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November 2012

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This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.



Year-End Tax Planning For Individuals

Accelerating Income

In most years, taxpayers adopt a strategy of deferring income, but with the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire on December 31, 2012, income tax rates and capital gains taxes set to rise, and a 0.9 percent Hospital Insurance (HI) tax applicable to earnings of self-employed individuals or employee wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly) effective January 1, 2013, it might make more sense to accelerate income into 2012 instead of deferring it to 2013. Here are some of the ways you can do this:

  • Sell any investments on which you have a gain this year and take advantage of the zero percent long-term capital gains tax rate if you're in the 10% or 15% tax bracket, or a 15% tax rate for higher tax brackets.

  • If you are expecting a bonus at year-end, try to get it before December 31. However, keep in mind that contractual bonuses are different, in that they are typically not paid out until the first quarter of the following year. Therefore, any taxes owed on a contractual bonus would not be due until you file a tax return for tax year 2013.

  • If your company grants stock options, you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option this year if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2013. Exercise of the option is often but not always a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.

  • If you're self employed, send invoices or bills to clients or customers this year in order to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Accelerating Deductions

  • Pay a state estimated tax installment in December instead of at the January due date. However, make sure the payment is based on a reasonable estimate of your state tax.

  • Pay your entire property tax bill, including installments due in year 2013, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.

  • Try to bunch "threshold" expenses, such as medical expenses and miscellaneous itemized deductions. Threshold expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI). By bunching these expenses into one year, rather than spreading them out over two years, you have a better chance of exceeding the thresholds, thereby maximizing your deduction.

    For example, you might pay medical bills and dues and subscriptions in whichever year they would do you the most tax good.

Tip: Now is the time to bunch deductible medical expenses. Medical expense deductions are 7.5% of AGI this year, but in 2013 increase to 10% of AGI.

In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of accelerating income and deductions might allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2012, depending on your situation. The latter benefits include Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child credits, higher education tax credits and deductions for student loan interest.

Tip: Accelerating income into 2012 is an especially good idea for taxpayers who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year.

Tip: If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, increasing your withholding before year-end can avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due.

On the other hand, the penalty could be avoided by covering the extra tax in your final estimated tax payment and computing the penalty using the annualized income method.

If you have any questions about estimated taxes, please call us.

Caution: The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) no longer just impacts the wealthy! Do not overlook the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2012.

Due to tax changes in recent years, AMT impacts many more taxpayers than ever before and, the tax is not indexed to inflation. As a result, growing numbers of middle-income taxpayers have been finding themselves subject to this higher tax.

Items that may affect AMT include deductions for state property taxes and state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions.

Note: The AMT "Patch" expired in 2011. As such, AMT exemption amounts have reverted to 2000 levels. For example, the AMT exemption amount for married filing jointly is $45,000 in 2012, down from $74,450 in 2011.

Unless Congress takes action and enacts an AMT "patch" before year-end, AMT exemption amounts for 2012 are as follows:

  • $33,750 for single and head of household filers,

  • $45,000 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers,

  • $22,500 for married people filing separately.

Please call us if you'd like more information or if you're not sure whether AMT applies to you. We're happy to assist you.

Strategize Tuition Payments

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which offsets higher education expenses, is set to expire after 2012. It may be beneficial to pay 2013 tuition in 2012 to take full advantage of this tax credit, up to $2,500, before it expires.

Residential Energy Tax Credits

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit is available to individual taxpayers to help pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment and residential wind turbines. Qualifying equipment must have been installed on or in connection with your home located in the United States.

Geothermal pumps, solar energy systems, and residential wind turbines can be installed in both principal residences and second homes (existing homes and new construction), but not rentals. Fuel cell property qualifies only when it is installed in your principal residence (new construction or existing home). Rentals and second homes do not qualify.

The tax credit is 30% of the cost of the qualified property, with no cap on the amount of credit available, except for fuel cell property.

Generally, labor costs can be included when figuring the credit. Any unused portions of this credit can be carried forward. Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify so be sure you have the manufacturer's tax credit certification statement, which can usually be found on the manufacturer's website or with the product packaging.

What's Included in the Tax Credit?

  • Geothermal Heat Pumps. Must meet the requirements of the ENERGY STAR program that are in effect at the time of the expenditure.

