Parents of seniors are filling out FAFSA applications right now, but if you’ve got a sophomore or junior in high school, then it’s time for you to start planning now so that you get the best possible financial aid later.
Here’s the main thing: if your child is a junior right now, then the income that you make this year will be the income reported on the FAFSA when she’s a senior. If your child is a sophomore, it will be next year’s income.
Why does that matter? Bottom line: the higher your income, the less financial aid you’re going to receive. If your child is already a senior, it’s too late to make any adjustments, the year is already over.
So if you’ve got a junior, you want to make your income look lower. If you’ve got a sophomore, you might want to move up your income for this year, to reduce it for next year.
For example: let’s say you’re a small business owner. One of my favorite strategies is to prepay business expenses in December to reduce my taxable income for the year. You can prepay up to a year’s worth of expenses. This is a smart move when your child is a junior. If you’ve got a sophomore, you might want to hold off on that to take the income hit sophomore year—when you’re not filing the FAFSA so that you can push more expenses into junior year which is the income year for the FAFSA.
Another example of future planning is when to take your capital gains on the sale of stocks. Now you’re going to want to make good choices, sometimes you’ve just got to sell because you need to sell and the time is right. But if you’ve got a choice, taking the gain is better in your child’s sophomore year than in the junior year. Remember, if you’ve got capital losses that are more than your gains, you can deduct up to $3,000 to offset your regular income. Anything more than a $3,000 loss will just be carried forward to your next year’s tax return.
One of the things that can really mess up your income during FAFSA time is taking a distribution from your retirement account. Sometimes things happen and you just don’t have a choice, but if you’ve got an option to take a distribution like that during the sophomore year instead of the junior year it will help to keep your income down for the FAFSA filing.
Now you need to realize that you’re going to be filing FAFSA applications for four years, so you can’t artificially reduce your income for four whole years. But getting that first year aid package off to a good start can help set the tone for the next four years.
If you’re doing your taxes this year, one of the questions you’ll be asked is, “Do you have any dependents?” What exactly is a dependent anyway?
Most often, but not always, a dependent is your kid. Sometimes, a dependent can be a parent, a sibling, and even in some cases a friend that lives with you. There are many requirements that you’ve got to meet for a person to qualify as a dependent. In general though, a dependent is someone that you support.
There are two types of dependents:
- Qualifying child: that’s going to be a child or a disabled relative that will qualify you for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)
- Qualifying relative: a qualifying relative will get you an exemption for your taxes, but won’t qualify you to get EIC
Let’s look at the Qualifying child first. How does the IRS define what a qualifying child is? Remember, the IRS has weird rules, and it’s not the same as how your family decides who’s related or not.
A Qualifying Child must have a valid social security number to qualify for EIC. If your child doesn’t have a social security number, but she gets one later, you can go back for up to three years to amend the returns. In addition to a social security number, for EIC a Qualifying Child must also meet the following tests:
Relationship: Son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild, foster child or a descendent of any of them such as a grandchild, or, a brother, sister, half brother, half sister, step brother, step sister or a descendant of any of them such as a niece or nephew. Please note that an adopted child or foster child must be placed by the courts. You’ve got to have legal documentation to support your claim; you can’t just take in your neighbor’s child and call her a foster child.
Age: At the end of the filing year, your child has to be younger than you (or your spouse if you file a joint return) and younger than 19; or younger than 24 and a full-time student; or permanently and totally disabled.
Residency: The child must live with you (or your spouse if you file a joint return) in the United States for more than half of the year.
Joint Return: The child cannot file a joint return for the tax year unless the child and the child’s spouse did not have a separate filing requirement and filed the joint return only to claim a refund.
For more details on what is a Qualifying child for EIC purposes, check out this link: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2012/05/eic-and-your-family-tree-what-counts-as-a-qualifying-child/
Now one of the most common questions I hear about EIC is, “My boyfriend lives with me and my child, but he’s not her biological father, can he claim my daughter for EIC?” The answer is “NO” because the child doesn’t meet the relationship test to the boyfriend.
But, the boyfriend might be able to claim the child as a dependent for an exemption—just not claim EIC for her, because she may be a Qualifying Relative to the boyfriend instead of a Qualifying Child.
