Accounting

6 FAQs About 529 College Savings Plans

College is a large expense and one worth planning for, especially if you want your future college graduate to start their lives with minimal debt. One common way to prepare for such an expense is to open a 529 college savings plan.

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

What is a 529 plan?

College savings 529 plans are state-sponsored savings accounts that offer both tax and financial aid benefits.

What states run a 529 program?  

Almost every state has a 529 program, each with different perks and benefits. You can pick based on perks and you don’t need to live in the state you opened the account in.

You can look at 529 plan options using this tool from SavingforCollege.com.

What are the two types of college 529 plans?

There are two types of 529 plans, they are:

  • College savings plans – This plan is similar to a Roth 401k or Roth IRA by allowing you to contribute after-tax income in the form of mutual funds and other types of investments. There are a number of investment options to choose from and the 529 account will go up and down and value according to those investment choices. The money is this account is available for tuition, books, and often housing.

  • College prepaid tuition-  This plan can be used to pre-pay all or part of the costs of an in-state public college education. Sometimes, they can be converted for use at private or out-of-state colleges.

What are the perks of using a 529 savings plan?

Each state provides slightly different incentives for its 529 programs. But some of the overall benefits include:

  • Large income tax breaks (for federal and often state taxes)

  • The donor stays in control of the account until its use

  • They’re low maintenance

When can you start them?

You can start one of these savings plans at any time. Most 529 programs are “set it and forget it” meaning the investments come straight out of your paycheck or bank account.

Where can I learn more about college 529 plans?

There are a lot of online resources for comparing and ranking different 529 programs. You can reference one of these, or reach out to your friendly neighborhood tax professionals. We can help you select the best option for you.

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Important Dates In American Tax History Post-1812 Up to The Civil War

We start today’s journey through tax history the year after the war of 1812 with Great Britain. Congress doubled the tariff schedule to fundraise the war.  But it turns out, trading across oceans is very difficult when your navy is just 18-years-old. Comparatively, the British fleet had the power of being the world’s most powerful seafaring nation.

Photo by Dirk Spijkers on Unsplash

Photo by Dirk Spijkers on Unsplash

It was able to effectively strangle commerce on the eastern seaboard, which made up the entirety of young America’s trade paths with other parts of the world.

1813

Due to the conflict and Congress’ need to raise revenue to continue to fund the war, it levied about $3 million in internal taxes on things like refined sugar, distilled spirits, and carriages. These were designed to be repealed after the war was over. To collect this tax, the federal government offered a 15% tax discount for those states that collected the taxes themselves, which caused many states to take advantage of the arrangement.

1816

With the conflict with the British and French behind them, Congress passed the Tariff Act of 1816, which levied 25% duties on items to encourage local manufacturing.

1819

This was the year of the Panic of 1819, which is the crisis sparked by a drop in world agriculture prices. This caused more protectionist policies to be pushed to keep cheap European agricultural interests from flooding the market.

1820

The house pushed a bill that would enact a 5 percent tariff on cotton, wool, clothing, iron, and hemp. The law was never enacted, but it set the stage for similar laws to be passed. The North was split on its opinions of the tariff, but the South was firmly against it. It was losing its voting power in Congress regionally as the population dropped slightly there and rose slightly above the Mason-Dixon line.

1824

Henry Clay served as speaker of the House this year and appointed John Tod, a die-hard protectionist, to head the Committee on Manufactures. He implemented a 35% tariff on imported iron, wool, cotton, and hemp.  This caused American-produced goods to finally be cheaper than the British goods, which in turn stirred up support in states that had been against protectionist measures in the past.

1828

This year, the tariff on imported goods expanded to cover hemp, wool, fur, flax, liquor, and imported textiles. It was also raised to 50% of the value of the goods. This was good for the north and Ohio valley, but bad for the South. They didn’t get the benefits of manufacturing these products in their region. The reduction of cheap British goods isn’t a positive either, as the South relied on the British to buy their cotton in exchange for those cheap goods.  That cotton was often sold back to the states as finished goods, so the tariffs significantly disrupted this system.

1832

In July, Congress reduced tariff rates slightly, but kept the high rates on products like iron and manufactured cloth. South Carolina passed a Nullification Convention, which declared the tariffs unconstitutional and ceased collecting them in the state.