  • Small Residential Wind Turbines. Must have a nameplate capacity of no more than 100 kilowatts (kW).

  • Solar Water Heaters. At least half of the energy generated by the "qualifying property" must come from the sun. The system must be certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) or a comparable entity endorsed by the government of the state in which the property is installed. The credit is not available for expenses for swimming pools or hot tubs. The water must be used in the dwelling. Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement.

  • Solar Panels (Photovoltaic Systems). Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement.
  • Fuel Cell (Residential Fuel Cell and Microturbine System.) Efficiency of at least 30% and must have a capacity of at least 0.5 kW.

While these residential energy credits don't expire until 2016, why not take advantage of the credit this year and start saving money now? Give us a call today. We're happy to help you sort out the tax credits available for your "green" home improvements.

Make Charitable Contributions

You can donate property as well as money to a charity. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the property; however, for certain property, the deduction is limited to your cost basis. While you can also donate your services to charity, you may not deduct the value of these services. You may also be able to deduct charity-related travel expenses and some out-of-pocket expenses however.

Keep in mind that a written record of charitable contribution is required in order to qualify for a deduction. A donor may not claim a deduction for any contribution of cash, a check or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a cancelled check) or written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Tip: Contributions of appreciated property (i.e. stock) provide an additional benefit because you avoid paying capital gains on any profit.

Investment Gains And Losses

Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term gains, which are usually taxed at a much higher tax rate (up to 35% in 2012, but scheduled to rise to 39.6% in 2013) than long-term gains.

If your tax bracket is either 10% or 15% (married couples making less than $70,700 or single filers making less than $35,350), then now is the time to take advantage of the zero percent tax rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains. Even if you fall into a higher tax bracket, the maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains in 2012 is only 15%.

Consider where feasible to reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000 as well.

Tip: As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.

Tip: After selling securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.

Tip: If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free, your original investment is restored and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).

Note: Starting in 2013, a 3.8 percent Medicare tax will be applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains. This information is something to think about as you plan your long term investments.

Please call us if you need assistance with any of your long term tax planning goals.

Mutual Fund Investments

Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the next year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.

Example: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund at the end of 2012. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends. In late December of 2012, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.

Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund's long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.

The mutual fund's distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as "ordinary dividends" that don't qualify for relief.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date.

Tip: To find out a fund's ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.

Call us if you'd like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.

Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax

It may be time to reevaluate your estate plan. Unless Congress takes action before the end of the year, the federal gift and estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $5.12 million, drops to its pre-2010 level of $1 million ($2 million per couple) in 2013. In addition, the maximum estate tax rate is set to increase in 2013 from 35 percent to 55 percent.

Gift Tax. For many, sound estate planning begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor's assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.

Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $13,000 a year per donee.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn't carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2012, you must make your gift by December 31.

Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $26,000 ($13,000 each). Though what's given may come from either you or your spouse or from both of you, both of you must consent to such "split gifts".

Gifts of "future interests", assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don't qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.

Tip: If you're considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, then don't hesitate to call us. We can help you set it up.

Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift's true value when given.

You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings, and built-in gain on sale.

Gift tax returns for 2012 are due the same date as your income tax return. Returns are required for gifts over $13,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $13,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $13,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not "adequately disclosed".

Tip: Call us if you're considering making a gift of property whose value isn't unquestionably less than $13,000.

Income earned on investments you give to children or other family members is generally taxed to them, not to you. In the case of dividends paid on stock given to your children, they may qualify for the reduced 5% dividend rate.

Caution: In 2012, investment income for a child (under age 18 at the end of the tax year or a full-time student under age 24) that is in excess of $1,900 is taxed at the parent's tax rate.

Other Year-End Moves

Retirement Plan Contributions. Maximize your retirement plan contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don't already have one. (It doesn't need to actually be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year's return.)

If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($17,000 for 2012), plus an additional catch up contribution of $5,500 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this much and income restrictions don't apply).

If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $5,000 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.

Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.

In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the excess over 7.5% of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later, and not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.

To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2012, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,200 ($1,250 in 2013) for single coverage or $2,400 ($2,500 in 2013) for a family.

Summary

These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact us for help in implementing these or other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable to your particular situation.

