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December 2011 Newsletter

Feature Articles

•    Tax Changes for 2011
•    How to Prepare for a Successful Retirement

Tax Tips

•    Your Pension Plan - Inflation Adjustments for 2012
•    Should You File a Tax Return?
•    Filing Status - What You Need to Know

December Tax Due Dates  

      
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.

Tax Changes for 2011

Whether you file as an individual, a corporation, a small business owner, or are self-employed, as the end of the year draws near, you're probably thinking ahead to tax season and filing your taxes.

Most tax provisions of course, remain the same (IRA contribution limits for example), but a few such as personal exemptions have been adjusted for inflation and others have been extended due to legislation and are set to expire at the end of 2012.

From tax credits, exemptions and deductions for individuals and Section 179 expensing for small businesses, here's what you need to know about tax changes for 2011.

Individuals

From personal deductions to tax credits and educational expenses, many of the tax changes relating to individuals remain in effect through 2012 and are the result of tax provisions that were either modified or extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 that became law on December 17, 2010.

Personal Exemptions

The personal and dependent exemption for tax year 2011 is $3,700, up $50 from 2010.

Standard Deductions

In 2011 the standard deduction for married couples filing a joint return is $11,600, up $200 from 2010 and for singles and married individuals filing separately it's $5,800, up $100. For heads of household the deduction is $8,500, also up $100 from 2010.

The additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens is $1,150 for married individuals, up $50, and $1,450 for singles and heads of household, also up $50.

Income Tax Rates

Due to inflation, tax-bracket thresholds will increase for every filing status. For example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $69,000 for a married couple filing a joint return, up from $68,000 in 2010.

Estate and Gift Taxes

The recent overhaul of estate and gift taxes means that there is an exemption of $5 million per individual for estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes, with a top rate of 35%. For married couples the exemption is $10 million.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

AMT exemption amounts for 2011 are slightly higher than those in 2010 at $48,450 for single and head of household fliers, $74,450 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers, and $37,225 for married people filing separately.

Marriage Penalty Relief

For 2011, the basic standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly is $11,600, up $200 from 2010.

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout)

Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) limitations do not apply for 2011, but these are set to expire at the end of 2012.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)

The Affordable Care Act, enacted in March, established a new uniform standard, effective January 1, 2011, that applies to FSAs and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

Under the new standard, the cost of an over-the-counter medicine or drug cannot be reimbursed from the account unless a prescription is obtained. The change does not affect insulin, even if purchased without a prescription, or other health care expenses such as medical devices, eye glasses, contact lenses, co-pays and deductibles.

The new standard applies only to purchases made on or after Jan. 1, 2011, so claims for medicines or drugs purchased without a prescription in 2010 can still be reimbursed in 2011, if allowed by the employer's plan.

A similar rule went into effect on Jan. 1, 2011 for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and Archer Medical Savings Accounts (Archer MSAs).

Long Term Capital Gains

In 2011, long-term gains for assets held at least one year are taxed at a flat rate of 15% for taxpayers above the 25% tax bracket. For taxpayers in lower tax brackets, the long-term capital gains rate is 0%.

Individuals - Tax Credits


Adoption Credit

A refundable credit of up to $13,360 for 2011 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) in order to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses.

For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher income earners the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income.

Child Tax Credit

The $1,000 child tax credit has been extended through 2012. A portion of the credit may be refundable, which means that you can claim the amount you are owed, even if you have no tax liability for the year. The credit is phased out for those with higher incomes.

Energy Tax Credits for Homeowners


Energy tax credits for homeowners expire at the end of 2011 and are not as generous as in previous years. In addition, a taxpayer who has claimed an amount of $500 in any previous year is not eligible for this tax credit.

Homeowners can claim an Energy Star window tax credit of up to $200 maximum as well as a water heater tax credit, which includes electric, natural gas, propane, or oil, up to a maximum of $300. The same maximum ($300) applies to air conditioners, but insulation, doors, and roof credits are capped at $500. The furnace tax credit (includes natural gas, propane, oil, or hot water) and is capped at $150 maximum and efficiency must be at 95%


Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

The maximum EITC for low and moderate income workers and working families is $5,751, up from $5,666 in 2010. The maximum income limit for the EITC has increased to $49,078, up from $48,362 in 2010. The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.


Individuals - Education Expenses

Coverdell Education Savings Account

For two more years, you can contribute up to $2,000 a year to Coverdell savings accounts. These accounts can be used to offset the cost of elementary and secondary education, as well as post-secondary education.

American Opportunity Tax Credit (Higher Education)

The expansion of the Hope Scholarship Credit by the American Opportunity Tax Credit has been extended through 2012. For 2011, the maximum Hope Scholarship Credit that can be used to offset certain higher education expenses is $2,500, although it is phased out beginning at $160,000 adjusted gross income for joint filers and $80,000 for other filers.

