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January 2012

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Tax Tips

Financial Tips


 
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This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.



Tax Changes for 2012: A Checklist

Welcome 2012! As the new year rolls around, it's always a sure bet that there will be changes to the current tax law and 2012 is no different. From health savings accounts to retirement contributions here's a checklist of tax changes to help you plan the year ahead.

Individuals

The current tax rate structure ranging from 10% to 35% remains the same for 2012, but tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. Standard deductions and the personal exemption have also been adjusted upward to reflect inflation. For details see Tax Brackets and Exemptions for 2012 below.

Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT)
Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT) limits decrease for all taxpayers at $33,750 for singles, $45,000 for married filing jointly, and $22,500 for married filing separately.

"Kiddie Tax"
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the amount that can be used to reduce the net unearned income reported on the child's return that is subject to the "kiddie tax," is $950. The same $950 amount is used to determine whether a parent may elect to include a child's gross income in the parent's gross income and to calculate the "kiddie tax". For example, one of the requirements for the parental election is that a child's gross income for 2012 must be more than $950 but less than $9,500.

For 2012, the net unearned income for a child under the age of 19 (or a full-time student under the age of 24) that is not subject to "kiddie tax" is $1,900, the same as 2011.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
Contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) are used to pay current or future medical expenses of the account owner, his or her spouse, and any qualified dependent. Medical expenses must not be reimbursable by insurance or other sources and do not qualify for the medical expense deduction on a federal income tax return.

A qualified individual must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and not be covered by other health insurance with the exception of insurance for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, or long-term care.

For calendar year 2012, a qualifying HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,200 for self-only coverage or $2,400 for family coverage (unchanged from 2011) and must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses of the beneficiary to $6,050 for self-only coverage (up $100 from 2011) and $12,100 for family coverage (up $200 from 2011).

Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs)
There are two types of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), the Archer MSA created to help self-employed individuals and employees of certain small employers and the Medicare Advantage MSA, which is actually an Archer MSA as well, and is designated by Medicare to be used solely to pay the qualified medical expenses of the account holder. To be eligible for a Medicare Advantage MSA, you must be enrolled in Medicare and both MSAs require that you are enrolled in a high deductible health plan (HDHP).

Self-only coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2012, the term "high deductible health plan" means, for self-only coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $2,100 (up $100 from 2011) and not more than $3,150 (up $150 from 2011), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $4,200 (up $150 from 2011).

Family coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2012, the term "high deductible health plan" means, for family coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $4,200 (up $150 from 2011) and not more than $6,300 (up $250 from 2011), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $7,650 (up $250 from 2011).

Eligible Long-Term Care Premiums
Premiums for long-term care are treated the same as health care premiums and are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations. For individuals age 40 or less at the end of 2012, the limitation is $350. Persons over 40 but less than 50 can deduct $660. Those over age 50 but not more than 60 can deduct $1,310, while individuals over age 60 but younger than 70 can deduct $3,500. The maximum deduction $4,370 and applies to anyone over the age of 70.

Adoption Assistance Programs
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the amount that can be excluded from an employee's gross income for the adoption of a child with special needs is $12,650. In addition, the maximum amount that can be excluded from an employee's gross income for the amounts paid or expenses incurred by an employer for qualified adoption expenses furnished pursuant to an adoption assistance program for other adoptions by the employee is $12,650 (down from $13,360 in 2011).

The amount excludable from an employee's gross income begins to phase out under for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $189,710 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $229,710 or more.

Taxpayers adopting children are eligible for both the adoption credit (see below) and the adoption assistance exclusion of adoption expenses paid for through an employer's adoption assistance plan. However, the same adoption expense cannot qualify for both the adoption credit and the adoption assistance exclusion.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the foreign earned income exclusion amount is $95,100, up from $92,900 in 2011.

Estate Tax
For an estate of any decedent dying during calendar year 2012, the basic exclusion amount is $5,120,000, up from $5,000,000 in 2011. Also, if the executor chooses to use the special use valuation method for qualified real property, the aggregate decrease in the value of the property resulting from the choice cannot exceed $1,040,000, up from $1,020,000 for 2011. The maximum tax rate remains at 35%.

