- Changing Jobs? Don’t Forget your 401(k)
- Tax Planning for Small Business Owners
- Eight Ways Children Lower your Taxes
Changing Jobs? Don’t Forget your 401(k)
One of the most important questions you face when changing job is what to do with the money in your 401(k). Making the wrong move could cost you thousands of dollars or more in taxes and lower returns.
Let’s say you put in five years at your current job. For most of those years, you’ve had the company take a set percentage of your pre-tax salary and put it into your 401(k) plan.
Now that you’re leaving, what should you do? The first rule of thumb is to leave it alone because you have 60 days to decide whether to roll it over or leave it in the account.
Resist the temptation to cash out. The worst thing an employee can do when leaving a job is to withdraw the money from their 401(k) plans and put it in his or her bank account. Here’s why:
If you decide to have your distribution paid to you, the plan administrator will withhold 20 percent of your total for federal income taxes, so if you had $100,000 in your account and you wanted to cash it out, you’re already down to $80,000.
Furthermore, if you’re younger than 59 1/2, you’ll face a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal come tax time. Now you’re down another 10 percent from the original amount of $100,000 to $70,000.
Note: If you separate from service during or after the year you reach age 55 (age 50 for public safety employees of a state, or political subdivision of a state, in a governmental defined benefit plan) there is an exception to the 10 percent early withdrawal tax penalty. This applies to 401(k) plans only. IRA, SEP, SIMPLE IRA, and SARSEP Plans do not qualify for the exception.
Also, because distributions are taxed as ordinary income, at the end of the year, you’ll have to pay the difference between your tax bracket and the 20 percent already taken out. For example, if you’re in the 33 percent tax bracket, you’ll still owe 13 percent, or $13,000. This lowers the amount of your cash distribution to $57,000.
But that’s not all. You might also have to pay state and local taxes. Between taxes and penalties, you could end up with little over half of what you had saved up, short-changing your retirement savings significantly.
What are the Alternatives?
If your new job offers a retirement plan, then the easiest course of action is to roll your account into the new plan before the 60-day period ends. Referred to as a “rollover” it is relatively painless to do. The 401(k) plan administrator at your previous job should have all of the forms you need.
A word of caution: Many employers require that you work a minimum period of time (e.g. three months) before you can participate in a 401(k). If that is the case, one solution is to keep your money in your former employer’s 401(k) plan until the new one is available. Then you can roll it over into the new plan. Most plans let former employees leave their assets in the old plan for several months.
The best way to roll funds over from an old 401(k) plan to a new one is to use a direct transfer. With the direct transfer, you never receive a check, and you avoid all of the taxes and penalties mentioned above, and your savings will continue to grow tax-deferred until you retire.
60-Day Rollover Period
If you have your former employer make the distribution check out to you, the Internal Revenue Service considers this a cash distribution. The check you get will have 20 percent taken out automatically from your vested amount for federal income tax.
But don’t panic. You have 60 days to roll over the lump sum (including the 20 percent) to your new employer’s plan or into a rollover individual retirement account (IRA). Then you won’t owe the additional taxes or the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
Note: If you’re not happy with the fund choices your new employer offers, you might opt for a rollover IRA instead of your company’s plan. You can then choose from hundreds of funds and have more control over your money. But again, to avoid the withholding hassle, use direct rollovers.
Note: Prior to 2015, the IRS allowed a one-per-year limit on rollovers on an IRA-by-IRA basis; however, starting in 2015, the limit will apply to aggregating all of an individual’s IRAs, effectively treating them as if they were a single IRA for the purposes of applying the limit.
Leave It Alone
If your vested account balance in your 401(k) is more than $5,000, you can usually leave it with your former employer’s retirement plan. Your lump sum will keep growing tax-deferred until you retire.
However, if you can’t leave the money in your former employer’s 401(k) and your new job doesn’t have a 401(k), your best bet is a direct rollover into an IRA. The same applies if you’ve decided to go into business for yourself.
Once you turn 59 1/2, you can begin withdrawals from your 401(k) plan or IRA without penalty and your withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income.
