Business or Hobby?

Credit Score Ingredients

When you incorrectly claim your favorite hobby as a business, it’s like waving a red flag that says “Audit Me!” to the IRS. However, there are tax benefits if you can correctly categorize your activity as a business.

Why does hobby versus business activity matter?

Chiefly, you’re allowed to reduce your taxable income by the amount of your qualified business expenses, even if your business activity results in a loss.

On the other hand, you cannot deduct losses from hobby activities. Hobby expenses are treated as miscellaneous itemized deductions and don’t reduce taxable income until they (and other miscellaneous expenses) surpass 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Here are some tips to determine whether you can define your activity as a business.

BUSINESS versus HOBBY
You have a reasonable expectation of making a profit. Profit Motive You may sell occasionally, but making money is not your main goal.
You invest significant personal time and effort. You depend on the resulting income. Effort and Income It’s something you do in your free time; you make the bulk of your money elsewhere.
Your expenses are ordinary and necessary to run your business. Reasonable Expenses Your expenses are driven by your personal preferences and not strictly necessary.
You have a track record in this industry, and/or a history of making profits. Background You don’t have professional training in the field and have rarely or never turned a profit.
You have multiple customers or professional clients. Customers You have few customers, mainly relatives and friends.
You keep professional records, including a separate checkbook and balance sheet; you have business cards, stationery and a branded business website. Professionalism You don’t keep strict professional records of your activities; you don’t have a formal business website or business cards.

The IRS will consider all these factors to make a broad determination whether you operate your activity in a businesslike manner. If you need help ensuring you meet these criteria, reach out to schedule an appointment.

 

Marriage Tax Tips

Credit Score Ingredients

If you recently got married, plan to get married, or know someone taking the matrimonial plunge, here are some important tax tips every new bride and groom should know.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Notify Social Security. Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of any name changes by filling out Form SS-5. The IRS matches names with the SSA and may reject your joint tax return if the names don’t match what the SSA has on file.
1 Address change notification. If either of you are moving, update your address with your employer as well as the Postal Service. This will ensure your W-2s are correctly stated and delivered to you at the end of the year. You will also need to update the IRS with your new address using Form 8822.
1 Review your benefits. Getting married allows you to make mid-year changes to employer benefit plans. Take the time to review health, dental, auto, and home insurance plans and update your coverage. If both of you have employer health plans, you need to decide whether it makes sense for each of you to keep your plans or whether it’s better for one to join the other’s plan as a spouse. Pay special attention to the tax implication of changes in health savings accounts, dependent childcare benefits and other employer pre-tax benefits.
1 Update your withholdings. You will need to recalculate your payroll withholdings and file new W-4s reflecting your new status. If both of you work, your combined income could put you in a higher tax bracket. This can result in reduced and phased-out benefits. This phenomenon is known as the “marriage penalty.”
1 Update beneficiaries and other legal documents. Review your legal documents to make sure the names and addresses reflect your new marital status. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, property titles, insurance policies and living wills. Even more importantly, review and update beneficiaries on each of your retirement savings accounts and pensions.
1 Understand the tax impact of your residence. If you are selling one or two residences, review how capital gains tax laws apply to your situation. This is especially important if one of you has been in your home for only a short time or if either home has appreciated in value. This review should be done prior to getting married to maximize your tax benefits.
1 Sit down with an expert. It is natural for newlyweds to focus their attention on the big day. There are so many decisions to be made from selecting a venue to planning the honeymoon. Because of this, reviewing your tax situation often is an afterthought. Do not make this mistake. A simple tax and financial planning session prior to the big day can save on future headaches and avoid potentially expensive tax mistakes.

If you’d like a review of how marriage will affect your tax and financial situation, call at your earliest opportunity.

 

 

Three Popular Tax Breaks are Gone

Expense paperwork

As you make plans for the 2017 tax year, take note that three popular tax breaks expired last year and won’t be available unless Congress acts to extend them.

