Taxation

Reduce taxes on your investments with these year-end strategies 11-19-2015

While tax consequences should never drive investment decisions, it’s critical that they be considered — especially by higher-income taxpayers, who may be facing the 39.6% short-term capital gains rate, the 20% long-term capital gains rate and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).

Holding on to an investment until you’ve owned it more than one year so the gains qualify for long-term treatment may help substantially cut tax on any gain. Here are some other tax-saving strategies:

  • Use unrealized losses to absorb gains.
  • Avoid wash sales.
  • See if a loved one qualifies for the 0% rate (or the 15% rate if your rate is 20%).

Many of the strategies that can help you save or defer income tax on your investments can also help you avoid or defer NIIT liability. And because the threshold for the NIIT is based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), strategies that reduce your MAGI — such as making retirement plan contributions — can also help you avoid or reduce NIIT liability.

These are only a few of the year-end strategies that may help you reduce taxes on your investments. For more ideas, contact us.

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Protect your deduction: Verify that a charity is eligible 11-11-2015

Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. But before you donate, it’s critical to make sure the charity you’re considering is indeed a qualified charity — that it’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Also, with the 2016 presidential election heating up, it’s important to remember that political donations aren’t tax-deductible.

Of course, additional rules affect your charitable deductions, so please contact us if you have questions about whether a donation you’re planning will be fully deductible. We can also provide ideas for maximizing the tax benefits of your charitable giving.

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The 529 savings plan: A tax-smart way to fund college expenses 11-03-2015

If you’re saving for college, consider a Section 529 plan. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. For contributions to the Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund, Alabama taxpayers are allowed to deduct a maximum of $5,000 per year when filing a single return and $10,000 per year for married couples filing jointly. Rollover contributions from another state’s 529 plan are also eligible for the Alabama deduction.

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, equipment, supplies and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes, and typically for state purposes as well (unless the withdrawal is from a non-Alabama 529 plan), thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

529 plans offer other benefits as well:

  • They usually offer high contribution limits, and there are no income limits for contributing.
  • There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions.
  • You can control the account, even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions and make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse).

The biggest downside may be that your investment options — and when you can change them — are limited. Please contact us for more information on 529 plans and other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.

Contact Bonnee Bailey – bbailey@abcpa.com, David Chandler – dchandler@abcpa.com, Cathy Mozingo – cmozingo@abcpa.com, or Rhonda Sibley – rsibley@abcpa.com for more information.

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Save tax — or at least defer it — by carefully timing business income and expenses 10-27-2015

The first step to smart timing is to project your business’s income and expenses for 2015 and 2016. With this information in hand, you can determine the best year-end timing strategy for your business.

If you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket in 2016, consider:

Deferring income to 2016. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.

Accelerating deductible expenses into 2015. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before December 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.

If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2016, accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses may save you more tax over the two-year period (though it will increase your 2015 tax liability).

For help projecting your income and expenses or for more ideas on how you can effectively time them, please contact us.

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2 tax consequences to consider if you’re refinancing a home 10-20-2015

Now may be a great time to refinance, because mortgage rates are still low but expected to increase. Before deciding to refinance, however, here are a couple of tax consequences to consider:

1. Cash-out refinancing. If you borrow more than you need to cover your outstanding mortgage balance, the tax treatment of the cash-out portion depends on how you use the excess cash. If you use it for home improvements, it’s considered acquisition indebtedness, and the interest is deductible subject to a $1 million debt limit. If you use it for another purpose, such as buying a car or paying college tuition, it’s considered home equity debt, and deductible interest is subject to a $100,000 debt limit.

2. Prepaying interest. “Points” paid when refinancing generally are amortized and deducted ratably over the life of the loan, rather than being immediately deductible. If you’re already amortizing points from a previous refinancing and you refinance with a new lender, you can deduct the unamortized balance in the year you refinance. But if you refinance with the same lender, you must add the unamortized points from the old loan to any points you pay on the new loan and then deduct the total over the life of the new loan.

Is your head spinning? Don’t worry; we can help you understand exactly what the tax consequences of refinancing will be for you. Contact us today!

