It’s Tax Time! Are You Ready?

If you’re like most taxpayers, you find yourself with an ominous stack of “homework” aroundTAX TIME! Unfortunately, the job of pulling together the records for your tax appointment is never easy, but the effort usually pays off when it comes to the extra tax you save! When you arrive at your appointment fully prepared, you’ll have more time to:

• Consider every possible legal deduction;
• Better evaluate your options for reporting income and deductions to choose those best suited to your situation;
• Explore current law changes that affect your tax status;
• Talk about possible law changes and discuss tax planning alternatives that could reduce your future tax liability.

Choosing Your Best Alternatives

The tax law allows a variety of methods for handling income and deductions on your return. Choices made at the time you prepare your return often affect not only the current year, but later-year returns as well. When you’re fully prepared for your appointment, you will have more time to explore all avenues available for lowering your tax.

For example, the law allows choices in transactions like:

Sales of property. . . .

If you’re receiving payments on a sales contract over a period of years, you are sometimes able to choose between reporting the whole gain in the year you sell or over a period of time, as you receive payments from the buyer.

Depreciation. . . .

You’re able to deduct the cost of your investment in certain business property using different methods. You can either depreciate the cost over a number of years, or in certain cases, you can deduct them all in one year.

Where to Begin?

Ideally, preparation for your tax appointment should begin in January of the tax year you’re working with. Right after the New Year, set up a safe storage location – a file drawer, a cupboard, a safe, etc. As you receive pertinent records, file them right away, before they’re forgotten or lost. By making the practice a habit, you’ll find your job a lot easier when your actual appointment date rolls around.

Other general suggestions to consider for your appointment preparation include. . .

• Segregate your records according to income and expense categories. For instance, file medical expense receipts in an envelope or folder, interest payments in another, charitable donations in a third, etc. If you receive an organizer or questionnaire to complete before your appointment, make certain you fill out every section that applies to you. (Important: Read all explanations and follow instructions carefully to be sure you don’t miss important data – organizers are designed to remind you of transactions you may miss otherwise.)

• Keep your annual income statements separate from your other documents (e.g., W-2s from employers, 1099s from banks, stockbrokers, etc., and K-1s from partnerships). Be sure to take these documents to your appointment, including the instructions for K-1s!

• Write down questions you may have so you don’t forget to ask them at the appointment. Review last year’s return. Compare your income on that return to the income for the current year. For instance, a dividend from ABC stock on your prior-year return may remind you that you sold ABC this year and need to report the sale.

• Make certain that you have social security numbers for all your dependents. The IRS checks these carefully and can deny deductions for returns filed without them.

• Compare deductions from last year with your records for this year. Did you forget anything?

• Collect any other documents and financial papers that you’re puzzled about. Prepare to bring these to your appointment so you can ask about them.

Accuracy Even for Details

To ensure the greatest accuracy possible in all detail on your return, make sure you review personal data. Check name(s), address, social security number(s), and occupation(s) on last year’s return. Note any changes for this year. Although your telephone number isn’t required on your return, current home and work numbers are always helpful should questions occur during return preparation.

Marital Status Change

If your marital status changed during the year, if you lived apart from your spouse, or if your spouse died during the year, list dates and details. Bring copies of prenuptial, legal separation, divorce, or property settlement agreements, if any, to your appointment.

Dependents

If you have qualifying dependents, you will need to provide the following for each:

• First and last name
• Social security number
• Birth date
• Number of months living in your home
• Their income amount (both taxable and nontaxable)

If you have dependent children over age 18, note how long they were full-time students during the year. To qualify as your dependent, an individual must pass five strict dependency tests. If you think a person qualifies as your dependent (but you aren’t sure), tally the amounts you provided toward his/her support vs. the amounts he/she provided. This will simplify making a final decision about whether you really qualify for the dependency deduction.