Individuals - Tax Credits

Adoption Credit
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the credit allowed for an adoption of a child with special needs is $12,650. For taxable years beginning in 2012, the maximum credit allowed for other adoptions is the amount of qualified adoption expenses up to $12,650. The available adoption credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $189,710 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $229,710 or more.

Child Tax Credit
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the value used to determine the amount of credit that may be refundable is $3,000.

Earned Income Credit
For tax year 2012, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low- and moderate- income workers and working families rises to $5,891, up from $5,751 in 2011. The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $50,270, up from $49,078 in 2011. The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children. In addition, for taxable years beginning in 2012, the earned income tax credit is not allowed if certain investment income exceeds $3,200.

Additional Child Credit
The $1,000 per-child additional child tax credit has been extended through 2012. The credit will decrease to $500 per child in 2013.

Individuals - Education

Hope Scholarship - American Opportunity, and Lifetime Learning Credits
The maximum Hope Scholarship Credit allowable for taxable years beginning in 2012 is $2,500.

The modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) threshold at which the lifetime learning credit begins to phase out is $104,000 for joint filers, up from $102,000, and $52,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $51,000.

Interest on Educational Loans
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on qualified education loans begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $60,000 ($125,000 for joint returns), and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $75,000 or more ($155,000 or more for joint returns).

Individuals - Retirement

Contribution Limits
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 is increased from $16,500 to $17,000. Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans remain at $11,500. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $250,000 (up $5,000 from 2011 levels).

Income Phase-out Ranges
The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $58,000 and $68,000, up from $56,000 and $66,000 in 2011.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $92,000 to $112,000, up from $90,000 to $110,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple's income is between $173,000 and $183,000, up from $169,000 and $179,000.

The AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $173,000 to $183,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $169,000 to $179,000 in 2011. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range is $110,000 to $125,000, up from $107,000 to $122,000. For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a retirement plan at work, the phase-out range remains $0 to $10,000.

Saver's Credit
The AGI limit for the saver's credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low-and moderate-income workers is $57,500 for married couples filing jointly, up from $56,500 in 2011; $43,125 for heads of household, up from $42,375; and $28,750 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $28,250.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates
The rate for business miles driven is 55.5 cents per mile for 2012, unchanged from the mid-year adjustment that became effective on July 1, 2011.

Section 179 Expensing
For 2012 the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases is $139,000 (down from $500,000 in 2011) of the first $560,000 (down from $2 million in 2011) of business property placed in service during the year.

Transportation Fringe Benefits
If you provide transportation fringe benefits to your employees, for tax years beginning in 2012 the maximum monthly limitation for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle as well as any transit pass is $125 (down from $230 in 2011). The monthly limitation for qualified parking is $240 (up from $230 in 2011).

Work Opportunity Credit
The work opportunity credit has been expanded to provide employers with new incentives to hire certain unemployed veterans. Businesses claim the credit as part of the general business credit and tax-exempt organizations claim it against their payroll tax liability. The credit is available for eligible unemployed veterans who begin work on or after November 22, 2011, and before January 1, 2013.

While this checklist outlines important tax changes already in place for 2012, additional changes in tax law are more than likely to arise during the year ahead.

Don't hesitate to call us if you want to get an early start on tax planning for 2012. We're here to help!

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Ensuring Financial Success for Your Business

Can you point your company in the direction of financial success, step on the gas, and then sit back and wait to arrive at your destination?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. You simply can't let your business run on autopilot and expect good results. Any successful business owner knows that numerous adjustments--from decisions about pricing to hiring and investing--must be made along the way in order to achieve success.

So, how do you handle the array of questions facing you?

One way is through cost accounting.

Cost Accounting Helps You Make Informed Decisions

Cost accounting reports and determines the various costs associated with running your business. With cost accounting, you track the cost of all your business functions including raw materials, labor, inventory, and overhead, among others.

Note: Cost accounting differs from financial accounting in that it's only used internally, for decision making. Because financial accounting is used to produce financial statements for external stakeholders, such as stockholders and the media, it must comply with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Cost accounting does not.

Cost accounting allows you to understand the following:

  1. Cost behavior. For example, will costs increase or stay the same if production of your product increases?
  2. Appropriate prices for your goods or services. Once you understand cost behavior, you can tweak your pricing based on the current market.
  3. Budgeting. You can't create an effective budget if you don't know the real costs of the line items.