1 Tuition and fees deduction. You used to be able to deduct as much as $4,000 in college tuition and fees as an adjustment to taxable income. This provision was popular because it provided an alternative to other credits and did not require you to itemize deductions to receive the tax benefit. While this tax benefit is currently expired, several tax breaks geared toward students still exist:

student loan interest expense deductions
student education savings plans (529 plans)
education credits such as the American opportunity credit and the lifetime learning credit
1 Mortgage insurance premiums. The ability to deduct the cost of mortgage insurance premiums as an itemized deduction expired last year. This expired benefit used to phase out for taxpayers with more than $100,000 in adjusted gross income. Mortgage insurance is typically required of homeowners with a less than 20 percent down payment on their home purchase.
1 Lower senior threshold for medical expense deductions. The threshold for deducting itemized medical expenses raises to 10 percent of adjusted gross income for all taxpayers beginning in 2017. Prior to this, those age 65 or older had a lower 7.5 percent threshold. Only unreimbursed, qualified medical expenses in excess of 10 percent of your adjusted gross income can now be taken as an itemized deduction. For example, if a 70 year old taxpayer has $50,000 in adjusted gross income, he could have deducted his medical expenses that exceeded $3,750 as an itemized deduction. This year that number rises to $5,000 with the same income, putting it that much further out of reach for seniors.

Remember to plan for these changes. But also keep an eye on future action from Congress that could bring these dead tax deductions back to life.

Inherited Property: A Matter of Value

Estate

Avoid this potential tax headache

If you are expecting to inherit property when friends or relatives pass away, know that their generosity can come with tax consequences. It’s important to understand how the value of your inheritance is determined in order to avoid a potential tax surprise in the future.

Estate tax basics

When a friend or relative dies and leaves behind a will, someone will be named executor of their estate. The term “estate” means the total amount of the assets and liabilities the deceased person leaves behind, and the “executor” is the person named to handle the the affairs of the estate. It also includes managing the distribution of remaining assets to “beneficiaries,” which is another word for the people who inherit the assets.

The executor has the responsibility to calculate the value of the assets, generally on or around the date of death. This is called the “stepped-up basis.” If the total value of the estate is worth less than $5.49 million, the estate pays no federal tax. If it’s more than that amount, the IRS’s piece of the pie scales up to a whopping 40 percent. Thirteen states and the District Columbia also collect state estate taxes of as much as 20 percent.

The conflict over value

Generally speaking, executors would rather have the estimated value of an estate’s total property fall below estate-tax thresholds. But as a beneficiary receiving an inheritance, it’s in your interest to have a higher estimate of value. That way you may avoid higher capital gains tax if you sell the property.

A high estate valuation helps you as a beneficiary because you only pay tax on the increase in value from the “stepped-up basis.” So, if your inherited property was valued at $200,000 and you later sell it for $300,000, you would pay taxes on $100,000. But if the same property was valued at $300,000, you would potentially owe no tax.

A matter of value

In valuing a piece of property, an executor will compare it to similar properties that have recently sold. Ideally there is a qualified appraisal by an expert to determine the “fair market value”.

If you disagree with the way an executor has valued property you are inheriting, it may be a good idea to have your own appraisal done. With your appraisal in hand, reach out to the executor and make your case for the higher valuation based on your appraisal. Keep in mind that you don’t want an evaluation that is either too low or too high — you want a reasonable fair market value of the assets. If you don’t talk to the executor and you end up using a different valuation in reporting to the IRS, you could be facing a big tax headache.

If you’re able to talk to the executor and agree on a valuation, consider asking for a Form 8971 Schedule A. This form itemizes the valuation of property and is now often required by the IRS for estates worth more than $5.49 million. However it can also be used to provide you with documentation showing that you and an executor have reached an agreement on the value of a specific piece of inherited property.

Collectibles and the Tax Collector

Collectible Coins

It typically takes a great deal of personal interest and expertise in a given field — whether it’s rare art, coins or baseball cards — to judge a treasure from a trinket. For those of you who have been bitten by the collector’s bug, here are some tax considerations.

 

Collectibles defined

According to the IRS: “Collectibles include works of art, rugs, antiques, metals (such as gold, silver, and platinum bullion), gems, stamps, coins, alcoholic beverages, and certain other tangible properties.” 1 What makes something a collectible is that it carries additional value based on its rarity and its market demand. Essentially, the opinion of other collectors and experts, based on what they are willing to pay for your collection, determines its value.

