Time for a Paycheck Checkup

Withholding issues can be complicated, and with the passage of the recent tax reform legislation–most of which takes effect starting in 2018–, it’s important to make sure the right amount of tax is withheld for your personal tax situation. As a first step to reflect the tax law changes, the IRS released new withholding tables in January 2018. A revised Form W-4 was released on February 28, 2018. These updated tables were designed to produce the correct amount of tax withholding.

For taxpayers with simple tax situations, the easiest way to do check whether their withholding is correct is to use the IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov, which is designed to help employees make changes based on their individual financial situation.

Using the Withholding Calculator to perform a quick “paycheck checkup” protects employees from having too little tax withheld and facing an unexpected tax bill or penalty at tax time in 2019. It can also prevent employees from having too much tax withheld. With the average refund topping $2,800, some taxpayers, of course, might prefer to have less tax withheld up front and receive more in their paychecks.

Taxpayers should keep in mind, however, that the IRS Withholding Calculator results are only as accurate as the information entered. If your circumstances change during the year, come back to the calculator to make sure your withholding is still correct.

With the new tax law changes, people with more complex tax situations such as married couples who both work, higher income earners, and who take certain tax credits or itemize might need to revise their Form W-4 completely to ensure they have the right amount of withholding taken out of their pay.

Small business owners or sole proprietors who owe self-employment tax, or individual taxpayers who need to pay the alternative minimum tax, or owe tax on unearned income from dependents, as well as people who have capital gains and dividends should contact the office and speak to a tax professional.

Using the Withholding Calculator

The Withholding Calculator asks taxpayers to estimate their 2018 income and other items that affect their taxes, including the number of children claimed for the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit and other items. It does not request personally-identifiable information such as name, Social Security number, address or bank account numbers, nor does the IRS save or record the information entered on the calculator. Here are the steps you need to take:

    • Gather your most recent pay stub from work. Check to make sure it reflects the amount of Federal income tax that you have had withheld so far in 2018.
    • Have a completed copy of your 2017 tax return handy. Information on your return can help you estimate income and other items for 2018. If you haven’t filed your 2017 tax return yet you can use a 2016 tax return; however, please remember that the new tax law made significant changes to itemized deductions.
    • Use the results from the Withholding Calculator to determine if you should complete a new Form W-4 and, if so, what information to put on a new Form W-4. There is no need to complete the worksheets that accompany Form W-4 if the calculator is used.
    • As a general rule, the fewer withholding allowances you enter on the Form W-4 the higher your tax withholding will be. Entering “0” or “1” on line 5 of the W-4 means more tax will be withheld. Entering a bigger number means less tax withholding, resulting in a smaller tax refund or potentially a tax bill or penalty.

If you complete a new Form W-4, you should submit it to your employer as soon as possible. With withholding occurring throughout the year, it’s better to take this step early on. If you have any questions, please call.

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Five Tax Tips for Older Americans

Everyone wants to save money on their taxes, and older Americans are no exception. If you’re age 50 or older, here are five tax tips that could help you do just that.

1. Standard Deduction for Seniors. If you and/or your spouse are 65 years old or older and you do not itemize your deductions, you can take advantage of a higher standard deduction amount. There is an additional increase in the standard deduction if either you or your spouse is blind.

2. Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. If you and/or your spouse are either 65 years or older–or under age 65 years old and are permanently and totally disabled–you may be able to take the Credit for Elderly or Disabled. If you are under age 65, you must have your physician complete a statement certifying that you had a permanent and total disability on the date you retired. You must also have taxable disability income that meets certain requirements.

The Credit is based on your age, filing status, and income and you must file using Form 1040 or Form 1040A to receive the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. You cannot get the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled if you file using Form 1040EZ.

You may only take the credit if you meet the following:

In 2017 your income on Form 1040 line 38 must be less than $17,500 ($20,000 if married filing jointly and only one spouse qualifies), $25,000 (married filing jointly and both qualify), or $12,500 (married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for the entire year).

and

The non-taxable part of your Social Security or other nontaxable pensions, annuities or disability income is less than $5,000 (single, head of household, or qualifying widow/er with dependent child); $5,000 (married filing jointly and only one spouse qualifies); $7,500 (married filing jointly and both qualify); or $3,750 (married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse the entire year).

