Did you know, direct deposit is the quickest way to obtain your refund? At Dagley & Co., we don’t recommend waiting around for your paper check in the mail. We’ve broke down the crucial info to be aware of when it comes to finally receiving your hard-earned tax refund:
- Speed—When combining e-file with direct deposit, the IRS will likely issue your refund in no more than 21 days.
- Security—Direct Deposit offers the most secure method of obtaining your refund. There is no check to lose. Each year, the U.S. Post Office returns thousands of refund checks to the IRS as un-deliverable mail.
Direct deposit eliminates un-deliverable mail and is also the best way to guard against having a tax refund check stolen.
- Easy—Simply provide this office with your bank routing number and account number when we prepare your return and you’ll receive your refund far more quickly than you would by check.
- Convenience— The money goes directly into your bank account. You won’t have to make a special trip to the bank to deposit the money yourself.
- Eligible Financial Accounts – You can direct your refund to any of your checking or savings accounts with a U.S. financial institution as long as your financial institution accepts direct deposits for that type of account and you provide valid routing and account numbers. Examples of savings accounts include: passbook savings, individual development accounts, individual retirement arrangements, health savings accounts, Archer MSAs, and Coverdell education savings accounts.
- Multiple Options—You can deposit your refund into up to three financial accounts that are in your name or your spouse’s name if it is a joint account. You can’t have part of the refund paid by paper check and part by Direct Deposit. With the split refund option, taxpayers can divide their refunds among as many as three checking or savings accounts at up to three different U.S. financial institutions. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your Direct Deposit will be accepted.
- Deposit Can’t Be to a Third Party’s Bank Account—To protect taxpayers from scammers, direct deposit tax refunds can only be deposited into an account or accounts owned by the taxpayer. Therefore, only provide your own account information and not account information belonging to a third party.
- Fund Your IRA—You can even direct a refund into your IRA or myRA account.
To set up a direct deposit, you will need to provide the bank routing number (9 digits) and your account number for each account into which you wish to make a deposit. Be sure to have these numbers available at your appointment.
For more information regarding direct deposit of your tax refund and the split refund option, Dagley & Co. would be happy to discuss your options with you at your tax appointment.
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When you decided to open for business, you have a vision. You identified a need and came up with a solution you could provide and sell, and you invested your time, your money, your knowledge, and your drive to make it into a reality. The only problem is, if you’re like a lot of small business owners, you did not anticipate having to handle your business’s accounting needs. Many highly intelligent, responsible business operators get caught making common small-business accounting mistakes that can trip them up and cost them in the long run. If you are afraid this might happen to you — or if it already has — the best way to avoid these costly errors, before time starts ticking and the money starts to pile up, is to learn the top four small-business accounting mistakes and how to prevent them.
The Top 4 Accounting Mistakes Made by Small Businesses
The truth is that these four mistakes are relatively easy to address. The best way to avoid them is to set aside time every week for the specific purpose of taking care of basic accounting tasks. Once you get into the habit of doing them regularly and the right way, you’ll be able to avoid the hassle of having to go back and correct these mistakes in the future.
Reporting Employees as Independent Contractors
If you hire people to work for you, it’s important for you to understand the difference between employees and contractors, and to classify them correctly. There are very specific ways that you must account for each type of worker, and if you don’t get it right you will likely have to make corrections — and possibly pay penalties — in the future. If somebody is your employee, then you have control over when they work, how they get paid, and how they do their job. You are also responsible for withholding payroll tax on their behalf. By contrast, when you bring somebody in to do work for you as an independent contractor, they have more control over their own schedule, the work that they do, and how they get paid by you. They are responsible for their own taxes.
Not Reconciling Bank Accounts Regularly
Just as there are certain tasks that need to be done to keep your business running smoothly, there are certain accounting tasks that need to be addressed on a regular basis. Reconciling your bank accounts is one of those things. You need to make sure that every expense and every deposit is recorded in your books, and the best way to do that is to compare what you’ve written down to the statement that the bank provides. When you do this regularly, you are able to more immediately identify and address items that don’t match up so that you can correct any mistakes and take full advantage of available deductions. Far too often small business owners assume that this task is a waste of time and wait until the end of the year to do it. Not only is this much more time consuming, but it is harder to catch all mistakes and figure out what is missing when you have a full year’s worth of information to go through.
