Archive for the ‘Tax’ Category

Governor’s Budget Proposal Makes The Case For Tax Reform

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
Proposed tax increase on oil and gas production

If the proposed two-year state budget proposal passes, oil and gas produced by horizontal wells will be taxed at a 6.5 percent tax rate for product sold at the wellhead. If sold downstream, a 4.5 percent tax will be applied.

Since it was unveiled last month, Gov. John Kasich’s proposed two-year state budget has many individuals, businesses, school districts, not-for-profit organizations and others scrambling to find out how his proposed tax reform package will affect them. In his recommendation, Gov. Kasich says his proposal seeks to “create more opportunities for each and every Ohioan.” To this end, the budget focuses on four primary objectives:

  1. To ensure that students are ready for college and careers
  2. To help more students get degrees
  3. To cut and reform taxes
  4. To help Ohioans move up and out of poverty and into jobs

To achieve these goals, Gov. Kasich has proposed implementation of several tactics to help fund his $35.5 billion 2016 budget, which is up 15.5 percent over the state’s projected spending in fiscal year 2015. Of those tactics, a slew of tax cuts and increases are central to his budget initiative. The following points address some primary changes Ohioans can expect to see if Gov. Kasich’s 2016-2017 budget plan is approved.

Proposed Tax Cuts

  • A 23 percent across-the-board income tax rate reduction. This proposed cut would drop the top income tax rate to 4.1 percent, the current from 5.33 percent.
  • Business owners of pass-through entities with gross receipts less than $2 million will pay no income tax on their business income.
  • Other Ohio business owners will see the 50 percent reduction incentive on income that totals $250,000 and less become permanent.
  • Individuals who earn less than $40,000 will see a $1,600 increase in their personal exemption (from $2,400 to $4,000). The personal exemption for those who make between $40,000 and $80,000 will increase by $900 (from $1,950 to $2,850).

Proposed Tax Increases

  • The commercial activity tax (CAT), which is measured by a business’s gross receipts on business activities in the state, will increase 0.6 percent to 0.32 percent.
  • The state’s sales tax will increase to 6.25 percent. The current sales tax rate is 5.75 percent and would be expanded to include management consulting, lobbying, market research and opinion polling, public relations, debt collection services, cable subscriptions and parking and travel services.
  • Means-tested tax credits and exemptions for retired taxpayers who earn more than $100,000.
  • Oil and gas produced by horizontal wells will be taxed at a 6.5 percent tax rate for product sold at the wellhead. If sold downstream, a 4.5 percent tax will be applied.
  • The state currently reduces the price paid for the new car or boat by the value of the trade-in. The proposal calls for a 50 percent deduction in this exemption.
  • The discount vendors receive for collecting, reporting and remitting sales tax will be capped at $1,000 per month.

To learn more about how tax reform could affect you, email Rea & Associates.

By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)

 

 

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Is It A Charity Or A Scam?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Remember when writing a check to a charity left you with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment? Unfortunately that feeling has been replaced with vulnerability and uncertainty as soliciting for fake charities has become a common way for scammers to prey on the generosity of strangers.

Remember when writing a check to a charity left you with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment? Unfortunately that feeling has been replaced with vulnerability and uncertainty as soliciting for fake charities has become a common way for scammers to prey on the generosity of strangers. Before you tear that check from your checkbook, take another look at the “Pay to the Order Of” line. That person who just spent the last 15 minutes explaining why your donation is critical to their organization might have less-than-admirable intentions.

Every year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns taxpayers about what it considers to be the “Dirty Dozen” of tax scams. The annual report identifies schemes that appear to be more prevalent during filing season. And while you may be inclined to use some of your refund to help a worthwhile charity, the IRS reminds taxpayers to remain vigilant against scammers “masquerading as a charitable organization to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors” – particularly this time of year when scammers appear to be more active.

If you are approached by somebody who claims to be soliciting money for charity, here are a few tips to ensure that your money will be used for a worthwhile cause.

What’s In A Name?

Sometimes fake charities will adopt a name that’s similar to one you are sure to recognize and consider to be a respected organization within your community or nationwide. Even if you are confident that the not-for-profit you are about to donate to is reputable, a quick online search can remove any doubt. The IRS provides access to a search tool designed to help the public identify valid charitable organizations. You can also find registered 501(c)(3) organizations on Guidestar, an online tool that provides users with data and information about tax-exempt organizations and other faith-based nonprofits, community foundations and other groups typically not required to register with the IRS.

