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July 2013 Newsletter

Feature Articles

Tax Tips

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.

Paying Off Debt the Smart Way


Between mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans, most people are in debt. While being debt-free is a worthwhile goal, most people need to focus on managing their debt first since it's likely to be there for most of their life. 

Handled wisely, that debt won't be an albatross around your neck. You don't need to shell out your hard-earned money because of exorbitant interest rates or always feel like you're on the verge of bankruptcy. You can pay off debt the smart way, while at the same time saving money to pay it off faster.

Assess the Situation

First, assess the depth of your debt. Write it down, using pencil and paper, a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, or a bookkeeping program like Quicken. Include every financial situation where a company has given you something in advance of payment, including your mortgage, car payment(s), credit cards, tax liens, student loans, and payments on electronics or other household items through a store.

Record the day the debt began and when it will end (if possible), the interest rate you're paying, and what your payments typically are. Add it all up, painful as that might be. Try not to be discouraged! Remember, you're going to break this down into manageable chunks while finding extra money to help pay it down.

Identify High-Cost Debt

Yes, some debts are more expensive than others. Unless you're getting payday loans (which you shouldn't be), the worst offenders are probably your credit cards. Here's how to deal with them.

  • Don't use them. Don't cut them up, but put them in a drawer and only access them in an emergency.
  • Identify the card with the highest interest and pay off as much as you can every month. Pay minimums on the others. When that one's paid off, work on the card with the next highest rate.
  • Don't close existing cards or open any new ones. It won't help your credit rating.
  • Pay on time, absolutely every time. One late payment these days can lower your FICO score.
  • Go over your credit-card statements with a fine-tooth comb. Are you still being charged for that travel club you've never used? Look for line items you don't need.
  • Call your credit card companies and ask them nicely if they would lower your interest rates. It does work sometimes!

Save, Save, Save

Do whatever you can to retire debt. Consider taking a second job and using that income only for higher payments on your financial obligations. Substitute free family activities for high-cost ones. Sell high-value items that you can live without. 

Do Away with Unnecessary Items to Reduce Debt Load

Do you really need the 800-channel cable option or that dish on your roof? You'll be surprised at what you don't miss. How about magazine subscriptions? They're not terribly expensive, but every penny counts. It's nice to have a library of books, but consider visiting the public library or half-price bookstores until your debt is under control.

Never, Ever Miss a Payment

Not only are you retiring debt, but you're also building a stellar credit rating. If you ever move or buy another car, you'll want to get the lowest rate possible. A blemish-free payment record will help with that. Besides, credit card companies can be quick to raise interest rates because of one late payment. A completely missed one is even more serious.

Pay With Cash

To avoid increasing debt load, make it a habit to pay with cash. If you don't have the cash for it, you probably don't need it. You'll feel better about what you do have if you know it's owned free and clear.

Shop Wisely, and Use the Savings to Pay Down Your Debt

If your family is large enough to warrant it, invest $30 or $40 and join a store like Sam's or Costco--and use it. Shop there first, then at the grocery store. Change brands if you have to and swallow your pride. Use coupons religiously. Calculate the money you're saving and slap it on your debt.

Each of these steps, taken alone, probably doesn't seem like much. But if you adopt as many as you can, you'll watch your debt decrease every month. If you need help managing debt give us a call. We can help.

Travel & Entertainment: Maximizing Tax Benefits


Tax law allows you to deduct two types of travel expenses related to your business, local and what the IRS calls "away from home". 

  1. First, local travel expenses. You can deduct local transportation expenses incurred for business purposes, for example the cost of getting from one location to another via public transportation, rental car, or your own automobile. Meals and incidentals are not deductible as travel expenses, although as you will read later in this guide, you can deduct meals as an entertainment expense as long as certain conditions are met.
  2. Second, you can deduct away from home travel expenses-including meals and incidentals; however, if your employer reimburses your travel expenses, your deductions are limited. 

Local Transportation Costs

The cost of local business transportation includes rail fare and bus fare, as well as the costs of using and maintaining an automobile used for business purposes. For those whose main place of business is their personal residence, business trips from the home office and back are considered deductible transportation and not non-deductible commuting.

You generally cannot deduct lodging and meals unless you stay away overnight. Meals may be partially deductible as an entertainment expense. 

Away From-Home Travel Expenses

You can deduct one-half of the cost of meals (50%) and all of the expenses of lodging incurred while traveling away from home. The IRS also allows you to deduct 100% of your transportation expenses--as long as business is the primary reason for your trip. 

