tax tips

The 10 best tips to prepare for the 2017 tax season

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

2017 tax filing season, tax tips

It’s hard to believe the 2017 tax season is already here, and you’ll be getting the information you need to settle up your 2016 tax return with Uncle Sam. Take advantage of the tax benefits available to you throughout the year.

First, think about getting organized. It’s important to have one place — a large envelope or a file folder — where you can accumulate tax information as it arrives. When it is finally time to fill out the tax return, a lot of information is required and every detail counts in making it a smooth process.

Read on for 10 savvy tips for tax-filing season.

1. Maximize retirement plan contributions

If your employer offers a 401(k) or other type of deferred pension plan, make every effort to contribute the maximum amount allowable — especially if your employer matches your contribution. Otherwise you are leaving money on the table that could benefit you in your retirement. Think of the employer match as an immediate 100 percent return on your money. Even if there is no match, all of the funds are tax-deferred and grow tax-free.

If your employer does not offer a retirement plan, then consider making a contribution to a traditional individual retirement account or a Roth IRA. The former potentially offers a tax deduction for the year the contribution is made, but both offer tax-deferred gains.

2. Adjust your withholding

Check your year-to-date withholding and consider changing the taxes withheld if you are expecting a large refund.

This is especially important if you are claiming the earned income tax credit, or EITC, or the additional child tax credit. Why? The IRS is now required by law to hold all refunds on those returns until Feb. 15. The new law was put into place to allow the agency additional time to detect and prevent tax fraud.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement: “It’s a personal choice if you want to have extra money withheld to get a bigger tax refund, but you have options available if you prefer to have a smaller refund next year and more take-home money now.” You will need to complete Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to adjust the amount of taxes withheld and submit it to your employer.

3. Protect your identity

Speaking of tax fraud, if you received an Identity Protection PIN, or IP PIN, in the past, then you must provide this number on your tax return not only this year but on all future tax returns. An IP PIN is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent fraudulent returns from being filed under your Social Security number. Remember, the IP PIN is your friend in getting the IRS to accept your tax return. However, this is no ordinary IP PIN, as it changes every year. You read that correctly: every year! If you do not receive the notification in the mail, you will need to go to the IRS website to retrieve it.

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4. Get what’s yours

According to the IRS, one out of every five workers fails to claim the very valuable earned income tax credit. If you worked and earned less than $53,505 in 2016 (the limit will be $53,930 in 2017), then use the EITC Assistant tool to determine if you qualify for the credit. You must file a return in order to receive the credit. Don’t miss out on this!

5. Declutter and reap a tax break

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to simplify and declutter your life, now is the time to get going. You can make money by donating all of those things you no longer need or want in your life. There are many charitable organizations that accept items other than cash such as clothing, books, electronics and other household items. The deduction is limited to the item’s fair market value, and the items must be in good condition or better to be deductible. If the value of the noncash items is more than $500, then you must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, and fill it in with some details. But it is well worth the effort.

6. Cash in on scholarly tax breaks

If you, your spouse or dependents had higher education costs in 2016, there may be some tax savings for you. In fact there are multiple benefits available. The only difficult part is figuring out which one works best in your situation.

Basically there are three different benefits: the American opportunity credit, the lifetime learning credit and the tuition and fees deduction. There are various requirements that may limit the benefit, but the IRS once again offers a useful tool: the Interactive Tax Assistant tool to help you find your way through the maze. You should receive Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, from your school with the information required by the IRS to complete Form 8863, Education Credits.

7. Get health coverage in order

Make sure you know what you need to report to the IRS on your health insurance. The shared responsibility provision requires that you and your family have minimum essential coverage or qualify for a health coverage exemption. Otherwise, you must make an individual shared responsibility payment for all months that you didn’t have coverage or an exemption.

Most taxpayers just need to do one thing: Check the box that indicates you had health care coverage for all of 2016. If that is not the case or you received advance payments of the premium tax credit on the marketplace, then you may need to fill out Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, and Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, to complete your tax return. For more information, visit the IRS page on the Affordable Care Act.

