TAX TIPS NEWSLINE _____________________
Produced monthly for clients of the Advisory Group Associates
Our Mission: Sharing ideas that make a real difference.
This “TAX TIPS NEWSLINE” is compiled by its founder, Frank Zerjav CPA and team of
Professional Tax Associates, and then it is sent by email each month because you need tax and
compliance knowledge. It’s a big part of your life and the entities that you operate.
It is not too late to gather your 2014 records and deliver them so that we can complete
preparation of accurate income tax returns. We will at least need enough data and information to
help determine if a payment will be due and payable April 15, 2015, when you file a request for
an extension of time. In addition to amounts due for 2014, the first 2015 estimated tax payment,
both federal and state, will also be due April 15, 2015.
Someone is available every day, including Saturday and Sunday throughout this very busy tax
return preparation period. Again, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to
contact this CPA firm by calling 314-205-9595.
The Tax Organizers that were sent via email 1/22/15 should be used to help gather the items
needed so that we can prepare an accurate return or make estimates of your obligations in the
event you will want this CPA firm to file an extension request. Please update the data on your
organizers with your new phone numbers, addresses and emails if they changed. We look
forward to providing tax related, advisory, compliance and preparation services for you, your
family and others that you refer.
Our firm engages in strategic tax planning for professionals, business owners, investors and
individuals. Our responsibility to our clients is to minimize their tax burden by appropriate
proven methods, which helps them to keep more of what they earn. Our primary objective is the
well-being of clients as well as their satisfaction in the work we do.
“GO CARDS - 2015”
Inside this Month's Issue
Tax Time Tips from the IRS
Tax Savings Strategies Checklist
Tax Breaks for College Students
Tax Strategies – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How to Determine the Obamacare Penalty Tax
Wide Range of Solutions & Services Offered
TAX TIME TIPS FROM THE IRS
The tax filing season is almost over. You can make tax time easier if you don’t wait until the last
minute. Here are important tax time tips:
Gather your records. Collect all tax records you need to file your taxes.
This includes receipts, canceled checks and records that support income,
deductions or tax credits that you claim on your tax return.
Store them in a safe place.
Report all your income. You will need to report your income from all of your
Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statements, and Form 1099 income statements when
you file your tax return.
Use direct deposit. Combining e-file with direct deposit is the fastest and safest
way to get your tax refund.
Check out number 17. IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, is a
complete tax resource. It contains helpful information such as whether you need
to file a tax return and how to choose your filing status.
Review your return. Mistakes slow down the receipt of your tax refund. Be sure
to check all Social Security numbers and math calculations on your return, as
these are the most common errors. If you run into a problem, remember the IRS
is here to help. Start with IRS.gov.
TAX SAVING STRATEGIES CHECKLIST
This article provides tax saving strategies for deferring income and maximizing deductions, and
includes some strategies for specific categories of individuals, such as those with high income
and those who are self-employed.
Before getting into the specifics, however, we would like to stress the importance of proper
documentation. Many taxpayers lose worthwhile tax deductions because they have neglected to
keep receipts or records. Keeping adequate records is required by the IRS for employee business
expenses, deductible meals and entertainment expenses, charitable gifts and travel. But don’t do
it just because the IRS says so. Neglecting to track these deductions can lead to overlooking
them. You also need to maintain records regarding your income. If you receive a large tax-free
amount, such as a gift or inheritance, make certain to document the item so that the IRS does not
later claim that you had unreported income.
The checklist items listed below are for general information only and should be tailored to your
specific situation. If you think one of them fits your tax situation, we’d be happy to discuss it
Max Out Your 401(k) or Similar Employer Plan. Many employers offer plans where you
can elect to defer a portion of your salary and contribute it to a tax-deferred retirement
account. For most companies these are referred to as 401(k) plans. For many other
employers, such as universities, a similar plan called a 403(b) is available. Check with your
employer about the availability of such a plan and contribute as much as possible to defer
income and accumulate retirement assets.
Tip: Some employers match a portion of employee contributions to such plans. If this is
available, you should structure your contributions to receive the maximum employer
If You Have Your Own Business, Set Up and Contribute to a Retirement Plan.