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Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

There are a number of end of year tax strategies businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2012. Here's the lowdown on some of the best options.

Purchase New Business Equipment

Section 179 Expensing. Business should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2012 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $139,000 for property placed in service by December 31, 2012. The maximum threshold amount for capital purchases in 2012 is $560,000, but in 2013, that amount drops to $25,000. Also in 2012, businesses can take advantage of an accelerated first year bonus depreciation of 50% of the purchase price of new equipment and software placed in service by December 31, 2012 that exceeds the threshold amount of $560,000. This bonus depreciation is phased out in 2013.

Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.

Note: Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding qualified property and bonus depreciation.

Timing. If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here's a simplified explanation:

Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include "conventions" or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.

  1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as "placed in service" (or "disposed of") at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

  2. Example: You buy a $40,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

  3. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40% of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.

  4. The mid-month convention: This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

  5. If you're planning on buying equipment for your business, call us first. We'll help you figure out the best time to buy it to take full advantage of these tax rules.

Other Year-End Moves To Take Advantage Of

Partnership or S Corporation Basis. Partners or S corporation shareholders in entities that have a loss for 2012 can deduct that loss only up to their basis in the entity. However, they can take steps to increase their basis to allow a larger deduction. Basis in the entity can be increased by lending the entity money or making a capital contribution by the end of the entity's tax year.

Caution: Remember that by increasing basis, you're putting more of your funds at risk. Consider whether the loss signals further troubles ahead.

Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2012. Call us today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.

Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders, which continue to be taxed at the 15 percent rate through 2012.

Budgets. Every business, whether small or large should have a budget. The need for a business budget may seem obvious, but many companies overlook this critical business planning tool.

A budget is extremely effective in making sure your business has adequate cash flow and in ensuring financial success. Once the budget has been created, then monthly actual revenue amounts can be compared to monthly budgeted amounts. If actual revenues fall short of budgeted revenues, expenses must generally be cut.

Tip: Year-end is the best time for business owners to meet with their accountants to budget revenues and expenses for the following year.

For more on this topic, see the article below about common budgeting errors, but if you need help developing a budget for your business don't hesitate to call us today.

Call Us First

These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2012. But the best advice we can give you is to give us a call. We'll sit down with you, discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.

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Three Most Common Budgeting Errors

When it comes to creating a budget, it's essential to estimate your spending as realistically as possible. Here are three budget-related errors commonly made by small businesses, and some tips for avoiding them.

  1. Not Setting Goals. It's almost impossible to set spending priorities without clear goals for the coming year. It's important to identify, in detail, your business and financial goals and what you want or need to achieve in your business.

  2. Underestimating Costs. Every business has ancillary or incidental costs that don't always make it into the budget--for whatever reason. A good example of this is buying a new piece of equipment or software. While you probably accounted for the cost of the equipment in your budget, you might not have remembered to budget time and money needed to train staff or for equipment maintenance.

  3. Failing to Adjust Your Budget. Don't be afraid to update your forecasted expenditures whenever new circumstances affect your business. Several times a year you should set aside time to compare budget estimates against the amount you actually spent, and then adjust your budget accordingly.

Call our office if you want to discuss setting up a budget to meet your business financial goals. We're happy to help.

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Tap Your Retirement Money Early and Minimize Penalties

The purpose of retirement plans such as the 401(k) and Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is to save money for your retirement years. As such, the IRS imposes a penalty of 10% for early withdrawals taken from qualified retirement plans before age 59 1/2. Qualified retirement plans include section 401(k) plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and 401(k) plan, tax-sheltered annuity plans under section 403(b) for employees of public schools or tax-exempt organizations.

While you should always think carefully about taking money out of your retirement plan before you've reached retirement age, there may be times when you need access to those funds, whether it's buying a new house or pay for out of pocket medical expenses. Fortunately, IRS provisions allow a number of exceptions that may be used to avoid the tax penalty.

  1. If you are the beneficiary of a deceased IRA owner, you do not have to pay the 10% penalty on distributions taken before age 59 1/2 unless you inherit a traditional IRA from your deceased spouse and elect to treat it as your own. In this case, any distribution you later receive before you reach age 59 1/2 may be subject to the 10% additional tax.

