Deducting Business Expenses

Business expenses are the cost of carrying on a trade or business. These expenses are usually deductible if the business is operated to make a profit.

What Can I Deduct?

To be deductible, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your trade or business. An expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary.

It is important to separate business expenses from the following expenses:

  • The expenses used to figure the cost of goods sold,
  • Capital Expenses, and
  • Personal Expenses.

Cost of Goods Sold

If your business manufactures products or purchases them for resale, you generally must value inventory at the beginning and end of each tax year to determine your cost of goods sold. Some of your expenses may be included in figuring the cost of goods sold. Cost of goods sold is deducted from your gross receipts to figure your gross profit for the year. If you include an expense in the cost of goods sold, you cannot deduct it again as a business expense.

The following are types of expenses that go into figuring the cost of goods sold.

  • The cost of products or raw materials, including freight
  • Storage
  • Direct labor costs (including contributions to pensions or annuity plans) for workers who produce the products
  • Factory overhead

Under the uniform capitalization rules, you must capitalize the direct costs and part of the indirect costs for certain production or resale activities. Indirect costs include rent, interest, taxes, storage, purchasing, processing, repackaging, handling, and administrative costs.

This rule does not apply to personal property you acquire for resale if your average annual gross receipts (or those of your predecessor) for the preceding 3 tax years are not more than $10 million.

For additional information, refer to the chapter on Cost of Goods Sold, Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Businesses and the chapter on Inventories, Publication 538, Accounting Periods and Methods.

Capital Expenses

You must capitalize, rather than deduct, some costs. These costs are a part of your investment in your business and are called capital expenses. Capital expenses are considered assets in your business. There are, in general, three types of costs you capitalize.

  • Business start-up cost (See the note below)
  • Business assets
  • Improvements

Note: You can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs. Refer to chapters 7 and 8 of Publication 535, Business Expenses.

Personal versus Business Expenses

Generally, you cannot deduct personal, living, or family expenses. However, if you have an expense for something that is used partly for business and partly for personal purposes, divide the total cost between the business and personal parts. You can deduct the business part.

For example, if you borrow money and use 70% of it for business and the other 30% for a family vacation, you can deduct 70% of the interest as a business expense. The remaining 30% is personal interest and is not deductible. Refer to chapter 4 of Publication 535, Business Expenses, for information on deducting interest and the allocation rules.

Business Use of Your Home

If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. These expenses may include mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs, and depreciation. Refer to Home Office Deduction and Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home, for more information.

Business Use of Your Car

If you use your car in your business, you can deduct car expenses. If you use your car for both business and personal purposes, you must divide your expenses based on actual mileage. Refer to Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses. For a list of current and prior year mileage rates see the Standard Mileage Rates.

Other Types of Business Expenses

  • Employees’ Pay – You can generally deduct the pay you give your employees for the services they perform for your business.
  • Retirement Plans – Retirement plans are savings plans that offer you tax advantages to set aside money for your own, and your employees’ retirement.
  • Rent Expense – Rent is any amount you pay for the use of property you do not own. In general, you can deduct rent as an expense only if the rent is for property you use in your trade or business. If you have or will receive equity in or title to the property, the rent is not deductible.
  • Interest – Business interest expense is an amount charged for the use of money you borrowed for business activities.
  • Taxes – You can deduct various federal, state, local, and foreign taxes directly attributable to your trade or business as business expenses.
  • Insurance – Generally, you can deduct the ordinary and necessary cost of insurance as a business expense, if it is for your trade, business, or profession.

If you have a business and need help in completing your Income Tax Return, please contact us at 773-728-1500.  We, the Chicago Accountants, are here to help you.

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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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New Tax Rates for 2013

Taxes are going up and spending cuts are on hold until March. As predicted, our elected representatives in Washington D.C. are unwilling to deal with the reality of our budget deficits. We have a financial crisis that no amount of tax increases will solve unless we make serious spending cuts. This assumes our elected officials have the intestinal fortitude to put the country above their own self-interests i.e., re-election. So our government has done the one thing it is great at – kick the can down the road and let someone other elected representative deal with the problem while this country buries itself further in debt.

