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Turn Your Vacation into a Tax Deduction
Tim, who owns his own business, decided he wanted to take a two-week trip around the US. So he did--and was able to legally deduct every dime that he spent on his vacation. Here's how he did it.
1. Make all your business appointments before you leave for your trip.
You must have at least one business appointment before you leave in order to establish the "prior set business purpose" required by the IRS. Keeping this in mind, before he left for his trip, Tim set up appointments with business colleagues in the various cities that he planned to visit.
Let's say Tim is a manufacturer of green office products and is looking to expand his business and distribute more of his products. One possible way to establish business contacts--if he doesn't already have them--is to place advertisements looking for distributors in newspapers in each location he plans to visit. He could then interview those who respond when he gets to the business destination.
2. Make Sure your Trip is All "Business Travel."
3. Be sure to deduct all of your on-the-road-expenses for each day you're away.
4. Sandwich weekends between business days.
5. Make the majority of your trip days count as business days.
All of them. Thursday is a business day since it includes traveling - even if the rest of the day is spent at the beach. Friday is a business day because he had a seminar. Monday is a business day because he met with prospects and distributors in pre-arranged appointments. Saturday and Sunday are sandwiched between business days, so they count, and Tuesday is a travel day.
Since Tim accrued six business days, he could spend another five days having fun and still deduct all his transportation to San Diego. The reason is that the majority of the days were business days (six out of eleven). However, he can only deduct six days' worth of lodging, dry cleaning, shoe shines, and tips. The important point is that Tim would be spending money on lodging, airfare, and food, but now most of his expenses will become deductible.
To make sure that you can legally deduct your vacation when you combine it with business, call the office before you plan your trip.
What to Do if You Haven't Filed a Tax Return
Filing a past due return may not be as difficult as you think.
Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether full payment can be made with the return. Depending on an individual's circumstances, a taxpayer filing late may qualify for a payment plan. It is important, however, to know that full payment of taxes upfront saves you money.
Here's What to Do When Your Return Is Late
Gather Past Due Return Information
Gather return information and come see us. You should bring any and all information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed.
Payment Options - Ways to Make a Payment
There are several different ways to make a payment on your taxes. Payments can be made by credit card, electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier's check, or cash.
Payment Options - For Those Who Can't Pay in Full
Taxpayers unable to pay all taxes due on the bill are encouraged to pay as much as possible. By paying as much as possible now, the amount of interest and penalties owed will be lessened. Based on the circumstances, a taxpayer could qualify for an extension of time to pay, an installment agreement, a temporary delay, or an offer in compromise.
Taxpayers who need more time to pay can set up either a short-term payment extension or a monthly payment plan.
What Happens If You Don't File a Past Due Return or Contact the IRS?
It's important to understand the ramifications of not filing a past due return and the steps that the IRS will take. Taxpayers who continue to not file a required return and fail to respond to IRS requests for a return may be considered for a variety of enforcement actions.
If you haven't filed a tax return yet, please contact the office for assistance.
Paying Taxes on Household Helpers
If you employ someone to work for you around your house, it is important to consider the tax implications of this arrangement. While many people disregard the need to pay taxes on household employees, they do so at the risk of paying stiff tax penalties down the road.
As you will see, the rules for hiring household help are quite complex, even for a relatively minor employee, and a mistake can bring on a tax headache that most of us would prefer to avoid.
Commonly referred to as the "nanny tax", these rules apply to you only if (1) you pay someone for household work and (2) that worker is your employee.
Who Is a Household Employee?
If a worker is your employee, it does not matter whether the work is full-time or part-time or that you hired the worker through an agency or from a list provided by an agency or association. It also does not matter whether you pay the worker on an hourly, daily or weekly basis or by the job.
If the worker controls how the work is done, the worker is not your employee but is self-employed. A self-employed worker usually provides his or her own tools and offers services to the general public in an independent business.
Also, if an agency provides the worker and controls what work is done and how it is done, the worker is not your employee.
Can Your Employee Legally Work in the United States?