If you have your own business, consider setting up and contributing as much as possible
to a retirement plan. These are even allowed for sideline or moonlighting businesses.
Several types of plans are available which minimize the paperwork involved in
establishing and administering such a plan.
Contribute to an IRA. If you have income from wages or self-employment income, you
can build tax-sheltered investments by contributing to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You may
also be able to contribute to a spousal IRA – even where the spouse has little or no earned
income. All IRAs defer the taxation of IRA investment income and in some cases can be
deductible or be withdrawn tax free.
Tip: To get the most from IRA contributions, fund the IRA as early as possible in the
year. Also, pay the IRA trustee out of separate funds, not out of the amount in the IRA.
Following these two rules will ensure that you get the most possible tax-deferred earnings
from your money.
Use the Gift-Tax Exclusion to Shift Income. You can give away $14,000 ($28,000 if joined
by a spouse) per donee in 2015 (same as 2014), per year without paying federal gift tax. You
can give $14,000 to as many donees as you like. The income earned on these transfers will
then be taxed at the donees tax rate, which is in many cases lower.
Note: Special rules apply to children under age 18. Also, if you directly pay the medical
or educational expenses of the donee, such gifts will not be subject to gift tax.
Invest in Treasury Securities. For high-income taxpayers, who live in high-income-tax
states, investing in Treasury bills, bonds, and notes can pay off in tax savings. The interest
on Treasuries is exempt from state and local income tax. Also, investing in treasury bills that
mature in the next tax year results in a deferral of the tax until the next year.
Consider Tax-Exempt Municipal Bonds. Interest on state or local municipal bonds is
generally exempt from federal income tax and from tax by the issuing state or locality. For
that reason, interest paid on such bonds is somewhat less than that paid on commercial bonds
of comparable quality. However, for individuals in higher brackets, the interest from
municipal bonds will often be greater than from higher paying commercial bonds (after
reduction for taxes). Gain on sale of municipal bonds is taxable and loss is deductible. Taxexempt interest is sometimes an element in computation of other tax items. Interest on loans
to buy or carry tax-exempts is non-deductible.
Give Appreciated Assets to Charity. If you’re planning to make a charitable gift, it
generally makes more sense to give appreciated long-term capital assets to the charity,
instead of selling the assets and giving the charity the after-tax proceeds. Donating the assets
instead of the cash prevents you from having to pay capital gains tax on the sale, which can
result in considerable savings, depending on your tax bracket and the amount of tax that
would be due on the sale. Additionally, you can obtain a tax deduction for the fair market
value of the property.
Tip: Many taxpayers also give depreciated assets to charity. Deduction is for Fair
Keep Track of Mileage Driven for Business, Medical or Charitable Purposes. If you
drive your car for business, medical or charitable purposes, you may be entitled to a
deduction for miles driven. For 2015, its 57.5 cents per mile for business, 23.5 cents for
medical and moving purposes, and 14 cents for service for charitable organization. You need
to keep detailed daily records (mileage log) of the mileage driven for these purposes to
substantiate the deduction.
Take Advantage of Your Employer’s Benefit Plans to Get an Effective Deduction of
Items Such as Medical Expenses. Medical and dental expenses are generally only
deductible to the extent they exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). For
most individuals, particularly those with high income, this eliminates the possibility for a
deduction. You can effectively get a deduction for these items if your employer offers a
Flexible Spending Account, sometimes called a cafeteria plan. These plans permit you to
redirect a portion of your salary to pay these types of expenses with pre-tax dollars. Another
such arrangement is a Health Savings Account. Ask your employer if they provide either of
If Self-Employed, Take Advantage of Special Deductions. You may be able to expense up
to $25,000 in 2014 for qualified equipment purchases for use in your business immediately
instead of writing it off over many years. Additionally, self-employed individuals can deduct
100% of their health insurance premiums as business expenses. You may also be able to
establish a Keogh, SEP or SIMPLE PLAN, or a Health Savings Account, as mentioned
If Self-Employed, Hire Your Child in the Business. If your child is under age 18, they are
not subject to employment taxes from your unincorporated business (income taxes still
apply). This will reduce your income for both income and employment tax purposes and
shift assets to the child at the same time; however, you cannot hire your child if they are
under the age of 8 years old.