You don’t have to start taking withdrawals from your 401(k) unless you retire after age 70 1/2. With an IRA you must begin a schedule of taxable withdrawals based on your life expectancy when you reach 70 1/2, whether you’re working or not.
Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about IRA rollovers.
Tax Planning for Small Business Owners
Tax planning is the process of looking at various tax options to determine when, whether, and how to conduct business and personal transactions to reduce or eliminate tax liability.
Many small business owners ignore tax planning. They don’t even think about their taxes until it’s time to meet with their accountants, but tax planning is an ongoing process and good tax advice is a valuable commodity. It is to your benefit to review your income and expenses monthly and meet with your CPA or tax advisor quarterly to analyze how you can take full advantage of the provisions, credits and deductions that are legally available to you.
Although tax avoidance planning is legal, tax evasion – the reduction of tax through deceit, subterfuge, or concealment – is not. Frequently what sets tax evasion apart from tax avoidance is the IRS’s finding that there was fraudulent intent on the part of the business owner. The following are four of the areas the IRS examiners commonly focus on as pointing to possible fraud:
- Failure to report substantial amounts of income such as a shareholder’s failure to report dividends or a store owner’s failure to report a portion of the daily business receipts.
- Claims for fictitious or improper deductions on a return such as a sales representative’s substantial overstatement of travel expenses or a taxpayer’s claim of a large deduction for charitable contributions when no verification exists.
- Accounting irregularities such as a business’s failure to keep adequate records or a discrepancy between amounts reported on a corporation’s return and amounts reported on its financial statements.
- Improper allocation of income to a related taxpayer who is in a lower tax bracket such as where a corporation makes distributions to the controlling shareholder’s children.
Tax Planning Strategies
Countless tax planning strategies are available to small business owners. Some are aimed at the owner’s individual tax situation and some at the business itself, but regardless of how simple or how complex a tax strategy is, it will be based on structuring the strategy to accomplish one or more of these often overlapping goals:
- Reducing the amount of taxable income
- Lowering your tax rate
- Controlling the time when the tax must be paid
- Claiming any available tax credits
- Controlling the effects of the Alternative Minimum Tax
- Avoiding the most common tax planning mistakes
In order to plan effectively, you’ll need to estimate your personal and business income for the next few years. This is necessary because many tax planning strategies will save tax dollars at one income level, but will create a larger tax bill at other income levels. You will want to avoid having the “right” tax plan made “wrong” by erroneous income projections. Once you know what your approximate income will be, you can take the next step: estimating your tax bracket.
The effort to come up with crystal-ball estimates may be difficult and by its very nature will be inexact. On the other hand, you should already be projecting your sales revenues, income, and cash flow for general business planning purposes. The better your estimates are, the better the odds that your tax planning efforts will succeed.
Maximizing Business Entertainment Expenses
Entertainment expenses are legitimate deductions that can lower your tax bill and save you money, provided you follow certain guidelines.
In order to qualify as a deduction, business must be discussed before, during, or after the meal and the surroundings must be conducive to a business discussion. For instance, a small, quiet restaurant would be an ideal location for a business dinner. A nightclub would not. Be careful of locations that include ongoing floor shows or other distracting events that inhibit business discussions. Prime distractions are theater locations, ski trips, golf courses, sports events, and hunting trips.
The IRS allows up to a 50 percent deduction on entertainment expenses, but you must keep good records and the business meal must be arranged with the purpose of conducting specific business. Bon appetite!
Important Business Automobile Deductions
If you use your car for business such as visiting clients or going to business meetings away from your regular workplace you may be able to take certain deductions for the cost of operating and maintaining your vehicle. You can deduct car expenses by taking either the standard mileage rate or using actual expenses.
The mileage reimbursement rates for 2015 are 57.5 cents per business mile (56 cents per mile in 2014), 14 cents per charitable mile (unchanged from 2014) and 23 cents for moving and medical miles (down from 23.5 cents per mile in 2014).