8. Know the rules about foreign accounts

Have a foreign bank account? Was the balance in the account(s) greater than $10,000 total? If the answer is yes to both, then you need to file what’s commonly referred to as an “FBAR,” a foreign bank account reporting form. The new name is FinCEN Report 114, FinCEN being an acronym for Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. As the name has the word “crime” in it, that should light a fire under your seat to make sure you’re in compliance as the penalties are very high for failing to report.

The requirements don’t stop there. If you maintain very high balances in your foreign accounts, you’ll have to file IRS Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets.

Also, if you meet certain thresholds of ownership in any foreign corporations or partnerships, or if you are the beneficiary of a foreign trust, you should be aware of the complex reporting requirements in those instances. Just a few of the pertinent forms are: Form 5471, Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations; Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts, Form 8621, Information Return by a Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Company or Qualified Electing Fund. All are available at the IRS website.

9. Be generous without tax repercussions

Every so many years, the IRS changes the annual exclusion for gifts that you can give without having to file a gift tax return. If you gave more than $14,000 in cash, property or gifts to anyone, you must report the gift on Form 709. If you are married, you can give a combined $28,000 and remain under the radar.

Note that this applies to the person giving the gift; if you are receiving a gift, congratulations — you don’t have to do anything. That is, unless you receive a gift from a non-U.S. person. If you happen to receive such a gift that is greater than $100,000, you will have to report this on the IRS Form 3520.

10. Be smart when you file

When filing your return, the quickest and easiest way to receive your refund is to electronically file your return and use direct deposit. If you owe money, use IRS direct pay from your checking or savings account. And whatever else you do, please make sure you keep a copy of your filed tax return. Believe me, it saves so much trouble in so many ways in the event you do happen to need it.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Standard Mileage Rates for 2015

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation! 

2015 Mileage Rates & Employer Health Insurance Reimbursements

Rather than keeping track of the actual cost of operating a vehicle, employees and self-employed taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate to compute their deduction related to using a vehicle for business. Likewise, standard mileage rates are available for computing the deduction when a vehicle is used for charitable, medical or moving purposes.

The 2015 standard mileage rates for use of a vehicle are 57.5 cents per mile for business miles (up from 56 cents per mile in 2014), 23 cents per mile for medical or moving purposes, and 14 cents per mile for rendering gratuitous services to a charitable organization.

The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the charitable and medical/moving rates because it contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the charitable or medical/moving use of a vehicle.

In addition to deductions based on the business standard mileage rate, taxpayers may deduct the parking fees and tolls attributable to the business use of an automobile, as well as interest expense relating to the purchase of the automobile and state and local personal property taxes. However, employees using a vehicle to perform services as an employee cannot deduct interest expense related to that vehicle. Also, if the vehicle is operated less than 100% for business purposes, the taxpayer must allocate the business and non-business portion of the allowable taxes and interest deduction.

Employer Reimbursements of Individual Health Insurance Policies

For plan years beginning after 2013, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) institutes so-called market reform provisions that place a whole host of new restrictions on group health plans. The penalty for violating the market reform restrictions is a punitive $100-per-day, per-employee penalty; or $36,500 per employee, per year. With a limited exception, these new market reform provisions significantly restrict an employer’s ability to reimburse employees for premiums paid on individual health insurance policies, referred to as employer payment arrangements.

Employer payment arrangements

Under employer payment arrangements, the employer reimburses employees for premiums they pay on their individual health insurance policies (or the employer sometimes pays the premium on behalf of the employee). As long as the employer (1) makes the reimbursement under a qualified medical reimbursement plan and (2) verifies that the reimbursement was spent only for insurance coverage, the premium reimbursement is excludable from the employee’s taxable income. These arrangements have long been popular with small employers who want to offer health insurance but are unwilling or unable to purchase group health coverage.

