Friday, December 28, 2012

Tax breaks are available for disaster victims

When natural disasters occur, they often leave many people with severely damaged or destroyed homes and businesses. Some lose everything they own. If you are affected by a disaster that is declared by the President to qualify for federal assistance, there are several provisions in the tax law that may provide relief.

Extended tax deadline and interest abatement. The IRS is authorized to postpone the deadlines for filing returns and paying taxes for up to 120 days in a Presidentially declared disaster area. Also, the IRS will not charge interest that would otherwise accrue for the extension period.

Faster refund. Taxpayers suffering losses in a federal disaster area have a choice of which tax year to deduct the casualty loss. You may deduct it on the return for the year the loss occurs, or it can be claimed on your prior year's tax return. Amending your prior year's return may give you a refund of much-needed cash sooner than waiting to deduct the loss on your current year's tax return.

Tax-free gain. If the insurance payments you receive exceed the tax basis of your property, you will end up with a casualty gain. Casualty gains in federal disaster areas receive special tax treatment. For example:

*Individuals may qualify for up to a $250,000 gain exclusion ($500,000 for married couples) on their principal residence. That's because the destruction of the residence is treated as a "sale" for tax purposes.

*No gain is recognized on the insurance reimbursement for the contents of a building as long as those contents were not separately listed on the insurance policy.

*If you replace your property with similar property within four years, you may be able to avoid or postpone paying tax on any gain from your involuntary conversion.

If you suffer a casualty loss, give us a call to discuss the best tax course of action in your situation.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Try a different gift idea this year

When planning gifts for children on your holiday list, you might want to think beyond the traditional retail offerings. Consider financial gifts that can bestow benefits for many years to come.

Some financial gift options you might consider:

*U.S. savings bonds. Savings bonds are used by many families to introduce children to the savings concept. I bonds are indexed for inflation and can provide some relatively attractive rates of return.

*IRAs (regular or Roth). For 2012, you can contribute the lower of $5,000 or the earned income of the child. An early financial start can produce amazing benefits from compounded interest accumulated over several decades.

*Fund a 529 education account. Anyone can contribute to a child's Section 529 college savings plan, which accumulates savings for tuition and living expenses. There are no income restrictions on the donor, and few practical limits on the amount that can be saved. Your gift will grow tax-free in the plan.

*You could also make your gift to a Coverdell education savings account. These IRA-like accounts also grow tax-free, but there's a $2,000 limit on total contributions from all sources. The amount of your gift may also be limited, depending on your income.

*Consider this gift if you just want to encourage an interest in saving and investing. Buy a small number of shares in a mutual fund and package them with a book on basic investing. The child can watch the investment grow over time and can enjoy dividend payouts too. Modest amounts of investment income can be tax-free to children, although the kiddie tax may apply at higher levels.

Please call us if you would like to review the tax issues related to any of these financial gift options, especially if you are considering a larger amount.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Do a year-end business review

Business owners and managers spend most of their time monitoring operations and dealing with everyday problems. But just as an annual checkup from your physician helps to monitor and manage your personal health, an annual checkup can do the same for your business. The benefits of such a review are holding your company accountable and evaluating current performance to better plan and execute future operations. Here are seven things that you should make time to do every year. These are important for your longer-term business health and personal success.

1. Review your business insurance coverage. Don't just automatically write a check to renew your insurance policies when they come due. Instead, you should sit down with your insurance agent every year. Review your business operations, focusing on any changes. Discuss types of risk that could arise. Ask about new developments in business insurance. Use your agent's expertise to identify risk areas and suggest suitable coverage.

2. Review your business tax strategy. Consider adjusting taxable earnings for the year, perhaps by accelerating expenses or delaying income at year-end. (You may want to reverse that strategy this year if you think tax rates will actually increase in 2013.) If you're a cash-basis taxpayer, you could boost 2012 deductions by declaring and paying bonuses in December rather than in early January. Also, you may be able to defer invoicing or make early purchases to reduce your 2012 tax bill.

Look into the "Section 179" rule that allows you to take an immediate tax deduction for most purchases of business furniture and equipment. By deducting the full cost immediately instead of depreciating it over several years, you'll cut this year's tax bill. For 2012, you can deduct up to $139,000 of qualifying purchases, subject to limits.

As your business grows, it's always good to make sure you're using the most appropriate form of business -- whether it's sole proprietor, S or C corporation, LLC, or partnership.

Look for other tax breaks, such as specialized tax credits, that you might not be using to full advantage.

3. Survey your customers. An annual customer satisfaction survey is a great way to assess performance, obtain insight on potential new products or services, and to let your customers know how much you value their business.

4. Check the effectiveness of your marketing. Are your current methods and channels working well, or are you simply doing what you've always done?

5. Update succession planning for your business. Review your succession planning annually. You should have a specific plan for each key manager position, including yourself. Be prepared for a short-term absence or a permanent vacancy. Your plan might mean promoting from within or recruiting externally. An up-to-date plan can be invaluable if you have an unexpected vacancy.

6. Review your business banking relationships. Annually, you should go over your cash balances and banking relationships with your controller, CFO, or accountant. Then both of you should meet with your banker. Ask about new products or services that could help your company. Address any service concerns or problems you might have had. Look for ways to reduce idle cash, boost interest earned, and improve cash flows.

7. Review and update your personal estate planning. If you're a business owner, your company is likely to be a significant part of your estate. A good estate plan is essential if you hope to pass the business on to your heirs. Your company, your personal circumstances, and the tax laws are continually changing. You should take time each year to make sure your plans are current.

If you are serious about improving your business, consider a yearly assessment of your operation. For any assistance you need, give us a call.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Get organized for 1099 filing

January is always a busy month for companies. You're trying to get business off to a good start in the new year, you're trying to close the books on last year, and there's 1099 reporting to complete by month-end.

There are several variations of the information returns known as Form 1099. Most are specific to certain industries. But nearly every company, large or small, has to issue Form 1099-MISC. And you have to send it to recipients by January 31, 2013.

In many businesses, it becomes a late-January panic. There's a scramble to find out who needs to receive the form, their current address, and their taxpayer ID number. But if you're smart, you can get a head start on that before year-end.

You use Form 1099-MISC to report miscellaneous payments to non-employees. This includes fees for services paid to independent contractors, such as consultants, Web designers, accountants, lawyers, and others. If you pay fees to your outside directors, they should be on the list. Generally, you don't report fees paid to corporations, but there are exceptions. For example, you must report payments to all law firms, incorporated or not.

You obviously won't know the dollar amount to report until after year-end. But you can start to assemble the list of recipients, verify whether they're a corporation, and obtain their taxpayer ID information. Ideally you would have a process to collect this information when a new contract is signed. But if not, December is a perfect time to do the ground work. Then you might have one less crash project at the end of January.

Contact our office if you need more information on your 1099 reporting requirements.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What's ahead? Tax changes scheduled for 2013

Unless Congress acts by year-end, these are the changes you'll see in the tax rules effective January 1, 2013.

*SOCIAL SECURITY TAXES. Employee's share will increase to 6.2% after 2012, up from 4.2%.

*INCOME TAX RATES. 2012 rates of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% will change to 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6% for 2013.

