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December 2012

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Tax Tips

QuickBooks Tips

 
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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.



2012 Tax Changes for Individuals

Here's what individuals and families need to know about tax changes for 2012.

From personal deductions to tax credits and educational expenses, many of the tax changes relating to individuals remain in effect through 2012 and are the result of tax provisions that were either modified or extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 that became law on December 17, 2010.

Personal Exemptions
The personal and dependent exemption for tax year 2012 is $3,800, up $100 from 2011.

Standard Deductions
In 2012 the standard deduction for married couples filing a joint return is $11,900, up $300 from 2011 and for singles and married individuals filing separately it's $5,950, up $150. For heads of household the deduction is $8,700, up $200 from 2011.

The additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens in 2012 is unchanged from 2011, remaining at $1,150 for married individuals and $1,450 for singles and heads of household.

Income Tax Rates
Due to inflation, tax-bracket thresholds will increase for every filing status. For example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $70,700 for a married couple filing a joint return, up from $69,000 in 2011.

Estate and Gift Taxes
The recent overhaul of estate and gift taxes means that there is an exemption of $5.12 million per individual for estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes, with a top rate of 35%. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $13,000.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
AMT exemption amounts for 2012 have reverted to 2000 levels and will remain significantly lower than in 2011 unless Congress takes action before year-end: $33,750 for single and head of household fliers, $45,000 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers, and $22,500 for married people filing separately.

Marriage Penalty Relief
For 2012, the basic standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly is $11,900, up $300 from 2011.

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout)
Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) limitations do not apply for 2012, but like many other tax provisions, are set to expire at the end of the year.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)
FSA (Flexible Spending Arrangements) are limited to $2,500 per year starting in 2013 and indexed to inflation after that and applies only to salary reduction contributions under a health FSA. However, IRS guidance issued this year recognizes that the term "taxable year" refers to the plan year of the cafeteria plan, which is typically the period during which salary reduction elections are made.

Specifically, in the case of a plan providing a grace period (which may be up to two months and 15 days), unused salary reduction contributions to the health FSA for plan years beginning in 2012 or later that are carried over into the grace period for that plan year will not count against the $2,500 limit for the subsequent plan year.

Further, the IRS is providing relief for certain salary reduction contributions exceeding the $2,500 limit that are due to a reasonable mistake and not willful neglect and that are corrected by the employer.

Long Term Capital Gains
In 2012, long-term gains for assets held at least one year are taxed at a flat rate of 15% for taxpayers above the 25% tax bracket. For taxpayers in lower tax brackets, the long-term capital gains rate is 0%.

Individuals - Tax Credits


Adoption Credit
In 2012 a credit of up to $12,650 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child. The available adoption credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $189,710 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $229,710 or more.

Child and Dependent Care Credit
If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) in order to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses.

For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher income earners the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income.

Child Tax Credit
The $1,000 child tax credit has been extended through 2012 as well. A portion of the credit may be refundable, which means that you can claim the amount you are owed, even if you have no tax liability for the year. The credit is phased out for those with higher incomes.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
For tax year 2012, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low and moderate income workers and working families rises to $5,891, up from $5,751 in 2011. The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $50,270 (up from $49,078 in 2011). The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

Individuals - Education Expenses

Coverdell Education Savings Account
You can contribute up to $2,000 a year to Coverdell savings accounts in 2012. These accounts can be used to offset the cost of elementary and secondary education, as well as post-secondary education.

American Opportunity Tax Credit
For 2012, the maximum Hope Scholarship Credit that can be used to offset certain higher education expenses is $2,500, although it is phased out beginning at $160,000 adjusted gross income for joint filers and $80,000 for other filers.

Employer Provided Educational Assistance
Through 2012, you, as an employee, can exclude up to $5,250 of qualifying post-secondary and graduate education expenses that are reimbursed by your employer.