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Your exec comp could be subject to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax or the 3.8% NIIT 10-13-2015

The additional Medicare tax and net investment income tax (NIIT) apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

The following types of executive compensation could be subject to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Fair market value (FMV) of restricted stock once the stock is no longer subject to risk of forfeiture or it’s sold
  • FMV of restricted stock when it’s awarded if you make a Section 83(b) election
  • Bargain element of nonqualified stock options when exercised
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation once the services have been performed and there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture

And the following types of gains from exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Gain on the sale of restricted stock if you’ve made the Sec. 83(b) election
  • Gain on the sale of stock from an incentive stock option exercise if you meet the holding requirements

Concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed? Please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.

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Selling rather than trading in business vehicles can save tax 09-29-2015

Although a vehicle’s value typically drops fairly rapidly, the tax rules limit the amount of annual depreciation that can be claimed on most cars and light trucks. Thus, when it’s time to replace a vehicle used in business, it’s not unusual for its tax basis to be higher than its value.

If you trade a vehicle in on a new one, the undepreciated basis of the old vehicle simply tacks onto the basis of the new one (even though this extra basis generally doesn’t generate any additional current depreciation because of the annual depreciation limits). However, if you sell the old vehicle rather than trading it in, any excess of basis over the vehicle’s value can be claimed as a deductible loss to the extent of your business use of the vehicle.

For example, if you sell a vehicle with an adjusted basis of $20,000 for $12,000, you’ll get an immediate write-off of $8,000 ($20,000 – $12,000). If you trade in the vehicle rather than selling it, the $20,000 adjusted basis is added to the new vehicle’s depreciable basis and, thanks to the annual depreciation limits, it may be years before any tax deductions are realized.

For more ideas on how to maximize your vehicle-related deductions, contact us.

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Why you should contribute more to your 401(k) in 2015? 09-23-2015

Contributing to a traditional employer-sponsored defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan, offers many benefits:

  • Contributions are pretax, reducing your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can also help you reduce or avoid exposure to the 3.8% net investment income tax.
  • Plan assets can grow tax-deferred — meaning you pay no income tax until you take distributions.
  • Your employer may match some or all of your contributions pretax.

For 2015, you can contribute up to $18,000. If your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, consider increasing your contribution rate through the end of the year. Because of tax-deferred compounding, boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.

If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2015). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding.

Have questions about how much to contribute? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you.

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How to determine if you need to worry about estate taxes 09-16-2015

Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.

Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. Those assets qualify for the marital deduction and avoid potential estate tax exposure until the surviving spouse dies. The net number represents your taxable estate.

You can transfer up to your available exemption amount at death free of federal estate taxes. So if your taxable estate is equal to or less than the estate tax exemption (for 2015, $5.43 million) reduced by any gift tax exemption you used during your life, no federal estate tax will be due when you die. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, it will be subject to estate tax. Many states, however, now impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does, so you’ll also need to consider the rules in your state.

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us.

© 2015

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All income investments aren’t alike when it comes to taxes 09-02-2015

The tax treatment of investment income varies, and not just based on whether the income is in the form of dividends or interest. Qualified dividends are taxed at the favorable long-term capital gains tax rate (generally 15% or 20%) rather than at the applicable ordinary-income tax rate (which might be as high as 39.6%). Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary-income rates. So stocks that pay qualified dividends may be more attractive tax-wise than other income investments, such as CDs and taxable bonds.

But there are exceptions. For example, some dividends aren’t qualified and therefore are subject to ordinary-income rates, such as certain dividends from:

  • Real estate investment trusts (REITs),
  • Regulated investment companies (RICs),
  • Money market mutual funds, and
  • Certain foreign investments.

Also, the tax treatment of bond income varies. For example:

  • Interest on U.S. government bonds is taxable on federal returns but exempt on state and local returns.
  • Interest on state and local government bonds is excludable on federal returns. If the bonds were issued in your home state, interest also might be excludable on your state return.
  • Corporate bond interest is fully taxable for federal and state purposes.

While tax treatment shouldn’t drive investment decisions, it’s one factor to consider — especially when it comes to income investments. For help factoring taxes into your investment strategy, contact us.  Feel free to contact Bonnee Bailey (bbailey@abcpa.com), Callis Blake (cblake@abcpa.com), David Chandler (dchandler@abcpa.com), Rena Minton (rminton@abcpa.com), Cathy Mozingo (cmozingo@abcpa.com), Rhonda Sibley (rsibley@abcpa.com) or any of our other excellent CPAs on staff.

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