Keep Personal Information Private

Nonprofit organizations do not need your Social Security Number to complete the transaction, nor do they need to retain it for their files. So if someone claims to represent a charity and asks for any of your personal information (including passwords) – don’t give it to them! Scammers use this information to steal their victim’s identity. Protect yourself from fraud and remember to keep your personal information private.

Where’s The Proof?

When you make a decision to donate to a tax-exempt organization, make sure to have proof of the transaction. For your own security – and for tax record purposes – you should never make a cash donation. Use a check or credit card every time you give money to charity. Doing so not only proves that you made the donation; it will help you claim the contribution on next year’s tax return.

Ask An Expert

A trusted advisor can help you identify whether a particular charitable organization is reputable or not and can help you make the most of your donated dollars. Email Rea & Associates for more information.

By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)

 

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From Toddler To Teen And Beyond: Tax Breaks For Families

Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Families of all kinds can take advantage of a variety of tax incentives, which can ease some of the financial burden.

Families of all kinds can take advantage of a variety of tax incentives, which can ease some of the financial burden.

With parenthood comes many rewarding experiences – and expenses. You hear about how expensive it is to raise a child, but you never really know what to expect until that little bundle of joy enters your life. From diapers, pre-school, extracurricular activities and saving for college, the costs of raising kids adds up fast. My wife and I welcomed our daughter into our family last year; and this life-changing event got me thinking: What tax breaks are available to families?

Relief for New Parents

Families of all kinds can take advantage of a variety of tax incentives, which can ease some of the financial burden. From deductions to credits, this list will give you a good idea as to what is available to you.

  • Adoption Credit

-         A credit of up to $13,190 – dollar for dollar of qualified expenses – is available to families who have adopted children.

-         Qualified expenses include adoption fees, attorney fees, court costs, etc.

-         Adopting a child with special needs results in the full credit amount regardless of whether qualifying expenses were made.

  • Child Credit/Additional Child Credit/Dependent

-         Child Credit – This credit applies to up to $1,000 for qualifying children younger than 17. This credit is generally non-refundable, but the taxpayer may be able to qualify for the additional child credit if he/she has enough earned income.

-         Additional Child Credit – Part of the child credit may be refundable for taxpayers with more than $3,000 worth of earned income.

-         Dependent – Each child listed on a tax return may be eligible to be listed as a dependent, which results in an additional $3,950 exemption per dependent.

  • Earned Income Credit

-         This is one of the largest credits available to taxpayers and claiming it can save you thousands of dollars in taxes. Taxpayers with three or more children and who have earned income as high as $52,427 may qualify for the earned income credit. This credit generally decreases with fewer qualifying children or for those with higher income levels.

More To Know As They Grow

In addition to child and earned income credits, here are some additional ways to save on your taxes as your children continue to grow.

  • Dependent Care Credit

-         This non-refundable credit goes toward a portion of a dependent’s child care expenses. Common qualifying expenses include day care, pre-school, day camps and similar programs.

  • Preempting College Costs

-         Education Savings Accounts allow taxpayers to contribute up to $2,000 per year for children younger than 17. While there are no tax benefits for the year of the contribution, distributions toward qualified higher education expenses (including earnings on contributions) are tax-free. Taxes and penalties may apply if the funds are not used for qualified education expenses.

-         State College Savings (529 plans) allow taxpayers to make contributions to an investment account and take a deduction toward their state income tax. (There is no federal income tax deduction available when taking this option.) Similar to education savings accounts, taxes and penalties may apply to funds used on unqualified expenses.

  • Flexible Spending Plans

-         If you have a flexible spending plan through your employer, remember that your child-related medical expenses qualify under the plan too. The funds you already contribute to your plan are deducted pre-tax up to certain thresholds. But don’t forget to use the entire amount withheld in your plan before March 15 of the following year or you will lose it.

The College Years

It probably seems like it was just yesterday that your son or daughter was crawling across the living room floor – now you are preparing to send them off to college. But just because they are all grown up doesn’t mean that the tax incentives end. Here are some tax perks to help during your child’s transition into adulthood:

  • Dependency Extension

-         You can claim your child as a dependent until they are 19-years-old as long as you continue to provide more than half of their support and they lived with you for more than half the year. You may also continue to claim your child if they are younger than 24 and a full-time student.