*CAPITAL GAINS. Maximum long-term rate will increase from 15% to 20% after 2012.

*DIVIDENDS. Top 15% rate will be eliminated; dividends will be taxed as ordinary income with a top rate of 39.6%.

*CHILD TAX CREDIT. Current $1,000 credit per qualifying child will be reduced to $500 after 2012.

*AMT. Exemption amounts will be $33,750 for singles, $45,000 for couples.

*ESTATE TAX. Top 2013 rate will increase to 55% (up from 35%); exclusion amount will be reduced to $1,000,000 (down from 2012 amount of $5,120,000).

*DEDUCTIONS & EXEMPTIONS. After 2012, higher-income taxpayers will again lose a portion of itemized deductions and personal exemptions.

*DEPRECIATION. Section 179 expensing limit will be reduced to $25,000, with a total qualifying property limit of $200,000, down from 2012 levels of $139,000 and $560,000 respectively. 50% bonus depreciation will expire.

*EDUCATION. Education savings account contribution limit will be $500, down from 2012 limit of $2,000. Expanded American Opportunity Credit will expire and be replaced by prior Hope Credit.

*TAX EXTENDERS. These tax breaks expired at the end of 2011: Teachers' classroom expense deduction, state and local sales tax deduction, tax-free charitable IRA distributions for those 70½ and older, higher education tuition deduction, business R&D credit, and 15-year depreciation for leasehold improvements and restaurant property.

Stay tuned. Congress and President Obama may agree to extend or revise some or all of these provisions. We'll keep you informed.

Friday, December 14, 2012

File for earlier disaster relief

If you were a victim of Hurricane Sandy this year or some other natural disaster severe enough to be classified as a "presidentially declared disaster," you have a special option in the tax code that may help in your recovery. You can claim your loss on your 2012 tax return, or you can amend your 2011 tax return and claim your loss against that year's taxes. Filing an amended return for 2011 could give you an earlier refund to help pay for the losses resulting from the disaster.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Credit for hiring a vet will expire soon

The IRS reminds businesses that the special credit for hiring veterans will expire soon. Companies that hire unemployed military veterans may qualify for a tax credit of up to $5,600 ($9,600 for vets with service-related disabilities). The credit is available for vets hired before January 1, 2013. The amount of the credit depends on the length of unemployment before being hired and the wages paid during the first year of work. For more information, contact our office. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don't fall for a charity scam

The IRS is warning people to be aware of fraud connected with Hurricane Sandy. As is usually the case following a natural disaster, scam artists are impersonating charities to get money or financial information from those wanting to help victims of the storm. The scammers contact people by phone, social media, e-mail, or in person. To avoid falling for a scam, donate only to recognized charities, and avoid those with names that are similar to real charities. Do not give personal information to those seeking contributions, and don't give cash donations. Contributions by check or credit card provide greater security as well as a record for tax purposes.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

IRS increases mileage rates for 2013

The IRS has increased the standard mileage rates to be used in computing the deductible costs of operating a vehicle for business or when driving for medical or moving reasons. The new rates will apply to vehicle mileage starting January 1, 2013.

The revised rates are 56.5 cents per mile for business driving and 24 cents for medical and moving driving. The rate for charitable driving is fixed by law and remains at 14 cents per mile.

Instead of using standard mileage rates, you have the option of calculating the actual costs of using a vehicle for business, medical, or moving purposes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hurricane victims get tax relief

Victims of Hurricane Sandy may be entitled to some tax relief, according to an announcement by the IRS. Certain tax filing and payment deadlines from late October on will be extended until February 1, 2013. This includes the final 2012 estimated tax payment normally due January 15 and payroll and excise taxes normally due October 31, 2012, and January 31, 2013.

The relief applies to taxpayers in the disaster area and those outside the area whose tax professional and/or records are located in the disaster area. Workers assisting in hurricane relief activities conducted by recognized government or philanthropic organizations may also qualify. For more information, contact our office, call IRS toll-free disaster assistance at 1-866-562-5227, or visit

Friday, November 30, 2012

Rethink your capital gains strategy this year

The typical investment advice at year-end is to sell losing stocks to offset gains you have taken for the year. This year that strategy may just be the wrong way to go. Here's why.

The maximum rate on long-term capital gains is scheduled to rise from the current 15% to 20% next year. Also scheduled for 2013 is an increase in the top rate on dividend income from the current 15% to 39.6%.

If you expect these scheduled rates to occur in 2013, it may make sense to harvest gains before year-end. Remember, wash sale rules do not apply to gains, so you can repurchase a similar investment immediately. This tactic may allow you to "reset" your basis for a future sale while benefiting from current low rates.

What about investment losses? Despite the uncertainty over a possible increase in tax rates, it's a good bet that some rules -- such as those covering capital losses -- will not change. When pruning stocks from your portfolio, keep in mind that capital losses are more valuable when tax rates are higher. You may want to postpone taking losses until 2013 if you think rates will be higher next year.

In your investment review, don't overlook the new 3.8% Medicare surtax that will apply to certain unearned income, including interest, dividends, capital gains, and passive rental income. If this surtax goes into effect as scheduled, an individual with adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more ($250,000 for couples filing jointly) could pay an effective federal income tax rate of 43.4% on some income.

Individual situations will vary, so consider all the relevant factors in making your year-end decisions. For assistance in your analysis, contact our office.

What's a lame duck, and what does it have to do with Congress?

We'll have some political lame ducks this year, and Congress will convene a lame duck session after the November election. A quick reminder about lame ducks: A member of Congress who lost his or her bid for reelection in November 2012 will still be in Congress until January 2013. Because the individual will not be in the new 2013 Congress, he or she is considered a lame duck lawmaker (with less influence than those who will sit in the new Congress).

A lame duck session of Congress occurs in even-numbered years following the midterm elections held in November. Congress is reconvened after the election to complete whatever unfinished business remains for the year. Because some of the members failed in their reelection bids and will be out of Congress in January, they are lame ducks and the session is called a lame duck session.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Analyze your customers for a better business

If your business is like most, you put a lot of effort into attracting new customers. After all, that's an essential part of growing the business. But sometimes it's more productive to step back and review your existing customers, and perhaps even get rid of a few.

You might be surprised at what you find if you take the time to analyze your customers. Start by listing customers in order of sales. Then make your best estimate about the cost of those sales. For example, you might give volume price breaks to your biggest customers that make them less profitable than smaller customers. But don't just look at the cost of sales. Ask your sales staff, your customer service staff, and your accounting staff to assign a simple grade to your customers (e.g., A, B, C, D, or F). This will give you a relative measure of how much time and effort each customer requires.

Once you have profitability and customer care information, you can begin to rank your customers in groups from best to worst. The "best" are easy. They're the customers you should make a special effort to appreciate and retain.

You have several options for the "worst" group. With some customers, you might want to change your pricing structure to charge them for the excessive costs and attention they require. With others, you might want to sit down and address specific problem areas. Sometimes just making customers aware of problems can produce positive joint solutions.