3. Retirement Account Limits Increase. Once you reach age 50, you are eligible to contribute (and defer paying tax on) up to $24,500 in 2018 (up $500 from 2017). The amount includes the additional $6,000 “catch up” contribution for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan.

4. Early Withdrawal Penalty Eliminated. If you withdraw money from an IRA account before age 59 1/2 you generally must pay a 10 percent penalty (there are exceptions–call for details); however, once you reach age 59 1/2, there is no longer a penalty for early withdrawal. Furthermore, if you leave or are terminated from your job at age 55 or older (age 50 for public safety employees), you may withdraw money from a 401(k) without penalty–but you still have to pay tax on the additional income. To complicate matters, money withdrawn from an IRA is not exempt from the penalty.

5. Higher Income Tax Filing Threshold. Taxpayers who are 65 and older are allowed an income of $1,550 more ($2,500 married filing jointly) in 2017 before they need to file an income tax return. In other words, older taxpayers age 65 and older with income of $11,950 ($23,300 married filing jointly)in 2017 or less may not need to file a tax return.

Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about these and other tax deductions and credits available for older Americans.

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Late Filing and Late Payment Penalties

April 17 is the deadline for most people to file their federal income tax return and pay any taxes they owe. The bad news is that if you miss the deadline (for whatever reason) you may be assessed penalties for both failing to file a tax return and for failing to pay taxes they owe by the deadline. The good news is that there is no penalty if you file a late tax return but are due a refund.

Here are ten important facts every taxpayer should know about penalties for filing or paying late:

1. A failure-to-file penalty may apply. If you owe tax, and you failed to file and pay on time, you will most likely owe interest and penalties on the tax you pay late.

2. Penalty for filing late. The penalty for filing a late return is normally 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late and starts accruing the day after the tax filing due date. Late filing penalties will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

3. Failure to pay penalty. If you do not pay your taxes by the tax deadline, you normally will face a failure-to-pay penalty of 1/2 of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes. That penalty applies for each month or part of a month after the due date and starts accruing the day after the tax-filing due date.

4. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. You should file your tax return on time each year, even if you’re not able to pay all the taxes you owe by the due date. You can reduce additional interest and penalties by paying as much as you can with your tax return. You should explore other payment options such as getting a loan or making an installment agreement to make payments. Contact the office today if you need help figuring out how to pay what you owe.

5. Extension of time to file. If you timely requested an extension of time to file your individual income tax return and paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe with your request, you may not face a failure-to-pay penalty. However, you must pay any remaining balance by the extended due date.

6. Two penalties may apply. One penalty is for filing late and one is for paying late–and they can add up fast, especially since interest accrues on top of the penalties but if both the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty and the 1/2 percent failure-to-pay penalties apply in any month, the maximum penalty that you’ll pay for both is 5 percent.

7. Minimum penalty. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

8. Reasonable cause. You will not have to pay a late-filing or late-payment penalty if you can show reasonable cause for not filing or paying on time. Please call if you have any questions about what constitutes reasonable cause.

9. Penalty relief. The IRS generally provides penalty relief, including postponing filing and payment deadlines, to any area covered by a disaster declaration for individual assistance issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For example, taxpayers who were victims of Hurricane Maria in certain municipalities of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have until June 29, 2018, to file and pay.

10. File even if you can’t pay. Filing on time and paying as much as you can, keeps your interest and penalties to a minimum. If you can’t pay in full, getting a loan or paying by debit or credit card may be less expensive than owing the IRS. If you do owe the IRS, the sooner you pay your bill the less you will owe.

If you need assistance, help is just a phone call away!

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Understanding Estimated Tax Payments

Estimated tax is the method used to pay tax on income that is not subject to withholding. This includes income from self-employment, interest, dividends, and rent, as well as gains from the sale of assets, prizes and awards. You also may have to pay estimated tax if the amount of income tax being withheld from your salary, pension, or other income is not enough.