1833

In response, Jackson passed the Compromise Tariff, which reduced tariffs automatically between 1833 and 1842. Simultaneously, he levied the Force Bill, which said that the president could use force and arms to collect tariffs.

1837

By 1837, an extended economic depression had settled in, driven by a financial panic from the reduction of British investment in the states. The depression lasted until 1843. This caused the Whig Party to gain national support for some of its economic development strategies (which included higher tariffs).

1840

In 1840, the Whigs won the presidential seat and implemented revenue tariffs that were to be partially distributed to the states to build roads and canals.

1842

The Compromise Tariff was abandoned due to the states’ need for revenue and many tariffs were returned to their prior rate or slightly lower than the prior rate.

1846

The Walker Tariff was passed, which slashed all duties to the minimum necessary for revenue. In Britain, Parliament repealed the Corn Laws, which levied tariffs on imported bread. Both measures set the stage for freer world trade.

1848

The custom and commerce programs were running so well that the American government was able to pay off the entirety of its debts in the Mexican War before the Civil War even started.

1850

Slavery was becoming a highly political issue and the Northern and Southern states were growing increasingly polarized. The economy was booming but the interests of the Northern and Southern states grew increasingly misaligned.

1857

Tariffs were lowered even further by the Democratic party, which plunged the nation into an economic panic. Government revenues plummeted 30%, which caused Republicans to demand tariffs be increased.

 

3 Essential Tips for Financial Planning When You Have a Disability

Having a disability is not quite as rare as many people think. In fact, about 14 percent of adults around the world have a disability of some kind. This includes people who have a physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory limitation at a mild, severe, or moderate level. Also, these disabilities could have happened at birth, in old age, or anywhere in between.

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One thing that remains consistent across all forms of disability, however, is that life generally costs more money for those who have them. Normal expenses such as medical care and food, as well as additional costs such as modified housing and assistive devices and technology, can put a major burden on those with disabilities. That’s why it’s essential to have a financial plan in place. If you have a disability, these three tips will help you prepare and form the financial skills it takes to live your best life, both now and in the future.

Consider Life Insurance

One of the first things you should do when planning your finances is to look into life insurance. If you get a policy that benefits your current situation, it could provide significantly for your family if you were to pass away unexpectedly. And life insurance can help cover things like medical expenses, funeral expenses, and lost income. Moreover, shopping for life insurance is fairly straightforward nowadays, as you can easily purchase it online and use online calculators to figure out the coverage you need.

Set a Budget

Much of your financial planning comes down to making a budget. Not only will your budget serve as a guideline for your spending and saving, the process of making a budget will teach you a lot about your financial situation and the steps you can take to grow. If you’re on a fixed income, start with how much you bring in each month. If you are able to work or already have a job, where does that put your monthly income?

Once you factor in your income, write down all of your expenses; include everything you can think of. This might include normal monthly expenses such as your mortgage payment, home and auto insurance, utilities, food, entertainment, gas, etc. Also, consider your medical expenses: How much do you spend on medical care, assistive devices, or any other medical-related expenses? Furthermore, include any credit card debt you want to pay off.

Once you get these basic costs on paper, see where you stand concerning your income and expenses. Then you can determine what you can cut (entertainment, miscellaneous items, etc,) if necessary. Also, be sure to research all your options when it comes to financial assistance.

Build an Emergency Fund

As it is with anyone, saving money is important when you have a disability. Once you figure out your budget, determine how much you can put away in savings. Building an emergency fund will create a safety net in the event that something unexpected happens — whether it’s a medical incident, major home or car repair, or any other kind of sudden expense. Decide on a set amount to put into a cash jar or savings account, and stick to it as close as you can.

There may be many expenses that come with a disability, but that doesn’t mean you can’t navigate them and make a plan that meets your needs and sets you up to be cared for later in life. Work through your finances and set a budget to guide you through your spending and saving. Find the best life insurance plan for you and your family, and start building an emergency fund today. Being financially prepared will help you overcome a lot of challenges and put you in a better position to live a fulfilling life.

 Written by Ed Carter

Important Dates In Post-Revolution American Tax History

The Revolutionary War was sparked in part by the British imposing taxes on the American colonists without their permission or consent.

