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Important Tax Numbers for 2015

For 2015 the IRS has given the new limits regarding retirement contributions as well as estate and gift tax exemptions. Regarding retirement contributions employees may now defer $18,000 annually to their employer sponsored plan including a 401k, 403b, and 457 plans. This is an increase from last year’s $17,500 amount. Additionally, employees age 50 or older can now make an age based catch-up contribution of $6,000 which is a $500 increase from last year’s $5,500 amount.

Your Year-End Bonus

As the end of the year approaches many employers will pay and many employees will receive year-end bonuses. While often the icing on the cake for a productive year employee should be aware of the tax consequences of their bonus. Percent vs. Aggregate Method When it comes to taxing the bonus an employer may choose the percentage method versus the aggregate method. Under the aggregate or wage holding bracket method the employer will use the withholding tables generally used for the employee normal paycheck. Then, the supplemental wages are aggregated with the employee’s normal pay and taxes are withheld accordingly.

Social Security Wage Base Projected for 2015

Update 10/22/2014: The wage base has been set for 2015. See the article Social Security Wage Base Set for 2015. According to the Social Security Administration trustees, the Social Security wage base for 2015 is projected to be $119,100.  This represents an increase of $2,100 from the 2014 wage base of $117,000. This is an increase of 1.79% – and won’t be finalized until October when the other increases for Social Security amounts are announced. This is a relatively small increase when compared to recent annual increases we’ve seen.  The previous 3 years’ increases have averaged 3.09%. This is different from the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment), which has increased an average of 2.27% in the past three years. The 2014 COLA (applicable to 2015 benefits and other figures) will be released later in the year, typically in October.

A Quick Trick to Reduce Your Tax Liability

Now that most folks are recovering from tax time there may be some individuals that paid an excessive amount of tax to Uncle Sam and are looking for ways to reduce their tax liability for next year. This post will be short and sweet, but hopefully it will drive a few points home. The best way to explain this is through an example. Let’s say that Mary and her husband Paul both work and file their taxes jointly. Their tax liability for 2013 was $4,000 – meaning that’s the amount of the check they wrote to the IRS. Needless to say, they are both looking for a potential way to reduce that liability – at least in the here and now. In this case, their marginal tax rate is 25%. The quick trick in this example is to take their tax rate which is 25% and divide it into their […]

Tax Time is Over. Maybe.

For most folks tomorrow marks the one week anniversary of filing their 2014 tax return. Not much needs to be done after they’ve filed except for deciding to have more withheld in 2014 for those folks who had to write a check to Uncle Sam or deciding what to do with the refund (hint: put it in an IRA) for those folks who got a refund. What happens when the return may have been submitted with mistakes or perhaps costly errors? Generally, if the error is minor the IRS will correct errors or accept returns without certain forms or schedules attached. For those returns that have a change in filing status, income, deductions, and credits then filing an amended return will most likely be appropriate. For those folks needing to file an amended return they are allowed to file using form 1040X. Form 1040X will allowing corrections to earlier filed […]

What’s in Store for 2014?

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a local business journal about our firm’s thoughts as to how the market would react in 2014 and how to best prepare for that reaction. Essentially, the journal was asking us to predict where the market would be in 2014. Most of our clients know the answer I am about to write, which was, “No one can predict the direction of the market with any degree of accuracy.” “If that were the case, (as I told the interviewer) neither she nor I would be having this interview.” In other words, we’d be clinking our glasses on our respective tropical beaches because we’d have gotten filthy rich predicting and timing the moves of the market. Markets are pretty efficient – meaning that the price of any particular stock in any particular sector, industry or country is generally priced based on all available information […]

Charitable Donations

This time of year many people find it in their hearts to give. They’ll give to friends, family, loved ones and charitable organizations that can help maximize the gift such as a church, charity, or foundation. Last week I had written about the law of reciprocity and giving, and this week I’d like to mention how you can make your giving work in favor when tax season rolls around. As of this writing there are about 11 days left in 2013. Some individuals will be looking to see how much they can give or how much more they can give in order to receive the biggest tax deduction they can for charitable giving. Of course, gifts to friends and family are not deductible, but there are times when gifts or donations are completely deductible and may be to the tax advantage of the person giving or donating the gift. According to […]