Significant aspects of H.R.8, the “American Taxpayer Relief Act” (the “Act”):

Personal Income Tax Rates. For tax year 2013 and thereafter, any income in excess of $450,000 for joint filers, $425,000 for heads of household, $400,000 for single filers and $225,000 for married taxpayers filing separately the tax rate will increase to 39.6% for any income in excess of this rate.

Capital Gains/Dividends. Long-term capital gains and “qualified dividends” will increase to 20% for taxpayers with incomes exceeding $400,000 ($450,000 for married taxpayers). When combining the Obama Care 3.8% surtax on investment-type income and gains for tax years beginning after 2012, the overall will be 23.8%.

For taxpayers whose ordinary income is generally taxed at a rate below 25%, capital gains and dividends will permanently be subject to a 0% rate. Taxpayers who are subject to a 25%-or-greater rate on ordinary income, but whose income levels fall below the $400,000/$450,000 thresholds, will continue to be subject to a 15% rate on capital gains and dividends. (Note that your capital gains tax rate is determined by adding your capital gains into income to determine your ordinary income tax rate then applying the appropriate capital gains rate.)

Estate and Gift Taxes. The Act retains the 2012 estate and gift tax exemption amount of $5 million (adjusted for inflation) but increases the federal estate and gift tax rates on transfers in excess of this amount from 35 to 40 percent. For 2013, the inflation-adjusted exemption amount is expected to be $5.25 million. The Act also continues the portability feature of the estate tax law, which allows a surviving spouse to utilize his or her deceased spouse’s unused exemption amount.

PEP limitations to Apply to “High-Earners. The Personal Exemption Phaseout (PEP), which previously had been suspended, is reinstated with a starting threshold of adjusted gross income (AGI) above $300,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses, $275,000 for heads of household, $250,000 for single filers and $150,000 for married taxpayers filing separately. Under the phaseout, the total amount of exemptions that may be claimed by a taxpayer who is subject to the limitation is reduced by 2 percent for each $2,500 (or a portion thereof) by which the taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the relevant threshold. These dollar amounts will be inflation-adjusted for tax years after 2013.

Pease limitations to Apply to “High-Earners”. The “Pease“ limitation on itemized deductions, which had previously been suspended, with a starting threshold of AGI above $300,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses, $275,000 for heads of household, $250,000 for single filers and $150,000 for married taxpayers filing separately. Thus, for taxpayers subject to the “Pease” limitation, the total amount of their itemized deductions is reduced by 3 percent of the amount by which the taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the threshold amount, with the reduction not to exceed 80 percent of the otherwise allowable itemized deductions. The Pease limitation affects all deductions, including the charitable donation deduction and the deduction for home mortgage interest.

Example
Single filer with no dependents and AGI = $300,000: AGI exceeds the phaseout threshold by $50,000 (= $300,000 – $250,000); 3 percent of $50,000 is $1,500. Itemized deductions may be reduced by $1,500, up to a maximum of 80% of itemized deductions.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The Act provides some permanent AMT relief for tax years 2012 and later by retroactively increasing the applicable exemption amounts to $50,600 for unmarried taxpayers, $78,750 for joint filers and $39,375 for married persons filing separately. Also, prior to the Act, nonrefundable personal credits, other than the adoption credit, the child credit, the savers’ credit, the residential energy efficient property credit, the non-depreciable property portions of the alternative motor vehicle credit, the qualified plug-in electric vehicle credit and the new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit, were allowed only to the extent that the individual’s regular income tax liability exceeded his tentative minimum tax, determined without regard to the minimum tax foreign tax credit. Retroactively effective for tax years beginning after 2011, the Act permanently allows an individual to offset his entire regular tax liability and AMT liability by the nonrefundable personal credits.

