money saving tips

Plan would give retirement savers more time

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!

By Bankrate

give retirement savers more time

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., proposes to change some aspects of the way people must take retirement withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

I admit it. I’m thinking about retirement. Of course, I’ve been thinking about retirement since I was 30.

Back then, my retirement thoughts were (mostly) about socking away money for my post-career years. Now they’re about how to take that money out so that I can enjoy the type of retirement I want.

The tax code makes some withdrawal decisions for retirement savers. If you have a traditional IRA or other tax-deferred account like a 401(k) workplace plan, you must take what are known as required minimum distributions once you hit age 70 1/2.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., thinks that age trigger needs to be changed.

RMD details

Required minimum distributions, or RMDs in Internal Revenue Service acronym-speak, is the amount you must take out of tax-deferred retirement accounts each year once you hit that septuagenarian half-birthday.

The reason is obvious. Uncle Sam is tired of waiting to collect taxes on all that retirement money that’s been sitting untouched, in many cases for decades.

The specific withdrawal amounts are a percentage of your total tax-deferred retirement account balances, based on your age.

What if you don’t need or want to touch your traditional IRA or similar account when you get into your 70s? Tough.

Fail to take your annual RMD and you’ll be hit with a penalty that’s 50% of what you should have withdrawn.

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Waiting longer on RMDs

Wyden, who is the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, wants to push back the RMD age.

In a proposal that Wyden is calling the Retirement Improvements and Savings Enhancements, or RISE, Act, he proposes bumping up the RMD age to 71 in 2018.

The age mandating retirement account distributions then would be increased to 72 in 2023, 73 in 2028 and, thereafter, would be adjusted based on actuarial estimates of increases in life expectancy.

“The ‘required minimum distribution’ age of 70.5 years has remained unchanged since the early 1960s,” says Wyden. Since then, life expectancy has risen, but the target withdrawal age for retirement accounts has not moved. Wyden’s proposal essentially is a life-expectancy inflation adjustment.

No RMDs for smaller amounts

Wyden also thinks it’s unfair to force savers to deplete their retirement savings within a certain time frame when they don’t have huge sums in their tax-deferred accounts.

The RISE Act would exempt owners of traditional IRAs and similar RMD-affected accounts from the mandatory withdrawal rules if balances in their retirement plans come to less than $150,000.

This flexibility, says Wyden, will let owners of small retirement accounts use that money as they need during their older years.

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Tell Wyden what you think

Wyden acknowledges that some already are questioning some of his proposals.

For example, there is concern from plan managers that the $150,000 exemption level would be hard to administer.

So Wyden is seeking public input on this and other portions of the RISE Act.

The measure, he notes, is not a formal piece of legislation (yet). Rather, it’s a discussion draft. It is being circulated specifically to get reaction, review and comment. “The responses will be reviewed and, if appropriate, incorporated into legislation,” says Wyden.

You can email your thoughts on the RISE Act to Retirement_Savings@finance.senate.gov. If you prefer snail mail, address your thoughts to Wyden at Senate Committee on Finance, 219 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510.

Bankrate also would like to hear from you on not only the RISE proposal discussed here, but other retirement savings issues. Do you find tax laws help you sock away cash for your golden years? Or are the retirement account tax rules too complicated or restrictive?

Keep up with federal and state tax news, as well as find filing tips, calculators and more at Bankrate’s Tax Center.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Education Expenses FAQs

Scarsdale accountant Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions! The following are frequently asked questions our Westchester CPA firm receives regarding education expenses. Get to know these important financial tips to save as much as possible!
 Are there available tax breaks for my children’s education?

There are many different ways to use tax breaks for the higher education of your children. Be aware that you can only receive one type of relief for one item. It is best to consult with a professional to determine which would be the most advantageous.

▼ What is the education tax credit?

You must make a choice between two types of tax education credit.

▼ What is a Coverdell (Section 530)?

An education IRA is different than a standard IRA in these ways:

  • Withdrawals aren’t taxed if used for qualified education expenses.
  • Contributions can be made only up until the point that the client reaches 18, and all funds must be distributed by the time that they are 30.
  • Contributions are not tax deductible
 How can I best use the Coverdell (section 530)?

It is possible to have various 530 accounts for the same student, each opened by different family members or friends. There is no limit to the number of people that can open an account like this for a child.

Education expenses from scarsdale cpa

Get to know the expenses that come with education to save as much as possible!

The account can be transferred to another family member at any time. If the original child decides against going to college or is granted a scholarship, another family member can still utilize the money that has been saved.