Some Transactions Deserve Special Treatment

Certain transactions require special treatment on your tax return. It’s a good idea to invest a little extra preparation effort when you have had the following transactions:

Sales of Stock or Other Property:  All sales of stocks, bonds, securities, real estate, and any other type of property need to be reported on your return, even if you had no profit or loss. List each sale, and have the purchase and sale documents available for each transaction.

Purchase date, sale date, cost, and selling price must all be noted on your return. Make sure this information is contained on the documents you bring to your appointment.

Gifted or Inherited Property: If you sell property that was given to you, you need to determine when and for how much the original owner purchased it. If you sell property you inherited, you need to know the date of the decedent’s death and the property’s value at that time. You may be able to find this information on estate tax returns or in probate documents.

Reinvested Dividends: You may have sold stock or a mutual fund in which you participated in a dividend reinvestment program. If so, you will need to have records of each stock purchase made with the reinvested dividends.

Sale of Home: The tax law provides special breaks for home sale gains, and you may be able to exclude all (or a part) of a gain on a home if you meet certain ownership, occupancy, and holding period requirements. If you file a joint return with your spouse and your gain from the sale of the home exceeds $500,000 ($250,000 for other individuals), record the amounts you spent on improvements to the property. Remember too, possible exclusion of gain applies only to a primary residence, and the amount of improvements made to other homes is required regardless of the gain amount. Be sure to bring a copy of the sale documents (usually the closing escrow statement) with you to the appointment.

Purchase of a Home:  If you purchased a home during 2009 and you are a first-time homebuyer or a long-term homeowner after November 6, 2009, you may qualify for a substantial tax credit.  Be sure to bring a copy of the escrow closing statement if you purchased a home.

Vehicle Purchase: If you purchased a new car (or cars) this year, you can deduct the sales tax.  If the car was a hybrid vehicle or one that qualifies as a lean burn vehicle, you may also qualify for a special credit.  Please bring the purchase statement to the appointment with you.

Standard Deduction: If you usually take the standard deduction, you should be aware that a portion of your property taxes, certain vehicle sales taxes and disaster casualty losses can be deducted as part of your standard deduction this year without itemizing your deductions.  Be sure to bring your property tax statements, car purchase statements and records relating to any losses incurred in a federally declared disaster area.

Home Energy-Related Expenditures: If you made home modifications to conserve energy (such as special windows, roofing, doors, etc.) or installed solar, geothermal, or wind power generating systems, please bring the details of those purchases and the manufacturer’s credit qualification certification to your appointment.  You may qualify for a substantial energy-related tax credit.

Ponzi Scheme or Bank Failure Losses:  If you suffered losses as the result of a Ponzi scheme or as the result of a bank failure, there is special tax treatment for these types of losses.  Please be prepared with the details of the losses and the amounts lost.

Car Expenses: Where you have used one or more automobiles for business, list the expenses of each separately. The government requires that you provide your total mileage, business miles, and commuting miles for each car on your return, so be prepared to have them available. If you were reimbursed for mileage through an employer, know the reimbursement amount and whether the reimbursement is included in your W-2.

Charitable Donations: Cash contributions (regardless of amount) must be substantiated with a bank record or written communication from the charity showing the name of the charitable organization, date and amount of the contribution.

Cash donations put into a “Christmas kettle,” church collection plate, etc., are not deductible. For clothing and household contributions, the items donated must generally be in good or better condition, and items such as undergarments and socks are not deductible. A record of each item contributed must be kept, indicating the name and address of the charity, date and location of the contribution, and a reasonable description of the property. Contributions valued less than $250 and dropped off at an unattended location do not require a receipt. For contributions of $500 or more, the record must also include when and how the property was acquired and your cost basis in the property.

Please call us 773-728-1500 the Accountatns in Chicago if you have any questions.

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MARRIED COUPLES VS. SAME SEX COUPLES? WHO PAYS MORE: BY CHICAGO CPA

The federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act doesn’t offer tax breaks for gay spouses even more because the federal government doesn’t recognize gay marriage it results in paying as much as $6,000 extra a year for the same sex couples.

While filing jointly, as a married couple provides tax benefits, the same sex couples can not enjoy the same perks because they are not allowed to file their federal returns jointly.