Forgetting to Record Payments Against Open Invoices
You receive a check in the mail or make a deposit into your bank account for an open invoice. If you don’t go back and check off the box showing that receivable as paid, your accounting data will be incorrect and incomplete. Get into the habit of immediately linking payments to their open invoices in order to avoid problems in the future.
Not Understanding the Differences Between Cash Flow and Profit
The money that comes in from your customers and the money that goes out as you make expenditures to operate your business represents cash flow. It’s important to have a positive cash flow, as that is a good indication that your company is healthy. It also means that you can pay your bills. But cash flow is not the same thing as profit. Profitability is a measure of whether you are making more from the sale of your service or product than you spend in bringing it to market. You may be profitable, but if the cash isn’t in hand then you can still have a negative cash flow. And people can pay you quickly so that you have cash on hand but you still may not be making a profit.
The single best and easiest way to avoid these mistakes it is by taking advantage of all of the tools and functions that your accounting software package offers. Most accounting programs include powerful tools and how-to guides, but in many cases small business owners just invest in the packages without taking the time to learn all that they can do — or to learn it well. By taking a little time on the front end to go through the available tutorials, you’ll find that you’ll save yourself both time and trouble on the back end. Our best advice is to set aside time one day of the week, first to learn the software and then, going forward, to go through that week’s records. Set aside the same time slot each week as if it is a meeting or appointment. It’s a good habit to get into.
If you are struggling to learn your software, don’t hesitate to give us a call at Dagley and Co. at (202) 417-6640 for tips and training. Once you learn what you’re doing, make sure that you include backing up your files!
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Get organized, and get paid! Image via public domain
Have a small business? One area where you can improve cash flow is in billings and collections. Getting paid late can often hurt a business, and there are ways to get paid faster so you can keep growing. Here are six best practices that can make a real difference in your cash balance at the end of every month.
1. Get it right.
One legitimate reason for nonpayment is a confusing or inaccurate invoice. Make sure your invoices spell out in clear, plain English what was purchased, the price, when payment is due, the customer’s PO number, when it was shipped, to where it was shipped, and any tracking number. We highly recommend QuickBooks for all of our clients for easy invoicing and payments.
You may also want to tighten your sales process. Don’t start work without a formal PO from your business customers—many companies won’t pay against a verbal PO. When you receive a PO, make sure that it matches your quotation. Companies often put their payment terms on their paperwork, so if your customer tries to play this game, resolve any discrepancies before you start work.
Finally, make certain every shipment and invoice is 100% correct. Set up processes to assure the customer gets exactly what was ordered and that invoices are equally accurate.
2. Get it out.
See that four-day-old pile of shipping papers waiting to be invoiced? That’s a pile of cash you can’t collect.
Set a goal to issue all invoices within one working day of the ship date or completion of work. If your team struggles to meet this, give them the tools and/or manpower to make it happen. And if an invoice gets held up internally, make sure your supervision is immediately notified so the problem can be quickly resolved.
To further speed payments, try to invoice your customers by email. Some won’t accept emailed invoices, but getting even a portion of your billing done electronically will help overall cash flow.
3. Get it to the right person.
How many times has one of your employees called about a past-due payment and been told “we didn’t receive your invoice” or “that needs to be approved by the department manager”? It’s another game, one that can take weeks to play out. As part of getting an accurate customer PO, make sure your sales staff gets a valid address for invoicing.
Large sales deserve special attention. Where applicable, have your salesperson get the contact information for the customer employee that will approve payment. This might be a department or plant manager and maybe even the business owner. Also get the contact information for the customer’s finance-side people (accounting manager, accounts payable clerk), who will cut and approve the check. When your invoice goes out, make sure they all get a copy.
4. Get it sooner.
Offer a discount for early payment—for example, 2% off for payment within 10 days. Not all of your customers will take advantage of this, but it’s a great way to pull cash in.
5. Get friendly.
The best way to get paid on time is to build a positive working relationship with your customer before the money is due.
Have your salesperson call his or her customer contacts shortly after the invoice goes out. Confirm the product has been received or affirm that your assignment is now complete. Ask them if they’re satisfied with your work, what you can do better to improve, and if they’ve received your invoice. This communicates (in a nice way) that it’s time to start the payment process. If these calls uncover problems, it’s an opportunity to address them on the spot as opposed to when payment is past due.