When you hire a household employee to work for you on a regular basis, he or she must complete USCIS Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification. It is your responsibility to verify that the employee is either a U.S. citizen or an alien who can legally work and then complete the employer part of the form. It is unlawful for you to knowingly hire or continue to employ a person who cannot legally work in the United States.
Keep the completed form for your records. Do not return the form to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Do You Need to Pay Employment Taxes?
If you have a household employee, you may need to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, or you may need to pay federal unemployment tax or both. Refer to this table for details:
If neither of these two contingencies applies, you do not need to pay any federal unemployment taxes. But you may still need to pay state unemployment taxes (see below).
You do not need to withhold federal income tax from your household employee's wages. But if your employee asks you to withhold it, you can choose to do so.
State Unemployment Taxes
Please contact us if you're not sure whether you need to pay state unemployment tax for your household employee. We'll also help you figure out whether you need to pay or collect other state employment taxes or carry workers' compensation insurance.
Social Security and Medicare Taxes
Social Security taxes pays for old-age, survivor, and disability benefits for workers and their families. The Medicare tax pays for hospital insurance.
Both you and your household employee may owe Social Security and Medicare taxes. Your share is 7.65 percent (6.2 percent for Social Security tax and 1.45 percent for Medicare tax) of the employee's Social Security and Medicare wages. Your employee's share is 6.2 percent for Social Security tax and 1.45 percent for Medicare tax.
You are responsible for payment of your employee's share of the taxes as well as your own. You can either withhold your employee's share from the employee's wages or pay it from your own funds. Note the limits in the table above.
Wages Not Counted
Do not count wages you pay to any of the following individuals as Social Security and Medicare wages:
Also, if your employee's Social Security and Medicare wages reach $118,500 in 2015 ($117,000 in 2014), then do not count any wages you pay that employee during the rest of the year as Social Security wages to figure Social Security tax. You should, however, continue to count the employee's cash wages as Medicare wages to figure Medicare tax. You figure federal income tax withholding on both cash and non-cash wages (based on their value), but do not count as wages any of the following items:
As you can see, tax considerations for household employees are complex; therefore, professional tax guidance is highly recommended. This is definitely an area where it's better to be safe than sorry. If you have any questions at all, please call.
Tax Implications of Retiring Overseas
Are you approaching retirement age and wondering where you can retire to make your retirement nest egg last longer? Retiring abroad may be the answer. But first, it's important to look at the tax implications because not all retirement country destinations are created equal. Here's what you need to know.
Taxes on Worldwide Income
Leaving the United States does not exempt U.S. citizens from their U.S. tax obligations. While some retirees may not owe any U.S. income tax while living abroad, they must still file a return annually with the IRS. This would be the case even if all of their assets were moved to a foreign country. The bottom line is that you may still be taxed on income regardless of where it is earned.
Unlike most countries, the United States taxes individuals based on citizenship and not residency. As such, every U.S. citizens (and resident alien) must file a tax return reporting worldwide income (including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts) in any given taxable year that exceeds threshold limits for filing.
The filing requirement generally applies even if a taxpayer qualifies for tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion or the foreign tax credit, that substantially reduce or eliminate U.S. tax liability.
Note: These tax benefits are not automatic and are only available if an eligible taxpayer files a U.S. income tax return.
Any income received or deductible expenses paid in foreign currency must be reported on a U.S. return in U.S. dollars. Likewise, any tax payments must be made in U.S. dollars.
In addition, taxpayers who are retired may have to file tax forms in the foreign country in which they reside. You may, however, be able to take a tax credit or a deduction for income taxes you paid to a foreign country. These benefits can reduce your taxes if both countries tax the same income.
Nonresident aliens who receive income from U.S. sources must determine whether they have a U.S. tax obligation. The filing deadline for nonresident aliens is April 15 or June 15 depending on sources of income.
Income from Social Security or Pensions
If Social Security is your only income, then your benefits may not be taxable and you may not need to file a federal income tax return. If you receive Social Security you should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount of your benefits. Likewise, if you have pension or annuity income, you should receive a Form 1099-R for each distribution plan.