In some cases, the only solution is to part ways. Do this gracefully, without creating unnecessary ill will that can come back to haunt you. If possible, find a plausible business reason to support your action. But if necessary, be blunt and tell the customer that you're cutting back to provide better service to your top customers. Suggest alternative suppliers they might contact to fill their needs.

Eliminating customers may be counter-intuitive, but it can work wonders for your bottom line and your staff's morale. Call us if you'd like assistance with the financial analysis of your customers.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Beware of tax scams

It's likely to be a daily occurrence: Your e-mail inbox contains at least one message touting a too-good-to-be-true offer. You probably shake your head and delete the pleas from mysterious mock millionaires who need your help recovering imaginary inheritances.

But what do you do when the e-mail has the Internal Revenue Service web address in the FROM box and a subject line that claims you're about to be audited by the Criminal Investigation Division?

*Step 1. Stop and think. You've never given the IRS your e-mail address in relation to your tax return. Even if you had, the government does not request personal information such as your bank account, credit card, or social security numbers via e-mail.
*Step 2. Without clicking on any links or responding to the e-mail, forward the entire message to the IRS ( The IRS established this e-mail box in 2006 to investigate and shut down online fraud.

Note: You will not get a response, either online or off, from the IRS when you report scams.

*Step 3. Delete the e-mail.

Besides the audit subterfuge, other common e-mail tax schemes to know and avoid include a promise of additional money due, bogus government grants, and requests for you to check the status of your refund.

Tax scams never die, and they can be taxing. Before you react to any communication from -- or purporting to be from -- the Internal Revenue Service, contact us. We're here to help you resolve tax issues.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Decide when to pay tax on U.S. savings bonds

When you own Series EE or Series I savings bonds, you have a tax decision to make. Both types of bonds earn interest monthly. Usually, you’ll choose to defer paying any taxes on the interest until the bond reaches final maturity or you redeem it, whichever comes first. At that time, you would report and pay taxes on the total interest earned over the life of the bond. (If you meet certain requirements, you might avoid paying any taxes by using the bond proceeds to pay for higher education expenses.)

The alternative method is to report the interest earned each year as part of your taxable income. Most people choose the first method because it lets you delay paying taxes for as long as possible. But sometimes the annual method makes sense -- for example, if a young child has been given a savings bond in his or her own name.

The tax rate on investment earnings of a child under age 19 (under age 24 for full-time students) is the parent’s marginal rate when the "kiddie tax" applies. The kiddie tax is intended to stop parents from shifting income to their children. But even under the kiddie tax rules, the first $950 of a child’s investment income in 2012 is tax-free and the next $950 is taxed at your child's lower tax rates. So if your child expects to earn less than $1,900 from savings bonds and other investments, reporting the interest as income each year could make good tax sense.

For further details on this and other tax-saving strategies, please give us a call.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Identify shares you're selling

You can often manage the size of your gain or loss when you decide to sell some, but not all, of a particular stock or mutual fund. To do this, you must have kept good records of the date and the price for each share purchase. By selling the highest cost shares first, you'll minimize your taxable gain or maximize your loss. You must specify the particular shares you are selling at the time you sell.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't be tripped up by the wash sale rules

If you sell a security before the end of 2012 to take advantage of a capital loss, be aware of the wash sale rules. To make sure the loss is deductible, refrain from buying the same security or a substantially identical security during the 61-day period that begins 30 days before you sell and ends 30 days after.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Basis reporting requirement delayed

A law passed in 2008 requires brokers to report an investor's basis in stocks and mutual fund shares when these investments are sold. The final step in these new reporting requirements was to become effective for debt instruments and options on January 1, 2013.

The IRS has announced a delay in the effective date, moving it to January 1, 2014. This one-year delay is in response to complaints that the earlier deadline did not give brokers and other financial institutions time to build and test systems to handle the complicated basis reporting requirements.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Give your children some lessons about money

There's one important subject that your children may not learn in school: personal finance. If you want your kids to pick up good money skills and become financially responsible adults, you should give them some training yourself.

Pre-schoolers and teenagers obviously have different financial concerns and abilities. But there are a few basic lessons that all children should learn by the time they enter college or start a career.

*Having money means making choices. Teach your child how to choose between spending and saving, and how to do both intelligently. A regular allowance will help your child gain real-world financial experience.

*Money requires planning. At the appropriate age (usually about nine or ten), show your child how to develop a simple spending plan. In later years, show how to plan for larger expenditures.

*Money means responsibility. Inevitably, your child is going to make some money mistakes. Try to avoid criticism, but don’t automatically fix every problem and let your child off the hook. Help analyze the reason for the mistake, and suggest how to avoid it in the future.

*Money needs to be managed. Specific lessons might range from how to compare interest rates on savings accounts, to the pros and cons of mutual fund investing. But there should be one common element to all of your teaching in this area: money doesn't take care of itself.

The way you handle your money may be the most powerful lesson of all for your children. For your child’s sake, as well as your own financial well-being, it’s important to practice what you preach.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Roth conversions are taxable

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth, there's a price to pay. Converted amounts attributable to tax-deductible contributions, plus all of the earnings, are taxable at ordinary income rates. To lessen the tax hit, you may choose to convert only a part of your IRA to a Roth. You can convert as much as you like, or you can convert some each year if that seems advisable.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The alternative minimum tax: Will it affect you?

In your tax planning, don't overlook how your tax-saving strategies might be affected by the alternative minimum tax.

 * What is the alternative minimum tax?

Enacted back in 1969, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) was designed to make sure that high-income taxpayers pay a minimum amount of taxes, even if they have sufficient deductions and credits to reduce their federal income tax liability to zero.

The AMT is like a flat tax. You get a lower tax rate in exchange for losing most deductions.

To calculate the AMT, start with regular taxable income, which includes all your familiar deductions and exemptions. Then make certain adjustments and add back certain "preferences" to arrive at your AMT income. Preferences include personal exemptions, state and local taxes, certain interest on home-equity loans, and miscellaneous itemized deductions.

After adding back the preferences, you're entitled to an exemption amount, though the exemption phases out at higher income levels. The exemption for 2012 is $33,750 for singles and $45,000 for married couples filing a joint return.

You then calculate your AMT by applying a tax rate of 26% to the first $175,000 of AMT taxable income, and 28% to any additional amounts. Finally, you compare your AMT to your regular tax and pay whichever is greater.

* Who is affected by the AMT?

Congress created the AMT to ensure that wealthier taxpayers, who often have the kinds of income and deductions that qualify for preferential tax treatment, would pay at least a minimum amount of tax. Congress also wrote exemptions into the law, so that middle-income taxpayers wouldn't be subject to the AMT.

Unfortunately, these exemptions were not indexed for inflation. As incomes have continued to rise, more and more people have found that they need to calculate their tax bill twice -- once under regular tax rules, and again under the AMT.

Though Congress has expressed a desire to eliminate the AMT, it is still in effect. Every year thousands of middle-income taxpayers find themselves subject to the alternative minimum tax.

 * Will the AMT affect you?

Do you need to concern yourself with the AMT? You do if you have a lot of dependents or if you claim substantial itemized deductions. You may also be subject to the AMT if you realized hefty capital gains during the year or exercised incentive stock options. Claiming certain tax credits might trigger the AMT as well. And if you are an owner of rental real estate or a capital intensive business, you need to be aware that the amount of depreciation allowed under the AMT is limited.

