign country. This benefit reduces the taxes these taxpayers pay in situations where both the U.S. and another country tax the same income.

4. File Required Tax Forms. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to file Schedule B, Interest and Ordinary Dividends, with their tax returns. Some taxpayers may need to file additional forms with the Treasury Department such as Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets or Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. Please contact us if you're not sure which forms you need to file.

5. Report Foreign Accounts and Assets. Federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to fill out and attach Schedule B to their tax return. Certain taxpayers may also have to fill out and attach to their return Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets.

Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds:

  • If the total value is at or below $50,000 at the end of the tax year, there is no reporting requirement for the year, unless the total value was more than $75,000 at any time during the tax year
  • Taxpayers who do not have to file an income tax return for the tax year do not have to file Form 8938, regardless of the value of their specified foreign financial assets.

The threshold is higher for individuals who live outside the United States and thresholds are different for married and single taxpayers. In addition, penalties apply for failure to file accurately.

Please contact us if you need additional information about thresholds for reporting, what constitutes a specified foreign financial asset, how to determine the total value of relevant assets, what assets are exempted and what information must be provided.

Separately, taxpayers with foreign accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2014 must file a Treasury Department FinCEN Form 114 (formerly TD F 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts ("FBAR"). An individual may have to file both forms and separate penalties may apply for failure to file each form.

This is not a tax form and is due to the Treasury Department by June 30, 2015. If you need help with this, please don't hesitate to call us.

6. Consider the Automatic Extension. U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad on April 15, 2015, may qualify for an automatic two-month extension to file their 2014 federal income tax returns. The extension of time to file also applies to those serving in the military outside the U.S. Taxpayers must attach a statement to their returns explaining why they qualify for the extension.

7. Get Tax Help. If you're a taxpayer or resident alien living abroad that needs help with tax filing issues, IRS notices, and tax bills, or have questions about foreign earned income and offshore financial assets in a bank or brokerage account, please don't hesitate to contact us.

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Three Most Common Budgeting Errors

When it comes to creating a budget, it's essential to estimate your spending as realistically as possible. Here are three budget-related errors commonly made by small businesses, and some tips for avoiding them.

  1. Not Setting Goals. It's almost impossible to set spending priorities without clear goals for the coming year. It's important to identify, in detail, your business and financial goals and what you want or need to achieve in your business.

  2. Underestimating Costs. Every business has ancillary or incidental costs that don't always make it into the budget--for whatever reason. A good example of this is buying a new piece of equipment or software. While you probably accounted for the cost of the equipment in your budget, you might not have remembered to budget time and money needed to train staff or for equipment maintenance.

  3. Failing to Adjust Your Budget. Don't be afraid to update your forecasted expenditures whenever new circumstances affect your business. Several times a year you should set aside time to compare budget estimates against the amount you actually spent, and then adjust your budget accordingly.

Call our office if you want to discuss setting up a budget to meet your business financial goals. We're happy to help.

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Ten Facts about Capital Gains and Losses

When you sell a 'capital asset,' the sale usually results in a capital gain or loss. A 'capital asset' includes most property you own and use for personal or investment purposes. Here are 10 facts you should know about capital gains and losses:

1. Capital assets include property such as your home or car. They also include investment property such as stocks and bonds.

2. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis and the amount you get when you sell an asset. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset.

3. You must include all capital gains in your income. You may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax, which went into effect in 2013. The NIIT applies at a rate of 3.8 percent to certain net investment income of individuals, estates, and trusts that have income above statutory threshold amounts.

4. You can deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You can't deduct losses on the sale of personal-use property.

5. Capital gains and losses are either long-term or short-term, depending on how long you held the property. If you held the property for more than one year, your gain or loss is long-term. If you held it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

6. If your long-term gains are more than your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a 'net capital gain.'

7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gains will usually depend on your income. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be zero percent on some or all of their net capital gains. In 2013, the maximum net capital gain tax rate increased from 15 to 20 percent. A 25 or 28 percent tax rate can also apply to special types of net capital gains.

8. If your capital losses are more than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year, or $1,500 if you are married and file a separate return.

9. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry over the losses you are not able to deduct to next year's tax return. You will treat those losses as if they happened that year.

10. You must file Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, with your federal tax return to report your gains and losses. You also need to file Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses with your return.

If you have any questions about capital gains and losses, please call us.

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Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

If you sell your home and make a profit, do you know that the gain may not be taxable? That's just one key tax rule that you should know. Here are ten facts to keep in mind if you sell your home this year.

1. If you have a capital gain on the sale of your home, you may be able to exclude your gain from tax. This rule may apply if you owned and used it as your main home for at least two out of the five years before the date of sale.

2. There are exceptions to the ownership and use rules. Some exceptions apply to persons with a disability. Some apply to certain members of the military and certain government and Peace Corps workers. For additional details, please give us a call.