Once the colonists had freed themselves from British rule, it was time to establish a government that could pay the debts it had incurred during the conflict.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

1777 – Articles of Confederation

This was the first constitution of the newly formed United State. It favored decentralization of power, which means that Congress was not given the power to tax.

1781  – Report on Public Credit

Robert Morris, Superintendent of finance, wanted the federal government to own the debt it incurred then issue interest-bearing debt certificates while imposing tariffs and internal taxes.

His proposal was shut down by numerous states over the next few years.

1787 – Ratification of the Constitution

The ratification of the Constitution shifted the focus of power to the federal government and away from individual states.

This gave the federal legislature the power to impose tariffs and coin money, along with the flexibility to collect excises and levy taxes directly on individual citizens.

1789 – Tariff of 1789

This tax bill included the original 5% duty on imports, as well as a list of special items that would be taxed at specific amounts.

1790 – Report on Public Credit

This new tax plan worked on two basic principles:

  • Redemption – Congress would redeem at face value all the securities issued by the Confederation government. These old notes would be exchanged for new government securities with interest of about 4%. This plan aimed to intertwine the wealthy Americans who had financed the initial government with the new government.

  • Assumption – The national government would take on outstanding war debts of the states. This would concentrate the nation wealth into the hands of the wealthy merchant class so they would be able to invest in the nation’s economy and other critical innovations.

1791 – Whiskey Excise Tax

This was a tax specifically for spirit distillers and imposed a 7 cents to 18 cent per gallon tax. This was not a popular tax, as spirits were often used as a form of currency out west.

1794 – Uprising Quelled

North Carolina and Western Pennsylvania were in a state of civil unrest after being cited by the federal government for dodging taxes.

The federal government forced the states to send militia to occupy these territories and take down any organized resistance.

President Madison appealed to Congress for a Declaration of War against Britain as the tension between the two countries reached a head.

There was a lot of conflict over fundraising for the war, but Congress eventually settled on doubling the tariff schedule.

 

Seniors age 70 1/2+: Take your required retirement distribution

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation! 

The tax laws generally require individuals with retirement accounts to take annual withdrawals based on the size of their account and their age beginning with the year they reach age 70½. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount not withdrawn.

If you turned age 70½ in 2014, you can delay your 2014 required distribution to 2015. Think twice before doing so, though, as this will result in two distributions in 2015 — the amount required for 2014 plus the amount required for 2015, which might throw you into a higher tax bracket or trigger the 3.8% net investment income tax. On the other hand, it could be beneficial to take both distributions in 2015 if you expect to be in a substantially lower tax bracket in 2015.

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Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

Individual Year End Tax Planning Ideas

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!  

DeathtoStock_Simplify10As we approach year end, it’s time again to focus on last-minute moves you can make to save taxes — both on your 2014 return and in future years. Here are a few ideas.

Maximize the benefit of the standard deduction. For 2014, the standard deduction is $12,400 for married taxpayers filing joint returns. For single taxpayers, the amount is $6,200. Currently, it looks like these amounts will be about the same for 2015. If your total itemized deductions each year are normally close to these amounts, you may be able to leverage the benefit of your deductions by bunching deductions in every other year. This allows you to time your itemized deductions so they are high in one year and low in the next. For instance, you might consider moving charitable donations you normally would make in early 2015 to the end of 2014. If you’re temporarily short on cash, charge the contribution to a credit card — it is deductible in the year charged, not when payment is made on the card. You can also accelerate payments of your real estate taxes or state income taxes otherwise due in early 2015. But, watch out for the alternative minimum tax (AMT), as these taxes are not deductible for AMT purposes.

Consider deferring income. It may be beneficial to defer some taxable income from this year into next year, especially if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket in 2015 or affected by unfavorable phase out rules that reduce or eliminate various tax breaks (child tax credit, education tax credits, and so forth) in 2014. By deferring income every other year, you may be able to take more advantage of these breaks every other year. For example, if you’re in business for yourself and a cash-method taxpayer, you can postpone taxable income by waiting until late in the year to send out some client invoices. That way, you won’t receive payment for them until early 2015. You can also postpone taxable income by accelerating some deductible business expenditures into this year. Both moves will defer taxable income from this year until next year.