Rules for claiming a Qualifying Relative:
In order to be a Qualifying Relative the person can’t be a qualifying child.
The second is to pass the member of household or qualifying relative test. Either the person lives with you for the entire 12 months of the year, or is related to you in your immediate blood line: your brothers and sisters, and their direct descendants, and their direct ancestors (but not foster parents.) Also, your in-laws are included here—even if you divorce, as far as the IRS is concerned, your mother-in-law is your mother-in-law forever. (Heaven help us all!) If, however, a person was at any time during the year your spouse, he or she can’t be your qualifying relative. (I know, that looks like a typo—once you marry ‘em, you can’t be related to ‘em.)
With the qualifying relative rule there is a gross income test: a qualifying relative can’t make more than the standard exemption in income, which for 2013 is $3,900. This means taxable income. If your mother’s only income was $6000 a year from Social Security, that’s not taxable so she’d meet the gross income test.
The last requirement is support: you have to provide your qualifying relative with more than 50% of his or her support. So, back to your mom on Social Security, if she makes $6,000 a year, and spent it all on food and rent, then you’d have to pay at least $6,000 more towards her support.
The rules for Qualifying Relative and Qualifying child can get pretty confusing, especially if you’ve got a unique situation. The IRS website has a tool to help you decide if you can claim a dependent or not. As you go through the questions, remember to answer them honestly and you’ll get a reliable answer. Sometimes people change their answers to get the result they want—that’s how you get into IRS trouble. Answer honestly and claim what you can, don’t claim what you can’t and you won’t have any problems.
I write about ROTH IRAs quite a bit, but someone recently asked me to explain ROTH IRAs so here we go:
A ROTH IRA is best defined by how it’s different from a regular (Traditional) IRA. Here are the differences:
- You cannot deduct contributions to a ROTH IRA, so whatever money you invest into a Roth—you’re going to pay income tax on the year you invest it.
- If you satisfy the requirements, your ROTH distributions are tax-free.
- You can still make contributions to a Roth IRA even after you reach age 70 and ½.
- You can leave your money in your Roth IRA as long as you live. (This is important for people who want to leave behind money for their heirs. It also means you don’t have any required minimum distributions (RMDs) like you have with Traditional IRAs. )
- You must designate the IRA as a Roth when you set it up (the default IRA setting is for a Traditional IRA.)
So why am I so gung ho about Roth IRAs? I like things that are tax free. The distributions are tax-free, the earnings are tax-free, and if you die, they go to your heirs tax-free. That’s a lot of tax-free going on there.
Here’s another thing I really like about the Roth IRA—not only are the distributions tax-free, but the distributions don’t count towards your Adjusted Gross Income. I realize I’m going into Tax Geek Speak here, but hear me out, because this is important.
Let’s say you’ve got a kid in college. You haven’t saved enough money for tuition and you need $10,000 for the tuition payment. Now you can take that money out of your Traditional IRA and not pay a penalty (because you won’t pay the penalty for early withdrawals when you use it for tuition), but you’ll still have to pay the regular income tax on it. So if you’re in the 25% tax bracket, you’ll pay an additional $2500 in taxes to take that $10,000 out of your Traditional IRA.
Now, if you need the whole $10,000 then you’ll need to actually take $13,333 out and withhold $3,333 in order to have the $10,000 and still pay your taxes on it. Plus, the IRA money that you take out goes on your tax return as income. So if you’re applying for financial aid, your aid will be reduced because you’re showing $13,333 more in income than if you didn’t take any money out of your IRA. (And you could use the financial aid—you couldn’t afford the tuition, right?)
Now, if you had a Roth IRA, you’d take out that $10,000 tax-free. The $10,000 wouldn’t have an impact on your tax return and therefore, wouldn’t have the same negative impact on your FAFSA application. See why I like the Roth IRA?
Here’s another example of where it’s useful. Let’s say you’re retired and receiving Social Security income. If your money is all in a traditional IRA or pension, your extra income can make your social security taxable—up to 85% of your Social Security income can be taxed. But if you take money out of your Roth IRA, that will have no effect on whether your Social Security gets taxed or not. The more you have in your Roth IRA, the more opportunity you’ve got to maneuver.
