Saturday, August 31, 2013

Eggs, baskets, and investments

A well-diversified portfolio spreads out your investment risk. However, you can easily end up with more eggs in one basket than you intended. Here are some investment tips.

Look at the big picture.
The assets inside and outside your retirement plans should be considered together when you are designing an investment strategy and balancing your portfolio. Selecting the same investments for your personal accounts and your retirement accounts may decrease your diversification and increase your risk.

Make sure your mutual funds are diversified.
One of the main benefits of owning a mutual fund is diversification. However, your mutual fund might not be as diversified as you think. Consider these areas:

* Watch out for top-heavy funds. For example, your fund's manager favors a few stocks and invests a big chunk of the fund's assets in those stocks. You shouldn't necessarily steer clear of concentrated mutual funds, but owning a single concentrated fund may expose you to more investment risk than you bargained for.

* Watch out for overlap. It's possible to own different funds that own the same stocks or that own similar stocks in the same industries. For example, you might own a technology fund that invests 10% of its assets in Microsoft. You might also own a growth fund that invests 10% of its assets in Microsoft.

* Watch the turnover. Although funds generally list their largest holdings in their prospectus and their annual report, that information represents a snapshot in time. If you own a fund that engages in active trading (a high turnover ratio), its holdings can change considerably from one day to the next. You should review your fund's holdings from time to time to ensure you still have the diversity you desire. Many mutual funds periodically update their holdings on their websites.

If you have questions about your investments and how they fit into your overall financial picture, give us a call.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Savings bonds are tax-smart for college savings

Amid the evolving assortment of education tax breaks is a benefit that has survived with few changes over the years: the education savings bond program. When you qualify for this federal income tax exclusion, the interest you receive from bonds redeemed to pay for certain college expenses may be tax-free.

Are bonds you bought years ago eligible? It depends on when you bought them and how they're titled. Eligible bonds include Series EE or Series I savings bonds you purchased after 1989, as long as you were at least 24 years old when they were issued. The age restriction rules out bonds you put in the names of your kids or grandkids, though the children can be named as beneficiaries.

Once you're sure your bonds qualify for the exclusion, the next step is to find out if you meet the income limitation. In 2013, you can exclude all the interest income you receive from eligible savings bonds when you file a joint return and your modified adjusted gross income is less than $112,050 ($74,700 for singles). A partial exclusion is available until your income reaches $142,050 ($89,700 for singles), at which point the exclusion is no longer available.

Finally, the bonds must be redeemed in the same year you pay qualifying educational expenses for yourself, your spouse, or your dependent child. What expenses qualify? The definition includes tuition and fees that you pay out-of-pocket and for which you claim no other deduction or credit. You can also claim the exclusion when you use the bond proceeds to fund a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell education savings account.

Savings bonds offer additional, less restrictive opportunities for education and tax planning. For instance, it may make sense to put the bonds in your child's name and report the interest on an annual basis. Depending on your child's income, the interest could remain tax-free. Alternatively, you may choose to defer recognizing interest on bonds issued in your child's name until the bonds are redeemed.

Please call us to discuss these strategies and others that can help ease the burden of college costs.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get your business off to a good start

Many small start-up businesses are off-and-running before any record system has been set up. There is money deposited into the new business checking account, some from invested funds and some from sales. There has been money paid out for equipment, supplies, etc., some by check and some by cash out of pocket or from sales receipts.
This informal method of cash receipts and disbursements needs to be formalized. The bookkeeping system does not need to be complicated. In most cases, you can continue to operate much as you have. You just need to do it in a way that leaves a few more tracks.

For example, make all purchases by check. The small miscellaneous cash paid-outs from your pocket (or the petty cash box) are reimbursed by a check with a listing of the expense codes. All your cash receipts are deposited into the bank. No more taking cash from the till for lunches, supplies, etc.

If all the money received by the business is deposited into the bank and all expenses are paid by a company check, the proper journal entries are easy to create from the bank statement.

If you are starting a new business, don't wait until the end of the year and surprise your accountant with a box of miscellaneous receipts. That is the most expensive and least effective use of your accounting information. In addition to setting up the proper record system, your accountant will provide you with guidance on other business, financial, and tax due dates and obligations.

Monday, August 26, 2013

RMDs require careful planning

After all the advice you've received about saving for retirement, taking money out of your traditional IRAs and other qualified retirement plans may feel strange. Yet once you reach age 70½, the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules say you have to do just that.

Under these rules, you must withdraw at least a minimum amount from your retirement plans each year. Since the withdrawals are considered ordinary income, planning in advance can help you prepare for the impact on your tax return.

Here are two suggestions.