▼ What is a qualified tuition program?

The Section 529 is a college savings program available in most states. Money is invested to cover the costs of future education. These investments grow tax free and the distributions may also be tax-free.

▼ What differentiates the Coverdell Section 530 and the Section 529?

  • The Section 529 allows for much larger yearly investments, whereas the Section 530 currently only allows for $2000 annually.
  • The choice of investments in the Section 529 is extremely conservative and limited while the Section 530 allows for many different options.
  • The Section 530 is a nationwide program while the 529 varies from state to state.
  • The Section 530 will let you use its funds for primary and secondary education, while the Section 529 can only be used for secondary.
▼ Can I take money from my traditional or Roth IRA to fund my child’s education?

Yes, you can take distributions from your IRAs for qualifying education expenses without having to pay the 10% additional tax penalty. You may owe income tax on at least part of the amount distributed, but not the additional penalty. The amount of the distribution that is more than the education expense does not qualify for the 10% tax exception.

▼ What tax deductions can be used for college education?

There is a limited deduction allowed for higher education and related expenses. In addition, business expense deductions are allowed, without a dollar limit, for education related to the taxpayer’s business, employment included.

▼ Is student loan interest tax deductible?

In certain instances, yes, although deductions need to adhere to a few guidelines. The deduction is also subject to income phaseouts.

  • The deduction ceiling is $2,500.
  • If you are a dependant, you may not claim the interest deduction.
  • You need to be the person liable for the debt and the loan must be purely for education.
▼ Can I deduct for education that helps at the workplace?

If you are receiving this education to maintain or improve skills at your current job, yes, but not if it is to meet the minimum requirements.

Our Scarsdale tax preparers here at Herman & Company CPA’s are here for all your financial needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Pound Ridge NY, Scarsdale NY, Rye NY, Mamaroneck NY, Stamford CT and beyond.

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Fourth Quarter Tax Planning

Scarsdale CPA Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions! For many individuals, the ordinary federal income tax rates for 2013 will be the same as last year: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%. However, the so-called fiscal cliff legislation passed early this year increased the maximum rate for higher-income individuals to 39.6% (up from 35%). Plan your end of year taxes with these tips from scarsdale accountant Paul HermanThis change only affects taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000 for singles, $450,000 for married joint-filing couples, $425,000 for heads of households, and $225,000 for married individuals who file separate returns. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the new additional 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% net investment income tax (3.8% NIIT), which can result in a higher-than-advertised federal tax rate for 2013.

Despite these tax increases, the current federal income tax environment remains relatively favorable by historical standards. This article presents some tax planning ideas to consider this fall that may apply to you and/or your family. Note that it is critical to evaluate all tax planning strategies in light of the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Leverage Standard Deduction by Bunching Deductible Expenditures

If your 2013 itemized deductions are likely to be just under, or just over, the standard deduction amount, consider bunching together expenditures for itemized deduction items every other year, while claiming the standard deduction in the intervening years. The 2013 standard deduction is $12,200 for married joint filers, $6,100 for single filers, and $8,950 for heads of households.

For example, say you’re a joint filer whose only itemized deductions are about $4,000 of annual property taxes and about $8,000 of home mortgage interest. If you prepay your 2014 property taxes by December 31 of this year, you could claim $16,000 of itemized deductions on your 2013 return ($4,000 of 2013 property taxes, plus another $4,000 for the 2014 property tax bill, plus the $8,000 of mortgage interest). Next year, you would only have about $8,000 of mortgage interest, but you could claim the standard deduction (it will probably be around $12,500 for 2014). Following this strategy will cut your taxable income by a meaningful amount over the two-year period (this year and next). You can repeat the drill all over again in future years. Examples of other deductible items that can be bunched together every other year include charitable donations and state income tax payments.

Consider Deferring Income

It may pay to defer some taxable income from this year into next year if you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket in 2014. For example, if you’re self-employed 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 2014. 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. Deferring income may also be helpful if you are affected by unfavorable phase-out rules that reduce or eliminate various tax breaks (child tax credit, education tax credits, and so on). By deferring income every other year, you may be able to take more advantage of these breaks.

Time Investment Gains and Losses

For many individuals, the 2013 federal tax rates on long-term capital gains are the same as last year: either 0% or 15%. However, the maximum rate for higher-income individuals is now 20% (up from 15% last year). This change only affects taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000 for singles, $450,000 for married joint-filing couples, $425,000 for heads of households, and $225,000 for married individuals filing separately. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the new 3.8% NIIT on net investment income, which can result in a maximum 23.8% federal income tax rate on 2013 long-term gains.