  • Tax Relief For Education

When it comes to paying for higher education, there are a few opportunities for tax relief. Below are a few of your options. Remember that you may only claim one of these options. A financial advisor can help you determine which option is right for you.

-         You can claim the American Opportunity Credit for up to $2,500 (100 percent of the first $2,000 and 25 percent of next $2,000) for qualified education expenses. This tax credit is only available for undergraduate students. Qualified expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, etc. This credit is also 40 percent refundable.

-         Qualified education expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, etc., qualify you to claim the Lifetime Learning Credit, which could total up to $2,000 (20 percent of up to $10,000). Even though this credit is entirely nonrefundable, it helps reduce your tax bill.

-         If you are paying for tuition, fees, books and other school supplies for your student, you may find this above the line deduction of up to $4,000 for these expenses to be beneficial.

  • Student Loan Relief

-         Help is also available to those making payments on student loans. An above the line deduction of up to $2,500 is available for interest paid on education loans.

In addition to being expensive, taking care of children can be confusing at times. Claiming these tax deductions and tax credits doesn’t have to be. Email Rea & Associates to learn more.

By Jordan Miller, CPA (Millersburg office)

 

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How To Drive For Business And Save On Your Tax Bill

Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Deducting expenses related to your car or truck is an allowable business expense – as long as the vehicle is used for business purposes.

Deducting expenses related to your car or truck is an allowable business expense – as long as the vehicle is used for business purposes.

If you are one of the many men and women who drive their personal vehicles for business, don’t forget to claim the appropriate tax deduction on your tax return – the savings just might help you keep more cash in your bank account and more gas in your tank.

Here’s what you need to know. …

Deducting expenses related to your car or truck is an allowable business expense – as long as the vehicle is used for business purposes. And if you use it exclusively for business purposes, you may be able to deduct the full cost of your vehicle. But before you start claiming deductions on your tax return, make sure you understand what the IRS considers to be a valid business purpose. Hint: Commuting from your home to work is not considered a valid business purpose.

When To Claim A Deduction

Do – claim a deduction if you use your vehicle for travel between two places of business.

Do – claim travel expenses that result from traveling from one job to another, traveling from one customer or client to another and traveling from your office or business location to perform other business tasks.

Do – claim your travel expenses that accrue between your home and a business destination if you have a home office that is considered your primary place of business.

Which Deduction Is Better?

There are many factors to consider when choosing a deduction method that will result in the most tax savings. The two biggest factors are the cost of the vehicle and how many business miles you drive each year. Here are the nuts and bolts of your two options:

  • Standard Mileage Method – If you keep good notes, then you may prefer the standard mileage method to keep track of your deduction. Here’s how it works: Start by keeping a log or a journal of all your business trips – include who, what, when and where. Then add up all the miles you racked up on your trips and multiply that number by the IRS’s standard mileage rate – which currently stands at 57.5 cents per mile. For example: if you were to drive 15,000 business miles over the year, you can multiply that number by 57.5 cents per mile to claim an $8,625 deduction.
  • Actual Costs Method – This method requires that you to keep track of all costs associated with your vehicle, including depreciation, repairs, maintenance, gas, tires, etc. When you have collected all these costs and arrived at a total, multiply this number by the percentage of time the vehicle is used for business purposes. Your deduction is limited to the percentage of time the vehicle was used for business purposes.

So, which deduction method is better?

Say you purchased a car for $30,000 and you use it exclusively for business purposes. You have figured that you drive about 10,000 miles for business each year. If you use the standard mileage method, you could claim a $5,750 deduction each year. But if you were to use the actual costs method, instead you would find that during the first five years of owning the car the actual vehicle expenses significantly add up to a larger tax deduction.

If you use your vehicle for business purposes, a financial advisor can help you identify the best route to maximize your tax savings. Email Rea & Associates to learn more.

By Tom Jeffries, CPA (Millersburg office)

 

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Virtual Money Is Real Money – Don’t Forget To Report Your Bitcoin

Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Virtual Money Is Real Money – Don’t Forget To Report Your Bitcoin

Virtual Money Is Real Money – Don’t Forget To Report Your Bitcoin

Now that the official 2015 tax season is upon us, you may be going through the process of checking off the laundry list of forms you need to have on hand to file your 2014 tax return. (If you still aren’t sure what files to gather, you can find a thorough checklist here.) While you’re collecting your W-2s and 1099s, don’t forget Form 1099-MISC, which is the form to use if you have used virtual currency over the last year.

