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I hear this question a lot, “Why does my tax preparer want to look at my old tax return?” The answer is: Lots of reasons. Let me give you a few examples.
1. Carry forwards: A carry forward is something that was on your last year’s tax return that can affect your taxes this year. A really important one is capital losses. Let’s say you sold some stocks last year at a big loss and couldn’t use all your losses on last year’s return. You get to carry those forward until they’re used up. I once had to amend a bunch of tax returns for a woman with $100,000 of loss carry-forwards. She had never brought her returns to her preparer before. Because the returns went back for more than three years, some of her deductions were lost forever.
But it’s not just capital losses. All sorts of things from last year can affect this year’s taxes like depreciation, estimated tax payments, what you paid to the state, did you itemize or not, and did you pay any alternative minimum tax (AMT), just to name a few.
2. Continuity: the IRS looks at things funny when you’ve got changes. Changing something simple like putting the wife’s name on top one year, and then putting the husband’s name on top the next can be seen as an attempt to hide something. I always list taxpayers in the same order as the prior year return to avoid trouble. I once helped taxpayers who had a simple notice about their taxes. It was normally an easy thing to fix—make a quick phone call and mail a document and you’re done. What I would call a no-brainer as far as audit letters go. But for this couple, it took weeks to settle the issue; I couldn’t understand the problem. Finally, the agent on the case explained that they were “digging into the taxpayers” because they had flip flopped the names on the return for different tax years, which is a common habit with fraudsters.
Fortunately for the couple had nothing to hide—but a teensy little question on their tax return (not even a mistake, just a question) led the IRS to look back through several years of tax returns because of the flipped names.
3. Finding missed deductions: If you have a professional do your taxes, we want to find a missed deduction. It’s what we do. For us it’s the chocolate sauce on the ice cream. It’s well…., click on this video to see how finding extra money for you feels http://www.flickr.com/photos/83052216@N00/4354753195/in/photolist-7CPfpD-9LYL7p
4. Making sure your new preparer doesn’t miss something: I have some clients with some pretty complicated paperwork. They have tax forms that aren’t included in home tax preparation software and aren’t even found in some professional packages. I have to get some of these forms from the IRS and prepare them by hand. (I actually print out extra copies of those forms and tell my clients, “If you ever change preparers, your new preparer needs to see these.”) But even if your tax return is fairly easy, letting your preparer see your last year’s return is a good idea—you don’t want her to miss something.
5. Comparison: Putting your tax returns together for comparison purposes is a valuable tool for you. How did you do this year? Did you make more than last year? Did you make less? What did you do differently? What should you do differently? You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes.” The same goes with your tax return.
So please, bring your old tax return with you when you make a tax appointment. It will make your preparer happy and it could save you some money!
What about Santa’s taxes?
- Given that Santa travels about 75 and a half million miles a year (mostly on December 24th) his mileage deduction (at 56.5 cents per mile in 2013) is $42,657,500.
- Reindeer are depreciated over a period of 7 years.
- North Pole elves are considered employees and receive W-2s. Elves outside of the North Pole are considered contract labor and receive 1099s. (There are people who work as “elves” outside the North Pole that work for other organizations–like at the mall, who receive W2s, but they are not real elves and are not employed by Santa himself.)
- Because the elves live at the North Pole for the convenience of their employer, and since living at the North Pole is a condition of employment, elf lodging is not taxable to the elves.
- Santa doesn’t actually make any money from his toy distribution operation. Most of Santa’s income comes from royalties from his guest appearances in movies, books, and television commercials.
1. Santa’s distance traveled: The Physics of Santa, http://www.daclarke.org/Humour/santa.html
2. Reindeer depreciation: IRS publication 225 Farmer’s Tax Guide
3. Elves are employees: Common Law Rules of employment, http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Independent-Contractor-Self-Employed-or-Employee
4. Elf housing: IRS publication 15B Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits
5. Santa’s income from royalties: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RoyaltiesBook_publishing_royalties
Individuals and corporations (as well as income from estates and trusts and estate and gift transfers) are all subject to taxes pending the presence of taxable income. Among one of the numerous benefits with budgeting is planning for the impact of these taxes. But first let’s look into why certain entities do and do not budget.
In a corporate setting, budgeting is a necessary part of the accounting system and managers often receive pay increases if production is within budget. Also, budgeting is imperative in corporations in order to stay current with the ever changing government regulations and to keep up with the current industry competition.
