Six Must-Dos When You Donate to Charity

Charity Donations Donations are a great way to give to a deserving charity, and they also give back in the form of a tax deduction. Unfortunately, charitable donations are under scrutiny by the IRS, and many donations without adequate documentation are being rejected.

Here are six things you need to do to ensure your charitable donation will be tax-deductible.

 

Bullet Point Make sure your charity is eligible. Only donations to qualified charitable organizations registered with the IRS are tax-deductible. You can confirm an organization qualifies by calling the IRS at (877) 829-5500 or visiting the IRS website.
Bullet Point Itemize. You must itemize your deductions using Schedule A in order to take a deduction for a donation. If you’re going to itemize your return to take advantage of charitable deductions, it also makes sense to look for other itemized deductions. These include state and local taxes, real estate taxes, home mortgage interest and eligible medical expenses over a certain threshold.
Bullet Point Get receipts. Get receipts for your deductible donations. Receipts are not filed with your tax return but must be kept with your tax records. You must get the receipt at the time of the donation or the IRS may not allow the deduction.
Bullet Point Pay attention to the calendar. Donations are deductible in the year they are made. To be deductible in 2017, donations must be made by Dec. 31, although there is an exception. Donations made by credit card are deductible even if you don’t pay off the charge until the following year, as long as the donation is reported on your credit card statement by Dec. 31. Similarly, donation checks written before Dec. 31 are deductible in the year written, even if the check is not cashed until the following year.
Bullet Point Take extra steps for noncash donations. You can make a donation of clothing or items around the home you no longer use. If you decide to make one of these noncash donations, it is up to you to determine the value of the donation. However, many charities provide a donation guide to help you determine the value. Your donated items must be in good or better condition and you should receive a receipt from the charitable organization for your donations. If your noncash donations are greater than $500, you must file a Form 8283 to provide additional information to the IRS. For noncash donations greater than $5,000, you must also get an independent appraisal to certify the worth of the items.
Bullet Point Keep track of mileage. If you drive for charitable purposes, this mileage can be deductible as well. For example, miles driven to deliver meals to the elderly, to be a volunteer coach or to transport others to and from a charitable event, can be deducted at 14 cents per mile. A contemporaneous log of the mileage must be maintained to substantiate your charitable driving.

Remember, charitable giving can be a valuable tax deduction — but only if you take the right steps.

 

 

Five Home Office Deduction Mistakes

Home office deductions

If you operate a business out of your home, you may be able to deduct a wide variety of expenses. These may include part of your rent or mortgage costs, insurance, utilities, repairs, maintenance, and cleaning costs related to the space you use.

It is a tricky area of the tax code that’s full of pitfalls for the unwary. Here are some of the top mistakes people make.

Bullet Point Not taking it. This is probably the biggest mistake those with home offices make. Some believe the deduction is too complicated, while others believe taking a home office deduction increases your chance of being audited. While the rules can be complicated, there are now simple home office deduction methods available to every business.
Bullet Point Not exclusive or regular. Your home office must be used exclusively and regularly for your business.
Exclusively: If you use a spare bedroom as a business office, it can’t double as a guest room, a playroom for the kids, or a place to store your hockey gear. Any kind of non-business use can invalidate your deduction.
Regularly: Your office should be the primary place you conduct your regular business activities. That doesn’t mean that you have to use it every day nor does it stop you from doing work outside the office, but it should be the primary place for business activities such as record keeping, billing, making appointments, ordering equipment, or storing supplies.
Bullet Point Mixing use with other work. If you are an employee for someone else in addition to running your own business, be careful in using your home office to do work for your employer. Generally, IRS rules state you can use a home office deduction as an employee only if your employer doesn’t provide you with a local office.Unfortunately, this means if you run a side business out of your home office, you cannot also bring work home from your employer and do it in your home office. That could invalidate your use of the home office deduction.
Bullet Point The recapture problem. If you have been using your home office deduction, including depreciating part of your home, you could be in for a future tax surprise. When you later sell your home you will need to account for this depreciation. The depreciation recapture rules create a possible tax liability for many unsuspecting home office users.
Bullet Point Not Getting Help. There are special rules that apply to your use of the home office deduction if:
You are an employee of someone else.
You are running a daycare or assisted living facility out of your home.
You have a business renting out your primary residence or a vacation home.

 

The home office deduction can be tricky, so ask for help, especially if you fall under one of these cases.

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.