Your employee responsible for collections should also make a call—in this case, to the customer’s finance-side people. Your employee should confirm the receipt of your invoice, remind them of any discounts for early payment, and check whether there are any administrative problems with the document. They should not ask for a payment date. If possible, they should also try to get to know their counterparts. A simple “How’s the weather where you are?” is a great opening that can lead to a long conversations about, well, everything. Your customer’s payables team can be your best friend later in the collections process, but it won’t happen if you have not built a working relationship.
There’s one other person who needs to get friendly: you, the business owner or general manager. As your company develops large customers make sure you get to know your customer counterparts. A phone call from you asking “How’s my team doing?” is a great way to initiate a conversation and assure customer satisfaction. For very large projects, make a face-to-face visit. It will pay off later. If the time comes when a payment problem needs to be escalated, you will have an established relationship on which to call.
6. Make it fun.
Some companies take the “get friendly” notion to the next level. From putting silly “Thank You!” notes on their invoices, to handing out promotional swag, to sending little stuffed animals for on-time payment, it’s amazing how these goofy gimmicks can change the atmosphere around the collection process.
You want your customer to smile and shake his head as he signs the check to pay your bill. And if the day comes when your customer needs to decide whom to pay and whom to put off, chances are he will pay you first.
What about the actual collections process? Good companies contact their customers if a payment is more than five working days late. You should do the same.
What’s different is that you’ve laid the foundation for a successful endgame. Any excuses for non-payment have been addressed. Your people know whom to call, and you have working contacts who will give you straight answers. Above all, you’ve strengthened the relationship with your customer and have built a basis for future business.
All of us at Dagley & Co. have filed away our October 15 extended tax deadline clients, and now we’re looking at finishing the year off strong. Now is a great time to make sure you have your accounting up-to-date, as it sure will make “tax season” easier for everyone!
If you’re in need of a an accountant for your personal or business finances, think about setting an appointment with Dagley & Co. Don’t just take our word for it: read all of our glowing reviews from our clients over the last two years!
Solid tax savings can be realized by taking advantage of tax breaks that are still on the books for 2015.
For individuals and small businesses, these include:
- Capital Gains and Losses – You can employ several strategies to suit your particular tax circumstances. If your income is low this year and your tax bracket is 15% or lower, you can take advantage of the zero percent capital gains bracket benefit, resulting in no tax for part or all of your long-term gains. Others, affected by the market downturn earlier this year, should review their portfolio with an eye to offsetting gains with losses and take advantage of the $3,000 ($1,500 for married taxpayers filing separately) allowable annual capital loss allowance. Any losses in excess of those amounts are carried forward to future years.
- Roth IRA Conversions – If your income is unusually low this year, you may wish to consider converting your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. Even if your income is at your normal level, with the recent decline in the stock markets, the current value of your Traditional IRA may be low, which provides you an opportunity to convert it into a Roth IRA at a lower tax amount. Thereafter, future increases in value would be tax-free when you retire.
- Recharacterizing a Roth Conversion – If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, the value of those assets may have declined due to this summer’s market drop; and, as a result, you will end up paying more taxes than necessary on the higher conversion-date valuation. However, you may undo that conversion by recharacterizing it, which is accomplished by transferring the converted amount (plus earnings, or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA. This must be done via a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can later (generally after 30 days) reconvert to a Roth IRA.
- Don’t Forget Your Minimum Required Distribution – If you have reached age 70 1/2, you must make required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA, 401(k) plan and other employer-sponsored retirement plans. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn.
- Take Advantage of the Annual Gift Tax Exemption – Although gifts do not currently provide a tax deduction, you can give up to $14,000 in 2015 to each of an unlimited number of individuals without incurring any gift tax. There’s no carryover from this year to next year of unused exemptions.
- Expensing Allowance (Sec 179 Deduction) – Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option. For tax years beginning in 2015, the expensing limit is $25,000. That means that businesses that make timely purchases will be able to currently deduct most, if not all, of the outlays for machinery and equipment. Note: There is a good chance the Congress will increase that limit before year’s end and after this newsletter has gone to press, so watch for further developments.