Exclusion of Small Business Capital Gains. Generally, non-corporate taxpayers may exclude 50 percent of the gain from the sale of certain small business stock acquired at original issue and held for more than five years. For stock acquired after February 17, 2009 and on or before September 27, 2010, the exclusion is increased to 75 percent. For stock acquired after September 27, 2010 and before January 1, 2011, the exclusion is 100 percent and the AMT preference item attributable for the sale is eliminated. The Act extends for one year the 100 percent exclusion of the gain from the sale of qualifying small business stock through 2013.

Other Miscellaneous Deductions and Credits.

The Act also extends for five years the American Opportunity Tax Credit. For many taxpayers this dollar-for-dollar credit is worth up to $2,500.

The Act also would extend for five years the current versions of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, which are claimed by many lower-income workers making up to approximately $50,000.

The Act includes a one-year extension of current “bonus” depreciation rules, which allow businesses to deduct up to 50 percent of the cost of a wide variety of property and equipment, excluding real estate.

Additionally, the Act extends through 2013 the exclusion of certain income from the discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness.

The Act also extends several energy-related tax credits for an additional year, including a wind tax credit and a credit for certain plug-in electrical vehicles.

Increase in Employee-Paid Payroll Taxes. The two percent payroll tax holiday that taxpayers have enjoyed for the past two tax years is allowed to expire under the Act (the reduction had decreased the rate from 6.2 to 4.2 percent). For an individual earning the maximum 2013 cap of $113,700 or more, this increase will amount to $2,274 in 2013.

Unemployment Benefits. The Act includes a one-year extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

Spending Cuts. Under the Act, the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that were scheduled to take effect and would have affected the Pentagon and many other domestic programs are delayed for two months, paid for by a reduction in the discretionary spending cap for 2013 and 2014.

Please call us 773-728-1500 if you have any questions!!

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Is the rental cost of a safe deposit box Tax Deductible?

We are Accountants in Chicago and we were recently asked the following question by a client of ours.

Which is the best solution for the investment? Should Investments Be Kept In A Safe Deposit Box?  Is the cost of Safe Deposit box tax deductible?

Depending on the investment it could be a good idea to keep our investments in a safe deposit box. Certainly, some investments definitely require this sort of protection, such as rare coins, stamps, and similar collectables, gold and silver, and negotiable instruments, such as bearer bonds that can be cashed by anyone who possesses them. The cost of renting the box isjustifiable for keeping these items safe.

When we talk about stock certificates and other such proof of ownership, the need is less critical since these can be replaced, but the delay and inconvenience of replacing them may warrant safeguarding them as well. Although less critical, many individuals feel the need to also include insurance policies, deeds, birth certificates, wills, trust documents, etc., in their safe deposit box. If you do include the originals of these documents in the lockbox, be sure to make digital copies or photocopies for everyday reference. It is also important that the individual(s) you designate to handle your affairs in case of death or incapacity has a list of your investments and important documents and knows where they are kept.

However, if you do rent a safe deposit box to store valuables, you may wonder, is the cost a tax deduction?  For Individual Income Tax Return, the answer is YES if the box is used to store taxable income-producing stocks, bonds, or investment-related documents, if you itemize your deductions, and if the box rental plus other “miscellaneous” deductions exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income. The answer is NOwhen you prepare your Individual Income Tax Return,  if you use the safe deposit box only to store jewelry or other personal items or for tax-exempt securities.

Call CPA in Chicago, Illinois at 773-728-1500 for questions regarding Individual Income Tax and the appropriateness of Tax Deductions.

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Short Sale or Foreclosure – the Income Tax Consequences

We are CPAs in Chicago and provide the following summary for the benefit of Taxpayers in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

These days a lot of home owners or real estate investors are encountering numerous questions about the tax consequences of these situations. That’s why it’s more important than ever for real estate owners to understand the basics of how the IRS views tax forgiveness.

How does the IRS view a short sale or foreclosure?

short sale is the discount a mortgage holder may allow in order to sell the property, even though doing so will short or discount the note. This generally results in a benefit to the debtor because the mortgage is reduced.

