Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ideas for helping your child buy a home

Are you looking for a way to help your child with buying a home? Some strategies you might consider include lending your child money, gifting under the annual gift tax exclusion, pledging securities, and equity sharing.

Assuming you have enough liquid assets, you can effectively act as the mortgage lender to your child by lending money to pay for the house.

Another option is to give the child money for a down payment on a house. Making a gift to your child for the down payment is an ideal situation for parents who are primarily concerned with decreasing the size of their estate and the taxes on it after their death. Current tax law lets individuals make annual gifts of up to $14,000 per person. If both parents join in the gift, they can give the child $28,000 without any gift tax liability.

With some planning, even larger gifts can be made. For instance, if the child is married, his or her spouse is also eligible to receive gifts. Collectively, a married couple could receive $56,000 in gift-tax-free cash for a home purchase. If the gift is spread over a new year, it can be increased to double the amount, giving the child and his or her spouse $112,000 toward the cost of the home.

Another possibility is pledging securities to secure a child's home loan at a financial institution. By pledging securities instead of selling them, the parents can be saved from a potentially taxable event.

Finally, another alternative is equity sharing where the ownership of the home is shared. Typically, the parent makes the down payment, and the child pays the mortgage payment, utilities, taxes, and other ongoing expenses. The home is jointly owned, and the family can agree on a split of any appreciation in value if the home is later sold.

For details on these and other options available to parents who want to help their child buy a home, give us a call.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tax records: What should you keep, and what can you toss?

Once you've filed your 2012 tax return, you may wonder what records you can toss and what you should keep. Here are some suggestions.

Keep records that directly support income or expense items on your tax return. For income, this includes W-2s, 1099s, and Form K-1s. Also keep records of any other income you might have received from other sources. It's also a good idea to save your bank statements and investment statements from brokers.

For expense items, keep your cancelled checks as well as support for any itemized deductions you claimed. This includes acknowledgments from charitable organizations and backup for taxes paid, mortgage interest, medical deductions, work expenses, and miscellaneous deductions. Even if you don't itemize, keep records of expenses for child care, medical insurance if you're self-employed, and any other expenses that appear on your return.

The IRS can audit you routinely for three years after you file your return. But in cases where income is underreported, they can audit for up to six years. To be safe, keep your records for seven years.

Keep certain other records longer. These include records relating to your house purchase and any improvements you make. Also keep records of investment purchases, dividends reinvested, retirement plan contributions, and any major gifts you make or receive. And finally, keep copies of all your tax returns and W-2s in case you ever need to prove your earnings for social security purposes.

Please call our office if you have specific questions about recordkeeping.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

You can correct tax return mistakes

What should you do if you find that you made a mistake on your 2012 tax return after it's been filed? Perhaps you find that you missed a big deduction. Perhaps you receive a late notice of income you earned.
Or perhaps you receive a corrected Form 1099 from your broker. The answer is not to panic. You can correct the mistake with an amended return.

The general rule is that you have three years to amend a personal or business return. Special rules may apply if you paid your taxes late, or are claiming certain business losses or carrybacks. You may have as long as seven years if you are filing to claim a loss on a worthless security or bad debt.

Many amended returns are filed each year. Form 1040X is used to show the items of income or deductions that you want to change or the different elections you want to make. A separate form must be filed for each previous year you want to change. You’ll have to file a paper copy to amend your return, even if you originally filed electronically or by telephone. If you want to change a corporate return, you file a Form 1120X, but the procedures are similar.

If you owe additional tax because of the change, you should send a check at the time you file your amended return. The IRS will let you know if you owe additional interest or penalties.

Please contact our office if you have questions about any return that's already been filed. We can let you know whether you need to file an amended return and help you with any of the necessary paperwork.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

FBAR filing due soon

The IRS and the Treasury Department are getting increasingly interested in U.S. citizens who maintain foreign

bank, savings, and investment accounts. If you have any foreign investments, there's an approaching reporting requirement that you should be aware of.

You are required to file "Treasury Department Form 90-22.1," the "Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts," if you have a financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account. These accounts include bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds, or other types of foreign financial accounts. This is not a form that you file with your tax return. Rather it is a separate form due June 30 each year that is filed with the Treasury Department in Detroit (due June 28 this year since June 30 is a Sunday). Generally, this report is required to be filed if you have an interest in such accounts, and the aggregate value of those accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.

If you do have assets in foreign banks or brokerages, be sure to meet your filing obligation. The requirements can get complicated, and the penalties for nonfiling are severe. For details or filing assistance, contact our office.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Job hunting and taxes

If you're job hunting, be aware of the potential tax breaks. You can deduct the costs of looking for a new job in your present line of work, even if you don't get the job. Typical expenses include travel to job interviews, resume costs, and employment agency fees. You must itemize your deductions, and your total miscellaneous deductions must exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Deductible charity requires recordkeeping

If spring cleaning leaves you with items that you want to donate to charity, remember that donations of used clothing and household items must generally meet certain requirements to be tax-deductible. First, such items must be in "good used condition or better." Second, a receipt from the charity is required. If the property is valued under $250 and a receipt is not available, such as at unattended drop-off locations, reliable written records are still required.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Swap properties to postpone taxes

Postpone taxes by swapping real estate instead of selling it. This may enable you to trade up to property with a higher value. A tax-deferred exchange is a great tax-cutting strategy, but the rules are complex. Be sure to seek professional guidance. You may call us at anytime to discuss this. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Don't fall for this #1 tax scam

Crooks wanting to steal your identity are using bogus e-mails and websites designed to look like genuine IRS
communications. You might expect the April 15 filing deadline to mark the end of these scams, but they, in fact, are expected to continue for months.

An example of these bogus e-mails: You receive a message confirming IRS receipt of your tax return, but the IRS needs more information to process your return. The e-mail looks official and completely legitimate. But it isn’t. The IRS does NOT contact taxpayers asking for personal and financial information. These e-mails should be deleted immediately. Fake IRS websites are also created by scammers to lure victims into filling out forms providing information that results in identity theft.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Check your 2013 tax withholding

If you have a sizable refund of your 2012 taxes, it may be time for you to check your withholding. After all, when you overpay your taxes, you’re making an interest-free loan to the government.

Reducing your withholding is as simple as filing a new Form W-4 with your employer. The form comes with a worksheet to figure out how many allowances you should claim. Don’t forget to allow for other taxable income besides wages, such as dividends or investment gains.

If you’re concerned about underpaying taxes and exposing yourself to penalties, there are a few rules you should know. Generally, you won’t face a penalty if you pay for 2013, through withholding or quarterly estimated payments, at least 100% of your 2012 taxes (110% if your adjusted gross income is over $150,000), or if you pay at least 90% of what you’ll owe for 2013.