If you’re looking for a place to put some retirement money, my first choice is a Roth IRA. Start saving today, you’ll be glad you did.
For more information about Roth IRAs, here’s a link to the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Traditional-and-Roth-IRAs
Perhaps you’ve heard about how great a ROTH IRA is: You put your money in an account and it grows tax free and when you take the money out at retirement time you get it all tax free. Awesome, right? Zero percent is a good tax rate. But if you’re in a high income bracket (see the chart below), you’re not eligible to contribute to a ROTH. But there may be a way around that for you. It’s called a ROTH IRA conversion. Here’s how it works:
Even though your income may prevent you from making a ROTH IRA contribution, there is no income limit for a Traditional IRA contribution. This is important—there is no income limit to making a Traditional IRA contribution. There are income limits as to whether it is deductible or not—but no limits as to your ability to make an IRA contribution.
For example: let’s say you earn $200,000 a year and you have a 401(k) plan at work. You can’t make a ROTH IRA contribution and you can’t have a deductible Traditional IRA contribution either. What you can do is make “non-deductible” contribution to a traditional IRA.
A non-deductible contribution to an IRA pretty much does the same thing as a ROTH—it grows tax free and at retirement it you can take it out tax free. The problem with the non-deductible IRA is that when you take it out, you take it out proportionately with your taxable IRA money.
For example: let’s say you have $20,000 on non-deductible IRA invested and another $80,000 in a traditional IRA that you rolled over from your 401(k) account for a total of $100,000 in IRA funds. You want to take the $20,000 of non-taxable money out. You can’t do it. If you take $20,000 out, the IRS is going to tax $16,000 of it because the non-taxable money comes out proportionately to the taxable money.
(Geek time: 20K + 80K = 100K
20K divided by 100K = .2 or 20 percent
$20,000 times 20% = $4,000 that is tax free
$20,000 – $4,000 = $16,000 taxable IRA)
So this is where the ROTH IRA conversion comes in. If you don’t have any money in a traditional IRA yet, then you can take that non-deductible IRA and convert it to a ROTH IRA with no tax consequences. There are currently no income limitations on doing a ROTH IRA conversion.
If you convert your money into a ROTH IRA, then when you want to take that money out—you’re taking it out of the ROTH. There is no equation determining how much is taxable or non-taxable—it’s all in the ROTH and it’s all non-taxable.
Now if you’ve already got money in a Traditional IRA, this strategy might not work for you because you’d be taxed on those funds during the conversion. If the total amount is fairly low, you might want to consider rolling it all over and taking the tax bite. You’d want to discuss that with your financial advisor and tax person before attempting that.
But if you don’t have any Traditional IRA funds, the non-deductible Traditional IRA contribution and ROTH IRA conversion might be a good strategy for setting aside some tax free retirement income for you.
Incomes where the ROTH IRA is completely phased out (2013):
Married filing jointly: $188,000
Single or head of household: $127,000
Married filing separately: $ 10,000
When you go to IRS.gov, click on the refunds tab on the top. This is where you can check the status of your refund online.
Once you file your US Income taxes, the most important thing to you is, “Where’s My Refund?” If you’re trying to find out about a current year tax return that was e-filed, the easiest way to find out about your refund is through the IRS “Where’s My Refund?” website. Before you go to the website you’ll need to have your Social Security Number, your filing status (Married filing jointly, Single, Head of Household, etc.), and the exact amount of your refund in order to gain access.
You need to wait at least 24 hours after the IRS receives your e-filed tax return. That means 24 hours after you get IRS confirmation that they’ve received it—not 24 hours after you filed. Remember, the IRS isn’t officially receiving anything before January 31st. If you go to someplace like H&R Block and file your taxes on January 14th—they’re not really filed yet as far as the IRS is concerned.
If you mail your tax return, don’t expect to see any results on “Where’s My Refund” until 4 weeks after you mail your paper return. Once again, the IRS isn’t “receiving” paper returns until January 31st either, so even if you mail your return on January 1st, don’t expect to see your results online before March 1st.