If you own two cars, another way to increase deductions is to include both cars in your deductions. This works because business miles driven is determined by business use. To figure business use, divide the business miles driven by the total miles driven. This strategy can result in significant deductions.
Whichever method you decide to use to take the deduction, always be sure to keep accurate records such as a mileage log and receipts. If you need assistance figuring out which method is best for your business, don’t hesitate to contact the office.
Increase Your Bottom Line When You Work At Home
The home office deduction is quite possibly one of the most difficult deductions ever to come around the block. Yet, there are so many tax advantages it becomes worth the navigational trouble. Here are a few common tips for home office deductions that can make tax season significantly less traumatic for those of you with a home office.
Try prominently displaying your home business phone number and address on business cards, have business guests sign a guest log book when they visit your office, deduct long-distance phone charges, keep a time and work activity log, retain receipts and paid invoices. Keeping these receipts makes it so much easier to determine percentages of deductions later on in the year.
Section 179 expensing for tax year 2015 allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over time, up to $25,000, with a cap of $200,000 (down from $500,000 and $2,000,000, respectively, in 2014) worth of qualified business property that you purchase during the year. The key word is “purchase”. Equipment can be new or used and includes certain software. All home office depreciable equipment meets the qualification.
Some deductions can be taken whether or not you qualify for the home office deduction itself. It’s never too early to meet with a tax professional to learn more about home office deductions. Call today to schedule a consultation.
Eight Ways Children Lower your Taxes
Got kids? They may have an impact on your tax situation. Here are eight tax credits and deductions that can help lower your tax burden.
- Dependents: In most cases, a child can be claimed as a dependent in the year they were born. Be sure to let us know if your family increased this year and we’ll take a look at whether you can claim the child as a dependent this year.
- Child Tax Credit: You may be able to take this credit on your tax return for each of your children under age 17. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. The Additional Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit and may give you a refund even if you do not owe any tax.
- Child and Dependent Care Credit: You may be able to claim this credit if you pay someone to care for your child under age 13 while you work or look for work. Be sure to keep track of your child care expenses so we can claim this credit accurately.
- Earned Income Tax Credit: The EITC is a benefit for certain people who work and have earned income from wages, self-employment, or farming. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may also give you a refund.
- Adoption Credit: You may be able to take a tax credit for qualifying expenses paid to adopt a child.
- Coverdell Education Savings Account: This savings account is used to pay qualified expenses at an eligible educational institution. Contributions are not deductible; however, qualified distributions generally are tax-free.
- Higher Education Credits: Education tax credits can help offset the costs of education. The American Opportunity and the Lifetime Learning Credit are education credits that reduce your federal income tax dollar for dollar, unlike a deduction, which reduces your taxable income.
- Student Loan Interest: You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income so you do not need to itemize your deductions.
As you can see, having children can make a big impact on your tax profile. Make sure that you’re getting the appropriate credits and deductions by speaking to a tax professional today.
Tax Rules for Children with Investment Income
Children who receive investment income are subject to special tax rules that affect how parents must report a child’s investment income. Some parents can include their child’s investment income on their tax return while other children may have to file their own tax return. If a child cannot file his or her own tax return for any reason, such as age, the child’s parent or guardian is responsible for filing a return on the child’s behalf.
Here’s what you need to know about tax liability and your child’s investment income.
1. Investment income normally includes interest, dividends, capital gains and other unearned income, such as from a trust.
2. Special rules apply if your child’s total investment income in 2015 is more than $2,100 ($2,000 in 2014). The parent’s tax rate may apply to a part of that income instead of the child’s tax rate.
3. If your child’s total interest and dividend income are less than $10,500 ($10,000 in 2014), then you may be able to include the income on your tax return. If you make this choice, the child does not file a return. Instead, you file Form 8814, Parents’ Election to Report Child’s Interest and Dividends, with your tax return.
4. If your child received investment income of $10,500 or more in 2015 ($10,000 in 2014), then he or she will be required to file Form 8615, Tax for Certain Children Who Have Investment Income of More Than $2,100, with the child’s federal tax return for tax year 2015.