Retirement income is generally not taxed by other countries. As a U.S. citizen retiring abroad who receives Social Security, for instance, you may owe U.S. taxes on that income, but may not be liable for tax in the country where you're spending your retirement years.
However, if you receive income from other sources (either U.S. or country of retirement) as well, from a part-time job or self-employment, for example, you may have to pay U.S. taxes on some of your benefits. You may also be required to report and pay taxes on any income earned in the country where you retired.
Each country is different, so consult a local tax professional or one who specializes in expat tax services.
Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
If you've retired overseas, but take on a full-or part-time job or earn income from self-employment, the IRS allows qualifying individuals to exclude all, or part, of their incomes from U.S. income tax by using the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). In 2015, this amount is $100,800. This means that if you qualify, you won't pay tax on up to $100,800 of your wages and other foreign earned income in 2015.
Note: Income earned overseas is exempt from taxation only if certain criteria are met such as residing outside of the country for at least 330 days over a 12-month period, or an entire calendar year.
The United States has income tax treaties with a number of foreign countries, but these treaties generally don't exempt residents from their obligation to file a tax return.
Under these treaties, residents (not necessarily citizens) of foreign countries are taxed at a reduced rate, or are exempt from U.S. income taxes on certain items of income they receive from sources within the United States. These reduced rates and exemptions vary among countries and specific items of income.
Treaty provisions are generally reciprocal; that is they apply to both treaty countries. Therefore, a U.S. citizen or resident who receives income from a treaty country and who is subject to taxes imposed by foreign countries may be entitled to certain credits, deductions, exemptions, and reductions in the rate of taxes of those foreign countries.
Affordable Care Act
Starting in 2014, the individual shared responsibility provision calls for each individual to have minimum essential coverage (MEC) for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.
All U.S. citizens are subject to the individual shared responsibility provision. If you are not yet eligible for Medicare, U.S. citizens living abroad are generally subject to the same individual shared responsibility provision as U.S. citizens living in the United States.
However, U.S. citizens or residents living abroad for at least 330 days within a 12 month period are treated as having MEC during those 12 months and thus will not owe a shared responsibility payment for any of those 12 months. Also, U.S. citizens who qualify as a bona fide resident of a foreign country for an entire taxable year are treated as having MEC for that year.
Many states tax resident income as well, so even if you retire abroad, you may still owe state taxes--unless you established residency in a no-tax state before you moved overseas.
Some states honor the provisions of U.S. tax treaties; however, some states do not, therefore it is prudent to consult a tax professional.
Relinquishing U.S. Citizenship
Taxpayers who relinquish their U.S. citizenship or cease to be lawful permanent residents of the United States during any tax year must file a dual-status alien return and attach Form 8854, Initial and Annual Expatriation Statement. A copy of the Form 8854 must also be filed with Internal Revenue Service (Philadelphia, PA 19255-0049), by the due date of the tax return (including extensions).
Note: Giving up your U.S. citizenship doesn't mean giving up your right to receive social security, pensions, annuities or other retirement income. However, the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to withhold nonresident alien tax from certain Social Security monthly benefits. If you are a nonresident alien receiving social security retirement income, then SSA will withhold a 30 percent flat tax from 85 percent of those benefits unless you qualify for a tax treaty benefit. This results in a withholding of 25.5 percent of your monthly benefit amount.
Before You Retire Consult a Tax Professional
Don't wait until you're ready to retire to consult a tax professional. Call the office today and find out what your options are.
Eight Facts to Know if You Receive an IRS Letter
The IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. Many of these letters and notices can be easily dealt with without having to call or visit an IRS office. Here are eight things you should know about if you receive a notice or letter from the IRS.
1. Don't panic. There are a number of reasons why the IRS might send you a notice. Notices may request payment, notify you of account changes, or request additional information. A notice normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return. Most of the time, you can take care of a notice simply by responding to it.
2. Each letter and notice offer specific instructions on what action you need to take. Typically, an IRS notice is about a specific issue, such as changes to your account, regarding your federal tax return or tax account. It may ask you for more information. It could also explain that you owe tax and that you need to pay the amount that is due.