To monitor your company's costs with this method, you need to pay attention to the two types of costs in any business: fixed and variable.

Fixed costs don't fluctuate with changes in production or sales. They include:

  • rent
  • insurance
  • dues and subscriptions
  • equipment leases
  • payments on loans
  • management salaries
  • advertising

Variable costs DO change with variations in production and sales. Variable costs include:

  • raw materials
  • hourly wages and commissions
  • utilities
  • inventory
  • office supplies
  • packaging, mailing, and shipping costs

Tip: Cost accounting is easier for smaller, less complicated businesses. The more complex your business model, the harder it becomes to assign proper values to all the facets of your company's functioning.

We Can Help

If you'd like to understand the ins and outs of your business better as well as create sound guidance for internal decision making, consider cost accounting.

If you need assistance we can help. We'll evaluate your business from top to bottom and determine the real cost of each component. With that as a foundation, we will help you draft budgets, adjust pricing, keep an appropriate level of inventory, and much more. Give us a call today!

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How to Get Paid on Time

With the current economic conditions, the collection of accounts receivables is becoming more and more of a challenge. Strengthening your collection procedures may allow you to improve collection rates and shorten the aging days of your accounts receivables.

The following suggestions will help your business improve its cash flow and tighten up its credit and collections policies. Some of the tips discussed here may not be suitable for every business, but can serve as general guidelines to give your company more financial stability.

Define Your Policy. Define and stick to concrete credit guidelines. Your sales force should not sell to customers who are not credit-worthy, or who have become delinquent. You should also clearly delineate what leeway sales people have to vary from these guidelines in attempting to attract customers.

Tip: You should have a system of controls for checking out a potential customer's credit, and it should be used before an order is shipped. Further, there should be clear communication between the accounting department and the sales department as to current customers who become delinquent.

Clearly Explain Your Payment Policy. Invoices should contain clear written information about how much time customers have to pay, and what will happen if they exceed those limits.

Tip: Make sure invoices include a telephone number and website address so customers can contact you with billing questions. Also include a pre-addressed envelope.

Tip: The faster invoices are sent, the faster you receive payment. For most businesses, it's best to send an invoice with a shipment, rather than afterward in a separate mailing.

Follow Through on Your Stated Terms. If your policy stipulates that late payers will go into collection after 60 days, then you must stick to that policy. A member of your staff (but not a salesperson) should call all late payers and politely request payment. Accounts of those who exceed your payment deadlines should be penalized and/or sent into collection, if that is your stated policy.

Train Staff Appropriately. The person you designate to make calls to delinquent customers must be apprised of the seriousness and professionalism required for the task. Here is a suggested routine for calls to delinquent payers:

  • Become familiar with the account's history and any past and present invoices.

  • Call the customer and ask to speak with whoever has the authority to make the payment.

  • Demand payment in plain, non-apologetic terms.

  • If the customer offers payment, ask for specific dates and terms. If no payment is offered, tell the customer what the consequences will be.

  • Take notes on the conversation.

  • Make a follow-up call if no payment is received and refer to the notes taken as to any promised payments.

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Tax Brackets, Deductions, and Exemptions for 2012

In 2012, personal exemptions and standard deductions will rise and tax brackets will widen due to inflation.

By law, the dollar amounts for a variety of tax provisions, affecting virtually every taxpayer, must be revised each year to keep pace with inflation. New dollar amounts affecting 2012 returns, filed by most taxpayers in early 2013, include the following:

  • The value of each personal and dependent exemption, available to most taxpayers, is $3,800, up $100 from 2011.
  • The new standard deduction is $11,900 for married couples filing a joint return, up $300, $5,950 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $150, and $8,700 for heads of household, also up $200. The additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens remains unchanged from 2011 at $1,150 for married individuals and $1,450 for singles and heads of household. Nearly two out of three taxpayers take the standard deduction, rather than itemizing deductions, such as mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes.
  • Tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. For a married couple filing a joint return, for example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $70,700, up from $69,000 in 2011.
  • We'll be glad to help with all of your tax planning needs in 2012. Give us a call today!

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    IRS Announces 2012 Standard Mileage Rates

    Beginning January 1, 2012, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups, or panel trucks) became:

    • 55.5 cents per mile for business miles driven

    • 23 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes

    • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

    The rate for business miles driven is unchanged from the mid-year adjustment that became effective on July 1, 2011. The medical and moving rate has been reduced by 0.5 cents per mile.