In addition, starting in 2013, a child whose tax is figured on Form 8615, Tax for Certain Children Who Have Unearned Income, may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax. NIIT is a 3.8 percent tax on the lesser of either net investment income or the excess of the child’s modified adjusted gross income that is over a threshold amount.
Is your Gift Taxable?
If you gave money or property to someone as a gift, you may owe federal gift tax. Many gifts are not subject to the gift tax, but there are exceptions. Here are eight tips you can use to figure out whether your gift is taxable.
1. Most gifts are not subject to the gift tax. For example, there is usually no tax if you make a gift to your spouse or to a charity. If you make a gift to someone else, the gift tax usually does not apply until the value of the gifts you give that person exceeds the annual exclusion for the year. For 2015, the annual exclusion is $14,000 (same as 2014).
2. Gift tax returns do not need to be filed unless you give someone, other than your spouse, money or property worth more than the annual exclusion for that year.
3. Generally, the person who receives your gift will not have to pay any federal gift tax because of it. Also, that person will not have to pay income tax on the value of the gift received.
4. Making a gift does not ordinarily affect your federal income tax. You cannot deduct the value of gifts you make (other than deductible charitable contributions).
5. The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. The following gifts are not taxable gifts:
- Gifts that do not exceed the annual exclusion for the calendar year,
- Tuition or medical expenses you pay directly to a medical or educational institution for someone,
- Gifts to your spouse,
- Gifts to a political organization for its use, and
- Gifts to charities.
6. You and your spouse can make a gift up to $28,000 to a third party without making a taxable gift. The gift can be considered as made one-half by you and one-half by your spouse. If you split a gift you made, you must file a gift tax return to show that you and your spouse agree to use gift splitting. You must file a Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, even if half of the split gift is less than the annual exclusion.
7. You must file a gift tax return on Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, if any of the following situations apply:
- You gave gifts to at least one person (other than your spouse) that are more than the annual exclusion for the year.
- You and your spouse are splitting a gift.
- You gave someone (other than your spouse) a gift of a future interest that he or she cannot actually possess, enjoy, or receive income from until some time in the future.
- You gave your spouse an interest in property that will terminate due to a future event.
8. You do not have to file a gift tax return to report gifts to political organizations and gifts made by paying someone’s tuition or medical expenses.
Don’t hesitate to contact the office if you have questions about the gift tax.
Identity Theft and your Taxes
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. It presents challenges to individuals, businesses, organizations and government agencies, including the IRS.
Learning that you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event and you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity. In many cases, the IRS may be the first to let you know you’re a victim of ID theft after you try to file your taxes.
The IRS combats tax-related identity theft with a strategy of prevention, detection, and victim assistance. The IRS is making progress against this crime and it remains one of the agency’s highest priorities.
Here’s what you should know about identity theft:
1. Protect your Records. Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN on them. Only provide your SSN if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Protect your personal information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for Internet accounts.
2. Don’t Fall for Scams. The IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment, nor will it call about taxes owed without first mailing you a bill. Beware of threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS. If you have no reason to believe you owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.
3. Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement. If your SSN was compromised and you think you may be the victim of tax-related ID theft, file a police report. You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant. It’s also important to contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a freeze on your account.
4. Complete an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by filing on paper.
5. Understand IRS Notices. Once the IRS verifies a taxpayer’s identity, the agency will mail a particular letter to the taxpayer. The notice says that the IRS is monitoring the taxpayer’s account. Some notices may contain a unique Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) for tax filing purposes.
6. IP PINs. If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, they will be issued an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. In 2014, the IRS launched an IP PIN Pilot program. The program offers residents of Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., the opportunity to apply for an IP PIN, due to high levels of tax-related identity theft there.
7. Data Breaches. If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind not every data breach results in identity theft. Further, not every identity theft case involves taxes. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.
8. Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can visit IRS.gov and follow the chart on How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity.