Roth Conversion/Recharacterization Strategy

Image via Wikipedia If you have an IRA you probably know about the concept of a Roth IRA conversion – where you take distribution of a portion of your IRA and directly transfer that money into your a Roth IRA, paying tax as you go.  Then the Roth IRA can continue to grow tax-free (as Roth IRAs do) and you’ll never owe tax on your qualified distributions from the Roth IRA. In addition, if the investments you’ve made in the Roth IRA have lost money, before October 15 of the following year you have the opportunity to recharacterize your Roth conversion.  If you didn’t recharacterize, you’d be paying tax on a conversion amount that is much lower now if there was a downturn in the investments, so your average tax rate is much higher than you’d hoped.  By recharacterizing, you can undo the conversion or a part of it. I […]

What Can Be Done to Save Social Security?

Image by Lady_Helena via Flickr This is, of course, one of the most volatile questions on the political landscape these days.  We have some constituencies claiming that the whole plan is a Ponzi scheme and we should get rid of it altogether – and many others aiming to make radical tax increases in the system to improve solvency, or pushing back the age(s) for receiving benefits to reduce drag on the system. True, the system is in dire straits – not bankrupt, but needing attention.  Current projections indicate that at current pace, funds allocated to the system will run out sometime around 2036 unless something changes. Increasing taxes is never popular, and current political winds have shown just how far the dream of no increases in taxes will be pushed.  In addition, extending the age limits during a time when unemployment is at record highs only exacerbates that issue – […]

The “Tax on Sale of Your Home” Email Myth

Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr If you have an email address (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), you’ve likely received this email.  In case you haven’t received it, there’s an email that is being forwarded around the internet about a new tax on selling your home – I get at least one of these a month it seems. I’ve copied the text of one of the emails below. This article is to help you understand why the email is a misguided myth, partly grounded in truth but not applicable for most folks. The email is usually forwarded at least a half-dozen times by the time you receive it, making it difficult to know where it started from.  In addition, the text of the email is often in large, bold, red font in places, such that you can almost feel the spittle coming off the page at you. Here’s the […]

Caregiver Costs Qualify as Medical Expenses

Image by The Library of Virginia via Flickr It’s a little known fact that certain costs for caregivers, licensed or unlicensed, may qualify as medical expenses for tax deductions.  Maintenance and personal care service costs can be considered qualified medical expenses in cases where the patient receiving the care has been certified by a health-care professional as unable to perform two or more of the six activities of daily living: Bathing, Eating, Dressing, Toiletting, Continence, and Transferring (moving from bed to chair, for example). Note: An easy way to remember these six activities is to use the first characters in the order I presented them above – B E D To C – this gives us the first five, and the entire mnemonic provides the sixth, Transferring from BED To Chair. The health-care professional who certifies the patient as incapable of these activities can be a doctor, a nurse, or […]

Do You Need a Friend at the IRS?

Image by StephenZacharias via Flickr As taxpayers, many of us have faced difficulties in dealing with the IRS – and it can be a daunting position to be in.  One way to deal with these issues is to hire a CPA or Enrolled Agent to help you through the process.  Another way is to deal with it yourself.  The problem is that dealing with the IRS by yourself can be a very difficult thing to do. The good news is that you have a friend at the IRS:  The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).  The purpose of the TAS is to help taxpayers whose problems with the IRS are causing financial difficulties; who have tried but have not been able to resolve their problems with the IRS; and those who believe an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should. In the IRS Tax Tip 2011-75, the IRS listed […]

