Not Another Christmas List? Yep.
Tax and Financial News
Not Another Christmas List? Yep.
Have you paid all your bills? Wait, were not asking about the bills for Christmas presents. According to the American Way segment of your Life 101 class, those are supposed to take you until this time next year to pay. Were talking about the deductible bills. Business expenses, itemized deductions, and similar expenses are the kinds of bills you need to pay before December 31st.
Remember, some itemized deductions are limited. You have to have medical expenses greater than 7.5% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) before you can begin deducting. If you do have unreimbursed expenses over that amount, you may want to look at paying them by using credit cards if you dont have the cash. But be sure you can pay them off in a month or so or you could lose your tax benefits to the finance charges.
DO NOT, take money out of a retirement account to pay these bills. The deduction you gain is not worth the tax price you pay, especially if youre under age 591/2. You could jeopardize your future ability to retire comfortably if youre not careful.
Similarly, if youre an employee and can claim employee business expenses, remember that expenses equal to the first 2% of your AGI are not deductible. If it appears that you wont be able to claim enough expenses to exceed this amount substantially, pay the bills only when due.
Have you sold all the stock you need to sell? If you have big gains on stocks that you have sold, see if there are any loss stocks you can sell to offset those gains. What, you say theres no way you had any gains this year with the market the way it has been? You may be right on your stocks, but what about mutual funds? Many likely didnt throw off any capital gains, but be careful. If you happen to have a fund that does issue a capital gain distribution, you could be caught paying taxes. Pay close attention this month to your mutual funds to be certain you arent caught with phantom income.
Are you sure you want to sell that property now? Dont forget that you have only one month left to this year. If you have assets for sale and a buyer, ask the buyer if they really need to close on the sale this year. Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is no and that can save you a great deal in taxes this year if you have big gains. Putting the sale off by one day or one month will keep you from paying taxes for up to fifteen months. You could be earning interest for a whole year on that money.
A second option you may have is to sell the property on an installment basis and receive only enough cash to pay for any taxes that may be due for the current year. Sale of certain depreciated property will trigger income tax regardless of how much of the purchase price you receive in the current year.
Do you feel like spreading the wealth? This may not be a popular thought, but you cant bank on the estate tax really going away in the future. This means you should still be looking for ways to reduce your estate if its potentially taxable. A very good way to do that is to establish an annual gifting program or continue doing so if you already have a program in place.
Remember, the first $10,000 you give to a donee is not reportable on a gift tax return ($20,000 if you and your spouse split gifts). The gift must be free of any strings and the recipient must gain immediate control of the gift.
This can be tricky if youve set up a trust for your children or grandchildren to receive the annual gifts. If you decide do this, make sure you issue what are called Crummey Letters. Crummey Letters notify a beneficiary that money has been put into a trust for them and they can pull the money out if they wish. If the heir does not wish to withdraw the money, then they send a letter back to the trustee saying they dont want the money and the money becomes part of the principal of the trust. The heir will then not have access to the funds, except in accordance with the trust document. Hence, you give the money away, but keep your ten-year-old from buying up the local supply of skateboards or Pokemon cards.
You may be concerned the beneficiary will elect to withdraw the funds instead of leaving them in the trust. Generally, if its explained in a nice way that they if they take the money now for ice cream sodas and CDs, they shouldnt expect to get anything later on, they may change their mind about withdrawing the funds.
Do you plan making contributions to an Education IRA? If so, make sure you do it before December 31. The new tax law has increased the $500 limit on Education IRAs and allows contributions to be made through April 15 following the tax year, but that doesnt kick in until next year. For 2001, youre still limited to $500 per beneficiary and the contribution must be made by December 31. Remember the income limits for contributions: Married filing jointly cant make the contribution if their AGI exceeds $160,000 and single filers cant make the contribution if their income exceeds $110,000.
Do you want to convert your IRA to a Roth IRA? If you want to convert an IRA from a traditional IRA to a Roth, the sooner the better to start the 5 year holding period countdown. If so, do it before December 31. A rollover by December 31 for the 2001 tax year will start the clock ticking as of January 1, 2001. This means youll be able to avail yourself of the 5-year holding period rule on January 1, 2006. If you wait to rollover the traditional IRA until January 1, 2002, youll not be able to withdraw tax-free, assuming you meet all the requirements. Youll have to wait a full year.
Have we talked yet? Your seventh must do item before December 31 is to give us a call so we can discuss what other options you may have to reduce this years taxes or take maximum advantage of the tax laws for this and future years. Please remember, though, the sooner we talk, the more time youll have to implement any planning suggestions, so call us soon!
The eighth and final thing you must do before December 31 is:
Have a wonderful holiday season!
These articles are intended to provide general resources for the tax and accounting needs of small businesses and individuals. Service2Client LLC is the author, but is not engaged in rendering specific legal, accounting, financial or professional advice. Service2Client LLC makes no representation that the recommendations of Service2Client LLC will achieve any result. The NSAD has not reviewed any of the Service2Client LLC content. Readers are encouraged to contact their CPA regarding the topics in these articles.