FILING AND PAYING ESTIMATED TAXES

Both individuals and business owners may need to file and pay estimated taxes, which are paid quarterly. In 2018, the first estimated tax payment is due on April 17, the same day tax returns are due. If you do not pay enough by the due date of each payment period you may be charged a penalty even if you are due a refund when you file your tax return.

If you are filing as a sole proprietor, partner, S corporation shareholder, and/or a self-employed individual, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when you file your return.

If you are filing as a corporation you generally have to make estimated tax payments for your corporation if you expect it to owe tax of $500 or more when you file its return.

If you had a tax liability for the prior year, you may have to pay estimated tax for the current year; however, if you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings.

Note: There are special rules for farmers, fishermen, certain household employers, and certain higher taxpayers. Please call if you need more information about any of these situations.

Who does not have to pay estimated tax:

You do not have to pay estimated tax for the current year if you meet all three of the following conditions:

  • You had no tax liability for the prior year
  • You were a U.S. citizen or resident for the whole year
  • Your prior tax year covered a 12-month period

If you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings. To do this, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. There is a special line on Form W-4 for you to enter the additional amount you want your employer to withhold.

You had no tax liability for the prior year if your total tax was zero or you did not have to file an income tax return.

CALCULATING ESTIMATED TAXES

To figure out your estimated tax, you must calculate your expected adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions, and credits for the year. If you estimated your earnings too high, simply complete another Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, worksheet to re-figure your estimated tax for the next quarter. If you estimated your earnings too low, again complete another Form 1040-ES worksheet to recalculate your estimated tax for the next quarter.

Try to estimate your income as accurately as you can to avoid penalties due to underpayment. Generally, most taxpayers will avoid this penalty if they owe less than $1,000 in tax after subtracting their withholdings and credits, or if they paid at least 90 percent of the tax for the current year, or 100 percent of the tax shown on the return for the prior year, whichever is smaller.

Tip: When figuring your estimated tax for the current year, it may be helpful to use your income, deductions, and credits for the prior year as a starting point. Use your prior year’s federal tax return as a guide and use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES to figure your estimated tax. However, you must make adjustments both for changes in your own situation and for recent changes in the tax law.

ESTIMATED TAX DUE DATES

For estimated tax purposes, the year is divided into four payment periods and each period has a specific payment due date. For the 2018 tax year, these dates are April 17, June 15, September 17, and January 15, 2019. You do not have to pay estimated taxes in January if you file your 2018 tax return by January 31, 2019, and pay the entire balance due with your return.

Note: If you do not pay enough tax by the due date of each of the payment periods, you may be charged a penalty even if you are due a refund when you file your income tax return.

The easiest way for individuals as well as businesses to pay their estimated federal taxes is to use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). Make ALL of your federal tax payments including federal tax deposits (FTDs), installment agreement and estimated tax payments using EFTPS. If it is easier to pay your estimated taxes weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. you can, as long as you have paid enough in by the end of the quarter. Using EFTPS, you can access a history of your payments, so you know how much and when you made your estimated tax payments.

Please call if you are not sure whether you need to make an estimated tax payment or need assistance setting up EFTPS.

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Five Tax Provisions Retroactively Extended for 2017

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA) retroactively extended a number of tax provisions through 2017 for individual taxpayers. Let’s take a look at five of them.

1. Mortgage Insurance Premiums
Homeowners with less than 20 percent equity in their homes are required to pay mortgage insurance premiums (PMI). For taxpayers whose income is below certain threshold amounts, these premiums were deductible in tax years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now, once again in 2017. Mortgage insurance premiums are reported on Schedule A (1040), Itemized Deductions, under “Interest You Paid.”

2. Exclusion of Discharge of Principal Residence Indebtedness
Typically, forgiven debt is considered taxable income in the eyes of the IRS; however, this tax provision was retroactively extended through 2017. Homeowners whose homes have been foreclosed on or subjected to short sale are able to exclude from gross income up to $2 million of canceled mortgage debt.