What about the small business level? Do you like to stay up late and write up budgets and proforma financial statements? Not everyone does. And in my opinion, not everyone has to. Jan and I have seen many successful small businesses who do not write up formal budgets for their businesses. It’s your choice but I am not against them whatsoever. Of course, the bigger your company is getting, the more likely you will want or even have to start creating budgets.
And you? Do you have a budget? Not your small business, not your S Corp, not your partnership, but YOU? Personal budgeting for some can be worse than going to the dentist. If a template is all that is holding you back, we have a free one in this blog and in the downloads tab on top of the website. This budget template has a very clean presentation and is nicely detailed. I am certain that you will like it.
RTS Personal Budget – Click to Download
My point with this blog was not to tell you that budgeting will solve all of your problems and that once you create the perfect budget, the weight of the world will be lifted off your shoulders—although for some people it will. Making a budget is not imperative for your success – many Americans alike get up and go to work everyday, make a modest salary, and support a family with discretionary income leftover all without ever touching excel. Where am I getting at? If you don’t have a reason for making a budget, then you simply won’t. Money is different things to different people – a blog post in its own—and some people do not care to know how much money they are making on a monthly basis.
However, what about the gentleman who finds himself with enormous tax debt and needing to do an offer in compromise with the IRS? To do that, he has to do a 433-A (OIC) which asks you to provide monthly income and expenses–essential a monthly budget.
Will creating a budget reduce my taxes? Not necessarily. Whether you make a budget or not, your income will always be subject to taxes. However, it does help plan your tax liability and gives you a more accurate picture of what your taxes and tax bracket could be given accurate estimates.
Filed under: Business, Business Expense, Small Business, Taxes
This is where Starbucks comes in. I suspect that more business is conducted at Starbucks coffe shops than anywhere else. It’s sort of every small business owner’s “office away from home”–neutral networking territory. If you do the whole networking thing, certainly you’ve had the “Let’s meet for coffee” meeting.
Coffee meetings are safe. Generally you’re not billing for time at a Starbucks meeting. Being an accountant, I think some people are afraid to come to my office. They think that if they walk though my door I’ll put the meter on and start billing them. (I’m not that bad, really!)
Many small business owners don’t have offices, so Starbucks is a good place to hold a meeting. I know some small business owners who spend hours at Starbucks. For the price of a cup of coffee you also get a table to work at and an internet connection.
So, how do Starbucks coffee receipts fit into your tax return? I’ve got two ways:
- 1. You meet a business acquaintance for coffee and you pick up the tab for both of you. Keep track of the meeting and you easily meet the 50% deductible rule.
- 2. You meet a business acquaintance for coffee but you only pay for your own coffee. (This is pretty common.) You can still probably claim this as a business expense but you have to be a little more careful. There’s an old 1953 court case (Sutter v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue http://www.leagle.com/decision/195319121ttc170_1172) that states that you can’t deduct entertainment expenses just for yourself if you’re paying what you normally pay for something.
So — If you’re going to Starbucks everyday and picking up a latte whether you’ve got a meeting or not– that’s a normal expense for you so a Dutch Treat Starbucks coffee isn’t a deductible business expense for you.
On the other hand, if you’re not buying gourmet coffee unless you’re at a business meeting, then you’d be allowed to claim that expense. The whole key here is to document, document, document. For me–I pay a $30 fee to my office manager so that I may have coffee at work. At one cup a day, that works out to $1.50. At Starbucks, my coffee costs $4.50; so clearly, I’m not normally spending $4.50 on coffee unless I’m having a meeting.
Under the Sutter rules, I don’t have to subtract my normal coffee cost from what I spend, I can deduct 50% of the whole cost. I just have to be able to prove that my normal coffee cost is less than $4.50.
Does the IRS really go back to 1953 tax court cases when they audit returns? Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. Even though there have been significant changes to tax law since that case, Sutter is still invoked in audit cases with high entertainment expenses.
Personally, given how many people use Starbucks for their meeting rooms and internet connections, I think the IRS should allow a 100% deduction for Starbucks as a rent and computer expense. But don’t try that, it won’t fly with the IRS. The best you’ll get is a 50% deductible meals and entertainment expense.
Filed under: Audits, Business Expense, Gifting, Small Business Deductions, Taxes
If you give a gift as a part of your business it’s a deductible business expense. BUT! You can’t deduct more than $25 for gifts you give to a person during the tax year. This $25 limit has been in place for ages and hasn’t been adjusted for inflation for as long as I’ve been doing taxes. That makes keeping within the gift budget a little trickier every year.
