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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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Tax Scam Alert

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!  

As incidents of an aggressive telephone scam continue across the country, the IRS warns taxpayers not to be fooled by imposters posing as tax agency representatives. You can read the article from the IRS here:

irs-seal

 

R-2014-105, Oct. 31, 2014

WASHINGTON — As incidents of an aggressive telephone scam continue across the country, the Internal Revenue Service unveiled a new YouTube video with a renewed warning to taxpayers not to be fooled by imposters posing as tax agency representatives.

The new Tax Scams video describes some basic tips to help protect taxpayers from tax scams.

These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.

“In recent weeks, we continue to see these telephone scams in every part of the country,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are clear warning signs of fraud. This is not how we do business. We urge people to be careful when they get these threatening phone calls.”

The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:

    1. Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
    2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
    3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
    4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
    5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or atwww.tigta.gov.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Remember, too, the IRS does not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTubehttp://www.youtube.com/user/irsvideos and Tumblr http://internalrevenueservice.tumblr.com, where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

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.

 

 

Weddings Mean Tax Changes & Small Business Resources

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!  

Weddings Mean Tax Changes

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It may not be as high on the wedding plan checklist as the venue, invitations and attire, but there are important tax issues created by a marriage that warrant some prompt attention following the wedding.

Name change. Anytime names are changed, it should be reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The name associated with an individual’s Social Security Number (SSN) should match the name on the tax return. To change a name with the SSA, file Form SS-5, “Application for a Social Security Card.” The form is available from www.ssa.gov, by calling (800) 772-1213, or from the local SSA office.

Address change. Let the IRS know about an address change by filing Form 8822, “Change of Address.” Also notify the U.S. Postal Service at www.usps.com to forward mail. You may also report the change at your local post office.

Change tax withholding. A change in marital status requires that a new Form W-4, “Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate,” be furnished to the employer(s). Combined incomes may move the taxpayers into a higher tax bracket. Search www.irs.gov for the IRS Withholding Calculator tool for help completing the new Form W-4.

Change in filing status. Marital status is determined as of December 31 each year. Spouses can choose to file jointly or separately each year. We can help you make that determination by calculating your tax liability both ways.

Change in circumstances. Taxpayers receiving an advance payment of the health care premium tax credit in 2014 should report changes in circumstances, such as a change in income or family size, to the Health Insurance Marketplace. Also, the Marketplace should be notified when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace to ensure you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance.

 

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.

Federal Income Tax Withholding Adjustment & Tax Calendar

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!

Do you need to adjust your federal income tax withholding amount?

With over half the year already gone, now is a good time to check to see if you are on track to have about the right amount of federal income tax withheld from your paychecks for 2014. The problem with not having the correct amount of taxes withheld for the year is that:

 

    • If your taxes are significantly underwithheld for the year, you risk being hit with a nondeductible IRS interest rate penalty.

 

 

    • If your taxes are significantly overwithheld for the year, you are basically making an interest-free loan to the government when you could be putting that money to work for you.

 

Neither situation is good. The simplest way to correct your withholding is by turning in a new Form W-4 (“Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate”) to your employer. Taking this action now will adjust the amount of federal income tax that is withheld from your paychecks for the rest of 2014.

Specifically, you can adjust your withholding by increasing or decreasing the number of allowances claimed on your Form W-4. The more allowances claimed, the lower the withholding from each paycheck; the fewer allowances claimed, the greater the withholding. If claiming zero allowances for the rest of the year would still not result in enough extra withholding, you can ask your employer to withhold an additional amount of federal income tax from each paycheck.

While filling out a new Form W-4 seems like something that should be quick and easy, it’s not necessarily so – because the tax rules are neither quick nor easy. Fortunately, there is an online Form W-4 calculator on the IRS website at www.irs.gov that can help to make the job simpler. From the IRS home page, click on the “More …” link under “Tools.” Then click on the “IRS withholding calculator” link. You will see the entry point for the online calculator. It’s pretty easy to use once you assemble information about your expected 2014 income and expenses, plus your most recent pay stub and tax return.

Please understand that the IRS calculator is not perfect. (Remember, it’s free, and to some extent, you always get what you pay for.) However, using the calculator to make withholding allowance changes on a new Form W-4 filed with your employer is probably better than doing nothing, especially if you believe you are likely to be significantly underwithheld or overwithheld for this year.