The IRS informed taxpayers of the proper way to report virtual currency such as Bitcoin last year. Because the value of virtual currency is converted to the value of real currency, for tax purposes, Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are considered capital assets by the IRS. Therefore, these forms of currency are subject to capital gains rules for any applicable gains or losses that may accrue.

Capital gains rates are more favorable than normal tax rates. For most taxpayers, the rate will be no more than 15 percent. However, if you are in one of the following categories, you will be taxed at 20 percent:

  • If you earned more than $406,750 in taxable income
  • If you are married and filing jointly and earned more than $457,600
  • If you’re the head of your household and earned more than $432,200
  • If you’re married, but filing separately and earned more than $228,800

Do you treat Bitcoin as an investment?

If you buy and sell virtual currency, the IRS will treat it as if you were buying and selling stock. You will be required to report the cost basis of the transaction, also known as the difference between the cash price and the futures price of stock. In addition to being taxed at a lower capital gains rate, losses can cancel out any gains. And left-over losses can be deducted from your regular income.

Do you use Bitcoin like cash?

From ordering a pizza to shopping for a new computer, the transactions you make online with Bitcoin may result in gains or losses as well – although determining the value of a particular item or service based on market value is easier said than done. A financial advisor can help you identify whether you have gains and losses to report to the IRS.

Do you get paid in Bitcoin?

For example, for tax purposes, a babysitter who is paid in Bitcoin is the same as a sitter who’s paid in cash and those earnings must go through the same channels to be considered by the IRS. Payments of virtual currency are required to be reported on Form 1099-MISC or a similar form and must be reported using the fair market value of virtual currency, which should be converted to U.S. dollars.

For more information about managing and reporting Bitcoin, email Rea & Associates.

By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)

 

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How To Prepare For A Federal Tax Return Headache

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Planning to buy a new big-screen television? Airline tickets for that Caribbean vacation you’ve been looking forward to?  A new car? You might want to wait a little longer.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently warned American taxpayers that some federal refunds could be delayed for a week or more because of recent budget cuts. So, if you file your tax return on paper, before you start spending that income tax refund check, you might want to wait for the cash to actually find its way into your bank account. Expect to feel a little discomfort during this tax season.

Refund Delays

Historically, refunds for electronically filed federal returns were processed within 21 days of the e-filing acceptance date. Paper returns were typically processed within six to eight weeks from the date they were received. Amended tax return refunds take even longer – the turnaround for these returns were typically 12 weeks.

“People who paper file tax returns could wait an extra week – or possibly longer – to see their refund,” said Koskinen in a memo sent to IRS staff. “Taxpayers with errors or questions on their returns that require additional manual review will also face delays.”

In his memo, Koskinen didn’t explicitly address electronically filed returns, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for these refunds to be delayed (at least a little bit) as well.

Phone Jams

Nearly eight out of ten taxpayers receive an average tax refund totaling $2,800, which prompts many taxpayers to check in on the status of their refunds by calling the IRS. The agency is predicting an abysmal connection rate of these calls this year – 43 percent connection rate with a hold time of 30 minutes or more.

Instead, if you would like to track the status of your refund, hang up the phone and log onto the IRS’s website to use its Where’s My Refund feature.

Time will only tell how these budget cuts will impact next year’s tax return process, as well as other services provided by the IRS. In the meantime, start preparing to file your tax return as early as possible to avoid additional delays. Email Rea & Associates to learn more.

By Meredith Mullet, CPA (Wooster office)

 

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File Faster With This Tax Prep Checklist

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

It’s that time of year again – time to gather your information and prepare to file your tax return. If you want the process to go smoothly, make sure to gather and organize your information before sitting down with your tax preparer. You may be surprised how fast the entire filing process goes if you spend a little time preparing!

Here’s a list of some items to compile before you get started.

Personal Information

Hopefully you know YOUR social security number and date of birth by heart. But do you know your spouse’s SSN? Your kids? Make sure you remember to bring the social security numbers and birth dates of everybody who will be claimed on your tax return.