Employer Provided Educational Assistance

Through 2012, you, as an employee, can exclude up to $5,250 of qualifying post-secondary and graduate education expenses that are reimbursed by your employer.

Lifetime Learning Credit

A credit of up to $2,000 is available for an unlimited number of years for certain costs of post-secondary or graduate courses or courses to acquire or improve your job skills. For 2011, the credit is fully phased out at $122,000 adjusted gross income for joint filers and $61,000 for others.

Student Loan Interest

For 2011 and 2012, the $2,500 maximum student loan interest deduction for interest paid on student loans is not limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction begins to phase out for higher-income taxpayers.

Tuition and Related Expenses Deduction

For 2010 and 2011, there is an above-the-line deduction of up to $4,000 for qualified tuition expenses. This means that qualified tuition payments can directly reduce the amount of taxable income, and you don't have to itemize to claim this deduction. However, this option can't be used with other education tax breaks, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and the amount available is phased out for higher-income taxpayers.

Individuals - Retirement

Roth IRA Conversions

There is no longer an income limit for taxpayers who want to convert regular IRAs into Roth IRAs. The difference is that taxpayers who convert to Roth IRAs in tax year 2011 must pay taxes on the conversion income now instead of deferring it in later years as was the case in 2010.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates

The standard mileage rate increases to 51 cents per business mile driven (19 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes and 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations) for the first half of 2011. From July 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011 however, the rate increases to 55.5 cents per business mile. This increase is a special adjustment by the IRS and reflects higher gasoline prices.

Health Care Tax Credit for Small Businesses

Small business employers who pay at least half the premiums for single health insurance coverage for their employees may be eligible for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit as long as they employ fewer than the equivalent of 25 full-time workers and average annual wages do not exceed $50,000. The credit can be claimed in tax years 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that. The maximum credit that can be claimed is an amount equal to 35% of premiums paid by eligible small businesses.

Section 179 Expensing

In 2011 (as well as 2010), the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases is $500,000 ($535,000 for qualified enterprise zone property) of the first $2 million of certain business property placed in service during the year. The bonus depreciation increases to 100% for qualified property. If the cost of all section 179 property placed in service by the taxpayer during the tax year exceeds $2 million, the $500,000 amount is reduced, but not below zero.

Please contact us if you need help understanding which deductions and tax credits you are entitled to. We are always available to assist you

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How to Prepare for a Successful Retirement

As you approach retirement, it's vital that you pay attention to key financial matters. Here are some of the items that you should check:

Health Insurance.

Are you among the lucky few who will continue to be covered after retirement? If not, then you'll need to replace your health coverage.

If you will be eligible for Medicare at the time of your retirement, then you may want to start checking into "Medigap" coverage. Medigap insurance is a supplemental health insurance sold to individuals age 65 and older that covers medical expenses not covered or only partially covered by Medicare.

Tip: Before you retire, take care of any non-emergency medical, dental, or optical needs (if your employee plan coverage is broader than Medicare).

Other Types of Insurance.

Once you retire, you may need to replace employer-provided life insurance with extra coverage. You should also consider purchasing long-term health care insurance in case of a lengthy nursing home stay in the future.
Social Security.

Decide whether you want to take early Social Security benefits if you're retiring before your full retirement age, which is currently 66 years of age for people born between 1943 and 1954. You can get 75% of your benefits at age 62.

Tip: For most people, taking Social Security benefits at their full retirement age makes the most financial sense. If you think you might need to take early benefits, give us a call. We'd be happy to discuss this with you.

Company Plan Payout.

You should plan well in advance how you'll take the payout from your pension plan or 401(k) plan. For example, will you transfer the funds to an conventional or Roth IRA? How will the funds be invested?

Relocation.

If you're planning a move to another state, make sure that you fully explore the financial ramifications of living there--before you move. Cost of living rates can vary significantly from one region of the country to another.


We Can Help. Retirement is an exciting time and planning in advance can make it a much smoother transition. Please contact us if you have any questions, need assistance or just want some additional guidance.

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Your Pension Plan - Inflation Adjustments for 2012

For 2012, there are a few cost of living adjustments for pension plans and other retirement-related items. Check out what to expect in the new year....