For example, a typical one-ounce gold coin is worth about $1,200 based upon the value of the metal and would not be considered a collectible by the IRS. However, a rare antique double eagle gold coin produced in the 19th century could be worth $20,000 to a collector, even though it is made of exactly the same amount of gold as the non-rare coin.

Collectibles special tax rate

When collectibles are sold, they become taxable at a maximum tax rate of 28 percent. The tax applies to profit on the sale of your collectibles.

That tax rate is considerably higher than the average capital gains tax of 15 percent that most people pay for non-collectible investments such as stocks and bonds (the tax range for long-term capital gains is from 0 to 20 percent). The exception to this rule is that if you’ve held your collection less than a year before you sell it, your capital gain will be taxed as regular income.

It’s all about the basis

In order to calculate what you owe to the IRS if you sell your collectibles, start with your basis. Your basis typically equals the amount you paid for your collectibles, plus any auction or broker fees incurred during your purchase. If you spent money to refurbish, restore or maintain collectibles while you owned them, you can also add that to your basis.

Then, subtract your basis from the sale price of your collectibles; the amount left over is what is taxed. Here’s an example:

Ima Dahl decides to sell an 1898 German Bisque porcelain doll from her collection. She’s owned the doll for ten years and originally paid $700 for it. She also paid $150 two years ago to repair its cracked finish. She receives $1,800 by selling it at an online auction and spends $100 paying her auction fees and shipping to the new owner. Since she owned the doll for more than one year, her long-term capital gain is $850 and her potential maximum tax is $238. The calculation: $1,800 net sales price, minus the $700 basis, minus $150 for repairs, minus $100 selling expense multiplied by 28%.

Some collectible hints

Bullet Point Know the market value. If you inherit a collectible you will need to know the value of the object on the date you obtain it. This will usually become your basis when you sell it.
Bullet Point Investment or personal use. If your collectible is an investment you can usually take a loss on the sale of the collectible. Unfortunately, if the IRS deems the collectible has an element of personal use, you may not deduct the loss. An example of personal use may be the hanging of a painting on your wall. Being careful how you sell your collectible can also make a difference in managing your potential tax liability.
Bullet Point Collectibles tax rate good or bad. The 28 percent capital gain tax on collectibles is the maximum tax rate. For example, if you are in the 15 percent income tax range, your collectible gain is taxed at that rate. If your income tax bracket is higher than 28 percent, the collectibles tax rate is capped at 28 percent, resulting in a potentially lower tax rate versus ordinary income taxes.

As you can imagine, the taxes on buying and selling collectibles can be complex. If you are considering selling a potentially valuable item, ask for assistance.

Use Your Tax Refund Wisely

Roth BasicsThree of every four Americans got a refund check last year and the average amount was $2,777, according to IRS statistics. Because the amount of a refund is often uncertain, we may be tempted to spend it without too much planning. One way to counteract this natural tendency is to come up with a plan beforehand to spend your refund purposefully. Here are some ideas:

4 Pay off debt. If you have debt other than your home mortgage, a great spending priority can be to reduce or eliminate it. The longer you hold debt, the more the cumulative interest burden weighs on your future plans. You have to work harder for longer just to counteract the effect of the debt on your financial health. Start by paying down debts with the highest interest rates and work your way down the list until you bring your debt burden down to a manageable level.
2 Save for retirement. Saving for retirement works like debt, but in reverse. The longer you set aside money for retirement, the more time you give the power of compound earnings to work for you. This money can even continue working for you long after you retire. Consider depositing some or all of your refund check into a Traditional or Roth IRA. You can contribute a total of $5,500 to an IRA every year, or $6,500 if you’re 50 years old or older.
3 Save for a home. Home ownership is a source of wealth and stability for many Americans. If you don’t own a home yet, consider building up a down payment fund using some of your refund. If you already own a home, consider using your refund to start paying your mortgage off early.
4 Invest in yourself. Sometimes the best investment isn’t financial, but personal. If there’s a course of study or conference that would improve your skills or knowledge, that could be a wise use of your money in the long run.
5 Give some of it away. Helping people, and being able to deduct gifts and charity from your next tax return, isn’t the only benefit of giving to a good cause. Research shows that it makes us feel good on a neurological level. In fact, donating money activates our brains’ pleasure centers more than receiving the equivalent amount.1

If a refund is in your future, start planning now on how it can best help your financial situation.