As you evaluate investments held in your taxable brokerage firm accounts, consider the tax impact of selling appreciated securities (currently worth more than you paid for them). For most taxpayers, the federal tax rate on long-term capital gains is still much lower than the rate on short-term gains. Therefore, it often makes sense to hold appreciated securities for at least a year and a day before selling to qualify for the lower long-term gain tax rate.

Biting the bullet and selling some loser securities (currently worth less than you paid for them) before year-end can also be a tax-smart idea. The resulting capital losses will offset capital gains from other sales this year, including high-taxed short-term gains from securities owned for one year or less. For 2013, the maximum rate on short-term gains is 39.6%, and the 3.8% NIIT may also apply, which can result in an effective rate of up to 43.4%. However, you don’t need to worry about paying a high rate on short-term gains that can be sheltered with capital losses (you will pay 0% on gains that can be sheltered).

If capital losses for this year exceed capital gains, you will have a net capital loss for 2013. You can use that net capital loss to shelter up to $3,000 of this year’s high-taxed ordinary income ($1,500 if you’re married and file separately). Any excess net capital loss is carried forward to next year.

Selling enough loser securities to create a bigger net capital loss that exceeds what you can use this year might also make sense. You can carry forward the excess capital loss to 2014 and beyond and use it to shelter both short-term gains and long-term gains recognized in those years. Note that the wash sale rules can limit the deduction for securities losses.

Make Charitable Donations from Your IRA

IRA owners and beneficiaries who have reached age 70 1/2 are permitted to make cash donations of up to $100,000 to IRS-approved public charities directly out of their IRAs. These so-called qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) are federal-income-tax-free to you, but you get no itemized charitable write-off on your Form 1040. That’s okay, because the tax-free treatment of QCDs equates to an immediate 100% federal income tax deduction without having to worry about restrictions that can delay itemized charitable write-offs.

Note: To qualify for this special tax break, the funds must be transferred directly from your IRA to the charity. Also, this favorable provision will expire at the end of this year unless Congress extends it.

Scarsdale accountant Paul Herman is here to help you with all your personal finance needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bronxville NY, Purchase NY, Scarsdale NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Katonah NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

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Steps to Reduce Your Cost of Living

Scarsdale CPA Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions!

Cost of living reduction tips from scarsdale accountant

Keep more money in your wallet with these savings tips!

 

 

Like taxes, bills are a part of life that are never pleasant but have to be dealt with regardless, but can also be made less painful to face when the numbers are smaller. Here are some handy cost-cutting tips to get you started.

  • See if your utility has a subsidizing program to make your home more energy-efficient. If that turns up nothing, you can still caulk your windows and check the insulation to make sure it has a high enough “R” factor.
  • Use fluorescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs for lights that are constantly on.
  • Maintain the thermostat at the highest and lowest temperature for comfort in the summer and winter, respectively.
▼ What can I do to reduce the cost of my phone bill?

  • Verify that your long-distance charges are competitively priced. Research which long-distance carrier will give you the best rate and switch if you are not with that carrier.
  • Use the phone book instead of dialing “Information.”
  • If you have children at home, block all “900” numbers.
  • Stay in touch with relatives and friends through e-mail.
▼ What can I do to reduce the cost of my mortgage?

  • Think about paying down your mortgage. This is an effective way for saving and raising net worth for many people. Make a decision to pay a specific amount more than the mortgage principal and faithfully stick to it.
  • Think about refinancing your mortgage. Determine if refinancing your mortgage will save you money. Calculate to see if the costs for refinancing are worth a reduction in your monthly payments. If you intend to remain in the house for at least five years, the common guideline is that at least two points reduction will make it worthwhile to refinance.

Scarsdale  accountant Paul Herman is here to help you with all your personal finance needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Scarsdale NY, Rye NY, Mamaroneck NY, Mount Kisco NY, Bronxville NY, Tarrytown NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

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Coverdell Savings Accounts

Scarsdale CPA Paul Herman at Herman & Company CPA’s has all the answers to your personal finance questions! The following is an explanation on Coverdell Education Savings Accounts by the IRS:

A Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) is a savings account created as an incentive to help parents and students save for education expenses.The total contributions for the beneficiary (who is under age 18 or is a special needs beneficiary) of this account in any year cannot be more than $2,000, no matter how many accounts have been established. College Saving Tips from Scarsdale CPA with CoverdellThe beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if, for a year, the distributions from an account are not more than a beneficiary’s qualified education expenses at an eligible education institution. This benefit applies to higher education expenses as well as to elementary and secondary education expenses.