Of course, if you want more precise results, we would be happy to put together a 2014 tax projection for you. At the same time, we can probably recommend some planning strategies to lower this year’s tax bill. Contact us for details.


Setting a dateTax Calendar

July 15

 

    • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in June for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

 

July 31

 

    • If you have employees, a federal unemployment tax (FUTA) deposit is due if the FUTA liability through June exceeds $500.

 

 

    • The second quarter Form 941 (“Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”) is also due today. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until August 11 to file the return.

 

August 15

 

    • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in July for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

 

September 15

 

    • Third quarter estimated tax payments are due for individuals, trusts, and calendar-year corporations.

 

 

    • If a five-month extension was obtained, partnerships should file their 2013 Form 1065 by this date.

 

 

    • If a six-month extension was obtained, calendar-year corporations should file their 2013 income tax returns by this date.

 

 

  • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in August for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

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.

ATM Transaction FAQ’s

Scarsdale tax preparer Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s has all the answers to your personal finance questions! Banking ATM FAQs from Scarsdale Tax Preparer

 

As tax professionals, our Westchester CPA firm sees firsthand many shared financial questions and concerns. In our “FAQ Series,” we will discuss these common topics and share our insight.

How do ATM transactions work? 

There are a variety of electronic transactions one can execute:

  • ATMs allow you to bank electronically, get cash, make deposits, pay bills, or transfer funds between accounts. These machines are used with a debit or ATM card and a personal identification number.
  • Point of Sale Transactions. Some ATM cards and debit cards can be used in stores to charge merchandise. Money is electronically drawn from your account and paid to the store.
  • Pre-authorized transfers. This is allowing for the automatic deposit of fund or withdrawal of funds to or from your account. For example, one can authorize the direct deposit of wages, social security, or dividends directly to their account. You can also pre-authorize your bank to make automatic transfers for bill paying.
  • Telephone transfers. You can transfer funds from one of your accounts to the other, or order bill payments over the phone.
  • Most ATMs provide you with a receipt for the transaction, as do point of sale purchases. These receipts are the records of your electronic transactions and should be kept. Additionally, your periodic bank statement will show all the electronic transfers performed. This monthly statement is your proof of payment to another party and is your record for tax and other purposes. Any inconsistencies can be taken up with your bank.

▼ What should I do if I find an error on an EFT or ATM transaction?

Call your bank as soon as possible, or within 60 days of the error. They may ask you to submit your account information and the alleged error in writing. Generally they have 10 business days to investigate the error, and if they fail to come up with an answer your funds should be reimbursed. If the funds in questions were withdrawn from a point-of-service debit or a foreign electronic transfer, the bank may be allowed more time to investigate the error. In the meantime, however, you should have full access to the funds in question.

Your bank should notify you immediately of their findings. If you were correct about the error, they must immediately finalize the re-credit to your account. If there was no error, they must present in writing the findings of their investigation, and notify you of any funds they have deducted after you had been re-credited.

▼ What if my ATM card is lost or stolen?

It’s important to note the difference in how you will be reimbursed for credit cards vs. ATM or debit cards. For a credit card your loss is limited to $50.

However, for an ATM or debit card the loss is limited to $50 if you notify your institution within 2 business days after the card is lost or stolen.

Keep in mind that the loss could be up to $500 if you do not tell your bank within two business days of the loss or theft.

If you do not report unauthorized transfers within 60 days of your statement being mailed to you, you run the risk of having unlimited loss on transfers made after the 60 days.

▼ Can I use my ATM card abroad?

Yes, there are plenty of ATMs all around the world, but it is wise to check beforehand. With Visa and MasterCard, you can pinpoint ATM locations worldwide on their website.

Often it is a good idea to travel with an ATM card because you can withdraw foreign currencies at a better exchange rate, and also if you lose your card and report it promptly you will not experiences the type of losses you would with cash. Be wary of fees your bank will charge you for each withdrawal – it may be wise to withdraw larger sums to minimize the frequency of transactions.

▼ How do I know when a pre-authorized credit has been deposited into my account?