- Self-employed Retirement Plans – If you are self-employed and haven’t done so yet, you may wish to establish a self-employed retirement plan. Certain types of plans must be established before the end of the year to make you eligible to deduct contributions made to the plan for 2015, even if the contributions aren’t made until 2016. You may also qualify for the pension start-up credit.
- Increase Basis – If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation that is going to show a loss in 2015, you may want to increase your investment in the entity so you can deduct the loss, which is limited to your basis in the entity.
Also keep in mind when considering year-end tax strategies that many of the tax breaks allowed for calculating regular taxes are disallowed for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. These include deduction for property taxes on your residence, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. Other deductions, such as for mortgage interest, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes. As a result, accelerating payment of these expenses that would normally be made in early 2016 to 2015 should – in some cases – not be done.
We hope you will consider Dagley & Co. as the tax season approaches. You’ll find our contact information at the bottom of this screen.
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If you’re smart enough to seek an advanced education (and/or help your children seek it for themselves), be smart enough to take advantage of its tax breaks! Going to college – and figuring out how to pay for it – can be stressful for students and their families. Congress has provided a variety of new tax incentives to help defray the cost of education. Some of these require long-term planning to become beneficial, while others provide almost immediate tax deductions or credits. The benefits may even cover vocational schools.
If your child is below college age, there are tax-advantaged plans that allow you to save for the cost of college. Although providing no tax benefit for contributions to the plans, they do provide tax-free accumulation; so the earlier they are established, the more you benefit from them.
- Section 529 Plans—Section 529 Plans (named after the section of the IRS Code that created them) are plans established to help families save and pay for college in a tax-advantaged way and are available to everyone, regardless of income. These state-sponsored plans allow you to gift large sums of money for a family member’s college education while maintaining control of the funds. The earnings from these accounts grow tax-deferred and are tax-free, if used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. They can be used as an estate-planning tool as well, providing a means to transfer large amounts of money without gift tax. With all these tax benefits, 529 Plans are an excellent vehicle for college funding. Section 529 Plans come in two types, allowing you to either save funds in a tax-free account to be used later for higher education costs, or to prepay tuition for qualified universities. For 2015, you can contribute $14,000 without gift tax implications (or $28,000 for married couples who agree to split their gift). The annual amount is subject to inflation-adjustment. There is also a special gift provision allowing the donor to prepay five years of Sec 529 gifts up front without gift tax.
- Coverdell Education Savings Account—These accounts are actually education trusts that allow nondeductible contributions to be invested for a child’s education. Tax on earnings from these accounts is deferred until the funds are withdrawn, and if used for qualified education purposes, the entire withdrawal can be tax-free. Qualified use of these funds includes elementary and secondary education expenses in addition to post-secondary schools (colleges). This is the only one of the educational tax benefits that allows tax-free use of the funds for below college-level expenses. A total of $2,000 per year can be contributed for each beneficiary under the age of 18. The ability to contribute to these plans phases out when the modified adjusted gross income is between $190,000 and $220,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, and between $95,000 and $110,000 for all others.
- Education Tax Credits—Two tax credits, the American Opportunity Credit (partially refundable) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (nonrefundable), are available for qualified post-secondary education expenses for a taxpayer, spouse, and eligible dependents. Both credits will reduce one’s tax liability dollar for dollar until the tax reaches zero. The credit is not allowed for taxpayers who file Married Separate returns.
- The American Opportunity Credit—is a credit of up to $2,500 per student per year, covering the first four years of qualified post-secondary education. The credit is 100% of the first $2,000 of qualifying expenses plus 25% of the next $2,000 for a student attending college on at least a half-time basis. Forty percent of the American Opportunity credit is refundable (if the tax liability is reduced to zero). This credit phases out for joint filing taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income between $160,000 and $180,000, and between $80,000 and $90,000 for others.
- The Lifetime Learning Credit—is a credit of up to 20% of the first $10,000 of qualifying higher education expenses. Unlike the American Opportunity Credit, which is on a per-student basis, this credit is per taxpayer. In addition to post-secondary education, the Lifetime Credit applies to any course of instruction at an eligible institution taken to acquire or improve job skills. For 2015 this credit phases out for joint filing taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income between $110,000 and $130,000, and between $55,000 and $65,000 for others. The credit is not allowed for taxpayers who file Married Separate returns.