Lifetime Learning Credit
A credit of up to $2,000 is available for an unlimited number of years for certain costs of post-secondary or graduate courses or courses to acquire or improve your job skills. For 2012, The modified adjusted gross income threshold at which the lifetime learning credit begins to phase out is $104,000 for joint filers, up from $102,000, and $52,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $51,000.

Student Loan Interest
For 2012 (same as 2011), the $2,500 maximum student loan interest deduction for interest paid on student loans is not limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction begins to phase out for married taxpayers filing joint returns at $125,000, and phases out completely at $155,000, an increase of $5,000 from the phase out limits for tax year 2011. For single taxpayers, the phase out ranges remain at the 2011 levels.

Individuals - Retirement

Contribution Limits
For 2012, 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 $16,500 to $17,000. For persons age 50 or older in 2012, the limit is $22,500 (up from $22,000 in 2011). Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans remain at $11,500 for persons under age 50 and $14,000 for persons age 50 or older in 2012. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $250,000.

Saver's Credit
In 2012, the AGI limit for the saver's credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low-and moderate-income workers is $57,500 for married couples filing jointly, $43,125 for heads of household, and $28,750 for married individuals filing separately and for singles.

Please contact us if you need help understanding which deductions and tax credits you are entitled to. We are always available to assist you.

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2012 Tax Changes for Businesses

Whether you file as a corporation or sole proprietor here's what business owners need to know about tax changes in 2012.

Standard Mileage Rates
The standard mileage rate in 2012 is 55.5 cents per business mile driven, 23 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, and 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

Health Care Tax Credit for Small Businesses
Small business employers who pay at least half the premiums for single health insurance coverage for their employees may be eligible for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit as long as they employ fewer than the equivalent of 25 full-time workers and average annual wages do not exceed $50,000. The credit can be claimed in tax years 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that. The maximum credit that can be claimed is an amount equal to 35% of premiums paid by eligible small businesses.

Credit for Hiring Qualified Veterans
The maximum credit that employers can take for hiring qualified veterans in 2012 is $9,600 per worker for employers that operate for-profit businesses, or $6,240 per worker for tax-exempt organizations. See Tax Credit for Employers Hiring Veterans This Year (below) for additional details on this tax credit.

Section 179 Expensing
In 2012 the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases is $139,000 ($174,000 for qualified enterprise zone property) of the first $560,000 of certain business property placed in service during the year. The bonus depreciation is 50% for qualified property that exceeds the threshold amount.

Please contact us if you need help understanding which deductions and tax credits you are entitled to. We are always available to assist you.

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3 Ways to Spend Wisely in December

While in the mode of holiday shopping, consider these 3 tax-smart purchases.

Make Charitable Contributions

Consider making charitable contributions before year-end both to obtain the maximum tax deduction and to fulfill any charitable programs or commitments you may have established for the year.

Pay Tax-Deductible Expenses

Consider paying tax-deductible expenses prior to year-end. Some common examples are real estate taxes, quarterly state or local income taxes, investment-related expenses, and dues. These must be paid by December 31 to obtain a deduction this year. Please call us if you'd like to discuss these deductions further.

Buy a New Car

If you need a new car, now is a great time to purchase or lease one. Frequently, dealers are anxious to clear out last year's inventory prior to year-end. In making your choice, consider the federal tax (and occasional state tax) advantages for buying fuel-efficient vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

Evaluate Your Spending Plan

If you're one of the rare few who are disciplined enough to create and hold yourself to a budget, December is a great time to evaluate how close your spending went compared to plan for the year. You'll learn lessons from the areas you overspent that will help you create an even better plan for 2013.

For the rest of us mere mortals, recalculate your net worth. Compare it to the value at the beginning of the year. How did you do?

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Tax Credit for Employers Hiring Veterans This Year

Many businesses may qualify to receive thousands of dollars through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), but employers planning to claim an expanded tax credit for hiring certain veterans should act soon because they are only eligible for the credit if the veteran begins work before the new year.