Take Out a Home-Equity Loan. Most consumer related interest expense, such as from car
loans or credit cards, is not deductible. Interest on a home-equity loan, however, can be
deductible. It may be advisable to take out a home-equity loan to pay off other nondeductible
Bunch Your Itemized Deductions. Certain itemized deductions, such as medical or
employment related expenses, are only deductible if they exceed a certain amount. It may be
advantageous to delay payments in one year and prepay them in the next year to bunch the
expenses in one year. This way you stand a better chance of getting a deduction.
Most types of income are taxable, but some are not. Income can include money, property or
services that you receive. Here are some examples of income that are usually not taxable:
Child support payments;
Gifts, bequests and inheritances;
Damage awards for physical injury or sickness;
Cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer for an item you buy;
Reimbursements for qualified adoption expenses; and
Points earned on credit card purchases.
Some income is not taxable, except under certain conditions. Examples include:
Life insurance proceeds paid to you because of an insured person’s death are usually not
taxable. However, if you redeem a life insurance policy for cash, any amount that is more than
the cost of the policy is taxable.
Income you get from a qualified scholarship is normally not taxable. Amounts you use
for certain costs, such as tuition and required course books, are not taxable. However, amounts
used for room and board are taxable.
All income, such as wages and tips, is taxable unless the law specifically excludes it. This
includes non-cash income from bartering – the exchange of property or services. Both parties
must include the fair market value of goods or services received as income on their tax return.
If you received a refund, credit or offset of state or local income taxes in 2013, you may be
required to report this amount. If you did not receive a 2013 Form 1099-G, check with the
government agency that made the payments to you. That agency may have made the form
available only in an electronic format. You will need to get instructions from the agency to
retrieve this document. Report any taxable refund you received, even if you did not receive
TAX BREAKS FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
As a reminder to parents and students now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two
college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.
In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees
deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student.
Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the
Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim
one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all
taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a
standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is
claimed on Form 8917.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax
credit for another four years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the
tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, to be extended because it was
already a permanent part of the tax code.
For those eligible, including most “undergraduate” students, the American opportunity tax credit
will yield the greatest tax savings. Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be
considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially
those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.
All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or
vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be
claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases,
dependents cannot claim these education benefits.
Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January for
the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other
information. However, taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits.
Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual
credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:
The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be
enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the
beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not
qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally
qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000.
That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or
more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income
(MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is
$160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No
credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads
of household and some window and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even
people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible
student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to
people who owe no tax.
The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and
undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime
learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time
student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary
degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills.
Other features of the credit include:
Tuition and fees required for enrollment of attendance qualify as do other fees required
for the course. Additional expenses do not.
The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students
on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays
$10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2013, the
full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married
couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers
with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is
$124,000 or more and singles, head of household and some widows and widowers whose
MAGI is $62,000 or more.
Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of postsecondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction
limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI
is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds
$130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but
is no more than $80,000.
There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many tax payers. They
Scholarship and fellowship grants-generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required
enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board,
research, travel or other expenses.
Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
Savings bonds used to pay for college-though income limits apply; interest is usually taxfree if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at
least 24 years old.
Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or
save for a child’s college education.
Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a
dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.
TAX STRATEGIES – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What’s the best way to borrow to make consumer purchases? For homeowners, it’s the home
equity loan. Other consumer related interest expense, such as from car loans or credit cards, is
not deductible. Interest on a home-equity loan can be deductible. So avoid other nondeductible
borrowings and use a home-equity loan if you plan to borrow for consumer purchases.
Why should I participate in my employer’s cafeteria plan or FSA? Medical and dental
expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 10% in 2014 (same as 2013) of your adjusted
gross income (AGI). As such, many people are not able to take advantage of them. There is,
however, a way to get around this if your employer offers a flexible Spending Account (FSA),
Health Savings Account or cafeteria plan. These plans permit you to redirect a portion of your
salary to pay these types of expenses with pre-tax dollars.