The process, of course, is different in a foreclosure, but the result is essentially the same.  The mortgage holder forecloses on the property, takes possession or sells the property on the courthouse steps, and will probably end up losing on the original mortgage. In effect, the borrower usually doesn’t have to pay the full mortgage, and whatever the lender can get for the property reduces the mortgage amount and the lender will often take a loss on the rest.

IRS frankly doesn’t care if a property is going through a short sale or foreclosure. The IRS is going to determine if Forgiveness of Debt took place and if it should be taxed to the taxpayer. Keep in mind though that the lender does not always forgive debt in a foreclosure or short sale. If the lender gets a deficiency judgment or comes after the homeowner for the unpaid amount, there is no debt forgiveness and thus no taxable income.

However, for situations where the lender does forgive the debt, determining what should be taxed can be a complicated question with lots of variations based on the facts and circumstances.

Keep in mind that, in almost every situation, the IRS boils the transaction down to the analysis of four questions:

.Question 1: Was the property sold for less than the mortgage or mortgages on the property?

Easy to calculate, simply add up all of the debt on the property (first and second mortgages included), and subtract it from the final sales price. If the result is a negative number, then there is a presumption the seller or prior owner is facing Forgiveness of Debt Income.

In case of foreclosure, it’s a little more difficult to determine the amounts in the equation above, because sometimes the bank/mortgage holder hasn’t sold the property yet; they simply took possession of the property in the foreclosure. Essentially, the calculation can’t be completed until the lender sells the property and their loss is determined.

Question 2: Was the mortgage or mortgages considered recourse or non-recourse debt?

If there is a presumption of debt forgiveness as determined in Question 1, the taxpayer next has to find out if the debt is recourse debt. This simply means the debtor signed personally guaranteeing the debt, or in other words, is personally obligated to pay the mortgage. This is actually an easy fact to determine.

A quick document review by an attorney can help the homeowner determine if the debt is recourse or not. The good news is if they aren’t personally liable, then they don’t have to pay the debt and they don’t have Forgiveness of Debt Income.

            Question 3: Is there Forgiveness of Debt Income after the basis on the property and any loss is calculated?

Often taxpayers overlook this aspect of the analysis.  Assuming there is recourse debt, and hence Forgiveness of Debt Income, taxpayers shouldn’t forget to calculate their loss on the property as a whole. This loss can offset any Forgiveness of Debt Income.

In this more complicated equation, the taxpayer would start with the sales price of the property and then subtract the adjusted basis on the property (i.e., the net cost for the property after adjusting for various items like depreciation or home improvements). This process will tell the homeowner if there is a gain or loss on the property. In sum, a loss would be deductible against the Forgiveness of Debt Income. Note, however, that a primary residence is going to be treated differently during this stage of the analysis (see below).

If there is Forgiveness of Debt Income from recourse debt and the loss on the sale doesn’t wipe out the gain, or it isn’t a primary residence, then the taxpayer’s only option to avoid being taxed on the forgiveness is to qualify under the insolvency or bankruptcy rules provided by the IRS. Essentially, these rules require the taxpayer’s total liabilities to exceed total assets, whether married or single (the details of which are discussed in IRS Publication 4681).

One final option that doesn’t allow the taxpayer to discharge the income but permits deferring the tax over time is to reduce the basis on other real estate owned by the taxpayer by using Form 982.

Question 4: Was the property in question the primary residence of the taxpayer?

The rules have been changed when it comes to principal or primary residences. Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 to provide relief to families who were going through a short sale or foreclosure on their primary residence through the end of 2012. This law essentially wipes out any acquisition indebtedness (not second mortgages unrelated to the purchase) and is a specific election made on a tax return. (Note there is a limit of $2 million of interest and debt for married couples and a lower limit for single individuals). Taxpayers should consult with their tax advisor regarding the specifics of this exception and they qualify.