Qualifying expenses for these credits are generally limited to tuition. However, student activity fees and fees for course-related books, supplies, and equipment qualify if they must be paid directly to the educational institution for the enrollment or attendance of the student.
You may qualify for this credit even if you did not pay the tuition. If a third party (someone other than the taxpayer or a claimed dependent) makes a payment directly to an eligible educational institution for a student’s qualified tuition and related expenses, the student would be treated as having received the payment from the third party, and, in turn, pay the qualified tuition and related expenses. Furthermore, qualified tuition and related expenses paid by a student would be treated as paid by the taxpayer if the student is a claimed dependent of the taxpayer.
- Education Loan Interest—You can deduct qualified interest of $2,500 per year in computing AGI. This is not limited to government student loans and this could include home equity loans, credit card debt, etc., if the debt was incurred solely to pay for qualified higher education expenses. For 2015, this deduction phases out for married taxpayers with an AGI between $130,000 and $160,000 and for unmarried taxpayers between $65,000 and $80,000. This deduction is not allowed for taxpayers who file married separate returns.
We all know that a child’s success in life has a great deal to do with the education they receive. You cannot start the planning process too early. Please call Dagley & Co. if you would like assistance in planning for your children’s future education.
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Alright small business owner. Let’s talk about balance sheets.
The best way for small business owners to stay aware of their company’s financial status is to have an accurate, up-to-date balance sheet. By keeping this information up to date every quarter, you can help yourself avoid a lot of problems and surprises down the road.
A balance sheet provides you with an at-a-glance summary of your company’s financial health as of a specific day. It is broken down into what the business’s assets are, what the business’s liabilities are, and the amount of owner or shareholder equity. The balance sheet gets its name from the fact that the assets must be balanced by and equal to the liabilities plus the equity. Some business owners have found current balance sheets so helpful that they update them every month.
Understanding the Asset Portion of the Balance Sheet
When entering assets onto the balance sheet, the business owner needs to include everything that is owned by the business, whether current or liquid assets, fixed assets (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/fixedasset.asp), or some other type of asset. Current or liquid assets include:
- Cash that is immediately available
- Money that is owed to you (Accounts Receivable)
- Products currently in stock (Inventory)
- Expenses paid in advance, such as insurance premiums
- Money-market accounts, investments and other securities
- Additional monies owed to you
Fixed assets are items that can’t be easily sold or moved, including equipment and furnishings, buildings, land and vehicles. In most cases these assets depreciate, or decrease in value. Beyond current and fixed assets, items that are intangible, such as goodwill, copyrights and patents, are also considered assets on a balance sheet. It is important to note that money that is owed to you that you expect will not be paid is classified as a Reserve for Bad Debts, which decreases the amount of the Accounts Receivable on the balance sheet.
Understanding the Liability Portion of the Balance Sheet
When entering liabilities onto the balance sheet, the business owner needs to include all of the business’s debts, both current and long term. Current liabilities include accounts payable, sales and payroll taxes, payments on short-term business loans such as a line of credit, and income taxes. Long-term liabilities are those that are paid over a longer period of time, generally over more than a year. These include mortgages and leases, future employee benefits, deferred taxes and long-term loans.
Understanding the Equity Portion of the Balance Sheet
When entering information onto the equity portion of the balance sheet, you should include the value of any capital stock that has been issued, any additional payments or capital from investors beyond the par value of the stock, and the net income that has been kept by the business rather than distributed to owners and shareholders.
In order to be sure that all of the information on the balance sheet is correct, you can double-check your numbers by subtracting assets from liabilities – the result should equal the equity amount. For more information on how to structure a balance sheet, check out this website: “http://www.accountingcoach.com/balance-sheet/explanation/4″>sample balance sheet</a>.
The Value of a Balance Sheet
At first glance a balance sheet may look like an incomprehensible collection of numbers, but once you understand all of the various components and how they relate to one another, they will provide you with the opportunity to detect trends and spot issues before they become problems. Your balance sheet can alert you to:
- Times when inventory is outpacing revenue, thus alerting you to a need for better management of your inventory and production process
- Cash flow problems and a shortage of cash reserves
- Inadequacies in your cash reserves that are making it difficult to invest in continued growth
- Problems with collecting accounts receivables
The most essential tools that are available to you as a small business owner for gauging your operation’s financial health are the balance sheet, the income statement and the cash flow statement. If you are unsure of how to prepare these documents for yourself or don’t have the time, then let a qualified professional at Dagley & Co. take over and provide the information that you need.