When Converting to a Roth Makes Sense

Roth Basics

Virtually anyone with a qualified retirement savings account can convert funds into a Roth IRA. A Roth is different from other retirement accounts in that contributions come from after-tax dollars, while earnings are tax-free. The question for taxpayers with funds in tax-deferred Traditional IRAs, SEP-IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s is whether converting them into a Roth is worth it.

Roth Basics…

 

 

Major benefits of a Roth IRA:

Thumbs Up Earnings are free from federal tax. This can be of tremendous benefit if you are in a high tax bracket during retirement.
Thumbs Up Unlike Traditional IRAs, you can keep contributing to a Roth after age 70½.
Thumbs Up Unlike Traditional IRAs, there are no minimum required distribution rules.

Downsides of a Roth IRA:

Thumbs Down Because initial contributions are made with after-tax funds, you must pay income tax on the amounts converted from other retirement funds.
Thumbs Down If the tax paid during the conversion is taken from your retirement funds, you could be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Things to consider

Prior to making the decision to convert funds into a Roth IRA, consider the following:

Arrow You should have enough money outside of your retirement account to pay the tax on the conversion.
Arrow A Roth makes the most sense if you think you will face higher tax rates when you retire.
Arrow A Roth conversion will increase your reported annual income by the amount converted during the year. If you aren’t careful, this could disqualify you for important tax benefits, such as dependent child and college tuition tax credits.
Arrow A Roth needs time to build tax-free earnings. The more time you have before retirement, the more a Roth makes sense.

It is important to understand your options, so remember to ask for assistance prior to making a Roth conversion.

Know Your Audit Risk

Audit Risk Nearly every taxpayer can imagine a worst-case scenario where they run afoul of the IRS and are selected for an audit. Here are a few areas that tend to get unwanted audit attention and ideas to help you stay prepared. Your audit risk is (probably) low. The first thing to remember is that the risk of having your tax return examined by the IRS is probably very low. The IRS audits less than 1 in 100 returns. If you are among the roughly 95 percent of Americans who make less than $200,000 a year, your chance of being audited is closer to 1 in 200. Audit chances rise dramatically the higher your income is above $200,000, according to the IRS annual Data Book.

Areas that get attention:

Bullet Point Missing something. Aside from your income level, one of the biggest red flags for the IRS is a missing or incorrect tax form. Assume a copy of every official tax form you get also goes to the IRS.

Action: Create a list of all your expected tax forms. Check them off as you start to receive them over the next month or so. Immediately review the forms for accuracy. These include W-2s, 1099s, 1095s, 1098Ts and more.

Bullet Point Excessive deductions. Your risk of an audit increases when your tax return shows unusually high-value itemized deductions, such as charitable donations or losses from theft.

Action: A legitimate deduction should always be taken. If your itemized deductions are high, make sure your proof of these deductions is well documented.

Bullet Point Large charitable donations. Your chances of an audit increase if you take large deductions for donations to charity, especially “noncash” donations of property with unclear value.

Action: Always remember to file a Form 8283 for any donation above $500 in value. If you are donating anything at that value or higher, it may be worth paying for an appraisal of the value of the property so you can defend your deduction.

Bullet Point Disparities with your ex. Your tax return may as well have a red siren attached to it if you and an ex-spouse are not on the same page on claiming dependents, child support or alimony.

Action: Ensure you and your ex-spouse are consistent in how tax items are treated on your separate returns. If you have had problems with this in the past, a quick phone call could save headaches for both of you.

Bullet Point Business activity. IRS agents have a keen eye for small business reporting, typically done on a Schedule C. In particular, the agency is quick to review claimed business activities they perceive as being hobbies.