Don't forget the AMT in your tax planning. You may be one of those middle-income taxpayers who is now subject to this tax. For details or planning assistance, contact our office.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Forgiven debt can be taxed as income

With the recent economic downturn experienced by many taxpayers, there is a tax concept that is very important: cancellation of debt. You would think that the cancellation of debt by a credit card company or mortgage company would be a good thing for the taxpayer. And it can be, but it can also be considered taxable income by the IRS. Here is a quick review of various debt cancellation situations.

* Consumer debt. If you have gone through some type of credit “workout” program on consumer debt, it’s likely that some of your debt has been cancelled. If that is the case, be prepared to receive IRS Form 1099-C representing the amount of debt cancelled. The IRS considers that amount taxable income to you, and they expect to see it reported on your tax return. The exception is if you file for bankruptcy. With bankruptcy, generally the debt cancelled is not taxable.

Even if you are not legally bankrupt, you might be technically insolvent (where your liabilities exceed your assets). If this is the case, you can exclude your debt cancellation income by reporting your financial condition and filing IRS Form 982 with your tax return.

* Primary home. If your home is “short” sold or foreclosed and the lender receives less than the total amount of the outstanding loan, you can also expect that amount of debt cancellation to be reported to you and the IRS. But special rules allow you to exclude up to $2 million in cancellation income in many circumstances. You will again need to complete IRS Form 982, but the exclusion from taxable income brought about by the debt cancellation on your primary residence is incredibly liberal. So make sure to take advantage of these rules should they apply to you.

* Second home, rental property, investment property, business property. The rules for debt cancellation on second homes, rental property, and investment or business property can be extremely complicated. Generally speaking, the new laws that cover debt cancellation don’t apply to these properties, and the IRS considers any debt cancellation to be taxable income. Nevertheless, given your cost of these properties, your financial condition, and the amount of debt cancelled, it’s still possible to have this debt cancellation income taxed at a preferred capital gains rate, or even considered not taxable at all.

Be aware that many of the special debt cancellation provisions are set to expire at the end of 2012. If you’re unsure as to how debt cancellation affects you, contact our office to review your situation and determine how much, if any, cancelled debt will be taxable income to you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is all my income taxable?

Generally, all sources of income are subject to income tax unless specifically excluded. Here are some sources of money that are not taxable:
* Money received as a loan.
* Gifts and inheritances.
* Child support received.
* Welfare benefits.
* Worker’s compensation (generally).
* Damages received for physical injury or sickness.
* Cash rebates from purchases.
* Meals and lodging for the convenience of the employer on employer’s premises.

Some sources of money that may or may not be taxable depending on the circumstances:
* Life insurance proceeds.
* Scholarship grants.

One source of income that is often overlooked is generated by bartering. If you trade goods or services for other goods or services with another person, both of you need to report the fair market value of the goods or services as income on your tax return.

This list is by no means all inclusive. If you need additional information about tax, business, or financial matters, please contact us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tips for cutting costs in your business

Keeping costs under control is crucial in today’s challenging business environment. Without a doubt, one of the quickest ways for a business to cut costs is through staff reduction. But cutting jobs is not always the best cost-cutting strategy. Drastic job cuts can lead to a vicious cycle of reduced productivity, followed by even slower growth and decreased profitability. Replacing skilled workers when times improve may be difficult, leaving your company to struggle longer still.

Here are some alternative cost-control strategies that companies could consider.

* Look at the cost of your office or plant. If the company owns expensive office space, consider moving to a less costly location that will not mean losing clients or business. If a move is out of the question, consider sharing office space with a compatible company. What you save in shared operating costs goes directly to the bottom line (after taxes, of course).

* Consider sale-leaseback arrangements, which enable the company to generate funds for operations and transfer the burden of ownership to the buyer from whom you rent back the office space.

* Review the cost of supplies and inventory. Analyze the cost of materials and supplies. Are you stocking too much material too far in advance? Can you arrange to have products shipped directly to customers by your suppliers?

Periodically conduct a competitive review of suppliers, and select those who can deliver good quality and service at the lowest cost possible. Also, you may not have to pay full price; inquire about volume discounts.

* Outsource some processes. Consider outsourcing certain activities that either consume a great deal of time and resources or are prone to errors. For example, you may be able to have payroll processing done by a vendor at a fraction of the current cost to you.

For help in finding the best cost-control strategies for your business, give us a call.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Important deadline approaching for tax-exempt organizations

Here's an important reminder for small nonprofit organizations: If your organization had its tax-exempt status revoked for failing to file an annual return from 2007 through 2009, the IRS is giving you a chance to get reinstated.

The IRS has issued guidance for small organizations with gross annual receipts of less than $50,000 that will allow them to regain tax-exempt status retroactive to the date of revocation. To qualify for this reinstatement and a reduced application fee of $100, the organization must submit an application postmarked no later than December 31, 2012.

Contact our office if you need details or filing assistance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Presidential Election and your tax bill has a great article on the proposed tax changes by the two candidates. 

The two men vying to occupy the White House for the next four years say they want to reform our current complicated tax system. But until that can be achieved, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are proposing tweaks to the existing tax code.

Both candidates offer the American electorate only general outlines of their major tax proposals.

The Obama campaign's tax website touches on broad concepts such as raising tax rates on higher-income individuals and closing loopholes on millionaires and billionaires. As for more specifics, the president has elaborated on tax changes he supports in his annual budgets and State of the Union addresses, as well as in the corporate tax reform proposal issued by the U.S. Treasury earlier this year.

Romney also lists on his campaign website some general tax changes he favors, such as income tax rate reductions and maintaining the current tax treatment of investments. But the Republican candidate's plan also is light on details.

Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to be the Republican vice presidential nominee raised some tax watchers' eyebrows. As House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan created a plan that calls for just two individual income tax rates (10 percent and 25 percent) and no investment taxes for anyone regardless of income. However, Romney says he, not the new vice presidential candidate, is in charge of the campaign's fiscal proposals.

And while Obama makes no apologies for wanting to collect more money from some taxpayers, Romney insists that any tax changes should be revenue-neutral, meaning that if some taxes are hiked, others should be lowered to counter the increase. The Romney camp, however, has not provided any detail about what tax deductions or credits it would target to achieve federal revenue neutrality.

Here's a look at Obama's and Romney's positions on major tax areas affecting individual and business taxpayers. Not surprisingly, the two men's tax plans generally reflect the differences between their two political parties.