3. The maximum amount of gain you can exclude is $250,000. This limit is $500,000 for joint returns. In addition, the Net Investment Income Tax will not apply to the excluded gain.

4. If the gain is not taxable, you may not need to report the sale to the IRS on your tax return.

5. You must report the sale on your tax return if you can't exclude all or part of the gain. And you must report the sale if you choose not to claim the exclusion. That's also true if you get Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Keep in mind that if you report the sale you may be subject to the NIIT. Don't hesitate to contact us if you need assistance with this.

6. Generally, you can exclude the gain from the sale of your main home only once every two years.

7. If you own more than one home, you may only exclude the gain on the sale of your main home. Your main home usually is the home that you live in most of the time.

8. If you claimed the first-time homebuyer credit when you bought the home, special rules apply to the sale.

9. If you sell your main home at a loss, you can't deduct it.

10. After you sell your home and move, be sure to give your new address to the IRS. You can send the IRS a completed Form 8822, Change of Address, to do this.

Important note about the Premium Tax Credit. If you receive advance payment of the Premium Tax Credit in 2014 it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan.

Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please call us. We're here to help!

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Tax Relief to Drought-Stricken Farmers

The IRS has extended the time that farmers and ranchers have to replace livestock if they were forced to sell it due to exceptional, extreme, or severe drought. If you're eligible, this may help you defer tax on any gains you received from the forced sales. The relief applies to all or part of 30 states affected by drought.

A taxpayer may determine whether exceptional, extreme, or severe drought is reported for any location in the applicable region by reference to U.S. Drought Monitor maps that are produced on a weekly basis by the National Drought Mitigation Center. U.S. Drought Monitor maps are archived at Drought Monitor maps.

In addition, in September of each year, the IRS publishes a list of counties, districts, cities, boroughs, census areas or parishes (hereinafter "counties") for which exceptional, extreme, or severe drought was reported during the preceding 12 months. Taxpayers may use this list instead of U.S. Drought Monitor maps to determine whether exceptional, extreme, or severe drought has been reported for any location in the applicable region.

Here are seven facts you should know about this relief:

  1. If the drought caused you to sell more livestock than usual, you may be able to defer tax on the extra gains from those sales.
  2. You generally must replace the livestock within a four-year period. The IRS has the authority to extend the period if the drought continues. For this reason, the IRS has added one more year to the replacement period in 30 states.
  3. The one-year extension of time generally applies to certain sales due to drought.
  4. If you are eligible, your gains on sales of livestock that you held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes apply.
  5. Sales of other livestock, such as those you raised for slaughter or held for sporting purposes and poultry, are not eligible.
  6. The IRS relief applies to farms in areas suffering exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions. The National Drought Mitigation Center has listed all or parts of 30 states that qualify for relief (see above). Any county that is contiguous to a county that is on the NDMC's list also qualifies.
  7. This extension immediately impacts drought sales that occurred during 2010. However, the IRS has granted previous extensions that affect some of these localities. This means that some drought sales before 2010 are also affected. The IRS will grant additional extensions if severe drought conditions persist.

If you have any questions about whether you're eligible for this particular tax relief, don't hesitate to contact us.

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Four Things to Know about Net Investment Tax

Certain taxpayers may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax, which went into effect last year, in 2013. You may owe this tax if you have income from investments and your income for the year is more than certain limits. Here are four things that you should know about this tax:

1. Net Investment Income Tax. The law requires a tax of 3.8 percent on the lesser of either your net investment income or the amount by which your modified adjusted gross income exceeds a threshold amount based on your filing status.

2. Net investment income. This amount generally includes income such as:

  • Interest
  • dividends
  • capital gains
  • rental and royalty income
  • non-qualified annuities

Keep in mind however, that this list is not all-inclusive. Net investment income normally does not include wages and most self-employment income. It does not include unemployment compensation, Social Security benefits or alimony. Net investment income also does not include any gain on the sale of your main home that you exclude from your income.

After you add up your total investment income, you then subtract your deductions that are properly allocable to this income. The result is your net investment income. Don't hesitate to call us if you need help figuring out your net investment income or MAGI (modified adjusted gross income).

3. Income threshold amounts. You may owe the tax if you have net investment income and your modified adjusted gross income is more than the following amount for your filing status:

Filing Status / Threshold Amount

Single or Head of household -- $200,000
Married filing jointly -- $250,000
Married filing separately -- $125,000
Qualifying widow(er) with a child -- $250,000

4. How to report. If you owe this tax, you must file Form 8960 with your federal tax return. If you had too little tax withheld or did not pay enough estimated taxes, you may have to pay an estimated tax penalty.

For more information about this topic please contact us.

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Tax Due Dates for November 2014

Anytime

Employers - Income Tax Withholding. Ask employees whose withholding allowances will be different in 2015 to fill out a new Form W-4. The 2015 revision of Form W-4 will be available on the IRS website by mid-December.

November 10

Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during October, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

November 17

Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

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