Here are five key facts about the WOTC as expanded by The Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

1. Hiring Deadline: Employers may be able to claim the expanded WOTC for qualified veterans who begin work on or after November 22, 2011 but before January 1, 2013.

2. Maximum Credit: The maximum tax credit is $9,600 per worker for employers that operate for-profit businesses, or $6,240 per worker for tax-exempt organizations.

3. Credit Factors: The amount of credit will depend on a number of factors. Such factors include the length of the veteran's unemployment before being hired, the number of hours the veteran works and the amount of the wages the veteran receives during the first-year of employment.

4. Disabled Veterans: Employers hiring veterans with service-related disabilities may be eligible for the maximum tax credit.

5. State Certification: Employers must file Form 8850, Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit, with their state workforce agency. The form must be filed within 28 days after the qualified veteran starts work. Some states accept Form 8850 electronically.

Please give us a call if you need assistance filling out Form 8850 or if you'd like more information about the expanded tax credit for hiring veterans.

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IRS Provides Relief for Hurricane Sandy

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Internal Revenue Service has announced several types of relief aimed at helping affected individuals and businesses. Here are two of them.

Qualified Disaster Treatment of Payments to Victims of Hurricane Sandy

In light of the designation of Hurricane Sandy as a qualified disaster for tax purposes, the IRS is notifying taxpayers and employers that qualified disaster relief payments made to individuals by their employer or any person can be excluded from those individuals' taxable income.

Qualified disaster relief payments include amounts to cover necessary personal, family, living or funeral expenses that were not covered by insurance. They also include expenses to repair or rehabilitate personal residences or repair or replace the contents to the extent that they were not covered by insurance. Again, these payments would not be included in the individual recipient's gross income.

In addition, employer-sponsored private foundations may provide disaster relief to employee-victims in areas affected by the hurricane without affecting their tax-exempt status.

Return Filing and Tax Payment Deadline Extended to February 1, 2013

Following recent disaster declarations for individual assistance issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the IRS announced today that affected taxpayers in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York will receive tax relief. Other locations may be added in coming days based on additional damage assessments by FEMA.

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting in late October. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until February 1, 2013 to file these returns and pay any taxes due. This includes the fourth quarter individual estimated tax payment, normally due January 15, 2013. It also includes payroll and excise tax returns and accompanying payments for the third and fourth quarters, normally due on October 31, 2012 and January 31, 2013 respectively. It also applies to tax-exempt organizations required to file Form 990 series returns with an original or extended deadline falling during this period.

The IRS will abate any interest, late-payment or late-filing penalty that would otherwise apply. The IRS automatically provides this relief to any taxpayer located in the disaster area.

Taxpayers need not contact the IRS to get this relief.

Beyond the relief provided by law to taxpayers in the FEMA-designated counties, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who resides outside the disaster area but whose books, records or tax professional are located in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. All workers assisting the relief activities in the covered disaster areas who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization are eligible for relief. Please contact us if you are a taxpayer who lives outside of the impacted area, but think you may qualify for this relief. We can help you sort it out.

In addition, the IRS is waiving failure-to-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due on or after the disaster area start date and before November 26, if the deposits are made by November 26, 2012.

So far, IRS filing and payment relief applies to the following localities:

In Connecticut (starting October 27): Fairfield, Middlesex, New Haven, and New London Counties and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribal Nation located within New London County;

In New Jersey (starting October 26): Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset and Union;

In New York (starting October 27): Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester.

Questions? Don't hesitate to give us a call. We have answers!

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Are Your Social Security Benefits Taxable?

All Social Security recipients should receive a Form SSA-1099 from the Social Security Administration which shows the total amount of their benefits.

But many people may not realize the Social Security benefits they received in 2012 may be taxable. The information outlined below should help you determine whether those benefits you receive in 2012 are taxable or not.

1. How much, if any, of your Social Security benefits are taxable depends on your total income and marital status.

2. Generally, if Social Security benefits were your only income for 2012, your benefits are not taxable and you probably do not need to file a federal income tax return.