Candidates' proposals for changes to current tax laws

Ordinary individual income tax rates
Current tax rates:
  • 33 percent
  • 35 percent
  • 25 percent
  • 28 percent
  • 10 percent
  • 15 percent
Six tax rates with top rate applied to adjusted gross income of $200,000 for individuals, $250,000 for families:
  • 10 percent
  • 15 percent
  • 25 percent
  • 28 percent
  • 36 percent
  • 39.6 percent
A 20 percent reduction of the current six tax rates. Romney is also considering itemized deductions to a certain dollar amount:
  • 8 percent
  • 12 percent
  • 20 percent
  • 22.4 percent
  • 26.4 percent
  • 28 percent
Interest, dividend, capital gains
Certain qualified dividends are currently taxed at capital gains rates, which are zero percent for taxpayers in the 10 percent and 15 percent tax brackets and 15 percent for all other taxpayers.
General interest earnings, i.e., on such investments as CDs, are taxed at ordinary tax rates.
Carried interest, i.e., the share of profits that private equity and hedge fund partners receive as compensation, is taxed at capital gains rates.
Increase capital gains tax rate to 20 percent on high-earners.Impose the so-called Buffett rule, i.e., a minimum 30 percent tax on high-earners.
Dividends taxed as ordinary income for individuals with adjusted gross income of $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly).
Carried interest taxed as ordinary income.
Eliminate taxes on investment income for taxpayers with adjusted gross income of less than $200,000.Retain 15 percent tax on interest, dividends and capital gains for all other taxpayers.
Estate tax
Currently, estates worth up to $5.12 million are not taxed, with estates worth more than that taxed at 35 percent.
Exempt estates worth up to $3.5 million and increase estate tax rate to 45 percent.Repeal estate tax permanently. This would enable estates worth any amount to pass from one party to the next with no tax.
Alternative minimum tax (AMT)
Separate tax rates of 26 percent and 28 percent currently apply to certain taxpayers who make more than an excluded threshold amount.
Replace the AMT with the so-called Buffett rule, which would require people making more than $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of investment income in taxes.Repeal the AMT altogether.
Corporate tax rate
The corporate tax rate is 35 percent at the present time.
The proposed rate is 28 percent, except for manufacturers, which would face a 25 percent rate.The proposed rate is 25 percent.
International taxes
This is generally a worldwide system where all income, regardless of where earned, is taxed.
Institute a minimum tax on overseas profits and other international proposals.Institute a territorial system that would tax U.S.-source profits of multinational corporations but would exempt profits earned abroad.
Research and development (R&D)
There was a 20 percent credit for qualified R&D expenditures in excess of a base amount; a 14 percent simplified credit was available to eligible taxpayers. This R&D credit expired Dec. 31, 2011. It's expected to be renewed.
Reinstate the current business R&D credit that expired Dec. 31, 2011.Strengthen (no details provided) and make permanent an R&D credit.
A renewable electricity production tax credit for, in part, wind, solar, geothermal energy production is available, as is a variety of tax credits and deductions for oil and gas operations.
Make the tax credit for production of renewable electricity permanent and refundable.Eliminate tax preferences for fossil fuels.Streamline energy production permitting. Focus on traditional energy resources rather than green technologies that typically are too expensive to compete in the marketplace.
Note: Many of these provisions are set to expire at the end of 2012.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Business Tip

If your business is incorporated, it is often a good idea for you to personally own the business real estate and lease it to your corporation. There are a number of tax and nontax concerns relating to real estate ownership. For the income tax considerations, see us before you acquire new business property or before you change the ownership of property you already have.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Plan for losses

Review your S corporation basis before year-end. Check your basis in any S corporation in which you are a shareholder and where you expect a loss this year. Be sure you have sufficient basis to enable you to take the loss on your tax return.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Consider your marital status

If you're planning a wedding or divorce soon, be aware that your marital status as of December 31 determines your tax status for the whole year. Changing the date of a year-end or new-year event could save taxes.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Avoid underpayment penalties

Don't let penalties for underpaid taxes increase your tax bill next April. Check the total tax you've paid in for 2012 through withholding and/or quarterly estimated payments. If you've underpaid, consider adjusting your withholding for the final pay periods of 2012.

Withheld taxes are considered paid in equal amounts during the year regardless of when the tax is withheld. Therefore, a year-end adjustment to your withholding could help you avoid a penalty.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Final filing deadline on October 15

Tick-tock. Time is almost up on that six-month extension you filed back in April to give yourself more time to complete your 2011 individual income tax return.

What happens if you fail to file your return by October 15, the extended due date? One consequence: Unless a disaster-relief exception applies or you have a valid reason, you may be charged penalties and interest.

For example, the penalty for filing your return after October 15, 2012, is 5% of the amount of your unpaid tax, per month, up to a maximum of 25%. After 60 days, a minimum penalty of $135 or 100% of the tax due applies.

In addition, a late payment penalty of ½ of 1% of the tax due may apply for each month or part of a month that you fail to pay the tax due. The two penalties interact and can be combined.

You'll also have to pay interest on the tax due. During 2012, the rate on underpayment of tax has been 3%. The interest is compounded daily and can be charged on penalties.

Since the penalty and interest are based on unpaid tax, neither applies when your return shows a zero balance. Filing a return is still a good idea, however. Why? The general rule limiting the IRS to a three-year period for assessing tax begins when you file. No return, no statute of limitations for being audited.

Give us a call if you have questions or need filing assistance.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Recordkeeping tips from the pros

If you want to give your tax recordkeeping skills a performance boost, do what accounting professionals do.

1. Maintain a separate bank account for all self-employed business activity. This will greatly minimize confusion come tax time by giving you just one place to look for business transactions. The same is true for credit cards; have a card used solely for business and another for personal purchases.

2. Reconcile your bank statements. Though tedious, it is the only way to know for sure if you've included everything in your records.

3. Take advantage of technology. There are many software applications available for organizing tax records, and digitizing your records can also save office filing space.

4. Track your finances by important tax categories. Knowing how to classify your expenses and income is half the battle. Look at your last tax return or accountant's tax organizer for clues. Individuals should focus on itemized deductions and tax credit categories; business owners should look at Schedule C line items.

5. Be diligent and consistent. Make recordkeeping a year-round task, not a year-end burden. For instance, update business mileage records daily. File away receipts before they are lost. Record tax transactions as they occur throughout the year.

6. Watch for important receipts. You probably already know you should collect the standard items: W-2s, 1099s, and annual mortgage statements. But did you know that charitable donations of $250 or more must be substantiated by a receipt from the charity to be deductible? Also, keep all pay stubs and brokerage statements. They might contain hidden deductions.

7. Hold on to prior-year tax records. Because an IRS audit is always a possibility, keep copies of tax returns and supporting records for seven years.

8. Be aware of special tax breaks. Some records become important as tax rules change. For instance, business owners should be careful to maintain records on major equipment purchases to qualify for enhanced expensing perks. Homeowners need to keep supporting documents for energy-efficient purchases.

9. Keep your tax advisor abreast of major life changes. New happenings in your life, like a job change, new child, or change in marital status might affect how you track your income and expenses. A quick call to your tax pro will help you stay on top of things.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Act soon to cut your 2012 taxes

Time is running out to make tax-saving moves for 2012. Here's a sampling of ideas to consider.

* Maximize the contributions to your employer's tax-deferred retirement savings plan, thereby saving taxes immediately and deferring taxes on earnings in your account. Also don't overlook an IRA contribution if you qualify.

* If you've held appreciated stock for more than one year, consider donating those shares to charity rather than making cash donations. You'll avoid paying taxes on the stock's appreciation, but can generally claim the full fair market value of the stock as a charitable deduction.