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention loan modifications and the impact they may have on a tax bill. Rest assured, most loan modifications don’t create taxable income as they simply modify the terms of a loan to help a debtor better make his or her payments. However, if a lender actually reduces the principal amount of the loan, sometimes called a cram down, then the debtor better expect a 1099 for Cancellation of Debt Income and speak with a tax advisor.

Make sure your Tax Advisor knows how to apply correctly the tax deductions that are allowed.

In summary, if you going through a loan modification, short-sale, foreclosure, or deed in lieu, please know that, we at TaxCutters can help you through the tax paperwork process.  Please give us a call at: 773-728-1500.

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The taxes alphabet

Taxes can be fun, accountant is a seerious word, but the tax preparation can be a lot of fun.

A is for Alimony

Alimony payments are deductible by the payer and taxable as income to the recipient. The deduction is “above the line” which means that you do not have to itemize to claim the deduction

B is for Barter.

The treatment of bartered goods and services is like accepting cash: the exchange of services is still reportable and taxable. You must include in gross income on your federal income tax return the fair market value of goods and services received in exchange for goods or services you provide.

C is for Capital Losses

When you sell or otherwise dispose of a capital asset, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis is a capital gain (if the value at disposition is more than your basis) or a capital loss (if the value of the disposition is less than your basis). You can only deduct capital losses on investment property, not on personal use property.

D is for Deductible Taxes.

If you itemize, you may be able to deduct state and local taxes; real estate taxes; foreign income taxes and property taxes on your federal income tax return. You may not deduct federal income taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, FUTA (federal unemployment taxes), and RRTA (railroad retirement taxes).

E is for Educator Expenses.

If you are an eligible educator, you can deduct up to $250 of any unreimbursed expenses paid or incurred for books, supplies, computer equipment, other equipment, and supplementary materials used in the classroom; these expenses must be paid or incurred during the tax year

F is for FSA.

FSAs are flexible spending accounts. The most common FSA is a health flexible spending arrangement which allows you to pay qualified medical expenses from a fund set up with pre-tax dollars: withdrawals from the fund are income tax free.

G is for Gift Expenses.

Generally, if you provide an item to a customer (or a customer’s family) without an expectation of payment or compensation, that’s a gift. The IRS limits the amount that you can deduct for gifts: you can deduct no more than $25 for business gifts you give directly or indirectly to each person during your tax year.

H is for Home Improvements.

In most cases, repairs to your home increase your basis for purposes of calculating a gain or a loss at sale, but your run of the mill home repair expenses – even if significant – are not deductible on your federal income tax return

I is for Injured Spouse.

You are an injured spouse if your share of your tax refund as shown on your joint return was, or is expected to be, applied against your spouse’s past-due federal debts, state taxes, or child or spousal support payments. If you are an injured spouse, you may be entitled to get your share of the refund released to you.

J is for Job Search Expenses.

If you itemize, you can deduct out of pocket expenses related to your job hunt even if you don’t get a new job.

K is for Kiddie Tax.

When income is unearned (generally, income from dividends and interest) for children under the age of 18, or under the age of 23 while a full time student, the first $950 is considered tax-free and the next $950 is taxed at the child’s rate. Unearned income over $1,900 is taxed at the child’s parents’ tax rate

L is for Levy.

One of the ways that the IRS works to make sure they get paid is the use of a levy. A levy is a legal seizure of your property.

M is for Making Work Pay Credit.

There is no Making Work Pay Credit for 2011. That also means no Schedule M.

N is for Non-Citizen Spouse.

Generally, a husband and wife cannot file a joint return if either spouse is a nonresident alien at any time during the year. However, if you were a nonresident alien or a dual-status alien and were married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien at the end of 2011, you may elect to be treated as a resident alien and file a joint return.

O Is For Offer in Compromise.

If you can’t pay your tax debt in full, you might consider an Offer in Compromise (OIC) which allows you to resolve your tax obligations for less than the full amount you owe.

P is for Penalty on Estimated Tax.