The IRS has announced that they will not personally respond to calls about tax refunds until 21 days after your return has been received. To put that in plain English—
The IRS ain’t gonna talk to you about your refund anytime before February 21st—no matter how early you filed your return.
I put that in big, bold, red letters because last year I received several calls from people who filed their taxes early with a store front tax company down the street from my office, then couldn’t find their refunds on the IRS website and that store front office didn’t return their calls. People were frantically trying to get information and couldn’t get answers.
So, if you go someplace to file your personal 2013 US income taxes and they tell you the IRS is receiving them before January 31, 2014—they’re either lying or stupid. I know, that’s harsh but it’s true. They’re not actually filing the returns— they’re sending them to a “holding bin” until the IRS can actually receive the transmissions. It’s called stockpiling. It used to be illegal, but since the IRS keeps putting off the filing date they’ve made it okay to do now. The point is—you return isn’t really filed yet, and it won’t be received by the IRS until January 31st.
Now, if it’s after January 31st, and you’ve waited 24 hours after receiving notice that your return has been accepted by the IRS, you can go to the “Where’s My Refund?” page to check on the status of your return. Here’s the link: http://www.irs.gov/Refunds/Where’s-My-Refund-It’s-Quick,-Easy,-and-Secure.
If the site doesn’t have an answer for you, wait another day and try again. The website is only updated once every 24 hours so checking on it more than once a day is a waste of time.
One final thing—all of the accounting firms have to deal with the IRS late e-file acceptance issue. Whether it’s a big box company like H&R Block, a small tax company like Roberg Tax Solutions, or a Big Four accounting firm like Deloitte; we all have to live with the same rules. The IRS will not accept anyone’s return any earlier than January 31.
If you went to one of those tax companies last year that fits the category of “lying” or “stupid” it might be time to change tax companies. Let’s face it, if your tax person doesn’t know the IRS filing date—what else is he doing wrong?
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about foreign bank accounts. A recent court case settled criminal charges on a man for not reporting his foreign bank accounts to the US government. This is big—it used to be that the fines and penalties were very stiff, but criminal charges are even worse.
A question that I’ve been getting lately is this:
“I’m a US resident alien, I am not a citizen. According to the IRS Publication number 17, US Citizens have to report foreign bank account, but it doesn’t say anything about resident aliens. So do I still have to report?”
While I think that the wording in the Publication 17 is an excellent argument for not reporting, I know that the IRS expects resident aliens to report their foreign bank accounts and pay income tax on the earning of those accounts. Even though IRS publication 17 expressly refers to US citizens, other IRS publications refer to “US persons.”
According to the IRS, as US person is:
“United States person means U.S. citizens; U.S. residents; entities, including but not limited to, corporations, partnerships, or limited liability companies, created or organized in the United States or under the laws of the United States; and trusts or estates formed under the laws of the United States.”
I copied that right off the IRS website so that’s not an interpretation of the meaning, that’s the IRS definition.
My experience has been that the IRS does expect foreign nationals living in the US and filing a regular 1040 income tax return to report foreign income and foreign bank account holdings.
My advice is that you are considered to be a US resident for income tax purposes; you need to report your foreign bank account earnings and holdings. The fines and penalties are very high, and the new court case involving criminal penalties makes the risk of not reporting that much higher.
If you have not been reporting your foreign bank accounts, but should have, you can apply for the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. It allows you to go back and report those accounts from past years and pay the tax and reduced penalties. While the penalties for the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program are steep, they’re still much lower than if the IRS “catches” you not reporting. The fewer years that are involved, the lower the penalties will be.
First and foremost, we’re talking about dogs here.
I’m often asked by dog breeders about how to write off the cost of purchasing a dog for breeding purposes. If you are planning on going into the business of breeding dogs, then your dogs are livestock and would fall into the same rules as farm animals.
Depreciation for a dog begins when the dog reaches maturity. If you buy a puppy for breeding, depreciation begins when the dog can be bred. If you purchase a dog for working, (such as herding or security) depreciation begins when the dog can actually be worked.
You cannot buy a puppy and write off the entire cost because you say that you intend to breed it. You must actually be breeding the dog to claim an expense.