* Adjust your withholding. Increase the income tax withheld from your paycheck through year-end to cover extra amounts due from Roth conversions or other taxable income increases in order to avoid underpayment penalties. Alternatively, reducing your withholding to account for an overpayment puts money in your pocket now, instead of next year when you file your return.

* Schedule charitable contributions. Cash and checks mailed by year-end count as 2012 deductions, as do credit card charges you make by December 31. Donations of appreciated securities are deductible when you relinquish control. Allow extra time for stock transfers handled by your broker or a mutual fund company.

* Make family gifts. For 2012, the annual amount you can give away to any individual, free of gift tax, is $13,000 ($26,000 when you're married and make the gift with your spouse).

* Plan for elective health care expenses. Use up the balance in your flexible spending account (FSA) by year-end, and figure out how much you'll contribute in 2013. No FSA? You still have time to set up a health savings account (HSA) and make a deductible contribution.

* Remember required minimum distributions. Failing to take a required distribution from your traditional IRA before year-end could cost you 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn.

These are just a few of the tax-cutting moves you should review. For help in finding the right moves to make in your particular situation, give us a call.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Have you considered a SIMPLE plan for your business?

Many sole proprietors and small business owners agree on the following two issues: they pay too much in taxes and they have difficulty attracting and retaining good employees. One way to address both of these issues is to have your business sponsor a retirement savings plan. If you're self-employed or own a small business and don't currently have a retirement plan in place, consider setting up a SIMPLE plan.

SIMPLEs (Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees) are available in two forms - SIMPLE IRAs and SIMPLE 401(k)s. SIMPLE plans are generally available only to small businesses that don't maintain any other retirement plan. If your business has more than 100 employees, you won't be eligible for a SIMPLE.

Most businesses will find the IRA version preferable to the 401(k) form of SIMPLE. Here's how SIMPLE IRAs work. Eligible employees (including yourself) can elect to have a portion of their earnings withheld each pay period, limited to $11,500 in annual deferrals ($14,000 for those aged 50 or older). The employees then direct how the deferrals will be invested within their own SIMPLE IRAs. Amounts withheld for the SIMPLE IRA reduce the employee's taxable income and grow tax-deferred.

The costs to set up and administer a SIMPLE IRA are minimal. However, as the employer, you're required to make contributions into your employees' SIMPLE IRAs on their behalf. You have the option of contributing either 2% of the wages of every eligible employee or making matching contributions up to 3% of the wages of those employees who participate in the plan.

Generally, the deadline for businesses to establish a SIMPLE plan for 2012 is October 1, 2012. To find out more about SIMPLE plans, give us a call.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to succeed in a new business

If the current job market has you thinking about starting a business of your own, take some steps to increase the odds that your business will succeed.

* The first step is an honest self assessment. Common characteristics of a successful entrepreneur are the drive to achieve and the willingness to take risks. To succeed in business, you need good organizational and people skills, confidence to make good decisions under pressure, and the emotional and physical endurance to work long hours. Experience in the type of business you're planning is a major factor.

* Take the time to do your homework. A business is more likely to fail if you're in a hurry to open the doors. Consult trade associations, other successful business owners, governmental agencies, and professional advisors for information relating to your new business. Is there a demand for your type of product or service? If so, who will your customers be, and where should you locate in order to be easily accessible to them? How will you set your prices to attract customers, yet maximize profits? How will you make your business stand out from the competition?

* Look for ways to limit your overhead expenses. For example, determine whether you should lease or buy your premises and equipment. If you only need an office to meet with clients, consider places that rent space on an as-needed basis and furnish secretarial help and equipment. Check out the benefits of an enterprise zone, where taxes and even the cost of utilities and phone service may be lower.

* Incorporate your research into a business plan. Have your accountant assist you with this. Chances of obtaining the necessary start-up capital improve if you have a clear business plan.

Opening a new business is the dream of many people. For guidance that can help improve the chances of success for your venture, give us a call.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Don't panic if the IRS sends you a letter

There are many reasons why the Internal Revenue Service could be contacting you. Some contacts involve very minor corrections; some are for serious changes that could involve a lot of money. Sometimes the IRS is correct in what they are seeking; sometimes they are wrong.

An IRS notice can be something as simple as a correction to a social security number or as significant as a billing for more taxes, plus interest and penalties.

So, what should you do if you get a letter from the IRS?

Here is a list of do's and don'ts concerning contact from the IRS.

* Don’t panic, but don't ignore the notice; the problem will not go away.

* Act promptly. A quick response to the IRS may eliminate further, more complicated correspondence.

* Follow the instructions in the IRS notice. Any correspondence you have with the IRS must make reference to the specific notice you are addressing.

* If you agree with the IRS adjustment, you do not need to do anything unless a payment is due.

* If the IRS is requesting more money or a significant amount of new information, be sure to contact your tax preparer immediately.

* Always provide your tax preparer with a copy of any IRS notice, regardless of how minor it appears to be.

* Keep a copy of all the IRS correspondence with your tax return copy for the year in question.

If you would like more information or assistance with any tax matter, please contact our office. We are here to help you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Changes scheduled for flexible spending accounts

Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are popular with employees because they permit the use of pretax dollars for payment of medical expenses and dependent care costs.

If you use an FSA, be aware that changes are scheduled beginning next year. As part of the health care reform law passed in 2010, there will be a dollar limit on the amount that can be set aside for medical expenses. Effective for plan years starting in 2013, the maximum set-aside for medical expenses will be $2,500.

The limit on what can be set aside for dependent care costs will not change; it remains at $5,000.

Keep an eye on any upcoming legislation that could change these rules again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

IRS eases reporting requirement for small businesses

The “Affordable Care Act of 2010” requires employers to report the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan on the employee's W-2 for 2012.

The IRS is easing this requirement for small companies. Employers issuing fewer than 250 W-2s will not need to include the cost of health care on W-2s for 2012. For these employers, the 2012 reporting is optional. And such reporting will not apply for future years until the IRS publishes guidance giving at least six months of advance notice of any change in the filing requirement.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Investment Tax Tip

Consider tax-exempt investments as a means of cutting your income tax. There is an easy way to compare the yield on tax-exempt investments (such as municipal bonds) with the after-tax yield from taxable investments. Subtract your top tax bracket from 100 and divide the tax-exempt interest rate by that number. The result is the equivalent taxable return.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Retirement Tax Tip

Consider a Roth IRA if you qualify for one. The beauty of a Roth is that your investment grows tax-free, and qualified withdrawals from a Roth will be completely tax-free. Contact our office for more information.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Capital gains and losses: New twists for 2012

The end of the year is the traditional time for securities investors to "harvest" capital losses for federal income tax purposes. But there's an added wrinkle in 2012: Due to pending tax law changes, you might try to reap more capital gains than losses. Thus, the usual strategy of harvesting losses could be turned upside down.

Here's a recap of the basic rules. The capital gains and capital losses you realize during the year are "netted" under complex rules when you file your tax return. A gain or loss is treated as being long-term if you've held the securities for more than one year. For 2012, net long-term capital gain is taxed at a maximum tax rate of 15% (0% for investors in the regular 10% and 15% tax brackets).