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.

Plan for Tax Filing Season Changes

Coming changes calendar

In an effort to reduce the amount of money paid to identity thieves who file fraudulent returns, the IRS will be implementing changes in the timing and way they handle the processing of tax returns.

These steps will continue to evolve, but recent changes will impact millions who depend on receiving an early refund.

Bullet warning Earlier filing of form W-2s and 1099-MISC. The timing required to send these forms to employees and vendors remains the end of January. However, the extended deadline for filing the electronic version of these forms to the IRS and Social Security Administration is now a full month earlier. This is done to allow the IRS to match records with early filed tax returns. The prior timing gap was ideal for thieves to file fraudulent tax returns.
Bullet warning Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit. If you file a tax return that contains either of these credits, do not expect to receive an early refund. The IRS has been mandated to hold these refund payments until February 15th or later. Given the payment backlog this will create, it is still important to file early to get your refund in the queue.
Bullet warning Get Transcript changes. The IRS is now adding a second level of security to their online functions. The initial version of this change is in the recently re-launched Get Transcript online request. You will now need to have a valid email, mobile phone number, and a credit card or financial account number to log into the system. If you are not ready to provide this additional information to the IRS you can still request copies of your tax return using the mail.

Begin planning now to be prepared for these upcoming changes. Rest assured, we can all look forward to further changes as the IRS continues to address the multi-billion dollar identity theft problem plaguing the Agency.

As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your situation please feel free to call.

You Still May Wish to File a Tax Return

1040 form and IRS logo

Too many taxpayers fail to file a tax return under the false notion that one is not required to pay income tax. This assumption can cause problems. Here are some examples of when to file a tax return even when not required to do so.

Check mark Wish to qualify for Premium Tax Credit. This tax credit helps reduce the cost of health insurance for those who purchase their insurance through the new health insurance marketplace. Without a filed tax return you cannot have the Premium Health Credit applied towards your monthly premiums. In fact, non-filing could limit your ability to receive this credit in future tax years as the IRS continues to place controls on the payment of this credit.
Check mark Receive refundable tax credits. There are certain tax credits that will provide refunds even if you do not owe income tax. The most common of these is the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Check mark You wish to limit potential audits. The IRS typically has three years to audit a filed tax return. If no tax return is filed, this audit time limit never starts.
Check mark You are applying for financial aid or loans. Banks and colleges will often use tax return information to qualify you for loans and financial aid. Even if not required to file, it is nice to provide this information if requested.
Check mark You are filing a final tax return for a loved one. The IRS will eventually receive death information through the Social Security Administration. By filing a final tax return, you can put the breaks on unwanted communication from the IRS as they wait for this confirmation.
Check mark You want withholdings returned to you. Always file a tax return if an employer or other supplier withheld tax funds. It is the only way you will receive them back from the federal government.
Check mark You wish to protect against someone else filing a tax return. With the vast increase in identity theft from the IRS, filing a tax return can close the door on would-be thieves. Your filed tax return can block attempts by someone else who files a second tax return with fake information.

Want Federal Money for College?

FAFSA Student Aid
Prepare now for your FAFSA filing

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is often the starting point to help families finance the ever challenging cost of a student’s college education. The application is available starting January 1st. The earlier you file your application, the earlier you will receive aid packages from most participating schools. The application is used to receive grants (free money!), federal loans, and work study awards. Here are some hints to make sure the application process works in your favor.

 Mortarboard Bullet Point Create your signature PINs now. Both the student and parent will need to set up an electronic signature within the FAFSA system. You do not have to wait until January to set these up, so do it now. You cannot submit the FAFSA form without this.
Mortarboard Bullet Point File the FAFSA early! As soon as possible after January 1st, fill out and submit your FAFSA. You will start to see reminders in the press in late December, but November is a great time to estimate your year-end tax obligation. Filing early maximizes your chances of receiving aid. It also minimizes your chances of missing an unknown application deadline.
 Mortarboard Bullet Point Start organizing your tax records. You can fill out and submit the FAFSA form before you finalize your tax return. If you choose this route, you will estimate your tax figures for the FAFSA and then go back later and update your FAFSA with actual numbers. Start organizing your tax records now, so you are in a good position to estimate your tax return.
Mortarboard Bullet Point Let your advisor know. If you have a child ready to attend college, stay in touch with your financial advisor. Managing your assets to present a good financial picture starts before your student’s junior year in high school.
Mortarboard Bullet Point Collect needed information. To fill out a FAFSA you will need the following;

Arrow Student and parent Social Security Numbers
Arrow Drivers license
Arrow Federal tax information for the student and parent (actual or estimated) for current year and actual information from the prior year
Arrow Record of any untaxed income (excluding retirement account balances)
Arrow Information for balances of the following

  • Cash, savings and checking accounts
  • Investment asset balances
  • Other assets
Arrow FAFSA PIN
Mortarboard Bullet Point Involve your student. The FAFSA is a student application for assitance. Use this application process to help your student feel ownership of their educational journey.