•    The contribution limit for employees who participate in section 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan, increases to $17,000 in 2012, from $16,500 in prior years.
•    The catch-up contribution limit in those plans for those aged 50 and over remains unchanged, at $5,500.
•    IRA contributions and catch up limits remain unchanged for 2012 at $5,000 and $1,000 respectively.
•    The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are active participants in an employer-sponsored retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $58,000 and $68,000, up from $56,000-$66,000 in 2011.
•    For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $92,000 to $112,000, up from $90,000 to $110,000. For an IRA contributor who is not an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan and is married to someone who is an active participant, the deduction is phased out if the couple's income is between $173,000 and $183,000 in 2012, up from $169,000 and $179,000 in 2011.
•    The AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $173,000 to 183,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $169,000 to $179,000 in 2011. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range is $110,000 to $125,000, up from $107,000 to $122,000. For a married individual filing a separate return who is an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the phase-out range remains $0 to $10,000.
•    The AGI limit for the saver's credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $57,500 for married couples filing jointly, up from $56,500 in 2011; $43,125 for heads of household, up from $42,375; and $28,750 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $28,250.

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Should You File a Tax Return?

Do you ever wonder whether your income is high enough to warrant the filing of a tax return? Because the minimum income level varies depending on filing status, age, and the type of income you receive, it can be a bit complicated. The following guide is based on minimum income requirements from tax year 2011.

Single Taxpayers

If you expect to file a single return, the IRS requires you to file a tax return if your gross income for the year is at least $9,500 if you are under age 65 and $10,950 if you are 65 or older.

Married Filing Jointly

For married persons filing jointly, you are required to file a return if gross income for 2011 is at least $19,000 if both of you are under age 65. If one of you was at least age 65 in 2011, the limit is $20,150 - and if both of you were 65 or over, you must file if you made at least $21,300.

If you are not living with your spouse at the end of the year or you weren't living with them on the day they passed away, the IRS requires you to file a return if your gross income is at least $3,700. This is based on the personal exemptiion, which in tax year 2011 was $3,700.


For married persons filing a separate return, no matter what age, you must file a return if gross income is at least $3,700.

Head of Household

For persons filing as head of household, you must file a return for 2011 if gross income is at least $12,200 if under age 65 and $13,650 if at least age 65.

Qualifying Widow or Widower

For persons filing as a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child, you must file a return for 2011 if gross income is at least $15,300 if under age 65 and $16,450 if at least age 65.

Other Situations That Require Filing

Even if you don't earn this much income, other situations necessitate filing a tax return. For example, a dependent has to file a return for 2011 if they received more than $950 in unearned income or more than $5,800 in earned income.

Other situations include:

You Owe Certain Taxes. If you owe FICA or Medicare taxes (also called payroll taxes) on unreported tips or other reported income that were not collected, you must file a return. You must also file a tax return if you are liable for any alternative minimum tax. Finally, you must file a return if you owe taxes on individual retirement accounts, Archer MSA accounts, or an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Advance Earned Income Tax Credit Payments. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a federal income tax credit for eligible low-income workers. The credit reduces the amount of tax an individual owes, which may be returned in the form of a refund. If you receive advance payments for the earned income credit from your employer, you must file a return.

Self-Employment Earnings. If your net earnings from self-employment are $400 or more, you must file a return.
Church Income. If you earn employee income of at least $108.28 from either a church or a qualified church-controlled organization that is exempt from employer-paid FICA and Medicare taxes, you must file a return.

Questions?
Call us for more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits.

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Filing Status - What You Need to Know

Your federal tax filing status is based on your marital and family situation. It is an important factor in determining your standard deduction and your correct amount of tax, and whether you must file a return.

Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your status for the entire year. If more than one filing status applies to you, you may choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.

There are five filing status options:

•    Single. Generally, if you are unmarried, divorced, or legally separated according to your state law, and you do not qualify for another filing status, your filing status is Single.
•    Married Filing Jointly. If you are married, you and your spouse may file a joint return. If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry, you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death. This is the last year for which you may file a joint return with that spouse.
•    Married Filing Separately. Married taxpayers may elect to file separate returns.
•    Head of Household. Generally, you must be unmarried and paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person for more than half a year.

•    Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. You may be able to file as a qualifying widow or widower for the two years following the year your spouse died. To do this, you must meet all four of the following tests:

1.    You were entitled to file a joint return with your spouse for the year he or she died. It does not matter whether you actually filed a joint return.
2.    You did not remarry in the two years following the year your spouse died.
3.    You have a child, stepchild, or adopted child (a foster child does not meet this requirement) for whom you can claim a dependency exemption.
4.    You paid more than half the cost of maintaining a household that was the main home for you and that child, for the whole year.

After the two years following the year in which your spouse died, you may qualify for head of household status.

We can definitely help you determine which filing status is best for your situation. Just call us up or send an email.

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Tax Due Dates for December 2011

December 12    

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


December 15    

Corporations - Deposit the fourth installment of estimated income tax for 2011. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you estimate your tax for the year.

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

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

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