A Restriction on the Home Buyer Credit

Here is a case where, even though the IRS documentation did not state it directly, the real rule of the law makes an explicit statement, and therefore the Code is where the final rules are taken from. In this particular case, there is a situation where the home buyer credit is not available: if the home is purchased from a parent or another close relative (and vice versa). And the taxpayer who relied only on an IRS publication found out the hard way that the Internal Revenue Code is the final word on the subject. There was a recent Tax Court case (Nievinski, TC Summary Opinion 2011-10) that challenged the limitation, and the Tax Court ruled in favor of the Service.  The argument was that, in a particular document, IRS Publication 4819 “Important Information About the First-Time Homebuyer Credit”, there was no express explanation of this limitation. Image via The […]

The Roth Recharacterization

After all the hoopla around Roth conversions in 2010, now is the time to consider whether or not a recharacterization is in your future.  So what is a recharacterization, and how does it work? Recharacterization is the “backing out” of your Roth conversion.  In other words, you can literally make the conversion as if it had never been done at all, with your money back in the traditional IRA where it started. Why would you want to do that?  Here’s an example: let’s say you converted $100,000 to a Roth IRA in 2010 and you are ready to pay the tax on your 2010 return (you elected out of the spread to 2011 and 2012).  Except that now, your investment in the Roth IRA has dropped in value to only $50,000 – and you still owe tax on the conversion of $100,000!  Yikes – that’s just totally wrong! Recharacterization can […]

Why Your Paycheck is Changing in 2011

After the passage of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Act) late last year, there were certain changes that will impact your take-home pay in 2011, versus what you were seeing in 2010. For starters, although the 2010 Tax Act extended the tax rates to be the same as they were in 2010, as always there are increases in the tax tables which have a minor impact on your take-home pay.  Typically, this change will increase your tax withheld, reducing your take-home pay. The 2010 Tax Act also included a provision to reduce the withholding requirement for Social Security from 6.2% to 4.2%, which will have the effect of increasing your take-home pay by 2%. One other change to your paycheck came about because of a provision that was not included to be extended as a part of the 2010 Tax Act […]

The Making Work Pay Credit

Many (or most) working taxpayers will be eligible to receive a special credit on their 2010 tax return, called the Making Work Pay Credit.  The IRS has recently produced their Tax Tip 2011-15 which explains five important provisions about the Making Work Pay Credit: The Making Work Pay Credit provides a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers filing joint returns. Most workers received the benefit of the Making Work Pay Credit through larger paychecks, reflecting reduced federal income tax withholding during 2010. Taxpayers who file Form 1040 or 1040A will use Schedule M to figure the Making Work Pay Tax Credit.  Completing Schedule M will help taxpayers determine whether they have already received the full credit in their paycheck or are due more money as a result of the credit. Taxpayers who file Form 1040-EZ should use the worksheet for […]

Over-The-Counter Drugs via Your Flex-Spending Account

In case you missed it when I wrote about Guidance from the IRS on Flex Spending Plans – one of the changes you’ll have to deal with beginning with 2011 is that you can no longer use your Flex-Spending Account (FSA) to reimburse yourself for over-the-counter drugs like you’ve been able to do in the past. However, there is a way to get the over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that your physician recommends and use your FSA funds to pay for it… if your physician gives you a prescription for it.  Even though the IRS has disallowed the use of FSA funds for OTC drugs, if your physician gives you a prescription for the OTC drug, your FSA can be used to pay for the drug. There are some rules though:  first, the prescription has to provided to the pharmacist prior to the purchase, and the pharmacist must dispense the drug just […]

Date Set for Processing Delayed Returns

The IRS announced on January 20, 2011, that the delayed returns – those that have itemized deductions on Schedule A, include higher education tuition and fees deductions on Form 8917, and/or that include the educator expenses deduction, can begin processing on February 14. Many processors (commercial software) will accept these returns now and send them to the IRS beginning on February 14, so there is no reason to delay.  And if your processor (or tax guy or gal) doesn’t allow for the early acceptance, you can still get your information in to them and they’ll submit it when the time is right. This delay was explained in the article that I wrote earlier about how some returns would be delayed this year due to the late passage of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. Photo by hillary h

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