I think some people do a lot of “fudging” on the gift expenses, but the IRS seems to be taking a closer look at everything these days so you need to know what you can and can’t deduct. And make sure you document everything and keep those gift receipts.
Here’s some real questions that people have asked me about deducting gifts on their tax returns.
What if I give two different gifts, like a birthday and a Christmas gift? Can I deduct $50 then?
No. Sadly, the $25 limit is on gifts for the entire year, not $25 per gift.
What if I give a $100 gift to my client’s family of four? Can I deduct the full expense?
No. Any gift you give to the customer’s family is considered to be an indirect gift to the customer. So unless you independently do business with each of the other family members, you may only deduct $25 for the gift.
My husband and I each own our own businesses and our businesses have some clients that overlap. Can we each deduct $25 for gifts to our overlapping clients? (Okay, nobody asked me this one, I saw it online and thought it was a good question.)
Surprisingly, No. Technically, a husband and wife are treated as one taxpayer and it doesn’t matter if you have separate businesses or separate employers. Partnership partners are also treated as one taxpayer when it comes to gifts as well.
I sent one of those holiday gift tins that cost $24.95. The extra Holiday message cost $1.95 and the shipping was $9.95 for a total of $36.85. Am I stuck only claiming the $25?
Actually, in your case, you can deduct the whole amount. The gift itself was under $25. You are allowed to deduct the incidental costs like shipping, wrapping or engraving on jewelry.
I gave my client two football tickets that cost $150 total. Am I stuck only claiming $25?
Anything that can be considered as entertainment can be deducted as an entertainment expense–even if you don’t go with the client. In this case, you could deduct $75–half of the entertainment expense.
If bought my daughter an IPad for Christmas. Since she sometimes does some work for me, can I write that off as a deductible business expense? (And yes, this was a real question.)
Ahem, really? Well, here’s the rules. An IPad counts as listed property. (Listed property is the cool stuff that might also make a good gift that the IRS looks at much more carefully than other business expenses.) Business use of listed property is not included in employee wages. Non-business use of the listed property is included in the employee’s wages and taxed accordingly. But you’ve got to substantiate it–and–if you don’t substantiate it, then the entire cost of the IPad is going to have to show up in your daughter’s wages. (By the way, since she does supposedly work for you, you are issuing her a W2 for her wages right? If you don’t issue a W2–then claiming she works for you probably isn’t going to pass muster with the IRS.)
Remember, small incidental gifts valued at less than $4 with your logo on it don’t count as a “gift” towards that $25 total. If you’ve been giving away mugs and pens for advertising, don’t worry–those are still 100% deductible.
Filed under: Business Taxes, High Income Earners, Individual Taxes, IRA, Tax Preparation, Tax Preparers, Tax Tips, Taxes
Today I want to talk about tax planning, and why it’s so important.
I recently got a call from a woman who wanted to take $30,000 out of her IRA to buy something special. She went to her financial planner to take the money out and he told her that she needed to take another $7500 out just to cover her taxes, but to talk to a tax person first. So she called me.
Well, I ran the numbers for her and if she took $37,500 out of her IRA , it was going to cost her over $9,000 in state and federal taxes combined. Even though she would be withholding $7500 for her federal taxes, she’d still have to come up with another $2000 to be whole. Then we started talking.
You see, she didn’t need to make the purchase right away, she was just thinking about it. So I decided to see what would happen if we split the $30,000 between 2013 and 2014, $15,000 each year. What a difference! Instead of paying over $9000, she’ pay $688 per year total for her state and federal income taxes combined. That wasn’t a typo–six hundred and eighty-eight dollars a year. $1376 total tax for a savings of over $8000!
So by waiting for another 60 days to take half the money she wanted out of her IRA she’d save $8000. How cool is that?
In fairness, the woman’s particular situation just put her into a sweet zone for this to work out so well. For many people, splitting up the IRA withdrawal would not save them any taxes at all. But my point is–how do you know? By taking the time to ask–she saved $8000.
What’s going on in your life that could benefit from a little tax planning? Selling some stocks or mutual funds? Donating to charity? Do you own a small
business? Are you getting married? Getting divorced? Having a baby? Getting a new job? Buying a home? Any of these events, and many more, could use
a little tax planning.
My business card says, “If you don’t have a tax strategy, you’re probably paying too much.” It’s true. So often in my job, I’m trying to help people who’ve already made decisions and come to me when its’ too late to make changes. Why would you want to give the IRS more money then you need to? It’s not rocket science, it’s just common sense. The best way to keep more of your money is to make a plan for keeping it. Call me. I can help.