Here's a list of some deductible away-from-home travel expenses:

  • Meals (limited to 50%) and lodging while traveling or once you get to your away-from-home business destination. 
  • The cost of having your clothes cleaned and pressed away from home. 
  • Costs for telephone, fax or modem usage. 
  • Costs for secretarial services away-from-home. 
  • The costs of transportation between job sites or to and from hotels and terminals. 
  • Airfare, bus fare, rail fare, and charges related to shipping baggage or taking it with you.
  • The cost of bringing or sending samples or displays, and of renting sample display rooms.
  • The costs of keeping and operating a car, including garaging costs. 
  • The cost of keeping and operating an airplane, including hangar costs. 
  • Transportation costs between "temporary" job sites and hotels and restaurants. 
  • Incidentals, including computer rentals, stenographers' fees. 
  • Tips related to the above. 

Entertainment Expenses

There are limits and restrictions on deducting meal and entertainment expenses. Most are deductible at 50%, but there are a few exceptions. Meals and entertainment must be "ordinary and necessary" and not "lavish or extravagant" and directly related to or associated with your business. They must also be substantiated (see below). 

Your home is considered a place conducive to business. As such, entertaining at home may be deductible providing there was business intent and business was discussed. The amount of time that business was discussed does not matter. 

Reasonable costs for food and refreshments for year-end parties for employees, as well as sales seminars and presentations held at your home are 100% deductible. 

If you rent a skybox or other private luxury box for more than one event, say for the season, at the same sports arena, you generally cannot deduct more than the price of a non-luxury box seat ticket. Count each game or other performance as one event. Deduction for those seats is then subject to the 50% entertainment expense limit.

If expenses for food and beverages are separately stated, you can deduct these expenses in addition to the amounts allowable for the skybox, subject to the requirements and limits that apply. The amounts separately stated for food and beverages must be reasonable. 

Deductions are disallowed for depreciation and upkeep of "entertainment facilities" such as yachts, hunting lodges, fishing camps, swimming pools, and tennis courts. Costs of entertainment provided at such facilities are deductible subject to entertainment expense limitations.

Dues paid to country clubs or to social or golf and athletic clubs however, are not deductible. Dues that you pay to professional and civic organizations are deductible as long as your membership has a business purpose. Such organizations include business leagues, trade associations, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and real estate boards.

Tip: To avoid problems qualifying for a deduction for dues paid to professional or civic organizations, document the business reasons for the membership, the contacts you make and any income generated from the membership.

Entertainment costs, taxes, tips, cover charges, room rentals, maids and waiters are all subject to the 50% limit on entertainment deductions.

How Do You Prove Expenses Are "Directly Related"?

Expenses are directly related if you can show: 

  • There was more than a general expectation of gaining some business benefit other than goodwill. 
  • You conducted business during the entertainment. 
  • Active conduct of business was your main purpose. 

Record-keeping and Substantiation Requirements

Tax law requires you to keep records that will prove the business purpose and amounts of your business travel, entertainment, and local transportation costs. For example, each expense for lodging away from home that is $75 or more must be supported by receipts. The receipt must show the amount, date, place, and type of the expense.

The most frequent reason that the IRS disallows travel and entertainment expenses is failure to show the place and business purpose of an item. Therefore, pay special attention to these aspects of your record-keeping. 

Keeping a diary or log book--and recording your business-related activities at or close to the time the expense is incurred--is one of the best ways to document your business expenses.

If you need help documenting business travel and entertainment expenses, don't hesitate to call us. We'll help you set up a system that works for you--and satisfies IRS record-keeping requirements.

Tips for Safeguarding Financial Records 


With the 2013 hurricane season now under way and memories of tornadoes and other natural disasters fresh in our collective minds, now is the time for individuals and businesses to safeguard their tax records by taking a few simple steps. 

Take Inventory. Gather all of your documents and make an inventory list. You may find everything in a single location, but more likely than not, you'll have to hunt around to find all of your documents. Don't forget to check computer files, storage boxes, file cabinets, old and new computers and laptops, thumb drives, and external hard drives and backup disks. 

Depending on how complex your finances are, you may opt for a single list or choose to make two separate lists. The first list might include items such as insurance policies, mortgages and deeds, car titles, wills, pension and retirement-plan documents, powers of attorney, medical directives, and so on. The second list might contain a list of less essential documents such as brokerage accounts, loans that have been paid off, end-of-year bank statements, and copies of old tax returns and supporting documentation. 