Generally, any individual (including the beneficiary) can contribute to a Coverdell ESA if the individual’s modified adjusted gross (MAGI) income is less than an annual, constantly changing maximum. Usually, MAGI for the purpose of determining your maximum contribution limit is the adjusted gross income (AGI) shown on your tax return increased by the following exclusion from your income: foreign earned income of U.S. citizens or residents living abroad, housing costs of U.S. citizens or residents living abroad, and income from sources within Puerto Rico or American Samoa. Contributions to a Coverdell ESA may be made until the due date of the contributor’s return, without extensions.

 

Here are some key points to keep in mind about Distributions from Coverdell Accounts:

  • Distributions are tax-free as long as they are used for qualified education expenses, such as tuition and fees, required books, supplies and equipment and qualified expenses for room and board.
  • There is no tax on distributions if they are for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. This includes any public, private or religious school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined under state law. Eligible institutions also include any college, university, vocational school or other postsecondary educational institution eligible to participate in a student aid program administered by the Department of Education. Virtually all accredited public, nonprofit, and proprietary (privately owned profit-making) postsecondary institutions are eligible.
  • The Hope and lifetime learning credits can be claimed in the same year the beneficiary takes a tax-free distribution from a Coverdell ESA, as long as the same expenses are not used for both benefits.
  • If the distribution exceeds qualified education expenses, a portion will be taxable to the beneficiary and will usually be subject to an additional 10% tax.  Exceptions to the additional 10% tax include the death or disability of the beneficiary or if the beneficiary receives a qualified scholarship.

If there is a balance in the Coverdell ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30, it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to the additional 10% tax. The beneficiary may avoid these taxes by rolling over the full balance to another Coverdell ESA for another family member. For more details, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Higher Education (at IRS.gov) or call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).   

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Roth IRAs for Kids

If you have a child who works, consider encouraging the child to use some of the earnings for Roth IRA contributions. All that is required to make a Roth IRA contribution is having some earned income for the year. Age is irrelevant. Specifically, your child can contribute the lesser of: (1) earned income or (2) $5,000.

By making Roth IRA contributions for just a few years now, your child can potentially accumulate quite a bit of money by retirement age.

Tips from Scarsdale CPA Paul Herman on Saving for Retirement

The earlier the better when it comes to starting a Roth IRA.

Realistically, however, most kids will not be willing to contribute the $5,000 annual maximum even when they have enough earnings to do so. Be satisfied if you can convince your child to contribute at least a meaningful amount each year. Remember, if you are so inclined, you can make the Roth IRA contribution for your child.

Here’s what can happen. If your 15-year-old contributes $1,000 to a Roth IRA each year for four years starting now, in 45 years when your child is 60 years old, the Roth IRA would be worth about $33,000 if it earns a 5% annual return or $114,000 if it earns an 8% return. If your child contributes $1,500 for each of the four years, after 45 years the Roth IRA would be worth about $50,000 if it earns 5% or about $171,000 if it earns 8%. If the child contributes $2,500 for each of the four years, after 45 years the Roth IRA would be worth about $84,000 if it earns 5% or a whopping $285,000 if it earns 8%. You get the idea. With relatively modest annual contributions for just a few years, Roth IRAs can be worth eye-popping amounts by the time your child approaches retirement age.

For a child, contributing to a Roth IRA is usually a much better idea than contributing to a traditional IRA for several reasons. The child can withdraw all or part of the annual Roth contributions-without any federal income tax or penalty-to pay for college or for any other reason. (However, Roth earnings generally cannot be withdrawn tax-free before age 59 1/2.) In contrast, if your child makes deductible contributions to a traditional IRA, any subsequent withdrawals must be reported as income on his or her tax returns.

Even though a child can withdraw Roth IRA contributions without any adverse federal income tax consequences, the best strategy is to leave as much of the account balance as possible untouched until retirement age in order to accumulate a larger federal-income-tax-free sum.

What about tax deductions for traditional IRA contributions? Isn’t that an advantage compared to Roth IRAs? Good questions. There are no write-offs for Roth IRA contributions, but your child probably will not get any meaningful write-offs from contributing to a traditional IRA either. Any additional income will probably be taxed at very low rates. Unless your child has enough taxable income to owe a significant amount of tax (not very likely), the advantage of being able to deduct traditional IRA contributions is mostly or entirely worthless. Since that is the only advantage a traditional IRA has over a Roth IRA, the Roth option almost always comes out on top for kids.