If you normally use your income tax refund to pay for your Christmas presents, listen up. You’ve got a problem.
First, nobody is doing Christmas loans. Remember when H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt used to provide loans against your refund? Then the IRS changed the “debt indicator” which made it almost impossible for anyone to offer those loans. A few companies provided Refund Anticipation Loans, (the loans where you got your refund in 1 or 2 days instead of two weeks) but they were few and far between. Most people had to wait for two to three weeks to get their refund.
Now the IRS has announced that tax filing will be delayed—meaning that instead of accepting tax returns on January 21st like they had previously announced—they won’t accept returns until January 28th, and maybe not until February 4th.
What does this have to do with Christmas? Well, if you’re putting holiday gifts on your credit card in the hopes of paying it off with your tax refund—you’re not getting your refund until mid to late February at the earliest. If you can’t afford to pay your credit cards without your tax refund—you’ve got a problem.
So what other options do you have? For some people, if you know that you’re going to have a refund on your taxes, you can change your withholding now so that you get more money in your paycheck. If you’re reading this in October or early November, you’ve got a chance to put away some extra cash for presents. If it’s already December by the time you see this—it’s probably too late.
Here’s something else you need to know. If you have your taxes done by one of those corner shop tax companies, they will gladly take your money and tell you that they’re filing your return. You might think that you’re filing on January 3 or 4th, but you’re not. What they’re doing is “stockpiling” your return. They hit a button, it gets sent to a big corporate server, but it just sits there until the IRS says they’re accepting returns.
Why is that important to know? Because people think that they need to file early to get their refunds. But those early returns are often wrong. They’re missing information, or the software’s not fully functional yet. The IRS needs time to work out the glitches and if the IRS is having glitches, so are all the other tax companies. If you have the big green tax company send your tax return to their server and then you discover a problem with it, you can’t take your tax return back. It’s too late. And if your tax return is sent in with a mistake it could delay your refund for weeks, or even months.
There aren’t a lot of options out there for using your upcoming tax refund to pay for this year’s holiday gifts. But you know what? Christmas comes every year. Every year! Once you do receive your refund, it might be the only time in the whole year that you’ve got extra cash. Take some of your refund money and stick it in the bank so you’ve got cash to pay for your 2014 Christmas. Seriously, you never want to be dependent upon the IRS for you to have a Merry Christmas.
Wait right there. I can hear you through the computer. “How stupid does she think we are?” “Who doesn’t know how to put their name on a tax return?” “I’m not a moron you know.”
Yes, I know you’re not a moron. (And no, I can’t really hear you through the computer, I’ve just dealt with this issue enough that I know what people generally say.) For 99.9% of you, you put your name on the tax return and that’s it—no problem. But there’s always that small number of people every year whose tax return gets rejected because, according to the IRS, their name is wrong. This is about fixing those returns.
Number 1: Often when you get an IRS “name error” message, it’s not your name that’s the problem at all. It’s your social security number. Check that first to make sure you didn’t transpose a number. If that’s the problem, you may need to re-input your whole tax return. My current software lets me correct a bad SSN, but I used to use one that made you do the whole return over. That’s not fun.
Number 2: You didn’t change your new married name with the Social Security office. Many women get married and change their names. They tell their friends, they tell their work, but they forget to do it officially with Social Security. When they file their tax return with their new married name—reject! They don’t exist. You’ll need to file the return with your old name on it. You can still do file as married, you’ll just use your maiden name. Then go to Social Security and give them the new name. Here’s information on how to do that: http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/315/session/L3RpbWUvMTM4Mjc5MzQ0Ny9zaWQvKkRTVzFNRGw%3D
Although it will only take about 10 days to get your new social security card, it will take about 8 weeks to get your name into the federal computer system. If you’re looking for a refund, or have a filing deadline, just use your old name for now and the new name next year.
Number 3: You really spelled your name wrong. You’d be surprised how easy this is. We double check our numbers –of course, it’s taxes. But we don’t double check spelling our names. Why would we, it’s our name? We know that. But you know how it goes, “tiye dubfwea di ib rgw qeibf jwta”. I mean, your fingers go on the wrong keys.