  2. Distributions made because you are totally and permanently disabled are exempt from the early withdrawal penalty. You are considered disabled if you can furnish proof that you cannot do any substantial gainful activity because of your physical or mental condition. A physician must determine that your condition can be expected to result in death or to be of long, continued, and indefinite duration.

  3. Distributions for qualified higher educational expenses are also exempt, provided they are not paid through tax-free distributions from a Coverdell education savings account, scholarships and fellowships, Pell grants, employer-provided educational assistance, and Veterans' educational assistance. Qualified higher education expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the enrollment or attendance of a student at an eligible educational institution, as well as expenses incurred by special needs students in connection with their enrollment or attendance. If the individual is at least a half-time student, then room and board are considered qualified higher education expenses. This exception applies to expenses incurred by you, your spouse, children and grandchildren.

  4. Distributions due to an IRS levy of the qualified plan.

  5. Distributions that are not more than the cost of your medical insurance. Even if you are under age 59 1/2, you may not have to pay the 10% additional tax on distributions during the year that are not more than the amount you paid during the year for medical insurance for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. You will not have to pay the tax on these amounts if all of the following conditions apply: you lost your job, you received unemployment compensation paid under any federal or state law for 12 consecutive weeks because you lost your job, you receive the distributions during either the year you received the unemployment compensation or the following year, you receive the distributions no later than 60 days after you have been reemployed.

  6. Distributions to qualified reservists. Generally, these are distributions made to individuals called to active duty after September 11, 2001 and on or after December 31, 2007.

  7. Distributions in the form of an annuity. You can take the money as part of a series of substantially equal periodic payments over your estimated lifespan or the joint lives of you and your designated beneficiary. These payments must be made at least annually and payments are based on IRS life expectancy tables. If payments are from a qualified employee plan, they must begin after you have left the job. The payments must be made at least once each year until age 59 1/2, or for five years, whichever period is longer.

  8. If you have out-of-pocket medical expenses that exceed 7.5% (10% in 2013) of your adjusted gross income, you can withdraw funds from a retirement account to pay those expenses without paying a penalty. For example, if you had an adjusted gross income of $100,000 for tax year 2012 and medical expenses of $12,500, you could withdraw as much as $5,000 ($2,500 in 2013) from your pension or IRA without incurring the 10% penalty tax. You do not have to itemize your deductions to take advantage of this exception.

  9. An IRA distribution used to buy, build, or rebuild a first home also escapes the penalty; however, you need to understand the government's definition of a "first time" home buyer. In this case, it's defined as someone who hasn't owned a home for the last two years prior to the date of the new acquisition. You could have owned five prior houses, but if you haven't owned one in at least two years, you qualify.

    The first time homeowner can be yourself, your spouse, your or your spouse's child or grandchild, parent or other ancestor. The "date of acquisition" is the day you sign the contract for purchase of an existing house or the day construction of your new principal residence begins. The amount withdrawn for the purchase of a home must be used within 120 days of withdrawal and the maximum lifetime withdrawal exemption is $10,000. If both you and your spouse are first-time home buyers, each of you can receive distributions up to $10,000 for a first home without having to pay the 10% penalty.

Remember that although using the above techniques will help you avoid the 10% penalty tax, you are still liable for any regular income tax that's owed on the funds that you've withdrawn. Distributions rolled over into another qualified retirement plan or distributions from a Roth IRA however, escape both the regular income tax and the 10% penalty tax. Rollovers should be made directly between your brokers, to avoid paying the 20% withholding required on distributions that you touch.

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Income from Foreign Sources

Many U.S. citizens earn money from foreign sources. But unless it is exempt under federal law, taxpayers sometimes forget that they have to report all such income on their tax return.

As such, some U.S. taxpayers living abroad have failed to timely file U.S. federal income tax returns or Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs). Some of these taxpayers have recently become aware of their filing requirements and want to comply with the law.

Effective September 1, 2012, taxpayers who are low compliance risks are able to get current with their tax requirements without facing penalties or additional enforcement action. These taxpayers generally have simple tax returns and owe $1,500 or less in tax for any of the covered years.

U.S. citizens are taxed on their income regardless of whether they live inside or outside the United States. The foreign income rule also applies regardless of whether the person receives a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099.