3. Energy Saving Home Improvements
If you made your home more energy efficient in 2017, you have another chance to take advantage of this tax credit on your tax return. This credit reduces the amount of tax owed as opposed to a deduction that reduces your taxable income. The credit is worth up to 10 percent of the cost (excluding installation) of qualified improvements to a taxpayer’s main home to make it more energy efficient such as insulation materials, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors, and certain types of roofs, e.g., metal roof or asphalt roofs specifically designed to reduce the heat gain of your home.

Note: This tax credit is cumulative and has been around for more than 10 years. As such, if you’ve taken the credit in any tax year since 2006, you will not be able to take the full $500 tax credit this year. For example, if you took a credit of $150 in 2016, the maximum credit you could take this year (2017) is $350.Furthermore, taxpayers should also note that they can only use $200 of this limit for windows.

4. Qualified Tuition and Expenses
The deduction for qualified tuition and fees was also extended through 2017 and is an above-the-line tax deduction. In other words, you don’t have to itemize your deductions to claim the expense. Qualified education expenses are defined as tuition and related expenses required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. Related expenses include student-activity fees and expenses for books, supplies, and equipment as required by the institution.

Taxpayers with income of up to $130,000 (joint) or $65,000 (single) can claim a deduction for up to $4,000 in expenses. Taxpayers with income over $130,000 but under $160,000 (joint) and over $65,000 but under $80,000 (single) are able to take a deduction of up to $2,000. Taxpayers with incomes above these threshold amounts are not eligible for the deduction.

5. Deductible Expenses for Live Theatrical Productions
Section 181 refers to special expensing rules for certain film and television productions that allows taxpayers to treat the costs of any qualified film or television production as a deductible expense. This provision also applies to production costs for qualified live theatrical productions with certain restrictions.

Only the owner of a film, television production or a live theatrical production can make a Section 181 election and if you want to take the deduction on your 2017 tax return your first paid performance must have taken place in 2017. Furthermore, Section 181 only applies to live stage productions where the seating capacity for the performance is less than 3,000 seats and the production must be based on a written play (or book in the case of a musical). This tax provision is complicated. Please call if you need clarification.

Don’t miss out on the tax breaks you are entitled to.

If you’re wondering whether you should be taking advantage of these and other tax credits and deductions, don’t hesitate to call the office. If you’ve already filed your 2017 federal tax return want to claim one or more of these retroactive tax breaks, please call for assistance in filing an amended tax return.

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Year-End Tax Planning Strategies for Individuals

Once again, tax planning for the year ahead presents a number of challenges, first and foremost being what tax reform measures (if any) will actually become legislation–and when they take effect (e.g. retroactive to January 1, 2017, or a future date). Furthermore, a number of tax extenders expired at the end of 2016, which may or may not be reauthorized by Congress and made retroactive to the beginning of the year. And then, of course, there are the normal variations in individual tax circumstances such as the sale of a home that could bump up income into another tax bracket.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the tax strategies you can use given the current uncertainties.

General Tax Planning

General 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. For example, taxpayers might consider using one or more of the following:

  • Selling 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 this year (2017) 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 your 2018 tax return in 2019. Don’t hesitate to call the office if you have any questions about this.
  • Prepaying 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 2017 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 2018. Exercising this 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 to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

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Year-End Tax Planning Strategies for Businesses

There are a number of end of year tax planning strategies that businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2017. Here are a few of them:

Deferring Income

Businesses using the cash method of accounting can defer income into 2018 by delaying end-of-year invoices, so payment is not received until 2018. Businesses using the accrual method can defer income by postponing delivery of goods or services until January 2018.

Purchase New Business Equipment

Section 179 Expensing. Business should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2017 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $510,000 for the first $2,030,000 million of property placed in service by December 31, 2017. Keep in mind that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed net taxable business income. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2.03 million threshold and eliminated above amounts exceeding $2.5 million.

Bonus Depreciation. Businesses are able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and placed in service during 2015, 2016 and 2017. However, the bonus depreciation is reduced to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.

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 the office if you have any questions regarding qualified property. Continue reading