    The standard mileage rate are based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile.

    Let us know if you have questions about which driving activities you should monitor as tax year 2012 begins.

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    Receive a Faster Refund with Direct Deposit

    The New Year has arrived, which means . . . it's tax time!

    This year, do you want your refund faster? Have it deposited directly into your bank account. More taxpayers are choosing direct deposit as the way to receive their federal tax refunds. More than 78.4 million people had their tax refunds deposited directly into their bank accounts last year. It's the secure and convenient way to get money in your wallet faster.

    • Security. The payment is secure - there is no check to get lost. Each year thousands of refund checks are returned by the US Post Office to the IRS as undeliverable mail. Direct deposit eliminates undeliverable mail and is also the best way to guard against having a tax refund stolen.

    • Convenience. There's no special trip to the bank to deposit a check!

    You can also electronically direct your refund to multiple accounts. With the new "split refund" option, taxpayers can divide their refunds among as many as three checking or savings accounts and three different U.S. financial institutions. The split refund option, using Form 8888, is also available for paper returns.

    Caution: Some financial institutions do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your direct deposit will be accepted. Also, make sure you have the correct nine-digit routing number and your account number when selecting direct deposit.

    To request direct deposit, just ask us. We are happy to assist you.

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    Filing Requirements for Dependents

    Whether a dependent has to file a return generally depends on the amount of the dependent's earned and unearned income and whether the dependent is married, is age 65 or older, or is blind.

    Note: A dependent may have to file a return even if his or her income is less than the amount that would normally require a return.

    Even if you are not legally required to file, you should file a federal tax return to get money back if any of the following apply:

    • You had income tax withheld from your pay.
    • You qualify for the earned income credit.
    • You qualify for the additional child tax credit.

    Contact us for further information. We'll advise you about your particular situation.

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    Financial Tips for January 2012

    Create a Financial Plan and Monitoring System

    If you haven't already done so, prepare a financial plan and a budgeting system for monitoring your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. The information you collect will enable you to start planning for retirement or other major life events. Use last year's information to establish a budget for the coming year.

    Set Up an Effective Filing System

    Set up a well-organized filing system for storing your important documents and records.

    Prepare for Taxes

    Start getting ready for preparing your tax return for the preceding year. As you receive Forms W-2 and 1099 and other tax documents, file them immediately. This will reduce time spent looking for them later.

    Request a Social Security number for any child regardless of age who does not already have one.

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    Tax Due Dates for January 2012

    January 10

    Employees - who work for tips. If you received $20 or more in tips during December, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070, Employee's Report of Tips to Employer.

    January 17

    Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in December 2011.

    Individuals - Make a payment of your estimated tax for 2011 if you did not pay your income tax for the year through withholding (or did not pay in enough tax that way). Use Form 1040-ES. This is the final installment date for 2011 estimated tax. However, you do not have to make this payment if you file your 2011 return (Form 1040) and pay any tax due by January 31, 2012.

    Employers - Nonpayroll Withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in December 2011.

    Farmers and Fishermen - Pay your estimated tax for 2011 using Form 1040-ES. You have until April 17 to file your 2011 income tax return (Form 1040). If you do not pay your estimated tax by January 17, you must file your 2011 return and pay any tax due by March 1, 2012, to avoid an estimated tax penalty.

    January 31

    Employers - Give your employees their copies of Form W-2 for 2011 by January 31, 2012. If an employee agreed to receive Form W-2 electronically, post it on a website accessible to the employee and notify the employee of the posting by January 31.

    Businesses - Give annual information statements to recipients of 1099 payments made during 2011.

    Employers - Federal unemployment tax. File Form 940 for 2011. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you already deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

    Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2011. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 February 10 to file the return.

    Employers - Nonpayroll taxes. File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2011 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, gambling winnings, and payments of Indian gaming profits to tribal members. Deposit any undeposited tax. (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 year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

    Individuals - who must make estimated tax payments. If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 17, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040) for 2011. Filing your return and paying any tax due by January 31 prevents any penalty for late payment of last installment.

    Payers of Gambling Winnings - If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W-2G.

    Certain Small Employers - File Form 944 to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2011. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more from 2011 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return.


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