Number 4: If you’ve double checked your SSN, and your name is spelled correctly and you’re not recently married and you’re still getting a reject notice—you’ve got to pull out your actual social security card as see what it says. On newer social security cards, the last name is printed under the first and middle names. For example, Hillary Clinton’s return might be getting rejected because it should really say Hillary Rodham Clinton on it.
Number 5: It’s wrong at the IRS. It’s possible. If you’ve checked everything on this list, including pulling out the actual SS card and checking everything and you still have the “wrong” name, you can still paper file the tax return, just to get it submitted. You’ll still want to follow up with the IRS and Social Security and get your name fixed. If you’ve filed returns before, you can get a transcript of your old return from the IRS. Your transcript will have the name that the IRS has for you on it. Here’s a link for that: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Order-a-Transcript I know that sounds a little crazy, and even impossible, but I had to do that to once. Well, I knew the person’s name, but the IRS had something completely different!
One final name issue for people who paper file their tax returns: don’t forget to put your name on the tax return. Really! It’s one of the most common mistakes. People who e-file—you can’t forget to do that. People who paper file, they often do all of the math and plan on adding their name last. Then they finish their return and forget to put the name on. Back in the Stone Age when I was taking the income tax prep class, it was an automatic failing grade to not put a name on the return. I thought it was silly (they were fake names on fake returns!)
If you file a tax return with no name on it, then that means it’s not filed. If you don’t file your tax return on time, there’s a penalty of 5% per month of the tax you owe, up to 25%. If you’re expecting a refund, it won’t come. These returns just go into the trash. And yes, this still really does happen. I’ve had people come to my office with IRS letters telling the people they never filed. The taxpayer shows me the photo copies of his mailed tax return to prove he filed and right there in black and white is a blank space for the name. It’s a really easy mistake to make. It happens quite often (or I wouldn’t bother to write about it.)
***Roberg Tax Solutions congratulates the St. Louis Cardinals for making the 2013 World Series. We have been having “Cardinal Apparel Day” every day this week. As of now, the series is 1-1, game 2 was a Cardinals 4-2 win, and we are back on track after game 1’s ugly loss.
Let’s face it—this is the long lost question in the world of tax preparation. You probably have a better chance of Miley Cyrus stealing your “Go Cardinals!” foam finger than you do of being asked about this inquiry. This does not mean that people aren’t checking the box however. In 2012, there has been about $37 million contributed up to July with a total fund balance of about $232 million. Not a bad chunk of change. During my time in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program—commonly referred to as VITA—other volunteers and I routinely asked the question because it was part of our standard operating procedure. I am not sure if the mainstream brick and mortar tax firms ask the question but I bet Jan knows.
Anyways, my point in this brief writing is to inform you about this tiny section of the 1040 series—the who, what, why, when, how, etc. of the presidential election fund or at least point you in the direction of knowing those questions.
2012 Form 1040 instructions page 12 states verbatim:
“This fund helps pay for Presidential election campaigns. The fund reduces candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups and places candidates on an equal financial footing in the general election. If you want $3 to go to this fund, check the box. If you are filing a joint return, your spouse can also have $3 go to the fund. If you check a box, your tax or refund will not change.”
It is important to understand that that checking this box will not change your tax or refund. So what is actually happening? It means that you want $3 of tax dollars you already owe to the government to go towards the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF). When you check the box, the government has to allocate that $3 into the PECF. So there is no tax incentive to check or not check this box. This is a valid reason for self research about the fund to make a well informed decision and to support your reasons for doing so.
In 1975, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was born to oversee the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). This is the law that governs the financing of federal elections. Obligations of this independent agency include the divulgence of campaign finance information, enforce limits and prohibitions on contributions, and become the all seeing eye of Presidential election public funding.
Furthermore, the agency is made up of six members that of which are appointed by the President of the United States and contingent upon Senate approval. Each member serves a six year term. Stated precisely from http://www.fec.gov/about.shtml, “By law, no more than three Commissioners can be members of the same political party, and at least four votes are required for any official Commission action. This structure was created to encourage nonpartisan decisions.”
It was that the check box used to be $1 dollar but increased to $3 in 1994 by Congress. Extensive detail about the $3 check off can be found at http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/checkoff.shtml. The information is well put, easy to read, and concise.
The Federal Election Commission has charted the Fund since its 1976 inception. The most recent chart can be found here: http://www.fec.gov/press/bkgnd/pres_cf/PresidentialFundStatus_September2012.pdf.
If the candidates decide to use the fund money, they must agree to a spending limit. In the 2012 election, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney used the Presidential Election Fund resulting in a very expensive election.