Secure a deduction for nearly worthless securities. If you own any securities that are all but worthless with little hope of recovery, you might consider selling them before the end of the year so you can capitalize on the loss this year. You can deduct a loss on worthless securities only if you can prove the investment is completely worthless. Thus, a deduction is not available, as long as you own the security and it has any value at all. Total worthlessness can be very difficult to establish with any certainty. To avoid the issue, it may be easier just to sell the security if it has any marketable value. As long as the sale is not to a family member, this allows you to claim a loss for the difference between your tax basis and the proceeds (subject to the normal rules for capital losses and the wash sale rules restricting the recognition of loss if the security is repurchased within 30 days before or after the sale).

Invest in tax-free securities. The most obvious source of tax-free income is tax-exempt securities, either owned outright or through a mutual fund. Whether these provide a better return than the after-tax return on taxable investments depends on your tax bracket and the market interest rates for tax-exempt investments. With the additional layer of net investment income taxes on higher income taxpayers, this year might be a good time to compare the return on taxable and tax-exempt investments. In some cases, it may be as simple as transferring assets from a taxable to a tax-exempt fund.

Again, these are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. Please call us if you’d like to know more about them or want to discuss other ideas.

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

 

Simple Tax Savings Techniques for Security Gains

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!  

Simple Tax Savings Techniques for Security Gains

The market swings over the last several years may have you wondering whether it’s time to capitalize on some market gains. While taxes should not be the main consideration in this decision, they certainly need to be considered, as they can make a significant impact on your investment return.

With that in mind, here are a couple of tax-smart strategies to consider as you analyze your investment opportunities and decide what to do about recent gains.

Should you wait to sell until the stock qualifies for long-term capital gains treatment?

If the stock sale qualifies for long-term capital gains treatment, it will be taxed at a maximum tax rate of 23.8%. Otherwise it will be taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate, which can be as high as 43.4%.

Clearly, you’ll pay less taxes (and keep more of your gains) if the stock sale qualifies for long-term capital gains treatment. The amount of taxes you’ll save depends on your ordinary-income tax bracket.

To qualify for the preferential long-term capital gains rates, you must hold the stock for more than 12 months. The holding period generally begins the day after you purchase the stock and runs through (and includes) the date you sell it. These rules must be followed exactly, because missing the required holding period by even one day prevents you from using the preferential rates.

The question then becomes: Are the tax savings that would be realized by holding the asset for the long-term period worth the investment risk that the asset’s value will fall during the same time period? If you think the value will fall significantly, liquidating quickly, regardless of tax consequences, may be the better option. Otherwise, the potential risk of holding an asset should be weighed against the tax benefit of qualifying for a reduced tax rate.

Comparing the risk of a price decline to the potential tax benefit of holding an investment for a certain time is not an exact science. We’d be glad to help you weigh your options.

Use “specific ID method” to minimize taxes

If you are considering selling less than your entire interest in a security that you purchased at various times for various prices, you have a couple of options for identifying the particular shares sold:

(1) The first-in, first-out (FIFO) method and

(2) The specific ID method.

FIFO is used if you do not (or cannot) specifically identify which shares of stock are sold, so the oldest securities are assumed to be sold first. Alternatively, you can use the specific ID method to select the particular shares you wish to sell. This is typically the preferred method, as it allows you at least some level of control over the amount and character of the gain (or loss) realized on the sale, which can lead to tax-savings opportunities.

The specific ID method requires that you adequately identify the specific stock to be sold. This can be accomplished by delivering the specific shares to be sold to the broker selling the stock. Alternatively, if the securities are held by your broker, IRS regulations say you should notify your broker regarding which shares you want to sell and the broker should then issue you a written confirmation of your instructions.

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Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

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Since assuming her position in 2001, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson has emphasized the protection of taxpayer rights in tax administration. In her 2007 Annual Report to Congress, and in later reports, she proposed a new Taxpayer Bill of Rights. On June 10, 2014, the IRS formally adopted the Advocate’s proposal, to renew the focus on protecting the rights of taxpayers in all of their dealings with the IRS.

This document groups the dozens of existing rights in the Internal Revenue Code into ten fundamental rights, and makes these rights clear, understandable, and accessible for taxpayers and IRS employees alike.

The Right to Be Informed
Taxpayers have the right to know what they need to do to comply with the tax laws. They are entitled to clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices, and correspondence. They have the right to be informed of IRS decisions about their tax accounts and to receive clear explanations of the outcomes.