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Several of our clients are hobby-entrepreneurs, like selling beautiful crafts on Etsy, engaging in photography and blogging, and breeding animals out on the family farm. Whether an activity is a hobby or a business may not be apparent to the customers of the endeavor, but distinguishing the difference is necessary for tax purposes because the tax treatments are substantially different. The IRS provides appropriate guidelines when determining whether an activity is engaged in for profit, such as a business or investment activity, or if it is engaged in as a hobby.
Internal Revenue Code Section 183 (Activities Not Engaged in for Profit) limits deductions that can be claimed when an activity is not engaged in for profit. IRC 183 is sometimes referred to as the “hobby loss rule.”
This article provides information that is helpful in determining if an activity qualifies as an activity engaged in for profit and what limitations apply if the activity was not engaged in for profit.
Is your hobby really an activity engaged in for profit? In general, taxpayers may deduct ordinary and necessary expenses for conducting a trade or business or for the production of income. Trade or business activities and activities engaged in for the production of income are activities engaged in for profit.
The following factors, although not all-inclusive, may help you determine whether your activity is an activity engaged in for profit or a hobby:
- Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
- Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
- Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
- Do you depend on income from the activity?
- Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
- If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
- Does the activity make a profit in some years?
- Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?
An activity is presumed to be engaged in for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (or at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training, or racing horses).
If an activity is not for profit, losses from that activity may not be used to offset other income. An activity produces a loss when related expenses exceed income. The limit on not-for-profit losses applies to individuals, partnerships, estates, trusts, and S corporations. It does not apply to corporations other than S corporations.
Hobby deductions If it is determined that your activity is not for profit, allowable deductions cannot exceed the gross receipts for the activity.
Deductions for hobby activities are claimed as itemized deductions on Schedule A and must be taken in the following order and only to the extent stated in each of the three categories:
- Expenses that a taxpayer would otherwise be allowed to deduct, such as home mortgage interest and taxes, may be taken in full.
- Deductions that don’t result in an adjustment to the basis of property, such as advertising, insurance premiums, and wages, may be taken next, to the extent that gross income for the activity is more than the deductions from the first category.
- Deductions that reduce the basis of property, such as depreciation and amortization, are taken last, but only to the extent that gross income for the activity is more than the deductions taken in the first two categories.
If you have questions related to your specific business or hobby circumstances, please get in touch with us at Dagley & Co.
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Business owners and independent contractors: listen up, because you probably don’t have your taxes withheld from your paycheck. The United States’ tax system is a “pay-as-you-go” system, and if your pre-paid amount is not enough, you become liable for non-deductible interest penalties. To facilitate that concept, the government has provided several means of assisting taxpayers in meeting the “pay-as-you-go” requirement. The primary among these include:
- Payroll withholding for employees;
- Pension withholding for retirees; and
- Estimated tax payments for self-employed individuals and those with other sources of income not covered by withholding.
Determining how much tax to pre-pay through withholding and estimated tax payments has always been difficult, and thanks to Congress’ constant tinkering with the tax laws, ensuring there are no underpayment penalties or tax surprises when the tax return is prepared next year can be challenging.
Recently, several new tax laws and changes took effect that add complexity to estimating one’s tax liability, including: higher ordinary tax rates, higher capital gains tax rates, the phase out of exemptions and itemized deductions for higher income taxpayers, the 3.8% tax on net investment income, and .9% increase in self-employment tax for upper-income self-employed individuals, not to mention a myriad of sun setting tax provisions.
When a taxpayer fails to prepay a safe harbor (minimum) amount, he or she can be subject to the underpayment of estimated tax penalty. This penalty is the short-term federal rate plus 3 percentage points, and the penalty is computed on a quarter-by-quarter basis. So, even if you pre-pay the correct amount for the year, if the amounts are not paid evenly, you could be subject to a penalty. Interestingly enough, withholding amounts are treated as paid ratably throughout the year, so taxpayers who are underpaid in the earlier part of the year can compensate by bumping up their withholding in the later part of the year.