What’s the best way to give to charity? If you’re planning to make a charitable gift, it
generally makes more sense to give appreciated long-term capital assets to the charity, instead of
selling the assets and giving the charity the after-tax proceeds. Donating the assets instead of the
cash avoids capital gains tax on the sale, and you can obtain a tax deduction for the full Fair
Market Value of the property.
I have a large capital gain this year. What should I do? If you also have an investment on
which you have an accumulated loss, it may be advantageous to sell it prior to year-end. Capital
losses are deductible up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000. If you are planning on
selling an investment on which you have an accumulated gain, it may be best to wait until after
the end of the year to defer payment of the taxes for another year (subject to estimated tax
What other tax-favored investments should I consider? For growth stocks you hold for the
long term, you pay no tax on the appreciation until you sell them. No capital gains tax is
imposed on appreciation at your death.
Interest on state or local bonds (“municipals”) is generally exempt from federal income tax and
from tax by the issuing state or locality. For that reason, interest paid on such bonds is somewhat
less than that paid on commercial bonds of comparable quality. However, for individuals in
higher brackets, the interest from municipals will often be greater than from higher paying
commercial bonds after reduction for taxes.
For high-income taxpayers, who live in high-income-tax states, investing in Treasury bills,
bonds, and notes can pay off in tax savings. The interest on Treasuries is exempt from state and
local income tax.
What tax-deferred investments are possible if I’m self-employed? Consider setting up and
contributing as much as possible to a retirement plan. These are allowed even for sideline or
moonlighting businesses. Several types of plans are available: the Keogh plan, the SEP and the
How can I make tax-deferred investments? Through the use of tax-deferred retirement
accounts you can invest some of the money you would have otherwise paid in taxes to increase
the amount of your retirement fund. Many employers offer plans where you can elect to defer a
portion of your salary and contribute it to a tax-deferred retirement account. For most companies
these are referred to as 401(k) plans. For many other employers, such as universities, a similar
plan called a 403(b) is available.
Some employers match a portion of employee contributions to such plans. If this is available,
you should structure your contributions to receive the maximum employer matching
Why should I defer income to a later year? Most individuals are in a higher tax bracket in their
working years than during retirement. Deferring income until retirement may result in paying
taxes on that income at a lower rate. Deferral can also work in the short term. If you expect to
be in a lower bracket in the following year or if you can take advantage of lower long-term
capital gains rates by holding an asset a little longer. You can achieve the same effect of shortterm income deferral by accelerating deductions. For example, paying a state estimated tax
installment in December instead of at the following January due date.
HOW TO DETERMINE IF YOU’LL OWE THE OBAMACARE
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the biggest overhaul in the US healthcare system since the
implementation of Medicare in 1965. It is an attempt to expand health care coverage to the entire
population, as well as to eliminate traditional barriers, such as pre-existing conditions. These
benefits, however, do not come without cost. One of those costs for many without health
insurance will be the penalty tax.
Since the law attempts to be revenue neutral, there are provisions in place to offset the higher
costs being borne in the healthcare system with new sources of revenue. In other words, new
taxes. Some of those taxes will fall on individuals who do not have health insurance coverage at
What is the ACA Penalty Tax
The tax that is being imposed on those who do not have health insurance coverage is frequently
referred to as the ACA penalty tax (some refer to this as the Obamacare Penalty Tax). The first
year that it applied was 2014, and the size of the tax will get progressively larger through at least
Under the law, if you’re uninsured for even part of the year, then 1/12 of the annual penalty will
apply to each month that you do not have health insurance. (We’ll discuss the size of the penalty
Before you go thinking that the penalty will be assessed for any month in which you do not have
coverage, there is a provision that exempts you from having to pay the penalty if you’re
uninsured for less than three months out of the year. That will exempt the majority of people who
are simply between jobs, and therefore only temporarily without insurance.
The penalty is to be paid through the filing of your annual income tax. However, there are no
liens, levies, or criminal penalties for failing to pay the tax. Should you fail to pay the penalty,
the IRS will deduct it from any future tax refunds.
How Likely Are You to Be Affected by the Penalty Tax
Because the penalty is new in 2014, projections as to how many people will ultimately have to
pay it are no better than wide range estimates. According to the Treasury Department, it is
estimated that three to six million people will have to pay the penalty tax.