Unfortunately, according to the IRS and Department of Labor (DOL), group health plans can’t be integrated with individual market policies to meet the new market reform provisions. Furthermore, according to the DOL, an employer that reimburses employees for individual policies (on a pretax or after-tax basis) has established a group health plan because the arrangement’s purpose is to provide medical care to its employees. Therefore, reimbursing employees for premiums paid on individual policies violates the market reform provisions, potentially subjecting the employer to a $100 per-day, per-employee ($36,500 per year, per employee) penalty.

Limited exception for one-employee plans. The market reform provisions do not apply to group health plans that have only one participating employee. Therefore, it is still allowable to provide an employer payment arrangement that covers only one employee. Note, however, that nondiscrimination rules require that essentially all full-time employees must participate in the plan

Bottom line. While still technically allowed under the tax code, employer payment arrangements, other than arrangements covering only one employee, are no longer a viable alternative.

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What should you do if you still have an employer payment plan?

First of all, don’t panic. You are not alone. The impact of the market reform provisions to these plans has come as a great surprise to many small business employers, not to mention the tax practitioner community, and we believe there is reasonable cause to keep the penalty from applying for earlier payments. However, it is important to discontinue making payments under the plan and rescind any written documents. Also, any reimbursements made after 2013 should be classified as taxable wages.

Acceptable alternatives

Because of the ACA market reform requirements, employers are basically precluded from subsidizing or reimbursing employees for individual health insurance policies if there is more than one employee participating in the plan. Employers can, however, continue to do any of the following:

· Provide a tax-free fringe benefit by purchasing an ACA-approved employer-sponsored group health plan. Small employers with 50 or fewer employees can provide a group health plan through the Small Business Health Options Plan (SHOP) Marketplace. A cafeteria plan can be set up for pretax funding of the employee portion of the premium.

· Increase the employee’s taxable wages to provide funds that the employee may use to pay for individual insurance policies. However, the employer cannot require that the funds be used to pay for insurance — it must be the employee’s decision to do so (or not). The employer can claim a deduction for the wages paid. The wages are taxable to the employee, but the employee can claim the premiums as an itemized deduction subject to the 10%-of-AGI limit (7.5% if age 65 or older).

If you have any questions, please give us a call.

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

Details of the President’s State of the Union Tax Proposals

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation! 

President Barack Obama used Tuesday’s State of the Union address to announce that he will propose tax increases for higher-income individuals and provide tax relief for middle-class taxpayers. Ahead of the speech, the White House provided details of what the president plans to propose, which it characterized as simplifying the Internal Revenue Code, eliminating loopholes, and helping “middle class families get ahead and grow the economy.”

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Specific proposals on the president’s wish list include:

  • Eliminate the step-up in basis for assets that are transferred at death, treating transfers at death as realization events for capital gains tax purposes;
  • Raise the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 28%, which would be imposed on taxpayers with incomes over about $500,000;
  • Impose a 7-basis-point fee on the liabilities of large financial institutions to discourage “excessive borrowing”;
  • Create a $500 second-earner tax credit for families in which both spouses work (5% of the first $10,000 of the lower-earning spouse’s income; credit would phase out for couples with incomes between $120,000 and $210,000);
  • Modify various child care tax incentives, including increasing the earned income tax credit (EITC) for childless taxpayers, increasing the EITC phaseout level, making permanent EITC increases that are scheduled to expire after 2017, tripling the maximum child and dependent care credit and making the income cutoff $120,000, and eliminating child care flexible spending accounts;
  • Consolidate and expand education tax benefits, including making the American opportunity tax credit permanent and folding the lifetime learning credit into it, increase the refundable portion to $1,500, and make it available to more students; and
  • Reform retirement tax incentives, including automatically enrolling workers in IRAs, requiring employers to allow more part-time workers to participate in their retirement plans, and providing a cap of about $3.4 million in an IRA.

The White House did not provide a timeline for when legislation embodying these proposals would be introduced. Since both houses of Congress are now controlled by Republicans, any proposal by the president will face a steep uphill climb.

Article: The Tax Advisor

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.