* Make a list of your accounts. The rules require an RMD calculation for each plan. With traditional IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE plans, you can take the total distribution from one or more accounts, in any amount you choose. You can also take more than the minimum.

However, withdrawals from different types of retirement plans can't be combined. Say for instance, you have one 401(k) and one IRA. You have to figure the RMD for each and take separate distributions.

Why is that important? Failing to take distributions, or taking less than is required, could result in a penalty of 50% of the shortfall.

* Plan your required beginning date. In general, you're required to withdraw RMDs by December 31, starting in the year you turn 70½. The rules provide one exception: You have the option of postponing your first withdrawal until April 1 of the following year.

Delaying income can be a sound tax move. But because you'll still have to take your second distribution by December 31, you'll receive two distributions in the same year, which can increase your taxes.

To discuss these and other RMD rules, give us a call. We can help you create a sound distribution plan.

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Basis" is important to an S corporation

Losses can be hard to take - so if you think your S corporation will show a loss for 2013, now's the time to plan to make sure you'll get the full tax benefit.

The Problem. The amount of the business loss you can deduct on your individual income tax return is limited to your basis in your S corporation stock and certain corporate debt. This is true even though the loss reported to you on Schedule K-1 is greater than your basis.

Here's how it works. Typically, stock basis in an S corporation begins with the capital contribution you make to get the company started. (When you receive stock as a gift, an inheritance, or in place of compensation, your initial basis is calculated differently.)

At the end of each taxable year, your stock basis is adjusted to reflect the business's operating results. Taxable income increases your basis, while losses reduce it.

Basis is also increased by capital you put into your company and reduced by amounts you withdraw, such as distributions.

After your stock basis reaches zero, you may be able to deduct additional losses, up to the extent of your debt basis. That's the basis you have in loans you make to your company.

Once your stock and debt basis are both reduced to zero, losses incurred are suspended, which means you get no current tax benefit. However, you can generally take suspended losses in future years, when you again have basis.

The Solution. You can increase your basis - and your ability to take losses - by adding capital or making loans to your business.

Please call to discuss how basis affects your individual income tax return. We can guide you through the rules to optimize available breaks.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is all "income" taxable?

You only have to examine your paycheck to realize that certain income is tax-free. For example, health insurance premiums paid by your employer are generally not includible in your income.

Do you know the tax status of other types of income? Here's a quiz to test your knowledge.

1. You tell your son he'll be the sole beneficiary of your estate, and that you've decided to give him an advance on his inheritance. You hand him a check for $10,000. He wants to know how much he'll have to pay in taxes. What do you tell him?

Answer: Gifts, bequests, devises, and inheritances are generally not taxable to the beneficiary. Income produced from those sources is taxable to the beneficiary.

2. You withdraw $20,000 of the contributions you made to your Roth IRA over the past five years, but you're not of retirement age. Do you have a taxable event?

Answer: Unlike traditional IRAs, distributions from Roths are first allocated to amounts you contributed to the account. To the extent the distribution is a return of your contributions, it's not included in your income and you can withdraw it penalty- and tax-free.

3. You purchase a piano at an auction and take it home. While cleaning it, you discover $5,000 inside. Is this money taxable to you?

Answer: Yes. Once it becomes yours, "treasure trove" property is taxable to you at fair market value.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Notify the IRS when you move

If you're one of the millions of taxpayers who've moved recently, don't forget to notify the IRS of your address change. Use "Form 8822, Change of Address," or send written notification to the IRS center where you file your return. Include your full name, old and new addresses, social security number, and signature. If you filed a joint return, include this information for both taxpayers. Keeping the IRS informed of your current address will ensure that you receive notices and refunds without delay.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Retirement tax rules

Three important birthdays affect your retirement plan:

* At age 50, you can make extra "catch-up" contributions to your IRA and 401(k) savings. For 2013, these are $1,000 and $5,500, respectively.

* After age 59½, you're eligible to make penalty-free withdrawals from your IRAs.
* Beginning no later than the year after you reach age 70½, you're required to take minimum distributions from your traditional IRAs each year.

Need more details? Contact our office.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summertime business tip

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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Give to cut taxes

If you are in a position to give, making annual gifts can be an excellent strategy for reducing both your estate and income tax liability. Doing your gift-giving at midyear rather than late in the year is especially smart if you are giving income-producing property. You will then remove more income from your 2013 tax return.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summertime tax tip

If you lost the benefit of a tax credit or other tax break on your 2012 tax return, start now to review how your 2013 income could affect tax credits this year. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is too high to use certain tax breaks, consider switching investments to reduce your AGI. Consider replacing accounts earning taxable interest with tax-free investments. Invest in tax-efficient mutual funds instead of funds that usually distribute large capital gains.