The breadth of this tax raises the $64,000 question—How much will those subject to the
penalty have to pay?
The Penalty for 2014 and 2015
Over the next few years, the Obamacare Penalty Tax looks like this:
• For 2014 - The higher of $95 per person (and $47.50 per child under 18), or 1% of Income
• For 2015 - The higher of $325 per person (and $162.50 per child under the age of 18), or 2% of
• For 2016 - The higher of $695 per person (and presumably $347.50 per child under the age of
18), or 2.5% of income
• After 2016 -The tax will be adjusted for inflation each year.
Calculating the Penalty
Calculating the ACA penalty depends on several factors, including income and family size. The
IRS has several predetermined numbers that are also used to compute the penalty, including the
average premium for a bronze plan in any given year.
Remember that the penalty is the higher of the minimum dollar amount or the percentage of
income for each year. In 2014 and 2015, the percentage of income is the higher of the two, and is
therefore the required penalty amount. But in 2016 the dollar amount is the higher of the two,
and is the final penalty required.
Exceptions to the Penalty
The law provides generous exemptions to the ACA penalty tax, including:
1. You’re uninsured for less than 3 consecutive months of the year
2. Individuals with income below the income tax filing threshold
3. Individuals for whom the cost of getting health insurance (net of ACA subsidies) would
exceed 8% of “household income” in 2014 (That percentage would rise in subsequent years if
premium growth exceeds Income growth.)
4. Individuals in states that did not accept the ACA’s Medicaid expansion who would have
qualified for Medicaid under the expansion
5. Members of Indian tribes
6. Members of certain religious faiths
7. Members of a health care sharing ministry
8. Individuals not legally in the U.S. (undocumented aliens)
9. Incarcerated individuals
Exemption #3 would effectively remove the ACA penalty tax for anyone who does not have
approved health insurance by virtue of their inability to afford it. So for example, a family of four
earning $50,000 in 2014 would be exempt from the tax because the average annual cost of the
policy under a bronze plan would be $9,792, representing nearly 20% of income.
“Household Income” = AGI+Section 104 (disability and sickness payments) + Section 911
(foreign earned income) for every member of the household that you can claim as a dependent
and that is required to file his or her own tax return.
If that’s not enough exemptions for you, there is also an incredibly long list of hardship
exemptions on Healthcare.gov’s Hardship exemptions from the fee for not having health
You can apply for an exemption by filing IRS Form 8965. The Obamacare penalty tax promises
to get even more interesting in a future. And we can probably expect revisions along the way.
It’s pretty simple. Get health insurance. Then you do not owe the penalty. Insurance is
nearly free if you cannot afford it.
Are US citizens living abroad subject to the individual shared responsibility provision?
Yes. However, U.S. citizens who are not physically present in the United States for at
least 330 full days within a 12-month period are treated as having minimum essential
coverage for that 12-month period. In addition, U.S. citizens who are bona-fide residents
of a foreign country (or countries) for an entire taxable year are treated as having
minimum essential coverage for that year. In general, these are individuals who quality
for a foreign earned income exclusion under Section 911 of the Internal Revenue Code.
Individuals may qualify for this rule even if they cannot use the exclusion for all of their
foreign earned income because, for example, they are employees of the United States.
See Publication 5.4, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, for further
information on the foreign earned income exclusion. Individuals who qualify for this rule
should file Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, with their federal income tax
U.S. citizens who meet neither the physical presence nor residency requirements will
need to maintain minimum essential coverage, qualify for a coverage exemption or make
a shared responsibility payment for each month of the year. For this purpose, minimum
essential coverage includes a group health plan provided by an overseas employer. One
exemption that may be particularly relevant to U.S. citizens living abroad for a small part
of a year is the exemption for a short coverage gap. This exemption provides that no
shared responsibility payment will be due for a once-per-year gap in coverage that lasts
less than three consecutive months.
Obamacare is just another tax. The big problem is that they created a big revenue source
for healthcare and did not put any cost controls in place. You think healthcare is
expensive now, see what it will be in 5 years with no checks on spending.
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Sharing ideas that make a real difference.
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