Create a Backup Set of Records and Store Them Electronically. Keeping a backup set of records -- including, for example, bank statements, tax returns, insurance policies, etc. -- is easier than ever now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, and much financial information is available on the Internet. 

Even if the original records are provided only on paper, they can be scanned and converted to a digital format. Once the documents are in electronic form, taxpayers can download them to a backup storage device, such as an external hard drive, or burn them onto a CD or DVD (don't forget to label it). 

You might also consider online backup, which is the only way to ensure that data is fully protected. With online backup, files are stored in another region of the country, so that if a hurricane or other natural disaster occurs, documents remain safe. Contact us if you need assistance with this. 

Visually Document Valuables. Another step you can take to prepare for disaster is to photograph or videotape the contents of your home, especially items of higher value. Call us for more help compiling a room-by-room list of belongings.

A photographic or video record can help prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Store the photos or video with a friend or family member who lives outside the area, or as part of your online document backup.

Update Emergency Plans. Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. Personal and business situations change over time, as do preparedness needs. When employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.

Check on Fiduciary Bonds. Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

If disaster strikes, call us right away. We can help you get back copies of tax returns and all attachments, including your Form W-2. We're here to help.

Managing Tax Records After You File


Keeping good records after you file your taxes is a good idea, as they will help you with documentation and substantiation if the IRS selects your return for an audit. Here are five tips to keeping good records. 

1. Normally, tax records should be kept for three years.

2. Some documents, such as records relating to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, IRAs, and business or rental property, should be kept longer.

3. In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner. Generally speaking, however, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return.

4. Records you should keep include bills, credit card and other receipts, invoices, mileage logs, canceled, imaged or substitute checks, proofs of payment, and any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return. 

Call us today if you need more information on what kinds of records you should keep and for how long. 

Best Filing Status for Married Couples


Summer is wedding season. After you say, "I do" you'll have two filing status options to choose from when filing your 2013 tax returns: married filing jointly, or married filing separately.

Married Filing Jointly

You can choose married filing jointly as your filing status if you are married and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. On a joint return, you report your combined income and deduct your combined allowable expenses. You can file a joint return even if one of you had no income or deductions. 

If you and your spouse decide to file a joint return, your tax may be lower than your combined tax for the other filing statuses. Also, your standard deduction (if you do not itemize) may be higher, and you may qualify for tax benefits that do not apply to other filing statuses. 

Joint Responsibility. Both of you may be held responsible, jointly and individually, for the tax and any interest or penalty due on your joint return. One spouse may be held responsible for all the tax due even if all the income was earned by the other spouse. 

Married Filing Separately

If you are married, you can also choose married filing separately as your filing status. This filing status may benefit you if you want to be responsible only for your own tax or if it results in less tax than filing a joint return. 

We Can Help

Give us a call if you're not sure which status to file under. If you and your spouse each have income, we will figure your tax both ways and let you know which filing status gives you the lowest combined tax. 

Injured or Innocent Spouse Relief: The Facts


You may be an injured spouse if you file a joint tax return and all or part of your portion of a refund was, or is expected to be, applied to your spouse's legally enforceable past due financial obligations. Here are several facts about claiming injured or innocent spouse relief. 

1. To be considered an injured spouse you must have paid federal income tax or claimed a refundable tax credit, such as the Earned Income Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit on the joint return, and not be legally obligated to pay the past-due debt. 

2. Special rules apply in community property states. Give us a call for more information about the factors used to determine whether you are subject to community property laws. 

3. If you filed a joint return and you're not responsible for the debt, but you are entitled to a portion of the refund, you may request your portion of the refund by filing Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, which may be filed electronically with your original tax return or by itself after you receive an IRS notice about the offset. If you need assistance with this, please call us. 

4. If you are claiming innocent spouse relief you must file form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. This relief from joint liability applies only in certain limited circumstances. However, in 2011 the IRS eliminated the two-year time limit that applies to certain relief requests. 

Are you an injured or innocent spouse? Call us. We'll make sure you get the relief you are entitled to. 

Tax Due Dates for July 2013 


July 10

Employees Who Work for Tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during June, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

July 15

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

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

July 31

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2013. Deposit any undeposited tax. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until August 12 to file the return.

Employers - Federal unemployment tax. Deposit the tax owed through June if more than $500.

Employers - If you maintain an employee benefit plan, such as a pension, profit sharing, or stock bonus plan, file Form 5500 or 5500-EZ for calendar year 2012. If you use a fiscal year as your plan year, file the form by the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends.

Certain Small Employers - Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2013 but less than $2,500 for the second quarter.

Copyright © 2013  All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

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