Monthly Archives: January 2014

Organizing Your Paperwork for Tax Season

( others are asking me……………………. Paperwork for Tax Season….what do I need ??? )

Organizing Your Paperwork for Tax Season
If you haven’t done it, now’s the time.

BY GREG OLIVER

How prepared are you to prepare your 1040? The earlier you compile and organize the relevant paperwork, the easier things may be for you (or the tax preparer working for you) this winter. Here are some tips to help you get ready:

As a first step, look at your 2012 return. Unless your job, living situation or financial situation has changed notably since you last filed your taxes, chances are you will need the same set of forms, schedules and receipts this year as you did last year. So open that manila folder (or online vault) and make or print a list of the items that accompanied your 2012 return. You should receive the TY 2013 versions of everything you need by early February at the latest.

How much documentation is needed? If you don’t freelance or own a business, your list may be short: W-2(s), 1099-INT(s), perhaps 1099-DIVs or 1099-Bs, a Form 1098 if you pay a mortgage, and maybe not much more. Independent contractors need their 1099-MISCs, and the self-employed need to compile every bit of documentation related to business expenses they can find: store and restaurant receipts, mileage records, utility bills, and so on.1

In totaling receipts, don’t forget charitable donations. The IRS wants all of them to be documented. A taxpayer who donates $250 or more to a qualified charity needs a written acknowledgment of such a donation. If your own documentation is sufficiently detailed, you may deduct $0.14 for each mile driven on behalf of a volunteer effort for a qualified charity.1

Or medical expenses & out-of-pocket expenses. Collect receipts for any expense for which your employer doesn’t reimburse you, and any medical bills that came your way last year.

If you’re turning to a tax preparer, stand out by being considerate. If you present clean, neat and well-organized documentation to a preparer, that diligence and orderliness will matter. You might get better and speedier service as a result: you are telegraphing that you are a step removed from the clients with missing or inadequate paperwork.

Make sure you give your preparer your federal tax I.D. number (TIN), and remember that joint filers must supply TINs for each spouse. If you claim anyone as a dependent, you will need to supply your preparer with that person’s federal tax I.D. number. Any dependent you claim has to have a TIN, and that goes for newborns, infants and children as well. So if your kids don’t have Social Security numbers yet, apply for them now using Form SS-5 (available online or at your Social Security office). If you claim the Child & Dependent Care Tax Credit, you will need to show the TIN for the person or business that takes care of your kids while you work.1,3

While we’re on the subject of taxes, some other questions are worth examining…

How long should you keep tax returns? The IRS statute of limitations for refunds is 3 years, but if you underreport taxable income, fail to file a return or file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction, it wants you to keep them longer. You may have heard that keeping your returns for 7 years is wise; some CPAs and tax advisors will tell you to keep them for life. If the tax records are linked to assets, you will want to retain them for when you figure out the depreciation, amortization, or depletion deduction and the gain or loss. Insurers and creditors may want you to keep federal tax returns indefinitely.2

Can you use electronic files as records in audits? Yes. In fact, early in the audit process, the IRS may request accounting software backup files via Form 4564 (the Information Document Request). Form 4564 asks the taxpayer/preparer to supply the file to the IRS on a flash drive, CD or DVD, plus the necessary administrator username and password. Nothing is emailed. The IRS has the ability to read most tax prep software files. For more, search online for “Electronic Accounting Software Records FAQs.” The IRS page should be the top result.4

How do you calculate cost basis for an investment? A whole article could be written about this, and there are many potential variables in the calculation. At the most basic level with regards to stock, the cost basis is original purchase price + any commission on the purchase.

So in simple terms, if you buy 200 shares of the Little Emerging Company @ $20 a share with a $100 commission, your cost basis = $4,100, or $20.50 per share. If you sell all 200 shares for $4,000 and incur another $100 commission linked to the sale, you lose $200 – the $3,900 you wind up with falls $200 short of your $4,100 cost basis.5

Numerous factors affect cost basis: stock splits, dividend reinvestment, how shares of a security are bought or gifted. Cost basis may also be “stepped up” when an asset is inherited. Since 2011, brokerages have been required to keep track of cost basis for stocks and mutual fund shares, and to report cost basis to investors (and the IRS) when such securities are sold.5

P.S.: this tax season is off to a late start. Business filers were able to send in federal tax returns starting January 13, but the start date for processing 1040 and 1041 forms was pushed back to January 31. Per federal law, the April 15 deadline for federal tax returns remains in place, as does the 6-month extension available for those who file IRS Form 4868.6,7

Citations.
1 – bankrate.com/finance/taxes/7-ways-to-get-organized-for-the-tax-year-1.aspx [1/6/14]
2 – irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/How-long-should-I-keep-records [8/8/13]
3 – irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Taxpayer-Identification-Numbers-%28TIN%29 [1/17/14]
4 – irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Use-of-Electronic-Accounting-Software-Records;-Frequently-Asked-Questions-and-Answers [5/22/13]
5 – turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Rental-Property/Cost-Basis–Tracking-Your-Tax-Basis/INF12037.html [1/23/14]
6 – irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Starting-Jan.-13-2014-Business-Tax-Filers-Can-File-2013-Returns [1/9/14]
7 – irs.gov/taxtopics/tc301.html [1/22/14]

Coping With an Inheritance

Coping With an Inheritance
A windfall from a loved one can be both rewarding and complicated.

Mature Couple
BY GREG OLIVER

Inheriting wealth can be a burden and a blessing. Even if you have an inclination that a family member may remember you in their last will and testament, there are many facets to the process of inheritance that you may not have considered. Here are some things you may want to keep in mind if it comes to pass.