The Right to Quality Service
Taxpayers have the right to receive prompt, courteous, and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS, to be spoken to in a way they can easily understand, to receive clear and easily understandable communications from the IRS, and to speak to a supervisor about inadequate service.

The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax
Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties, and to have the IRS apply all tax payments properly.

The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard
Taxpayers have the right to raise objections and provide additional documentation in response to formal IRS actions or proposed actions, to expect that the IRS will consider their timely objections and documentation promptly and fairly, and to receive a response if the IRS does not agree with their position.

The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum
Taxpayers are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most IRS decisions, including many penalties, and have the right to receive a written response regarding the Office of Appeals’ decision. Taxpayers generally have the right to take their cases to court.

The Right to Finality
Taxpayers have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to challenge the IRS’s position as well as the maximum amount of time the IRS has to audit a particular tax year or collect a tax debt. Taxpayers have the right to know when the IRS has finished an audit.

The Right to Privacy
Taxpayers have the right to expect that any IRS inquiry, examination, or enforcement action will comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary, and will respect all due process rights, including search and seizure protections and will provide, where applicable, a collection due process hearing.

The Right to Confidentiality
Taxpayers have the right to expect that any information they provide to the IRS will not be disclosed unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law. Taxpayers have the right to expect appropriate action will be taken against employees, return preparers, and others who wrongfully use or disclose taxpayer return information.

The Right to Retain Representation
Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS. Taxpayers have the right to seek assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic if they cannot afford representation.

The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System, Including Access to the Taxpayer Advocate Service
Taxpayers have the right to expect the tax system to consider facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay, or ability to provide information timely. Taxpayers have the right to receive assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service if they are experiencing financial difficulty or if the IRS has not resolved their tax issues properly and timely through its normal channels.

 

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

2015 Application Period Opened May 5, 2014

The 2015 application period opened May 5, 2014, and closes June 20, 2014. The 2015 Publication 3319, LITC Grant Application Package and Guidelines will be available on IRS.gov and two copies will be shipped to all current clinics. Organizations that must submit a full application must do so via Grants.gov and those that do not must complete their application in Grant Solutions.

About Low Income Taxpayer Clinics

The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program provides partial funding and oversight for Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs). LITCs are independent from the IRS.

Some clinics serve individuals who need to resolve a tax problem and their income is below a certain level. These clinics provide professional representation before the IRS or in court on audits, appeals, tax collection disputes, and other issues for free or for a small fee.

Some clinics can provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in many different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language.

For more information and to find a clinic near you see the LITC page on www.irs.gov/advocate or IRS Publication 4134Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List. This publication is also available by calling 1-800-829-3676 or at your local IRS office.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) Program Reports on Activities

The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) Program, administered by TAS, has issued a 2014 Program Report. The report summarizes how clinics assist thousands of low income taxpayers through pro bono representation, education and advocacy efforts. The report includes examples of how the clinics assist taxpayers daily.

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

Taxing Social Security Benefits

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions!

Taxing Social Security Benefits

Some taxpayers must include up to 85% of their Social Security benefits in taxable income, while others find that their benefits are not taxable at all. If Social Security is your only source of income, your benefits probably won’t be taxable. In fact, you may not even need to file a federal income tax return. If you get income from other sources, however, you may have to pay taxes on at least a portion of your Social Security benefits. Your income and filing status will also affect whether you must pay taxes on your Social Security benefits.

A quick way to find out if any of your benefits may be taxable is to add half of your Social Security benefits to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest. Next, compare this total to the following base amounts. If your total is more than the base amount for your filing status, then some of your benefits may be taxable. The three base amounts are:

  • $25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child, or married individuals filing separately and who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year.
  • $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.
  • $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together at any time during the year.

 

To avoid tax time surprises, Social Security recipients can request that federal income tax be withheld from their benefit payments. Withholding is voluntary and can be initiated by completing IRS Form W-4V (“Voluntary Withholding Request”), requesting to have 7%, 10%, 15%, or 25% (those are the only choices) withheld for federal income tax, and submitting the form to the local Social Security Administration office. Voluntary withholding can be stopped by completing a new Form W-4V.

 

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.