9. Combating ID Theft. Over the past few years, nearly 2,000 people were convicted in connection with refund fraud related to identity theft. The average prison sentence for identity theft-related tax refund fraud grew to 43 months in 2014 from 38 months in 2013, with the longest sentence being 27 years. During 2014, the IRS stopped more than $15 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. Additionally, as the IRS improves its processing filters, the agency has also been able to halt more suspicious returns before they are processed. So far this year, new fraud filters stopped about 3 million suspicious returns for review, an increase of more than 700,000 from the year before.
10. Service Options. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.
In addition, if you have any questions about identity theft and your taxes, you can always call the office. Help is just a phone call away.
Receiving Payments in QuickBooks
There are numerous ways to prioritize your workday. Do the most difficult things first. Get important phone calls out of the way. Respond to customer emails.
But it’s likely that one activity takes precedence when you see that it needs to be done: recording payments. While you’re probably very careful with this process, it’s critical that your actions here are accurate. If they’re not, you could either lose money that you’ve earned or anger customers by requesting payments they’ve already made.
QuickBooks comes with some helpful pre-defined payment types; however, you also have the flexibility to edit that list and add new types. To see your list, open the Lists menu and select Customer & Vendor Profile Lists, then Payment Method List. This window opens:
Figure 1: QuickBooks lets you accept payments from customers in a variety of ways.
To make changes to this list, click the down arrow to the right of Payment Method. By selecting items from this menu, you can add, edit, and delete payment methods. You can also make one temporarily inactive if for some reason you’re not going to support that option right now but don’t want to delete it, either. Click in the box next to Include Inactive if you want it to remain on the list (an X will appear next to it). When you want to reinstate it, open the Payment Method menu again and select Make Payment Method Active.
To search for every transaction that used a specific payment method, highlight it in the list and select Find in Transactions. QuickBooks will open the Find window with that filter already applied.
When you’re done working with that window, click the x in the upper right to close it.
Applying the Funds
Ideally, you or someone on your staff will be working frequently with the Receive Payments screen frequently. To get there, open the Customers menu and select Receive Payments, or click Receive Payments on the home page. This is the screen you will work with if you’re recording a payment that is to be applied to an invoice that you sent.
Figure 2: The Receive Payments screen in QuickBooks
First, select a customer by clicking on the down arrow in the field to the right of RECEIVED FROM. If there are outstanding invoices, they will appear in the table below. Enter the PAYMENT AMOUNT in the field below, and change the date if necessary. Click on the icon representing the payment method. If you don’t see it there, click the down arrow below MORE and add it or select it. Your chosen icon will turn green. Then:
- For cash or e-checks: Just enter any REFERENCE # needed.
- For checks: Enter the CHECK #.
- For credit/debit cards: If you’ve saved the customer’s preferred payment method in his or her record, the number will fill in automatically. If not, or you need to change it, enter it manually. As you know, you need a merchant account in order to accept credit/debit cards and e-checks. If you haven’t set one up and want to, let us help.
If the payment amount equals the total of all outstanding invoices, there will be a checkmark in the first column of every line in the table. If the payment is for any less than the CUSTOMER BALANCE in the upper right, QuickBooks automatically pays the oldest invoice(s) first. You’ll also see an UNDERPAYMENT box in the lower left corner. Click the button in front of your preference here (leave as underpayment or write off the extra).
When you’re done, click one of the Save buttons.
Other Types of Payments
You’ll also use the Receive Payments window to record down payments and overpayments. And there are situations where you’ll have to complete other forms to document the incoming money. For example, if a customer makes a partial payment for products or services that haven’t yet been invoiced, you’d use a Payment Item. A customer who pays for a product at the time it is received would get a Sales Receipt.
Figure 3: Sales receipts go to customers who pay for products or services at the time they are received.
This may all sound a little confusing. But it won’t be if you gain a thorough understanding of the right way to record different types of payments. We can go over all of this with you to ensure that your incoming money is documented correctly, which will take less time than trying to retrace your steps when a mistake has occurred.
Tax Due Dates for August 2015
Employees Who Work for Tips – If you received $20 or more in tips during July, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
Employers – Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the second quarter of 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.
Employers – Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in July.