However, there are some states (more than 12 now) that grant full or partial marriage rights to same sex couples, but the federal government is governed by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which has the support of conservatives who consider that repealing the act would erode religious liberty for people who believe in the traditional definition of marriage.

We, the Chicago CPA have done the following analysis to compare who would pay more in individual income tax – A Married couple or a same sex couple??

Just to make it clearer we will give you an example of the act’s tax implications for a family with one spouse earning $100,000 and the other spouse staying home with the family’s two kids.

Case I: same sex couple

The working spouse files as head of a household and the spouse that stays home with the kids is considered to be a qualifying relative. As a result the federal tax owed by the household’s is $13,199.

Case II: married couple

The tax liability that the married couple who files a jointly tax return would be $8,656.

The result is a $4543 higher payment for the same sex couple. WHY? Because when you file as head of a household such a designation comes with disadvantages. When you file as head of a household instead of married filing jointly exposes more income to a higher bracket, plus the standard deductions are lower for a head of household than they are for married couples filing jointly.

To find out which status is right for you, please call us at 773-728-1500.

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Show Me the Money!

The week before last, while most of America was still digesting news of the Supreme Court’s decision on healthcare reform, more news hit the wires. That’s right, Hollywood A-listers Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, better known as “TomKat,” are calling it quits after nearly six years of marriage. Of course, Tom has been down this road twice before. But this split has already spawned far and away the biggest headlines, and tinseltown gossips are working overtime. How long has Katie planned her escape? What role does Cruise’s association with the controversial Church of Scientology really play? Are Tom’s lawyers really letting Katie “play the media” while they ready his reply?

News of the split comes at nearly the same time as Forbes naming Cruise the world’s top-earning actor. His latest blockbuster, #4 in the Mission Impossible franchise, pulled in a whopping $700 million, powering Cruise to a $75 million year. So naturally, we want to know what the divorce means for the IRS!

Divorce is usually pretty straightforward, at least from the taxman’s perspective. Property settlements between divorcing spouses are generally tax-free. Alimony or spousal support is usually deductible by the payor and taxable to the payee — which lets the divorcing couple shift the tax burden on that income from the higher-taxed “ex” to the lower-taxed ex. Child support is both nondeductible and nontaxable — it’s strictly an after-tax obligation. And legal fees are a nondeductible personal expense, except for amounts allocated to figuring alimony payments.

But celebrity divorces can be risky business. Sometimes it’s hard for outsiders to understand the stakes, which can be as different from ordinary splits as night and day. Katie has hired a top gun New York attorney to represent her, one who knows all the right moves where celebrity divorce is concerned. You can be sure the tabloids are rooting for a war of the worlds — we just hope daughter Suri, age 6, doesn’t end up as collateral damage.

The Cruises have a prenup, of course. It reportedly gives Katie $3 million for each year of marriage, plus a 5,878 square foot house in Montecito, CA, where Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Costner, and Rob Lowe also have homes. And last year, Cruise deeded Holmes an apartment in Manhattan. We’re sure the firm that drafted TomKat’s prenup did a fine job. Of course, golfer Tiger Woods also had a prenup limiting wife Elin Nordegrin to $20 million — but she wound up walking away with five times that amount.

What sort of romantic prospects will the couple enjoy after the divorce? Well, Cruise should be fine. He’s already a legend — he can sit back with a cocktail and audition new starlets for the role of Wife #4. And as for Holmes, she’s still young, so we’re sure she can still attract at least a few good men who want to show her the color of their money.

So Hollywood is playing “Taps” for Tom and Katie’s storytale romance. It wasn’t endless love after all. Who do you think will “win” the PR battle? Or will they settle quietly and let the story fade into oblivion?

If you look carefully at this email, you’ll find references to seventeen Tom Cruise movies. Can’t find ‘em all? Send us an email at info@taxcutters.com . We’re experts at finding hidden opportunities, especially where it comes to taxes, so if you have questions call us: 773-728-1500!!

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