If you receive income without having any federal income taxes withheld, you should consider making estimated payments throughout the year to avoid any penalties.

Q is for Qualified Dividends.

For 2011, taxpayers who would normally have paid a 10% or 15% ordinary income tax rate will pay 0% on qualified dividends. All other taxpayers pay a mere 15%.

R is for Refund.

If you e-file and use direct deposit, you can receive your refund in as few as ten days.

S is for Standard Deduction.

For the tax year 2011, the standard deduction for single taxpayers or for those married filing separately is $5,800; for married taxpayers or qualifying widow(er)s, the standard deduction is $11,600; and for head of household, the standard deduction is $8,500.

T is for Tuition and Fees Deduction.

You may be able to deduct qualified tuition and related expenses of up to $4,000 that you pay for yourself, your spouse, or a dependent, as a tuition and fees deduction.

U is for Unreasonable Compensation.

S corporations must be sure that compensation paid to shareholders who are also employees is not unreasonable.

V is for Vacation Home.

Assuming that your vision of a vacation home and the IRS’ vision are similar enough, you can get a tax break or two on purchasing and owning a vacation home.

W is for Wash Sale.

A wash sale is, at its most basic, when you sell or trade stock or securities at a loss while simultaneously (or nearly simultaneously) buying something nearly identical.
For tax purposes, you generally cannot deduct losses from sales or trades of stock or securities in a wash sale.

X is for X-Mark (Signature).

No matter how thorough and accurate your tax return is, it’s not considered a valid return unless you sign it. If you are filing a joint tax return, your spouse must also sign.

Y is for Year End.

Y is for Year End. Tax returns are filed based on your tax year end. Individual filers have a calendar year which means that federal income tax returns are due on April 15 of each year – unless that day falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday as it does in 2012. This year, we have both (!) so returns are due April 17, 2012

Z is for Zero.

The general rule is that the more exemptions that you claim, the less in federal taxes is withheld. If you claim zero exemptions, the maximum amount of withholding will be taken from your check.

Please give us a call 773-728-1500 if you have any questions regarding your tax return, we the accountants in Chicago are here to help you!!

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Tax analyse when you give your home to your children!!

We are accountants in Chicago and would like to give you our opinion regarding gifting you house to you children since many of my clients have asked me this question.

Giving / gifting you house to your children can have major tax consequences. Many people wonder if it is a good idea to give their home to their children, of course they can do that but this won’t dismiss the tax implication on such a transaction.

When you want to give a property as a gift (valued at more than $13,000 in any one year), you will have to file a gift tax form. And under current law you can gift a total of $5 million over your lifetime without incurring a gift tax. If your residence is worth less than $5 million, you likely won’t have to pay any gift taxes, but you will still have to file a gift tax form.  (And Congress may change the gift tax exemption, which is now scheduled to revert to $1 million at the end of 2012 unless Congress acts.)

You may not have to pay gift taxes on the gift, but if your children sell the house right away, they may be facing steep taxes. The reason is that when you give away your property, the tax basis (or the original cost) of the property for the giver becomes the tax basis for the recipient. For example, suppose you bought the house years ago for $250,000 and it is now worth $450,000. If you give your house to your children, the tax basis will be $250,000. If the children sell the house, they will have to pay capital gains taxes on the difference between $250,000 and the selling price. The only way for your children to avoid the taxes is for them to live in the house for at least two years before selling it. In that case, they can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a couple) of their capital gains from taxes.

Gifted property does not face the same taxes as inherited property. If the children were to inherit the property, the property’s tax basis would be “stepped up,” which means the basis would be the current value of the property. However, the home will remain in your estate, which may have estate tax consequences.

As a Tax Preparer, who has prepared thousands of tax returns, I can say that there are different consequences while gifting a house to your children and it can affect your eligibility for Medicaid coverage of long-term care.  There are other options for giving your house to your children, including putting it in a trust or selling it to them. Before you give away your home, consult your elder law attorney, who can advise you on the best method for passing on your home.