If you're showing a net capital gain on paper as year-end approaches, any capital losses you realize will reduce the amount of the taxable gain or offset it completely. An excess loss can then offset up to $3,000 of highly taxed ordinary income before any remainder is carried over to next year. However, the usual strategy of harvesting losses is complicated this year by three key tax law changes scheduled for 2013.

1. The maximum tax rate for net long-term capital gain will increase to 20% (10% for investors in the lower tax brackets).

2. Ordinary tax rates are going up. For example, the top rates of 33% and 35% will increase to 36% and 39.6%, respectively.

3. A special 3.8% Medicare surtax will apply to the lesser of net investment income for the year or the amount by which modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds $250,000 ($200,000 for single filers).

Barring any late legislation by Congress, investors may be inclined to harvest capital gains instead of losses at year-end. As a result, you can benefit from the favorable tax rates in effect for 2012. If you've already realized short-term gains in 2012, you might want to realize short-term losses to offset those gains. But don't use short-term losses to offset long-term gains, if you can help it, because long-term gains are taxed at a maximum rate of only 15% in 2012.

Other considerations may come into play. The best approach is to do what's best for your situation. Contact us for assistance in reviewing your options.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's your company's breakeven point?

The figures on an income statement report the sales, expenses, and net profit or loss of a business. But these figures can be helpful in another way. They can be used to compute the breakeven point for the business. Knowing your breakeven point can help you run your operations more efficiently and profitably.

Simply put, the breakeven point is the sales volume at which the business generates just enough revenue to cover its expenses. While a business that's breaking even doesn't have a profit, it's not losing money either.

* How to determine breakeven. To calculate your breakeven point, you'll need to know three things: sales, variable costs, and your total fixed costs. Variable costs are those that fluctuate with the number of items sold, such as the cost of materials and sales commissions. Within limits, fixed costs do not fluctuate with sales volume (i.e., rent, insurance, and property taxes).

* Calculating the breakeven point involves two steps. First, it's necessary to figure out the amount left over from each sales dollar after the variable expenses have been subtracted. This is known as the contribution margin. Then the contribution margin is divided into your fixed expenses to get the breakeven point.

* How to use breakeven. How can you benefit from knowing your breakeven point? First, you'll be able to manage your business better once you know the sales volume needed to turn a profit. Second, by monitoring your sales, you can accurately predict whether you're on course to reach your profit goals. Third, you'll be able to take corrective action more quickly.

There are other benefits too. Using breakeven analysis, you can calculate the sales volume you'll need to cover the costs of a proposed new product or service. Plus, if you have a desired profit, you can add it to your fixed expenses and calculate the precise sales volume you need to achieve that targeted profit.

Call us if you would like assistance in using breakeven analysis to improve your business.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should a freshman in college have a credit card?

Should you send your child off to college with a credit card? Opinions are divided, both among parents and financial advisors. It's a situation that can work out really well or really badly, depending on the student and the parents.

At its best, everyone benefits from giving a student a card. The student uses the card for budgeted expenses, pays off the balance each month, and starts building a good credit history. The parents sleep better knowing the student has a credit source in case of emergencies.

At its worst, the student is unused to managing money or living within a budget. The student fails to make payments on time, incurs high interest charges, and ruins his or her credit history. The parents have to step in to bail the student out.

Among the risks:

* Lack of experience in managing money can lead a student to overspend or to neglect making payments on time.

* Peer pressure may encourage a student to spend on entertainment or clothes, just to keep up with friends.

* Failure to agree on a budget beforehand can result in shock when you see your student's monthly statement.

* Parents co-signing for the card can put their credit scores at risk, too.

* Loss or theft of the card can lead to problems that take time to resolve.

To minimize risks:
* Set ground rules for use of the card. Agree on what it may and may not be used for. Put the agreement in writing and have the student sign off.

* Establish a budget. Talk regularly about how your student is managing his or her expenses within the budget.

* Consider alternatives to a credit card, at least for the freshman year. Consider using a prepaid credit card, or set up a checking account with a debit card. That allows the student to gain experience managing expenses within a budget.

Finally, remember you may have no say in the matter. Students are bombarded with credit card offers as soon as they enroll. Card companies are usually happy to issue a card to any student over age 18 in his or her own name.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What's more important - saving for children's college or your retirement?

A college education. Retirement. What do these major life events have in common?
One shared characteristic is that each comes with a price tag. Here's another: If you have school-age kids, you might be facing the challenge of having to decide which goal to save for. They're both important. So how do you make the choice?

Here are some suggestions that can help you reach a sensible solution.

* Eliminate excuses for not making a decision. Procrastination can be costly. For example, to accumulate $100,000 in five years, you'd have to deposit a little over $1,500 every month in an account that earns 4%. But with a ten-year time horizon, assuming the same return, you can build up $100,000 by socking away less than half that amount, or approximately $700 per month.

What you need to know: Estimate the total amount required for both goals, how much time you have, and how much cash you'll need to set aside on a regular basis.

* Expand your resource horizon. Once you've computed the expense side of the equation, figure out how much you can afford to save. You may find that, with one pool of income and two goals, there's not enough money to fully fund both goals.

But who says you have to pay for everything yourself? Turn an obstacle into an opportunity by searching out alternatives. For instance, while your income in retirement may be dependent in large part on your savings, there are plenty of options for paying
college tuition.

Where to look: Investigate the possibility of advanced placement credits while your child is still in high school. Other potential sources of help include scholarship prospects, federal work/study programs, and summer internships.

* Adopt a flexible approach. Broadly speaking, you have three alternatives for divvying up your available savings between the two goals. You can save for retirement only, save for college only, or opt to do both.

Yet within each alternative are creative strategies. As an illustration, you could start out by saving strictly for retirement, shift toward saving for college when your child reaches a certain age, then switch back after graduation.

Caution: Be careful of falling into the deadline trap. It's likely your kids will attend college before you retire. Since the tuition deadline is closer, you might be tempted to reduce or eliminate retirement plan contributions in the early years of your savings plan in order to focus on education savings.

But consider this: A typical retirement will generally last longer and cost more than your child's education. By putting college tuition first, you could end up with less than you need in your retirement nest egg. Instead, take your overall time horizon into account.

For assistance with the numbers, give us a call.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Know the facts about IPOs

Do you know anybody who's tripled his money investing in the IPO (initial public offering) of a hotshot new company? It can happen. And many investors thought the recent Facebook IPO was a way to quick riches.

Yet the truth is, most investors don't make money playing IPOs. It's just that no one brags when they lose money. Nonetheless, investors of all kinds are lined up for a shot at the next IPO. So it pays to know the facts before diving in.

First bit of advice: Don't bet the farm. The problem is that generally IPOs are issued by companies with no track record, inexperienced management, and few assets. And, unfortunately, the underwriters for these IPOs are motivated to complete the transaction, collect their fees, and move on. Their compensation is linked not to the quality of the firms they take public, but rather to the number of deals they sell to the public.

To protect yourself, you must do your homework, as you would for any investment. A company planning an IPO writes a prospectus that describes the business and details management's plans for what they intend to do with the money, how fast they intend the company to grow, and what profits they expect. The prospectus also discusses the competition and markets, and, most importantly, describes the risks of investing in the IPO.