Federal tax law does provide ways to avoid the underpayment penalty. If the underpayment is less than $1,000 (referred to as the de minimis amount), no penalty is assessed. In addition, the law provides “safe harbor” prepayments. There are two safe harbors:
- The first safe harbor is based on the tax owed in the current year. If your payments equal or exceed 90% of what is owed in the current year, you can escape a penalty.
- The second safe harbor is based on the tax owed in the immediately preceding tax year. This safe harbor is generally 100% of the prior year’s tax liability. However, for a higher income taxpayer who has AGI exceeding $150,000 ($75,000 for married taxpayers filing separately), the prior year’s safe harbor is 110%.
Example: Suppose your tax for the year is $10,000 and your prepayments total $5,600. The result is that you owe an additional $4,400 on your tax return. To find out if you owe a penalty, see if you meet the first safe harbor exception. As 90% of $10,000 is $9,000, your prepayments fell short of the mark. You can’t avoid the penalty under this exception.
However, in the above example, the safe harbor may still apply. Assume your prior year’s tax was $5,000. As you prepaid $5,600, which is greater than 110% of the prior year’s tax (110% = $5,500), you qualify for this safe harbor and can escape the penalty.
If your state has a state tax, the state’s de minimis amount and safe-harbor percentage and amount may be different.
This example underscores the importance of making sure your prepayments are adequate, especially if you have a large increase in income. This is common when there is a large gain from the sale of stocks, sale of property, when large bonuses are paid, or when a taxpayer retires.
If you have questions regarding your pre-payments or would like to review and adjust your W-4 payroll withholding, W-4P pension withholding, and estimated tax payments to provide the desired tax result for 2014, please get in touch with us at Dagley & Co. You can find our contact information at the bottom of this page.
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“Do I have to file a tax return?” This is a question many taxpayers ask during this time of year, and the question is far more complicated than people believe. To fully understand, we need to consider that there are times when individuals are required to file a tax return, and then there are times when it is to individuals’ benefit to file a return even if they are not required to file.
When individuals are required to file:
- Generally, individuals are required to file a return if their income exceeds their filing threshold, as shown in the table below. The filing thresholds are the sum of the standard deduction for individual(s) and the personal exemption for the taxpayer and spouse (if any).
- Taxpayers are required to file if they have net self-employed income in excess of $400, since they are required to file self-employment taxes (the equivalent to payroll taxes for an employee) when their net self-employed income exceeds $400.
- Taxpayers are also required to file when they are required to repay a credit or benefit. For example, taxpayers who underestimated their income when signing up for insurance on the marketplace and received a higher advanced premium tax credit than they were entitled to are required to repay part of it.
- Filing is also required when a taxpayer owes a penalty, even though the taxpayer’s income is below the filing threshold. This can occur, for example, when a taxpayer has an IRA 6% early withdrawal penalty or the 50% penalty for not taking a required IRA distribution.
When it is beneficial for individuals to file: There are a number of benefits available when filing a tax return that can produce refunds even for a taxpayer who is not required to file:
- Withholding refund – A substantial number of taxpayers fail to file their return even when the tax they owe is less than their prepayments, such as payroll withholding, estimates, or a prior overpayment. The only way to recover the excess is to file a return.
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you worked and did not make a lot of money, you may qualify for the EITC. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means you could qualify for a tax refund. The refund could be as high as several thousand dollars even when you are not required to file.
- Additional Child Tax Credit – This refundable credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child.
- American Opportunity Credit – The maximum credit per student is $2,500, and the first four years of postsecondary education qualify. Up to 40% of that credit is refundable when you have no tax liability and are not required to file.
- Premium Tax Credit – Lower-income families are entitled to a refundable tax credit to supplement the cost of health insurance purchased through a marketplace. To extent the credit is greater than the supplement provided by the marketplace, it is refundable even if there is no other reason to file.
DON’T PROCRASTINATE! There is a three-year statute of limitations on refunds, and after it runs out, any refund due is forfeited. The statute is three years from the due date of the tax return. So the refund period expires for 2011 returns, which were due in April of 2012, on April 15, 2015.
For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, please contact Dagley & Co.
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