How long do you depreciate a dog for?
Because dogs are not specifically listed in the IRS depreciation tables, the timeline on depreciating a dog is seven years.
Can I just write off the whole cost the year I start breeding?
Yes, that would be called a Section 179 Expense deduction. But there’s a catch with claiming a Section 179 expense deduction that most people don’t know or forget about. Remember, dogs are depreciated over seven years. If you write off the entire cost of the dog the first year of breeding, but then you quit breeding your dog—you’re required to “recapture” any remaining depreciation.
What does recapture mean?
Well, let’s say your dog cost $2,000 and you claimed the full expense the year you start breeding her. After two years, you decide it’s not worth it and you have her spayed. You only got two years of breeding from the dog, so you have 5 years of depreciation that you have to reclaim.
If you used the MACRS depreciation schedule, you would have claimed $286 the first year and $486 the second year for depreciation. That makes a total of $772. To reclaim the Section 179 expense, that means that you would subtract the depreciation you could have claimed from the $2000 that you wrote off before and you’d have to claim the $1,228 left as income.
Yes, it does stink, but that’s the rule. And remember—a dog breeding business is a more likely candidate for an audit than most other businesses so you’re going to want to maintain your books nice and tight.
A few other points about dogs as business property:
- If you buy dogs to resell, that’s considered inventory and you don’t expense them until you actually sell them.
- If you buy a dog for breeding, and then sell the dog later, you have to reclaim the depreciation as ordinary income. Example: buy dog for $2000, claim section 179 expense of $2000, sell dog for $3000, you would claim $3000 as ordinary income.
- You may purchase a breeding dog and choose not to depreciate the dog, just keep the dog as an investment. When you sell the dog, the profit is taxed at capital gains rate instead of ordinary income (which is a lower tax rate.) Example: dog costs $2000, sold for $3,000, only $1,000 of income is realized and would be taxed at lower capital gain rate.
There’s a lot here to think about. Don’t go trying to claim the cost of your dog on your tax return unless you truly are in a dog business. Expensing a dog is going to be a red flag for an audit—so dot your “I”s and cross your “T”s and make sure you’ve done all your homework.
If you do plan on depreciating your dog, click here to get my handy dog depreciation schedule to help you figure your expenses.
Do you claim medical expenses on your tax return? If you do, then you need to know that the rules changed for 2013.
It used to be that you medical expenses had to be higher than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income in order for you to be able to claim them. So if you made $50,000 a year, your medical expenses would have to be higher than $3,750 before you could claim anything for that. Starting with your 2013 tax return, the floor for claiming medical expenses has gone up to 10%, so now your medical expenses would have to be higher than $5,000 in order to claim anything.
So let’s say you had major surgery this past year. After all the insurance reimbursements, you were still out of pocket $7,000. Using the above example, you’d only be able to claim $2,000 of medical expenses on your tax return.
Even if your medical expenses were over 10% of your income, you still need enough other deductible expenses to make your medical expense deduction worthwhile. Let’s say you’re single and your standard deduction for 2013 is $6,100. Suppose you had $3,000 withheld for your state income tax, you gave $1,000 to charity, and you had the $2,000 of medical expenses that you could claim. That only totals $6,000—you’re still better off claiming the standard deduction of $6,100. Keep that in mind as you gather up your medical receipts; it’s not just having enough medical expenses to deduct, it’s having enough expenses overall to make it worth your while. This is commonly referred to as itemizing deductions.
If you, or your spouse, are age 65 or over, there’s a temporary exception to the 10% rule. You can continue to use the medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. You can keep doing that all the way through 2016, after that, you’ll also have to use the 10% threshold.
Please check out my post about maximizing your medical expense deduction: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2013/02/maximizing-your-medical-expense-deduction/
Even if you can’t claim your medical expenses with your itemized deductions on schedule A, some people are entitled to claim their medical expenses elsewhere. You don’t want to miss out on any deduction that available to you.
We’re signed up with Yext. They’ve got a fancy little gizmo that let’s us post things. Anyway, this is going to be our Yext page for now. So consider this to be an experimental page. If it works, we’ll make a regular page out of it. Thanks for visiting.
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!