Foreign source income includes earned and unearned income, such as:

  • Wages and tips
  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Capital gains
  • Pensions
  • Rents
  • Royalties

But there is some good news. Citizens living outside the United States may be able to exclude up to $95,100 of their 2012 foreign source income if they meet certain requirements. This will increase to $97,600 in 2013.

If you're married and you and your spouse both work abroad and meet either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, each of you can choose the foreign earned income exclusion. Together, you can exclude as much as $190,200 for the 2012 tax year.

Caution: The exclusion does not apply to payments made to U.S. government employees or folks in the military living outside the United States.

If you earn income from outside the country, please be sure to meet with us about it. We can advise you on how to address all of the tax implications of this situation.

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Check Your Withholdings

With less than two months remaining in the calendar year, it's a great time to double check your federal withholding.

Most people have taxes withheld from each paycheck or pay taxes on a quarterly basis through estimated tax payments. But each year millions of American workers have far more taxes withheld from their pay than is required. In fact, the average refund for 2011 was just under $3,000. Although it's a slight decrease from 2010, ($2,973 vs. $3,003), taxpayers might want to consider adjusting their tax withholding to bring the taxes they must pay closer to what they actually owe--and put more money in their pocket right now.

On the flip side, is that some workers and retirees still need to take steps to make sure enough tax is being taken out of their checks to avoid penalties they might have to pay. Certain folks should pay particular attention to their withholding. These include:

  • Married couples with two incomes

  • Individuals with multiple jobs

  • Dependents

  • Some Social Security recipients who work

  • Workers who do not have valid Social Security numbers

  • Retirees who receive pension payments

Whether you're starting a new job, retiring, or self-employed, you can use the following tips to help bring the taxes you pay during the year closer to what you will actually owe when you file your tax return.

Employees

  • New Job. When you start a new job your employer will ask you to complete Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer will use this form to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your paychecks. Be sure to complete the Form W-4 accurately.

  • Life Event. You may want to change your Form W-4 when certain life events happen to you during the year. Examples of events in your life that can change the amount of taxes you owe include a change in your marital status, the birth of a child, getting or losing a job, and purchasing a home. Keep your Form W-4 up-to-date.

You typically can submit a new Form W-4 anytime that you wish to change the number of your withholding allowances. However, if your life event results in the need to decrease your withholding allowances or changes your marital status from married to single; you must give your employer a new Form W-4 within 10 days of that life event.

Self-Employed

  • Form 1040-ES. If you are self-employed and expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in taxes for the year, then you normally must make estimated tax payments to pay your income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes. You can use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to find out if you are required to pay estimated tax on a quarterly basis. Remember to make estimated payments to avoid owing taxes at tax time.

If you're not sure how much you need to withhold from your paycheck, just give us a call and we'll figure it out with you.

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Expanded Adoption Credit

For 2012 the maximum adoption credit per eligible child is $12,650, down from $13,360 in 2011. The credit is no longer refundable and must be used as a credit against tax liability. In general, the credit is based on the reasonable and necessary expenses related to a legal adoption, including adoption fees, court costs, attorney's fees, and travel expenses. Special needs adoptions are eligible for the full credit regardless of whether expenses are qualified.

In order to claim the credit however, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be less than $229,710. This credit is set to expire on December 31, 2012, but can be carried forward over the next five additional years until the credit is used up or the time limit expires. Moving forward, in 2013 domestic adoptions of special needs children are eligible for a tax credit of $6,000.

If you adopted a child this year, or are planning to adopt a special needs child in 2013, you may be eligible for this credit. Additionally, if you adopted a child in 2010 or 2011 and didn't claim the refundable credit, you may be able to file an amended return. Be sure to contact us if you need assistance. We are here to help.

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Retirement Contributions Limits Announced for 2013

The Internal Revenue Service announced cost of living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for Tax Year 2013.

In general, many of the pension plan limitations will change for 2013 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. However, other limitations will remain unchanged because the increase in the index did not meet the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. Here are the highlights:

  • The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $17,000 to $17,500.

  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan remains unchanged at $5,500.

  • Contribution limits for SIMPLE retirement accounts increase from $11,500 to $12,000.