Your institution may notify your employer, or you. Many times your bank may only notify the recipient if a scheduled credit does not come through. Often, you can check your statement online or call your bank to check on your credits.

▼ How do I cancel a pre-authorized payment?

You can call or write your bank, or often stop the payment by going to your bank’s website. Do this at least 3 days before the scheduled payment. It is a good idea to request a written confirmation of giving a telephone notice to stop the transfer.

Scarsdale accountant Paul Herman is 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 Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mount Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, North Salem NY, Mamaroneck NY and beyond.

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When to File an Amended Return

 

Filing an amended tax return can be done in several easy steps.

Filing an amended tax return can be done in several easy steps.

Westchester tax preparers at Herman & Company CPA’s have all the answers to your personal finance questions!

Oops! You discovered an error after filing your tax return. Should you file an amended return? The answer depends on the type of error. The IRS usually corrects mathematical errors or requests missing forms (such as W-2s) or schedules. In these cases, do not amend your return.

File an amended return if any of the following were reported incorrectly:

  • Your filing status
  • Your total income
  • Your deductions or credits

Use Form 1040X (Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return), clearly identifying the year of the return that your are amending at the top of the form, to correct a paper or electronically filed Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. A separate 1040X is required for each year that you are amending and each form must be mailed in a separate envelope to the IRS processing center for your state. Addresses for the centers can be found in the 1040X instructions.

Form 1040X has three columns: Column A for original or adjusted figures from the filed return; Column C for corrected figures; Column B to show the difference between the figures in Columns A and C. Explain the items that you are changing on the back of the form. If the changes involve another schedule or form, attach it to the 1040X. For example, if you are filing a 1040X because you have a qualifying child and want to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, you must complete and attach a Schedule EIC to the amended return.

If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until receive the refund from your original form before filing Form 1040X. If you owe additional tax for the prior year, Form 1040X must have been filed and the tax paid by April 15th of this year to avoid any penalty and interest charges.

Generally, you must file Form 1040X to claim a refund within three years from the date that you filed your original return, or within two years from the date that you paid the tax, whichever is later. Please contact our Westchester tax preparation firm for more information on amending a tax return.

Deductible Home Offices

Your home office Westchester CPA firm

Your home office can be used as a tax deduction.

Westchester tax preparers at Herman & Company CPA’s have all the answers to your personal finance questions!

Whether you are self-employed or an employee, if you use a portion of your home exclusively and regularly for business purposes, you may be able to take a home office deduction.

You can deduct certain expenses if your home office is the principal place where your trade or business is conducted or where you meet and deal with clients or patients in the course of your business. If you use a separate structure not attached to your home for an exclusive and regular part of your business, you can deduct expenses related to it.

If you are an employee, you have additional requirements to meet. You cannot take the home office deduction unless the business use of your home is for the convenience of your employer. Also, you cannot take deductions for space you are renting to your employer.

Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your deduction will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses.

Your tax preparation at Herman & Company CPA’s is just a phone call away! If you seek a top Westchester CPA firm, we are there to help.

Retirement Contribution and Other Limitations for 2013

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Westchester tax preparers at Herman & Company CPA’s have all the answers to your personal finance questions!

The IRS has announced cost-of-living adjustments affecting the dollar limitations for retirement plans, deductions, and other items. Several of the limitations are higher for 2013 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory threshold. However, some limitations did not meet that threshold and remain unchanged from 2012.

The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan increased from $17,000 in 2012 to $17,500 in 2013. The catch-up contribution limit for those age 50 and over remains unchanged at $5,500.

The contribution limit for both Roth and traditional IRAs has increased $500 from 2012. You can contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older by year-end) to your IRA in 2013 if certain conditions are met (i.e., sufficient earned income). For married couples, the combined contribution limits are $11,000 ($5,500 each) and $13,000 ($6,500 each if both are age 50 by year-end) when a joint return is filed, provided one or both spouses had at least that much earned income.

Keep in mind that contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible, subject to specific limitations that increase for 2013. When you establish and contribute to a Roth IRA, contributions are not deductible, but withdrawals are tax-free when specific requirements are satisfied. In addition, there are no mandatory distribution rules at age 70 1/2 with a Roth IRA, and you can continue to make contributions past age 70 1/2 if you meet the earned income requirement.