Take your time. If someone cared about you enough to leave you a sizable inheritance, then likely you will need time to grieve and cope with their loss. This is important, and many of the more major decisions about your inheritance can likely wait. And consider, too – when you’re dealing with so much already, you may be too overwhelmed to give your options the careful consideration they need and deserve. You may be able to make more rational decisions once some time has passed.

Don’t go it alone. There are so many laws, options and potential pitfalls – The knowledge an experienced professional can provide on this subject may prove to be vitally important. Unless you happen to have uncommon knowledge on the subject, seek help.

Do you have to accept it? While it may sound ridiculous at first, in some cases refusing an inheritance may be a wise move. Depending on your situation and the amount of your bequest – it may be that estate taxes will drain a large amount. Depending on the amount that remains, disclaiming some (or all) of the gift is worth contemplation.

Think of your own family. When an inheritance is received, it may alter the course of your own estate plan. Be sure to take that into consideration. You may want to think about setting up trusts for your children – to help ensure their wealth is received at an age where the likelihood that they’ll misuse or waste it is decreased. Trust creation may also help you (and your spouse) maximize exemptions on personal estate tax.

The taxman will be visiting. If you’ve inherited an IRA, it is extremely important that you weigh the tax cost of cashing out against the need for instant funds. A cash out can mean you will have to pay (on every dollar you withdraw) full income tax rates. This can greatly reduce the worth of your bequest, whereas allowing the gains of the investment to continue to compound within the account, and continuing to defer taxes, may have the opposite effect and help to increase the value of what you’ve inherited.

Stay informed. The estate laws have seen many changes over the years, so what you thought you knew about them may no longer be correct. This is especially true with regard to the taxation on capital gains. The assistance of a seasoned financial professional may be more important than ever before.

Remember to do what’s right for YOU. All too often an inheritance is left in its original form, which may be a large holding of a single company – perhaps even one started by the relative who bestowed the gift. While it’s natural for emotion to play a part and you may wish to leave your inheritance as it is, out of respect for your relative, what happens if the value of that stock takes a nose dive? The old adage “never put all your eggs in one basket” may be words to live by. Remember that this money is now yours – and the way in which you allocate assets needs to be in line with YOUR needs and goals.

GREG OLIVER

HOW CREDIT FREEZES MAY HELP TO COMBAT IDENTITY THEFT

HOW CREDIT FREEZES MAY HELP TO COMBAT IDENTITY THEFT


HOW CREDIT FREEZES MAY HELP TO COMBAT IDENTITY THEFT

Why do people elect to put their credit “on ice”?

BY GREG OLIVER

If you are worried about getting hacked – and, these days, who isn’t – a credit freeze is a precautionary measure that may be worth considering.

Is a credit freeze an iron-clad, 100% guaranteed way to protect yourself from Identity Theft? Unfortunately, no. Just about anyone could fall victim, just like almost anyone could become a victim of a home burglary. But ask yourself this – if there are two homes side-by-side, one with an advanced home security system and the other without, which home do you think would stand the greater risk of being burglarized?

Think of credit “freezing” similarly – as an increased measure of security. While the term “credit freeze” may bring up some negative connotations in your mind, a credit freeze is actually a positive move you can make to reduce the chances of identity theft.

The cost is minimal – and now many of us have the option. Years ago, only victims of hackers could request credit freezes. In 2007, that changed. In that year, the three consumer credit bureaus all decided to let consumers request freezes. The fee is nominal – typically $20 or less. Compare that with a credit monitoring service, which can run you over $100 yearly.1,2

In 2010, 47 states have laws requiring credit bureaus to offer their residents credit freezes. Some state laws arrange senior discounts for older consumers who request a freeze – in California, for example, the fee per freeze is $10 but $5 if you are 65 or older.3

How does a credit freeze work? The person wishing to, in essence, seal their credit history would go online and contact one of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion or Experian – to request a freeze. (Sometimes this can be done via certified mail or even via phone.) The credit bureau would then issue a PIN for purposes of accessing those “frozen” credit reports. So, if a thief wanted to exploit that credit and/or credit history, he or she wouldn’t be able to – without the PIN.

If you need to apply for a loan or a job, you can “thaw” your frozen credit history using your PIN. There is also a fee to thaw your credit, typically about $10 per bureau. Paying that fee may allow you a one-time thaw or a thaw for a specified time period.

Why doesn’t everyone do this? Some people don’t realize they have the option. Others have considered it, but they would rather not put up with a couple of factors. If you constantly open new credit accounts or if your credit history is checked frequently, it is irritating to pay a thaw fee again and again. Then there’s the wait: thawing your credit usually takes a few days.2

It is important to recognize that a credit freeze will not keep everyone out of your credit history – it is only as secret as your PIN. Not only that, businesses that have an existing relationship with you can still look inside your credit reports. A freeze is also not a remedy for ID theft – if theft is already occurring in one of your credit accounts, a freeze won’t stop it. A freeze must be requested before the crime is committed.2,3

Should YOU freeze your credit? The older you are, the more merit the idea may have. Credit freezes are also sometimes requested by divorcing couples when trust is in short supply between ex-spouses. You may want to freeze your credit whether you have been hit by ID theft or not – it may end up saving you money and stress someday.

GREG OLIVER 986878758757659675
Citations.
1 usatoday.com/money/perfi/columnist/block/2007-10-08-credit-freeze_N.htm [10/8/08]
2 walletpop.com/blog/2010/09/03/freeze-your-credit-its-one-way-to-cut-out-the-con-artist/ [9/3/10]
3 creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-report-freeze-1282.php [9/2/10]
3 creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-report-freeze-1282.php [9/2/10]
87587578578575 ofs