Are You Maximizing Your Retirement Account Tax Benefit?

2013 contribution limits increase for most major retirement plans

2013 marks a watershed year for contribution limit increases in many of the core retirement savings programs. Many of these contribution limit increases are established using a federal formula. While most annual limits stayed the same from 2011 to 2012, this is not the case for 2013. Here are current annual contribution limits for the more popular programs:

Retirement
Program
Current Year
2013
Last Year
2012
Change Age 50 or over
to catch up
IRA: Traditional $5,500 $5,000 +$500 add: $1,000
IRA: Roth $5,500 $5,000 +$500 add: $1,000
IRA: Simple $12,000 $11,500 +$500 add: $2,500
401(k), 403(b), 457 plans $17,500 $17,000 +$500 add: $5,500

Take action

If you have not already done so, please consider:

  • reviewing and adjusting your periodic contributions to your retirement savings accounts to take advantage of the higher limits
  • setting up new accounts for a spouse or dependent
  • using this change as a chance to review the status of your retirement plan
  • reviewing contributions to other tax-advantaged plans like Flexible Spending Accounts (health care and dependent care) and pre-paid medical savings plans like HSAs (Health Savings Accounts)

Audit Target: The Sole Proprietor

Each year the IRS publishes their activities in a publication called the Data Book. And each year for the past number of years the number one target of audits are those tax returns with a Schedule C for small business activity. So how to prepare yourself for a possible audit? Here are some tips.

  • Keep records separate. The quickest way to get a deduction for your business disallowed is to blend your personal bills with those from your business. Open a separate checking account and use a separate credit card for business expenses.
  • Keep logs. Keep a logbook for business miles. Keep receipts for business meetings and meals. Include the date, time, subject, and who was present at the meeting.
  • Ordinary and necessary. Two key words to use to qualify legitimate, deductible business expenses per the IRS are;
    • Ordinary: an expense that is common and accepted in your industry.
    • Necessary: an expense that is helpful and appropriate for your business.
  • Business not hobby. A qualified business activity allows for direct deductibility of appropriate expenses, where-as hobby activity expenses are only allowed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to passing a 2% adjusted gross income threshold. There are many facets here, but key among them is a profit motive and active participation in the activity to qualify your activity as a business.

Just because the IRS focuses their audit activities in this area does not mean you should be reluctant to take appropriate deductions. Just be prepared to defend your position with excellent records.

Tax Surprises for Newly Retired

5 surprises to know about

You’ve got it all planned out. Your retirement savings plans are full, you have started receiving Social Security benefits, and your Pension is ready to go. Everything is planned, what could go wrong? Here are five surprises that can turn your plan on a dime.

1. Health emergency and Long-term Care. When a simple procedure could cost thousands, health care costs can put a huge dent in your plan. Long-term care can cost thousands per month. Have you planned for this? If your health insurance is not adequate you may need to pull money out of your retirement plan to pay the bills. While this withdrawal may not be subject to a penalty, it might be subject to income tax if the funds are from a pre-tax account.

Tip: Look into creative ways to enhance your health insurance coverage including supplemental health insurance and prescription drug cost coverage. Consider long-term care insurance and other alternative ways to reduce your potential living needs.

2. Taxability of Social Security benefits. If you have excess earnings, your Social Security benefits could be reduced. Even worse, if you are still working, your benefits could be subject to income tax.

Tip: If this impacts you, consider conducting a tax planning session to better understand your options including the possibility of delaying the receipt of Social Security benefits.

3. Your pension plan. Understand if your pension is in good financial health. Often pensions will offer a lump-sum payout option for you. Should you take it?

Tip: Review your pension plan’s annual statement. How solid is it? If there are risks, consider cash out alternatives and planning for the potential drop in future income.

4. Minimum Required Distribution (RMD). Forgot to take your minimum required distribution from your retirement plans this year? The tax bite could be quite a surprise as the penalty on the amount not withdrawn is 50%!

Tip: Select a memorable date (like your birthday) to review your RMD and take action so this tax surprise does not impact you.

5. Future Tax Rates. The federal government is spending over $1 trillion more than it brings in each year. Cash starved states are looking for new tax revenue. Don’t be surprised when future tax rates continue to rise during your retirement.

Tips:

  • Create a retirement plan with higher state and federal tax rates
  • Plan for increases in health care costs through Medicare
  • Plan for more tax on Social Security benefits
  • Plan for higher capital gain and dividend taxes (now 20% versus 15%)

984,000 Could Lose their Tax Refund

Last week the IRS announced it is holding $917 million in unclaimed refunds for the 2009 tax year. If the claims for these unpaid refunds are not made by April 15th the refunds will no longer be available. Here is what you need to know:

  1. Timely filing. To receive the refund your 2009 tax return must be properly addressed, mailed, and postmarked by April 15th. It is best to send this certified mail in case there is a dispute with the filing of the return. To play it safe, it is also best to plan for the IRS to receive the return prior to April 15th.
  2. Haven’t filed a tax return? There is no penalty for filing a late return that qualifies for a refund.
  3. There may be delays. If you have not filed a 2010 or 2011 tax return, your refund may be granted, but delayed until the other tax returns are filed. In addition, the refund may be used to pay for any unpaid tax obligations.
  4. It will be tough. Remember all of the country is busy preparing 2012 tax returns, so getting help can be a challenge.

If this impacts you, act now. If you fail to file a tax return, the government can collect any taxes owed long after three years. However, if the government owes you money, you only have three years from the original tax filing due date to collect it. There are no exceptions to this time limit.