Please contact us at 773-728-1500 if you have any questions related to Income tax.

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SMART TAX MOVES BY THE END OF THE YEAR

The annual scramble to make smart tax moves before Dec. 31 is proving especially vexing this year, here are some of our CPA in Chicago suggestions.

Congress still hasn’t settled 2013 tax rates on income, investments, large gifts and estates. Deductions and other breaks are also in doubt, now that politicians from both parties are calling for cutbacks—although in different ways.  Many questions remain unanswered even for the 2012 tax year. For example, the Internal Revenue Service on Nov. 13 warned lawmakers that if they don’t act soon, the alternative minimum tax, which reduces the value of some tax breaks, will apply to 33 million households for 2012 rather than four million. More than 60 million people might not be able to file returns or receive refunds until late March, the IRS says, because it would have to reprogram computers.

Yet despite the uncertainties, year-end tax planning is possible and it will impact your Income Tax. We do know that 2013 will mark the debut of the 3.8% flat levy on net investment income for joint filers with adjusted gross income of $250,000 or more ($200,000 for singles). Congress passed this levy, plus a 0.9% increase in Medicare tax for affluent earners, to help fund the massive 2010 health-care changes. The tax introduces new layers of complexity into investors’ planning. (For more details, see box on this page.)

Big unknowns include the top rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, both now 15%. The rate on gains could hit 23.8% or more, and the rate on dividends could be as high as 43.4%. .

There are few ways taxpayers can shrink 2012 taxes after Dec. 31, other than contributing to some retirement accounts or health savings accounts. Here are moves to consider before year end, plus a few to avoid.

  • Make charitable gifts. The best value often comes from donating appreciated assets, because donors can get a full deduction while skipping capital-gains tax on the asset’s growth. Cash donations to charities are often deductible up to 50% of adjusted gross income.
  • If you want to donate IRA assets to charity, wait a bit longer. Since 2006, IRA owners 70½ and older have been able to give up to $100,000 of the required payout directly to a charity. There’s no deduction, but no taxable income either. This wildly popular provision expired at the beginning of 2012, but lawmakers might yet reinstate it—as they did in 2010.
  • Make an extra mortgage payment, or pay down principal. Usually taxpayers can’t accelerate more than one month of mortgage interest, but that helps a bit if you think the mortgage-interest deduction will be curbed next year. Or find cash to pay down principal, which reduces overall interest.
  • Maximize contributions to employer-sponsored retirement plans. Unlike with IRAs, the deadline for 401(k) contributions is Dec. 31. This year, the employee limit is $17,000, or $22,500 for workers 50 or older.
  • Harvest capital losses, up to a point. Investment losses can offset investment gains plus up to $3,000 of ordinary income, both for single and joint filers. Note that “wash sale” rules penalize buyers who acquire the same asset within 30 days of selling at a loss.
  • Use up funds in a medical flexible-spending account. They often don’t carry over, although some employers will allow workers to spend 2012 funds in the first weeks of 2013. Next year, the contribution limit will be $2,500, less than some employers now allow.
  • Accelerate medical expenses. The threshold for deducting these expenses, now 7.5% of adjusted gross income (10% for AMT payers), rises to 10% next year for most taxpayers. People who are 65 and older, however, can use the 7.5% threshold through 2016. This phase-in will be useful, say advisers, because most taxpayers claiming large medical deductions are in the final years of life. Note that the IRS’s list of what’s deductible is far broader than what insurance typically reimburses, extending to contact-lens solution, assisted-living costs and even special education.
  • Write next semester’s tuition checks before year end. The American Opportunity Tax Credit allows qualified taxpayers to get a benefit this year for next spring’s tuition if the payment is made before year end—even though the credit is set to expire for 2013.
  • Prepay state taxes. Deductions for state and local income, sales and property taxes are already disallowed by the alternative minimum tax, and they might shrink further next year, even if Congress reinstates the expired sales-tax deduction for 2012. Consider accelerating next year’s state tax payments if they don’t throw you into the AMT, in which case you’ll lose the write-off altogether.
  • Make gifts up to $13,000 to relatives or friends. Such gifts are tax-free, and the number of recipients isn’t limited as long as the value of each gift doesn’t exceed $13,000. Cash is often the best gift, as presents of assets such as stock carry their “cost basis” with them.
  • Contribute to 529 education savings accounts. Assets in these accounts enjoy tax-free growth, and withdrawals from them are tax-free when used for tuition and other qualified expenses. Some states also provide tax benefits to givers. These accounts also offer a rare benefit: Contributions leave the giver’s estate, yet he or she can take back the principal without penalty if the money is needed. Contributions do count toward the $13,000 gift limit, however.