Action: Maintain detailed business accounts and record significant time spent on your business activity in order to demonstrate both professionalism and a profit motivation.

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Know Your Audit Risk

Audit Risk

Nearly every taxpayer can imagine a worst-case scenario where they run afoul of the IRS and are selected for an audit. Here are a few areas that tend to get unwanted audit attention and ideas to help you stay prepared.

Your audit risk is (probably) low. The first thing to remember is that the risk of having your tax return examined by the IRS is probably very low. The IRS audits less than 1 in 100 returns. If you are among the roughly 95 percent of Americans who make less than $200,000 a year, your chance of being audited is closer to 1 in 200. Audit chances rise dramatically the higher your income is above $200,000, according to the IRS annual Data Book.

Areas that get attention

Bullet Point Missing something. Aside from your income level, one of the biggest red flags for the IRS is a missing or incorrect tax form. Assume a copy of every official tax form you get also goes to the IRS.

Action: Create a list of all your expected tax forms. Check them off as you start to receive them over the next month or so. Immediately review the forms for accuracy. These include W-2s, 1099s, 1095s, 1098Ts and more.

Bullet Point Excessive deductions. Your risk of an audit increases when your tax return shows unusually high-value itemized deductions, such as charitable donations or losses from theft.

Action: A legitimate deduction should always be taken. If your itemized deductions are high, make sure your proof of these deductions is well documented.

Bullet Point Large charitable donations. Your chances of an audit increase if you take large deductions for donations to charity, especially “noncash” donations of property with unclear value.Action: Always remember to file a Form 8283 for any donation above $500 in value. If you are donating anything at that value or higher, it may be worth paying for an appraisal of the value of the property so you can defend your deduction.
Bullet Point Disparities with your ex. Your tax return may as well have a red siren attached to it if you and an ex-spouse are not on the same page on claiming dependents, child support or alimony.Action: Ensure you and your ex-spouse are consistent in how tax items are treated on your separate returns. If you have had problems with this in the past, a quick phone call could save headaches for both of you.
Bullet Point Business activity. IRS agents have a keen eye for small business reporting, typically done on a Schedule C. In particular, the agency is quick to review claimed business activities they perceive as being hobbies.Action: Maintain detailed business accounts and record significant time spent on your business activity in order to demonstrate both professionalism and a profit motivation.

Last Year’s Tax Bill Makes This Year’s Opportunity

Hand moving chess piece

For the first time in many years, it looks like a last minute tax law change will not upset your ability to fulfill a well thought out tax plan. In addition to making last minute moves to reduce your tax obligation, consider some opportunities to take advantage of recent legislation.

Educators. The $250, above the line deduction is now permanent. If you are a qualified teacher, please make sure you save receipts for your out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

Action: Add up your receipts now. If less than $250, consider your needs prior to the end of the year to maximize your use of this tax law.

Small Business. There are numerous provisions for small business tax savings opportunities in recent tax legislation. Most of them benefit specific industries, but a couple are worth considering for most businesses.

Action: Consider 1st year bonus depreciation and Section 179 provisions to expense qualified capital equipment purchases. Also review your possible use of the Research Credit recently made a permanent part of the tax code.

Seniors who donate. If a senior age 70½ or older, you can now make direct contributions to charities from qualified retirement accounts. The limit is $100,000. The benefit of these direct contributions is they control your adjusted gross income to help you become more tax efficient.

Action: Consider a direct contribution to a preferred charity, especially if you would make the donation with after-tax funds anyway.

Sales tax or state deduction. The option to deduct general sales tax as an itemized deduction versus using state income taxes is now permanent.

Action: Review your situation. If you anticipate low or no state income taxes, but could itemize, you may wish to use this deduction. Remember to keep receipts of any large purchases to track large sales and use tax payements.

Everyone’s health care reporting. Remember to look for your Form 1095 this year. It should accurately report your family’s health care coverage. Many providers of this form have had a hard time getting this information from insurance carriers.

Action: Look for this form in January. Confirm that the information is correctly reported. Notify the provider immediately if the form contains any errors.

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