3. If you receive a correction notice, you should review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your tax return. If you agree with the correction to your account, then usually no reply is necessary unless a payment is due or the notice directs otherwise
4. Each notice has specific instructions, so read it carefully because it will tell you what you need to do.
5. If you agree with the notice, you usually don't need to reply unless it gives you other instructions or you need to make a payment. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, a tax professional can help you to prepare a written explanation to send to the IRS of why you disagree and make sure it includes any information and documents the IRS should consider that support your case. You should hear from the IRS within 30 days regarding your correspondence.
6. Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office. In order for your accountant to handle any issues that arise more quickly, please have a copy of your tax return, as well as any correspondence from the IRS available when you call.
7. Always keep copies of any notices you receive with your other tax records.
8. Be alert for tax scams. The IRS sends letters and notices by mail. The IRS does not contact people by email or social media to ask for personal or financial information.
If you have received a letter or notice from the IRS and have questions or concerns don't hesitate to call.
Eight Facts on Late Filing and Payment Penalties
April 15 is the annual deadline for most people to file their federal income tax return and pay any taxes they owe. If, for whatever reason, you missed the deadline you may be assessed penalties for both failing to file a tax return and for failing to pay taxes they owe by the deadline. Here are eight important facts every taxpayer should know about penalties for filing or paying late:
1. Two penalties may apply. A failure-to-file penalty may apply if you did not file by the tax filing deadline. A failure-to-pay penalty may apply if you did not pay all of the taxes you owe by the tax filing deadline.
2. File even if you can't pay. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. You should file your tax return on time each year, even if you're not able to pay all the taxes you owe by the due date. You can reduce additional interest and penalties by paying as much as you can with your tax return. You should explore other payment options such as getting a loan or making an installment agreement to make payments. Call if you need help figuring out how to pay what you owe.
3. Penalty for late filing. The penalty for filing late is normally 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late. That penalty starts accruing the day after the tax filing due date and will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.
4. Penalty for late payment. If you do not pay your taxes by the tax deadline, you normally will face a failure-to-pay penalty of 1/2 of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes. That penalty applies for each month or part of a month after the due date and starts accruing the day after the tax-filing due date.
5. Late payment penalty may not apply. If you timely requested an extension of time to file your individual income tax return and paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe with your request, you may not face a failure-to-pay penalty. However, you must pay any remaining balance by the extended due date.
6. Combined penalty per month. If both the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty and the 1/2 percent failure-to-pay penalties apply in any month, the maximum penalty that you'll pay for both is 5 percent.
7. Minimum late filing penalty. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.
8. No penalty if reasonable cause. You will not have to pay a late-filing or late-payment penalty if you can show reasonable cause for not filing or paying on time. Give us a call if you have any questions about what constitutes reasonable cause.
Special penalty relief may apply to taxpayers under certain conditions such as taxpayers affected by natural disasters. If you think this applies to you, don't hesitate to contact the office for more information.
Seven Tips to Determine if Your Gift is Taxable
If you gave money or property to someone as a gift, you may wonder about the federal gift tax. Many gifts are not subject to the gift tax. Here are seven tax tips about gifts and the gift tax.
1. Nontaxable Gifts. The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift. However, there are exceptions to this rule. The following are not taxable gifts:
2. Annual Exclusion. Most gifts are not subject to the gift tax. For example, there is usually no tax if you make a gift to your spouse or to a charity. If you give a gift to someone else, the gift tax usually does not apply until the value of the gift exceeds the annual exclusion for the year. For 2015, the annual exclusion is $14,000 (same as 2014).
3. No Tax on Recipient. Generally, the person who receives your gift will not have to pay a federal gift tax. That person also does not pay income tax on the value of the gift received.
4. Gifts Not Deductible. Making a gift does not ordinarily affect your federal income tax. You cannot deduct the value of gifts you make (other than deductible charitable contributions).
5. Forgiven and Certain Loans. The gift tax may also apply when you forgive a debt or make a loan that is interest-free or below the market interest rate.