Every January, the www.fafsa.gov web site is heavy with activity as students start submitting their FAFSA forms. Please ask for assistance if you need help with any part of the FAFSA submission. The form can be a daunting task for the uninitiated, but by proper preparation you can get your form done in quick order.

Summer Child-Care Tax Opportunity

Summer Childcare

For millions of working parents the summer comes with the added challenge of finding care for their summer vacation bound kids. School hours need to be replaced with child-care hours.

With summer underway, you probably now have the child-care summer gap covered. There is a good chance this care could be tax deductible using the Child & Dependent Care Credit.

Qualifications for the credit

To take advantage of this tax savings opportunity you must meet the following qualifications.

Check You have: one or more dependent children under the age of 13
Check You have: earned income (wages, salary, tips or business income)
Check You are: single or married filing a joint tax return
Check You have: qualified day care expenses
Check You are: financially supporting and maintaining a home for your dependent child
What you should know

Most taxpayers that use this tax credit each year have their tax moves down. Those who use day care to bridge the summer gap could have a $3,000 to $6,000 tax credit if you organize now. To receive the credit:

Arrow The care must be provided so you can work. The care can also qualify if you are looking for work.
Arrow The care does not have to be at a facility. This means day camps, day care, and nanny care qualify. However, overnight camps or summer school costs do not qualify.
Arrow If married, both spouses need to work. There is some leeway if one spouse is a full-time student or is disabled.
Arrow You need to keep records. You need to have receipts for the care expense and you will have to report the caregiver’s tax information (name, address, and tax id/Social Security number) to receive the credit.
Arrow The care payment needs to qualify. You may not pay a dependent or your spouse to care for your children. But beyond this, who you pay is flexible.
The Child & Dependent Care Credit can allow you to deduct 20 – 35% of your summer child-care expense if you plan accordingly. Other details may apply so please call if you wish to discuss how this tax opportunity may work for you.

Know Someone Getting Married?

Tips for every bride and groom

Summer is a popular time to tie the knot. Planning for the event takes hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. Often overlooked in the craziness of the event are important tax and financial topics. If you are planning to get married in the near future or know of someone who is, here are some things to consider.

Wedding proposalNotify Social Security. Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) with any name changes. The IRS has a name match program with the SSA and will potentially reject deductions and joint filing status if the name change is not made timely. You do this by filing Form SS-5.

Selling a home? If selling one or two residences, review the impact of capital gain tax laws and how they apply to your situation. This is important if one of you has only been in a home for a short time or if the home has appreciated in value.

Update your address. Update your address with the IRS if either of you is moving. You do this with IRS form 8822. Also change your address at the postal service.

Notify your employers. Also change your name and addresses with your employer to ensure your W-2s are correctly stated. Recalculate your payroll withholdings and file a new Form W-4.

Beware the marriage penalty. If both newlyweds work, your combined income could put you into a higher tax bracket. This phenomenon is referred to as “the marriage penalty”. On the other hand, marriage could also reduce your tax burden. Because of this, now is a good time to conduct a tax forecast.

Review legal documents. Ensure legal titles are as you wish them after you are married. This includes bank accounts, titles on property, credit cards, insurance, and wills.

Beneficiary statement update. Also check any retirement savings plans like 401(k)s and IRAs. The beneficiaries on these accounts must also be updated.

Review employee benefits. Review your employee benefits and make the necessary changes in health care, insurance, employee retirement accounts, pensions, and tax-preferred spending accounts. Marriage is a qualified event for most employers to allow you to make mid-year changes.

Talk about it. If you have not already done so, spend some time talking about how you will be managing your financial affairs. Who will be paying the bills? Who will be managing retirement accounts and investments? How will spending be managed? What bills and debt exist? Developing a plan and understanding how this will be handled can help reduce misunderstandings and future disagreements.