Income Info

While your W-2 is important, there are many other pieces of information you will need to collect before you will be able to get started. Gather the following pieces of relevant information:

  • W-2s for you and your spouse.
  • Investment income: This type of income will be listed on various 1099 forms including –INT, -DIV, -B, etc). You may also have K-1s and stock option information to provide to your tax preparer.
  • Income received from state and local income tax refunds and/or unemployment. This income can be found on the Form 1099-G.
  • Gather information about any alimony you may have received.
  • If you are a business owner or farmer, don’t forget to provide a profit/loss statement and capital equipment information.  And if you use your home for business, your tax preparer will need to know the size of your house, the size of your office and what you have paid to maintain your home and office.
  • You will need to provide your IRA/pension distributions as well. This information will be provided to you on Forms 1099-R or 8606.
  • If you rent a home or other type of property, be sure to gather that information that proves the profit or losses you realized as a result of the rental.
  • Be sure to claim any Social Security benefits you may have received. This information is found on Form SSA-1099.
  • If you sold your house in 2014, you must provide your tax provider with Form 1099-C, which will include the income you received from the sale of the property. Your preparer will also take the home’s original cost and cost of improvements, the escrow closing statement and cancelled debt information into consideration.
  • Some other information you will need to pass along to your tax preparer includes items such as jury duty, gambling winnings, scholarships, etc.

Adjustments To Your Income

Now that you have collected all the information you can to adequately identify your income in 2014, some adjustments may need to be made. Making the following adjustments to your income may help increase your tax refund or lower the amount you owe to the government. If you have documentation of any of the following information, be sure to bring them to your appointment.

  • IRA contributions
  • Student loan interest
  • Medical Savings Account contributions
  • Moving expenses
  • Self-employed health insurance payments
  • Pension plans such as SEP and SIMPLE
  • Alimony you paid
  • Educator expenses

Itemized tax deductions and credits

This is another way to increase your refund or reduce what you owe. The following deductions and credits help lower the tax burden on individuals. Be sure to collect this information before filing your return.

  • Child care costs – child care provider’s name, address, tax ID number and amount paid
  • Education costs – these can be found on Form 1098-T
  • Adoption costs – the SSN of the child as well as legal, medical and transportation costs associated with the adoption
  • Home mortgage interest and points you paid, which can be found on Form 1098
  • Investment interest expense
  • Charitable donations that were made to not-for-profit organizations. Make sure you have the amounts and value of the donated property, and any out-of-pocket expenses you may have accrued in your effort to make the donation, including transportation costs. Include receipts for any contribution over $250

o   Losses you realized as a result of casualty and loss (the cost of the damage and insurance reimbursements

  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Energy credits
  • Other deductions include items such as union dues, unreimbursed employee expenses, such as unreimbursed employee expenses

New for 2014 returns

For the first time, you will need to provide information about your health insurance coverage to your tax preparer. Be prepared to answer questions such as these:

  • Was everyone claimed on your tax return covered by health insurance?

o   If not, why?

  • Did you or anyone on your return obtain health insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov or through a state run exchange in 2014?

o   If yes, did any of those individuals receive a premium tax subsidy, cost reduction, or premium tax credit? If yes, provide Form 1095-A.

It’s likely that you have already started receiving tax forms in the mail from various places. It’s easy to misplace these documents if you’re not careful. If you haven’t already, set aside a place for these items until you have collected them all. Once you have everything you need, you can set an appointment to file your taxes with your financial advisor or tax preparer. For additional tax information, or to speak with a tax expert, email Rea & Associates.

By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)

 

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Theft Safeguards To Cause Tax Return Delays In Ohio

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

If time is money then the new security measures to protect Ohio taxpayer’s returns and prevent identity theft comes at a price. The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) said that in an effort to boost security and prevent tax-fraud in the state, Ohio will implement an “up-front filter to all tax-refund requests to analyze the demographic information reported on the return.”

According to Joe Testa, the state’s tax commissioner, the ramped up security is in response to increased fraud attempts. The Columbus Dispatch reports that the state foiled $250 million in attempted tax fraud during the 2014 tax season, which is a significant increase over the foiled tax fraud average of $10 million in previous years. Figures of how much fraud went undetected last year or in previous years are not available.