6. Gift-Splitting. You and your spouse can give a gift up to $28,000 to a third party without making it a taxable gift. You can consider that one-half of the gift be given by you and one-half by your spouse.
7. Filing Requirement. You must file Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, if any of the following apply:
Questions about the gift tax? Don't hesitate to call.
Relief for Certain Small Business Retirement Plans
Small businesses that have failed to timely file certain required retirement plan returns have until Tuesday, June 2 to take advantage of a special IRS penalty relief program.
Launched June 2, 2014, the one-year temporary pilot program is designed to help small businesses with retirement plans that may have been unaware of the reporting requirements that apply to these plans. Normally, plan administrators and sponsors of these plans who fail to file required annual returns, usually Form 5500-EZ, can face stiff penalties--up to $15,000 per return.
By filing late returns by June 2, eligible filers can avoid these penalties. So far, about 6,000 delinquent returns have been filed under this program.
This program is generally open to certain small business (owner-spouse) plans and plans of business partnerships (together, "one-participant plans") and certain foreign plans. Those who have already been assessed a penalty for late filings are not eligible for this program.
Applicants under the program may include multiple late returns in a single submission. There is no filing fee or other payment required.
For more information or details on how to participate in this pilot program, please call the office.
How Custom Fields Provide Better Business Insight
QuickBooks makes it possible for your business to create very detailed records for customers, vendors, employees, and items. In fact, you may find that you rarely make use of every field each contains.
But you may also find that there are additional fields that you'd like to see in your predefined record formats. That's where custom fields come in. QuickBooks lets you add extra fields and specify what their labels should be.
You can define up to 12 total fields for use in customer, vendor, and/or employee records. QuickBooks treats these just as it treats your built-in fields. They appear in the records themselves, of course, and are included when you export a file containing them. You can also search for them in reports.
There are separate processes for defining fields for your individual and company contacts and your items. Let's look at how you can set up custom fields for customers, vendors, and employees first.
Go to your Customer Center and open a blank Customer record (in newer versions of QuickBooks, you'll click on New Customer & Job in the upper left corner, and then click New Customer). Then click the Additional Info tab in the left vertical pane of the New Customer window, then click on the Define Fields button in the lower right. This window will open (with blank fields):
Figure 1: You can create up to 12 total custom fields that will be shared by customers, vendors, and employees.
It's easy to create your custom field labels. Simply type a word or a short phrase on a line under Label, and then click in the box(es) on the same line in the appropriate column(s). While it's possible that you would want to include the same field in multiple record types, you'll most likely have separate labels for each.
Consider carefully before creating custom field labels. Ask yourself questions like:
Remember that you'll have to go back into existing records and fill in these blanks in order to be consistent. You're not required to complete them, but your searches, reports, etc. will not be comprehensive if you don't.
The custom fields just created are generally only used internally. That is, they won't automatically appear on sales forms, purchase orders, etc.
You may decide that some custom fields in item records, on the other hand, do need to be available on some forms. For example, you might sell shirts in multiple sizes, colors, and styles.
To start creating them, open the Lists menu and select Item List. Click the down arrow on the Item menu in the lower left, then click New. Since you will be selling similar items that you'll be keeping in stock, select Inventory Part under TYPE. Then click on the Custom Fields button over on the right and then Define Fields.
Figure 2: If you sell similar items that are available with different characteristics, you'll want to create custom fields.
As you did with the earlier custom fields, enter a word or phrase under Label and then click in the Use column. After you've entered up to five fields, click OK.
A Complicated Process
This is where the simplicity of creating and using custom fields for items in reports and transaction forms ends. If you sell t-shirts in various sizes and colors, you're going to need help in order to see true inventory levels in reports and add those custom fields to sales and purchase transaction forms.
Figure 3: Adding custom fields to QuickBooks' standard transaction forms is possible, but you'll need our assistance to make sure inventory tracking is set up right.
It may be that you need more inventory-tracking tools than are offered in your version of QuickBooks. If that's the case, you can either add an application that will meet your needs or suggest an upgrade. Don't hesitate to call the office if you have any questions.
Tax Due Dates for May 2015
Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during February, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.
Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.
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