By encouraging kids with earned income to make Roth IRA contributions, you’re introducing the ideas of saving money and investing for the future. Plus, there are tax advantages. It’s never too soon for children to learn about taxes and how to legally minimize or avoid them. Finally, if you can hire your child as an employee of your business, some additional tax advantages may be available.

Westchester CPA Paul Herman is here to answer all of your personal finance questions. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Scarsdale NY, Katonah NY, Mount Kisco NY, Rye NY, Bedford NY and beyond.

 

Business Expenses

You can save money by cutting certain business expenses.

You can save money by cutting certain business expenses.

Business expenses are the cost of carrying on a trade or business. These expenses are usually deductible if the business is operated to make a profit. Westchester tax preparers at Herman & Company CPA’s have all the answers to your personal finance questions!

What Can I Deduct?

To be deductible, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your trade or business. An expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary.

It is important to separate business expenses from the following expenses:

  • The expenses used to figure the cost of goods sold,
  • Capital Expenses, and
  • Personal Expenses.

Cost of Goods Sold

If your business manufactures products or purchases them for resale, you generally must value inventory at the beginning and end of each tax year to determine your cost of goods sold. Some of your expenses may be included in figuring the cost of goods sold. Cost of goods sold is deducted from your gross receipts to figure your gross profit for the year. If you include an expense in the cost of goods sold, you cannot deduct it again as a business expense.

The following are types of expenses that go into figuring the cost of goods sold.

  • The cost of product or raw materials, including freight
  • Storage
  • Direct labor costs (including contributions to pensions or annuity plans) for workers who produce the products
  • Factory overhead

Under the uniform capitalization rules, you must capitalize the direct costs and part of the indirect costs for certain production or resale activities. Indirect costs include rent, interest, taxes, storage, purchasing, processing, repackaging, handling, and administrative costs.

This rule does not apply to personal property you acquire for resale if your average annual gross receipts (or those of your predecessor) for the preceding 3 tax years are not more than $10 million.

For additional information, refer to the chapter on Cost of goods sold, Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Businesses and the chapter on Inventories, Publication 538, Accounting Periods and Methods.

Capital Expenses

You must capitalize, rather than deduct, some costs. These costs are a part of your investment in your business and are called capital expenses. Capital expenses are considered assets in your business.There are, in general, three types of costs you capitalize.

  • Business start-up cost (See the note below)
  • Business assets
  • Improvements

Note: You can elect to deduct or amortize certain business start-up costs.

Personal versus Business Expenses

Generally, you cannot deduct personal, living, or family expenses. However, if you have an expense for something that is used partly for business and partly for personal purposes, divide the total cost between the business and personal parts. You can deduct the business part.

For example, if you borrow money and use 70% of it for business and the other 30% for a family vacation, you can deduct 70% of the interest as a business expense. The remaining 30% is personal interest and is not deductible. Refer to chapter 5 of Publication 535, Business Expenses, for information on deducting interest and the allocation rules.

Business Use of Your Home

If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. These expenses may include mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs, and depreciation. Refer to Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home, and Standard Mileage Rates.

Business Use of Your Car

If you use your car in your business, you can deduct car expenses. If you use your car for both business and personal purposes, you must divide your expenses based on actual mileage. Refer to Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses. For a list of current and prior year mileage rates see the Standard Mileage Rates.

Other Types of Business Expenses

  • Employees’ Pay – You can generally deduct the pay you give your employees for the services they perform for your business.
  • Retirement Plans – Retirement plans are savings plans that offer you tax advantages to set aside money for your own, and your employees’, retirement.
  • Rent Expense – Rent is any amount you pay for the use of property you do not own. In general, you can deduct rent as an expense only if the rent is for property you use in your trade or business. If you have or will receive equity in or title to the property, the rent is not deductible.
  • Interest – Business interest expense is an amount charged for the use of money you borrowed for business activities.
  • Taxes – You can deduct various federal, state, local, and foreign taxes directly attributable to your trade or business as business expenses.
  • Insurance – Generally, you can deduct the ordinary and necessary cost of insurance as a business expense, if it is for your trade, business, or profession.

This list is not all inclusive of the types of business expenses that you can deduct. For additional information, refer to Publication 535, Business Expenses. Please contact our accounting firm in White Plains, NY if you have any questions.

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.