The Tax-Fraud Quiz

If your tax return is flagged as a result of anomalies in reported demographic information then you will have to complete an Identification Confirmation Quiz, according to Testa. If you are selected to take the quiz, you should expect a delay as to when your funds will be dispersed. Traditionally, it takes up to 15 days to process refunds that will be distributed to the taxpayer via electronic deposit. Those who opt to receive their refunds in check form could wait 30 days to receive their money. This year, those who must take the quiz to validate their identities, may have to wait longer than they have in previous years to receive their refunds.

Which Returns Will Be Flagged?

On its website, the ODT says that tax returns will be analyzed for certain inconsistent data points against public and commercial data sources. For example, in the Dispatch article, taxation spokesman Gary Gudmundson said that “names and Social Security numbers that show up in a different part of the state, or in another state, after being located for years in a specific area of Ohio” may be flagged. This means that if you moved this year, your return may flagged as one that has a higher probability of fraud. The next step is to take the quiz to verify your identity. If the return is flagged, the taxpayer will be required to complete the quiz or prove their identity through documentation before the tax return will be processed.

How To Know If Your Return Was Flagged?

The ODT will send a letter to taxpayers who are required to take the identification quiz. Those who don’t receive a letter will not be able to complete the quiz. Those who are selected will have 60 days to complete the multiple choice quiz. The quiz will be timed and it must be completed online. The state agency has provided answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the quiz on its website. You can also view a video tutorial on the Ohio Department of Taxation’s YouTube channel to learn more about the quiz and what to expect if you are selected to participate in this identity theft safeguard.

Contact your financial advisor or seek out a tax professional to help guide you through these security measures. Email Rea & Associates for more information about this and other tax-related concerns.

By Lisa Beamer, CPA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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Take Control Of Your Financial Wellness In 2015

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Are you still looking for the perfect New Year’s resolution? What about challenging yourself with one that could put you financially ahead? Here are 15 ways you can start your year off on the right foot.

15 Tips For A Prosperous 2015

Adjust your 401(k) plan contribution.

If you have a 401(k) plan, your contribution limit will increase to $18,000 in 2015, and if you’re 50 years or older, you can contribute an additional $6,000 into your plan. When it comes to retirement savings, every little bit helps, so even if you can’t afford to contribute the maximum, at least consider increasing your contribution a little bit over what you put into it last year.

Pay off your debt.

Make 2015 the year you pay off all debts. Once you settle past debts, it will be easier to save for future expenses and retirement. For example, do you have credit card debt? Pay off the cards with the highest interest rates first. Once you have caught up, make it your goal to pay any outstanding balance monthly.

Set up a budget and follow it.

Review your monthly income and expenses and allocate money toward savings, debt resolution and other financial goals. Once you have a plan in place, stick to it. Try to set aside some time to review your budget to make sure you are on track.

Build a “rainy day” fund.

Some people say that you should have enough money saved to cover your expenses for at least six months to protect you and your family against unforeseen events that could impact your finances. Don’t let the timeline intimidate you, though. Get your rainy day fund up to one month’s worth of expenses and build from there.

Work with your significant other – not against them.

If you are planning to strengthen your financial foothold in 2015, make sure you have support from your significant other. If you and your significant other are on the same page, then you will have a better chance for success. For example, coming to an agreement on how much you each can spend on unnecessary expenses early on can save unnecessary drama in the future – and costs less than a divorce.

Review your company’s Section 125 plan.

If your employer offers a Cafeteria Plan to its employees, make sure you are aware of what benefit options are available to you and your family and that you taking full advantage of the pretax nature of these benefits. Benefits offered as part of your employer’s Section 125 plan could include health savings accounts, dependent care assistance, adoption assistance, group-term life insurance and others. If you are not sure what benefits are available to you or would like to make sure you are receiving the maximum benefit, set aside some time to speak with your company’s human resources department.

Know your credit score – then improve it.

An excellent credit score is one that is between 760 and 850. If you’re not sure what yours is, request your free copy and find out. Companies such as Experian, Transunion and Equifax will provide you with a free copy of your credit score. Once you know your score, work to increase your rating. This can be done any number of ways, but it takes time and hard work. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a massive increase over the next year. Even 20 points is considered a significant improvement.

Set up your will and power of attorney.