Do the necessary research, and be sure you understand the risks before you make an investment in an IPO.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Taxes are due on self-employment income

There is no income tax withholding on self-employment income, but that doesn't mean you're not required to pay taxes during the year. Self-employed individuals generally must make quarterly estimated tax payments due April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Business Tax Tip

Summer is a good time to do business entertaining – an outdoor barbecue at your home for business clients, for example. Keep records of the cost, the date, the attendees, and the business purpose. Your tax deduction is limited to 50% of the cost.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Combine business and pleasure

Check the tax savings of combining business and pleasure on the same trip this summer. Within the U.S., if the primary purpose of the trip is business and you add on a side trip or an extra few days for pleasure, you can deduct all the travel costs to and from your business destination and all other business-related costs. You can't deduct costs related to the pleasure portion.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Tax Tip

Do you own a boat or recreation vehicle? Are you thinking about buying one? As long as the vehicle has sleeping space, a bathroom, and cooking facilities, you may be able to claim it as a second home and deduct the interest payments on your loan.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Watch out for scams if you invest in coins

Buying rare and precious coins can be an exciting hobby and, for some, a lucrative investment. Unfortunately, it's also a business that's rife with potential for con artists. As always, it's wise to proceed with caution. Following a few simple guidelines can offer protection from unethical sellers.

* Research, research, research. Know what you're buying. Carefully study the characteristics of the coins you're considering, paying specific attention to rarity, grading, market availability, and price trends. Comparison shop for similar coins by checking prices in leading coin publications. If a dealer's advertised price is much lower than listed prices, the dealer may be misrepresenting a coin's grade or quality. Online discussion groups dedicated to coin collecting are also a great place to post questions about a particular coin.

* Know the seller. Before you buy, check out the dealer's reputation. How long has the firm been in business? Is the dealer a member of a professional organization? Has the Better Business Bureau received any complaints about this company? What guarantees does the seller provide?

* Be careful with online auctions. For many years the market for rare and precious coins has been a fertile field for fraudsters, and online selling has taken the game to a new level. Dealers who use online auctions such as eBay have been caught using a variety of scams: doctoring images, posting bogus descriptions, selling counterfeits, sending coins that differ from those advertised (the old "bait and switch" routine), and failing to deliver purchased items. Again, if you're planning to buy at an online auction, find out as much as possible about the seller. Check feedback ratings. Read both positive and negative comments. Make sure the seller has sold similar coins in the past with good results. Ask the seller for clarification if something appears suspicious. And if you win the bidding, beware of sending payments to a location that differs from the one listed in the auction.

Whether buying coins online or off, the old maxim, "let the buyer beware" is always sound advice.

Monday, July 30, 2012

How to get slow-paying customers to pay up

You’ve done your part. The job is complete, your customer is satisfied -- but a month has gone by, and your invoice is still outstanding. You’d like to work with the customer in the future. So how do you get your money without losing the customer?

Here are two strategies that may help.

1. Communicate promptly. On the day after the due date, send an e-mail with your original invoice attached, or fax a copy. Then call to make sure the duplicate was received. While you’re talking, ask whether the customer has all necessary documentation, and find out why payment is delayed. If the customer is happy with your performance, mention that you won’t be able to complete new contracts until past invoices are cleared up. Request payment on a specific date.

What if that date arrives but the money doesn’t? Drop by your customer’s business. Take a copy of the invoice and notes of previous conversations. Offer to wait while a check is processed.

2. Be willing to negotiate. When customers fall on hard times, you may still be able to find a solution that will work for both of you. Some options:

* Ask for a portion of the outstanding balance.

* Request that a specific invoice be paid immediately, with the remainder due at staggered intervals.

* Establish a short-term payment schedule for a series of smaller checks.

* Offer to convert the receivable into a formal note, with an amortization schedule and interest rate.

Setting credit terms, limiting the amount of credit you’ll extend, checking ratings, and requiring down payments can prevent collection difficulties. If you’d like help establishing procedures for receivables management in your business, give us a call.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tax rules apply to family loans

There are many worthwhile reasons to lend money to a relative. For example, you may want to help a child or sibling continue their education or start their own business.

But lending money to relatives can have tax consequences. The IRS requires that a minimum rate of interest be charged on loans. If you do not charge at least the minimum rate, the IRS will still require you to pay tax on the difference between the interest you should have charged and what you actually charged. If these excess amounts become large, or if the loan is forgiven, there may also be gift tax implications.

There are some exceptions, though. Loans of up to $10,000 generally can be made at a lower (or zero) rate of interest, as long as the proceeds aren’t invested. Loans between $10,001 and $100,000 are exempt from the minimum interest requirement as well, as long as the borrower’s investment income is $1,000 or less. If the investment income exceeds $1,000, you’ll be taxed on the lesser of this income or the minimum IRS interest.

For the IRS to treat the transaction as a loan and not a gift subject to the gift tax rules, the transaction must look like a loan. The borrower should have the ability to repay the principal and interest. A contract should be prepared which specifies the loan amount, interest rate, the payment dates and amounts, any security or collateral, as well as late fees and steps to be taken if the borrower doesn’t pay. Have the document signed and dated by all the parties. For assistance, give us and your attorney a call.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Check your 2012 withholding

Withholding too much tax from your wages isn't a smart financial move. Match your withholding as closely as possible to your actual tax liability for the year, and invest the extra money for yourself, not the IRS.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What to consider before lending money to family and friends

When your best friend views your nest egg as a source of start-up funds for his latest business venture, or your nephew hits you up for a car loan, your first impulse may be to reach into your bank account to help. But it's a fact that loans to family and friends often end up straining both finances and relationships. As Shakespeare said, "Loan oft loses both itself and friend." In other words, if you lend money to friends, you often don't get paid back, and the friendship itself may disintegrate.

It's best to consider a loan to someone you love as an "arm's length" transaction. If you're pondering such a loan, keep the following in mind:

* You can just say "no." It's your money, after all. Do you really want to raid an emergency fund or dip into your child's college account to finance a friend's business idea? Think like a bank. It's reasonable to ask tough questions about the person's bank accounts, potential sources of income, planned use of loan proceeds, and spending habits before extending credit.

* Consider a gift. If you're comfortable sharing your resources, you may want to provide a monetary gift with no strings attached. In many cases, this is the best solution because neither you nor your friend expect the money to be paid back. Unlike a loan, this type of arrangement can forestall misunderstandings and hurt feelings later on. Of course, you should not give money if doing so would unduly strain your own finances.

* Formalize loans. If you decide to lend more than a small amount to a friend or family member, it's generally best to draft a written agreement. This can be as simple as filling out a promissory note (available online or at office supply stores). Such forms spell out the basic terms of the loan -- amount, interest rate, payback period -- and provide some limited protection should you and the borrower end up in small claims court. Another recent innovation is the use of direct lending (also called social lending or peer-to-peer lending) websites to facilitate loans between family and friends. For a fee, such sites can prepare loan documentation, send payment reminders, issue regular reports, even facilitate electronic fund transfers. If the loan involves a significant amount of money, check with your attorney.

Remember: Many personal relationships have been damaged when loans go awry. So proceed with caution.