3. If you received income from other sources, your benefits will not be taxed unless your modified adjusted gross income is more than the base amount for your filing status (see below).

4. Your taxable benefits and modified adjusted gross income are figured on a worksheet in the Form 1040A or Form 1040 Instruction booklet. Your tax software program will also figure this for you.

5. You can do the following quick computation to determine whether some of your benefits may be taxable:

  • First, add one-half of the total Social Security benefits you received to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest and other exclusions from income.
  • Then, compare this total to the base amount for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.

6. The 2012 base amounts are:

  • $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.
  • $25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child, or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year.
  • $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year.
  • Confused? Give us a call. We'll make sure you receive all of the Social Security benefits you're entitled to.

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    Are You Defining Items In QuickBooks Correctly?




    Figure 1: Clearly-defined items result in precise reports.

    Obviously, you're using QuickBooks because you buy and/or sell products and/or services. You want to know at least weekly -- if not daily -- what's selling and what's not, so you can make informed plans about your company's future.

    You get that information from the reports that you so painstakingly customize and create. But their accuracy depends in large part on how carefully you define each item. This can be a laborious process, but it's a critical part of QuickBooks' foundation.

    QuickBooks' Item Lineup

    You may not be aware of all of your options here. So let's take a look at what you see when you go to Lists | Item List | Item | New:

    Service. Simple enough. Do you or your employees do something for clients? Training? Construction labor? Web design? This is usually tracked by the hour.

    Inventory Part. If you want to maintain detailed records about inventory that contain up-to-date information about value, quantities on hand and cost of goods sold, you must define these items as inventory parts. Before you start creating individual records, make sure that QuickBooks is set up for this purpose. Go to Edit | Preferences | Items & Inventory | Company Preferences and select the desired options there, like this:


    Figure 2: QuickBooks needs to know that you're planning to track at least some items as inventory parts.

    Inventory Assembly. Just what it sounds like; it's sometimes referred to as a Bill of Materials. Do you sell items that actually consist of multiple individual products, services and/or other charges (though you may also sell the parts separately)? If you're planning to track the compilations as individual units, then you must define them as assemblies.

    Non-Inventory Parts. If you don't track inventory, you can set up items as non-inventory parts. Even if you do track inventory, there may be times when you'll want to use this designation. For instance, you might sell something to a customer that they asked you to obtain, but you don't plan to stock it. In that case, QuickBooks only records the incoming and outgoing funds.


    Figure 3: The New Item window looks a bit intimidating, but it's critical that you complete it thoroughly and correctly. We can help you get started.

    Other Charges. This is a catch-all category for items like delivery charges or setup fees. You can't designate a unit or measure here; they're just standard costs.

    Groups. Unlike assemblies, these are not recorded as individual inventory units. Use this designation when you sell a combination of items together frequently but you don't want them tracked as one entity.

    Discount. This is a fixed amount or a percentage that you subtract from a subtotal or total.

    Payment. Normally, you would use the Receive Payments window to record a payment made. But if your customer has made a partial or advance payment upfront, use this item to subtract it from the total when you create the invoice or statement.


    Figure 4: Use the Payment item to record an upfront remittance.

    Sales Tax Item. One sales tax, one rate, one agency.

    Sales Tax Group. If a sale requires two or more sales tax items, QuickBooks calculates the total and displays it for the customer, but the items are tracked individually.

    Additional Actions

    The Item menu provides other options for working with items. You can:

    • Edit or delete
    • Duplicate
    • Make inactive
    • Find in transactions and
    • Customize the list's columns.

    Let us know if you're not confident about items you've already created or if you're just getting started with this important QuickBooks feature. Some extra work and attention upfront can save you from hours of back-tracking and frustration--and from reports that don't tell the truth.

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    Tax Due Dates for December 2012

    December 12 Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during November, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
    December 17 Corporations - Deposit the fourth installment of estimated income tax for 2012. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you estimate your tax for the year.

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

    Employers Nonpayroll withholding - If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in November.

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