The 2013 limitation for SIMPLE retirement accounts increased $500 to $12,000. However, the SIMPLE catch-up contribution for those age 50 by year-end is unchanged from 2012 at $2,500.

The 2013 contribution limit for profit-sharing, SEP, and money purchase pension plans is the lesser of (1) 25% of the employee’s compensation-limited to $255,000, an increase of $5,000 from 2012 or (2) $51,000, an increase of $1,000 from 2012.

The social security wage base, for computing the social security tax (OASDI), increases to $113,700 in 2013, up from $110,100 for 2012. The additional $3,600 for 2013 represents an increase of 3.3% in the wage base.

Finally, the annual exclusion for gifts increased by $1,000 and is $14,000 in 2013.

Please contact Westchester tax preparation firm Herman & Company CPA’s if you have any questions!

Filing Status Implications

Westchester tax preparation Herman & Company CPA’s has all the answers to your personal finance questions!

For married taxpayers, the implications of filing a joint or separate return extend beyond tax rates and the standard deduction. Like many aspects of income taxation, there is usually more than one approach to finding the optimal solution. We have listed some of the more common implications of filing either a joint or separate return. Although not an exhaustive list, it highlights several issues to consider.

Some of the implications of filing a joint return include (among others):

  • The requirement that individuals who file a joint return cannot be claimed as dependents on another return. This can be important when married students are still supported by their parents.
  • An individual who files a joint return is not subject to the “kiddie tax” provisions.
  • Joint filers are both responsible for the tax on their joint return. Thus, nontax factors should be considered (i.e., questionable business transactions). In addition, divorced taxpayers will each be liable for tax, interest, and penalties due on a joint return filed before the divorce.
  • Finally, monthly Medicare premiums can increase substantially for a couple filing jointly versus filing separately, especially for a lower-income spouse.

The implications of filing a separate return include (among others):

  • If one spouse itemizes deductions, the other must also, even if total deductions are less than the standard deduction.
  • Taxpayers can generally only deduct expenses they actually paid versus those paid by either.
  • Credits for child care, adoption, education, and earned income are generally not available.
  • If separate filers lived with their spouse during any part of the year, a greater percentage of social security benefits may be taxable because the income threshold for determining the taxable amount is reduced to zero.
  • The exclusion of gain on the sale of a principal residence is limited to $250,000 (each) for separate filers versus $500,000 for a joint return.
  • The $25,000 passive loss exception for actively managed rental real estate may be totally or partially lost. Also, one spouse’s passive income cannot be offset by the other spouse’s passive losses.
  • The limit on the capital loss deduction on a separate return is $1,500 (each).
  • No exclusion is allowed for interest income from Series EE bonds used for higher education expenses.
  • The deduction for interest on qualified education loans is not available.
  • Taxpayers filing separate federal returns typically must also file separate returns for state income tax purposes.

There you have it: the implications for married taxpayers filing jointly or separately. Please contact us to discuss the most advantageous filing status or any other tax compliance or planning issue.

Tax Saving Techniques

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Westchester tax preparation firm Herman & Company CPA’s has all the answers to your personal finance questions

The following are some generally recognized financial planning tools that may help you reduce your tax bill.

Charitable Giving – Instead of selling your appreciated long-term securities, donate the stock instead and avoid paying tax on the unrealized gain while still getting a charitable tax deduction for the full fair market value.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) – If you have a high deductible medical plan you can open an HSA and make tax deductible contributions to your account to pay for medical expenses. Unlike flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), the contributions can carry over for medical expenses in future years.

ROTH IRAs – Contributions to a ROTH IRA are not tax deductible but the qualified distributions, including earnings are tax-free.

Municipal Bonds – Interest earned on these types of investments is tax-exempt.

Own a home – most of the cost of this type of investment is financed and the interest (on mortgages up to $1,000,000) is tax deductible. When the property is sold, individuals may exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 if married jointly) of the gain.

Retirement Plans – Participate in your employer sponsored retirement plan, especially if there is a matching component. You will receive a current tax deduction and the tax-deferred compounding can add up to a large retirement savings.

Please contact the Westchester tax preparers here at Herman & Company CPA’s for more information!

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.