Please call Accountants in Chicago at 773-728-1500. We can help you plan and get the right tax deductions.

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You’re Fired! The story of an IRS auditor!!

Nobody really likes paying taxes. Sometimes, even the folks who work for the IRS resent paying the taxes that go towards funding their own salaries. Usually they just grumble about it and then go on with their day. But sometimes they try a little “self help.” So now let’s look at what one auditor did when she wanted to minimize her taxes.

Jacynthia Quinn spent 20 years as an IRS auditor in El Monte, California. The IRS audited her and her husband for 2006 (when she claimed $23,549 in charitable deductions and $22,217 in medical expenses) and 2007 (when she claimed $24,567 in charitable deductions and $25,325 in medical expenses). The Service disallowed those charitable and medical deductions, among other write-offs, and the case wound up in Tax Court.

You’d think an IRS auditor would be the first to know how to avoid an audit! So, how did Quinn do on the other end of the hot seat? Well, let’s look at those charitable contributions first:

“Petitioner proffered ‘receipts’ purportedly confirming charitable contributions. They were inconsistent and unreliable. Representatives from seven different charitable organizations credibly testified that the receipts were altered or fabricated. For example, petitioner offered a receipt purportedly substantiating $12,500 of charitable contributions to a religious organization. The purported receipt, however, identified individuals other than the couple as the donors. The organization’s records did not reflect any contributions made by the couple and confirmed that the other identified individuals had contributed $12,500.”

That doesn’t sound good. Bad enough if one donor testifies your receipts are faked. But seven? How about those medical deductions? Any better luck there?

“Petitioner similarly failed to substantiate the claimed medical and dental expenses. Some of her documentation also suffered from authenticity problems and appeared to have been ‘doctored.’ Petitioner offered three documents purportedly issued by Dr. Christopher Ajigbotafe or his staff confirming more than $9,000 in medical expenses for Mr. Quinn. Each document, however, spelled the doctor’s last name differently (‘Ajigohotafe,’ ‘Ajibotafe’ and ‘Ajigbotafe’). One ‘statement’ was dated in January 2006 and estimated expenses for the upcoming year. The amount of expenses for 2007 contained in another ‘statement’ was contradicted by a letter purportedly from the doctor’s staff.”

Keep in mind here that Quinn is an IRS auditor, with 20 years of training and experience auditing exactly these sorts of deductions! Naturally, the Tax Court didn’t show her a lot of sympathy — they sided with the IRS on every issue and even smacked her with a civil fraud penalty. In fact, the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 requires the IRS to fire any employee who willfully understates their federal tax liability (unless they can show the understatement is due to “reasonable cause” and not “willful neglect”). Since Quinn’s own “excuse” is on a par with the dog eating her homework, she’s likely to lose her job as well.

It’s certainly entertaining to read about cases like Jacynthia Quinn’s. It’s satisfying to see a cheater get her comeuppance. And it’s great to see the IRS enforcing the same rules for its own employees as it does for us. But there’s a valuable lesson here, even for the majority of us who don’t cheat. Dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” is important for everyone. That’s why we don’t just outline strategies and concepts to help you pay less tax. We work with you toimplement those strategies and document them to survive scrutiny. And remember, we’re here for your family, friends, and colleagues too, so give us a call: 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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