Don’t put off this critically important responsibility. If you haven’t already, make it a priority to establish your will and power of attorney as soon as possible. Or if you already have one in place, make sure it is not outdated. Set aside some time to review your current documents with your significant other and update it if needed.

Plan for the inevitable.

If something happens to you, will your family be able to carry on? Meet with your HR department to make sure you are taking full advantage of your life insurance options and disability plan.

Schedule a wellness visit for your mortgage.

When was the last time you reviewed your home mortgage? If it’s been awhile, you should review the interest rate and conditions of your loan. If you have been in your home for a while, you may be surprised to learn that there might be options out there that could save you money.

Organize, organize, organize.

Improving organization is one of the more popular resolutions to make. While you may be eying your closets, garage or basement, I suggest taking a look at your mailbox. Resolve to gather and organize your tax information as it is received. Doing so will ensure that you are not wasting time trying to find a piece of mail you misplaced a month ago and it will help you cut down on random clutter.

Review your retirement plan.

A new year means that you have another birthday on the horizon, which also means that you are another year closer to retirement. Schedule a time to meet with your financial advisor to determine if you should rebalance your portfolio to remain in line with your retirement goals.

Set up a 529 plan.

Are you saving for your children’s or grandchildren’s college education? Set up a 529 plan today and contribute to it early in the year to earn a return all year long. Earnings generated as a result of your contributions are not subject to federal or state taxes when used for qualified education expenses.

Find savings around the home.

If you take a hard look at your reoccurring monthly expenses, you may find that you don’t really need a lot of the services and utilities you are paying for. For example, does your home internet really need to be turbo-charged? Do you ever use the call forwarding or call waiting options on your home phone? Do you use your home phone at all? Are you paying for extra insurance to protect against a gas line leak? Depending on your circumstances, you could find significant savings by cutting back on some utilities you barely use.

Pass on the product warranties.

While it may seem like a good idea to pay a little extra for a warranty on that new appliance, a better option might be to put that money toward your rainy day fund instead. Sure, warranties are great for your peace of mind, but so is your rainy day fund. By opting out of the product warranty you will be able to put more money away while maintaining the freedom to spend it a way that makes more sense in the future.

Do you want this year to be filled with prosperity for you and your family? Email Rea & Associates to get more information on how you can succeed financially in 2015.

By Dave McCarthy, CPA, CSEP (Medina office)

 

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Too Close For Comfort?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

 

Tax Provisions Extended Just In Time

They may have waited until the 23rd hour, but members of Congress finally voted to extend more than 50 expired tax provisions slated to expire at the end of the year. Tuesday evening’s 76-16 vote in favor of the extensions was enough to send a collective sigh of relief among tax professionals nationwide. The bill will now be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature. Many tax professionals were worried that Congress would postpone the vote until after the New Year, which could have postponed the start of the 2015 tax season and hurt those on the tax prep front lines, including the IRS, tax preparers and some software providers. But today is a new day and instead of planning for the worst case scenario, tax planning can commence as planned. The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, or H.B. 5771, temporarily extends several tax breaks and provisions while correcting some technical errors found in prior legislation. Including:

  • Extensions that benefit individuals:

-        A $250 above-the-line deduction for certain expenses of teachers

-        An election to deduct state and local sales tax

-        Tax-free charitable distributions from individual retirement accounts (IRAs)

-        The private mortgage insurance (PMI) itemized deduction

-        The energy efficient home improvement tax credit

  • Extensions that benefit businesses:

-        The work opportunity tax credit

-        A research and experimentation credit

-        The Section 179 expensing limit

-        50% bonus depreciation

A complete list of 2014 tax extenders can be found in this article, published by the Journal of Accountancy. Another bill within H.B. 5771 was also up for Congressional consideration – the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014. The legislation seeks to provide for tax-favored accounts that allow those who are disabled to save money to pay for disability expenses. This portion of the ABLE Act amends the definition of personal holding company income, institutes certain inflation adjustments and, for employment tax purposes, allows for certified professional employer organizations to be treated as employers for work-site employees who perform services for customers of the organization. The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 is by no means a long-term fix. There were earlier proposals that sought to permanently extend some provisions while extending others for more than a year, but those suggestions were unable to find traction throughout the legislature. So, while we may be able to relax this year, we will likely have bouts of Déjà vu over the course of 2015. By Lisa Beamer, CPA (New Philadelphia office)

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