  • The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $59,000 and $69,000, up from $58,000 and $68,000 in 2012. For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $95,000 to $115,000, up from $92,000 to $112,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple's income is between $178,000 and $188,000, up from $173,000 and $183,000.

  • The AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $178,000 to $188,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $173,000 to $183,000 in 2012. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range is $112,000 to $127,000, up from $110,000 to $125,000. For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a retirement plan at work, the phase-out range remains $0 to $10,000.

  • The AGI limit for the saver's credit (also known as the retirement savings contribution credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $59,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $57,500 in 2012; $44,250 for heads of household, up from $43,125; and $29,500 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $28,750.

Questions? Give us a call. We're here to help.

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QuickBooks 2013 Gives You a Reason To Upgrade

You chose QuickBooks for a variety of reasons, a major one being its simplicity and usability.

But the software is more than 20 years old now, and hundreds of features have been added over the years. QuickBooks looks old, tired and in need of a makeover.

Not anymore. Intuit has totally redesigned the program's interface and navigational tools, providing a more consistent, streamlined, state-of-the-art look and feel. For the first time in a few years, there's a compelling reason to consider moving up.


Figure 1: The QuickBooks 2013 home page.

Clean, Efficient, Customizable

What Intuit heard from customers was that they wanted a clean, simple experience. They wanted QuickBooks optimized for efficiency, and they wanted to be able to customize quickly.

So Intuit built a brand new interface, one that offers:

  • An across-the-board, consistent look and feel
  • A minimal learning curve, aided by familiar software conventions
  • A clearer, more obvious workflow

QuickBooks' 2013's dramatic changes are evident from its first screen. The home page has been cleaned up, and many icons removed (with their functions available elsewhere). But the interactive flowchart graphic is still there, along with icons for other commonly-used features.

You can still use the software's standard drop-down menus. But you now have a choice between the old horizontal Icon Toolbar and a new vertical navigational panel (or neither of the latter two). You can customize the new panel to give you quick access to the functions and reports you use most often, saving time and unnecessary clicking.


Figure 2: The new vertical navigational panel can be customized to display the icons you want.

Familiarity, and Clear Signals

Whether you just handle a subset of your company's financial data or you're the only one working with QuickBooks, your workflow will be faster and more intuitive.

QuickBooks 2013 uses colors and other visual cues to provide helpful hints and speed up your work. If the same option occurs within more than one screen, it's always the identical color. When you're completing an invoice, for example, the Save & New button is a bright blue color, as it is on many other screens. The Save & Close and OK icons are the same shade within the forms and records where they occur.

Color is also used to signify related actions in the new navigational Ribbon, a familiar interface convention that replaces the mismatched icons that used to be displayed at the top of transaction forms. In QuickBooks 2013, the icons for related tasks are the same color, and the graphics themselves are much cleaner and well-positioned.


Figure 3: 2013's new navigational Ribbon is designed to accelerate workflow.

A Pleasure to Use

No area of QuickBooks remained untouched in this massive overhaul. Every screen has been modified to enhance readability and speed. Fonts look larger and clearer, and the overall design is more aesthetically pleasing.

So besides making your accounting chores zip along faster, the new look and navigation have a positive psychological effect: It's simply more enjoyable and less frustrating to interact with QuickBooks 2013. Its more modern, attractive look has a lot of appeal.

There are a few new things under the hood in this new version -- it's not just an interface update. For example, customer and vendor records are more flexible and thorough. You can attach to-do's to them, assign multiple contacts and store more contact options, like Facebook addresses and Twitter handles.


Figure 4: Contact records in QuickBooks 2013 are more readable and thorough.

Starting Fresh

There are other changes that will make your work life easier, like one-click access to both the Intuit App Center (where you'll find hundreds of integrated QuickBooks add-ons) and your most often-accessed reports.

The last few versions of QuickBooks have been rather ho-hum in terms of new usability and functionality. But we encourage you to seriously consider upgrading to QuickBooks 2013. We'd be happy to help you get it up and running. Together, we can take a fresh look at your workflow to see if you and QuickBooks can build a better accounting experience.

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Tax Due Dates for November 2012

Anytime Employers - Income Tax Withholding. Ask employees whose withholding allowances will be different in 2013 to fill out a new Form W-4.
November 13 Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2012. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during October, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
November 15 Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

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