Saturday, April 6, 2013

How will you use your tax refund? Some wise advice.

Reposted from AICPA Insights - 

In the News: Using Tax Refunds Wisely

Mailbox-tax-returnDo you see your neighbor waiting by the mailbox for their tax refund? Chances are it’s not so they can use it on a fancy vacation or a new spring wardrobe.
This year, workers are most likely to save their refund or use the money for day-to-day expenses, according to a recent survey conducted for the AICPA by Harris Interactive for National Financial Capability Month. And that refund money is substantial. An AccountingWEB article on the survey results states that through March 22, the average refund this tax season is $2,827. That’s trending slightly lower than this time last year, when the average individual refund was $2,860.
“Last year the IRS sent checks totaling nearly $310 billion to taxpayers, underscoring the significance of tax time to American households,” said Ernie Almonte, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.
Asked to select all the ways they will use their tax refund, nearly half of U.S. adult respondents, 46 percent, said they expect to save some portion this year; 37 percent will use it to pay for day-to-day expenses; and one-third, 33 percent, report that they intend to use it to pay down debt.
A likely cause for this responsible financial behavior is that a substantial portion, 43 percent, of those who are expecting a refund consider it more important to their finances this year than in years past. Part of the reason that refunds are so important in 2013: the expiration of the payroll tax cut. In January, Social Security withholding returned to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent and effectively reduced take home pay by 2 percent.
According to the survey results, 71 percent of those employed have felt some impact from their paycheck reduction. And nearly all of those, 96 percent, have made some kind of adjustment. According to the survey, 51 percent are cutting back on cable and digital entertainment; 45 percent are contributing less to retirement accounts; and 17 percent are skipping payments on credit cards, utilities, rent or mortgages.
“This year, in the wake of a paycheck squeeze, many Americans are counting on those refunds for relief – a way to bolster savings or shore up budgets. It’s critical that they have a well thought out plan for using the funds to maximize the benefit to their financial well-being,” said Almonte.
In the AccountingWEB article on the survey results, Almonte advises clients who are receiving a refund to:
  1. Set aside money for immediate household expenses.
  2. Build up an emergency fund to cover at least six months of expenses.
  3. Set aside some of the money for a retirement fund.
  4. Pay down credit card debt.
The CPA profession has a comprehensive financial education program—360 Degrees of Financial Literacy—to help Americans achieve long-term financial success. A robust website ( is the centerpiece of the program with tools, calculators and advice to help Americans understand and manage their financial needs during 10 life stages, from childhood to retirement.
Since 2007, the AICPA has conducted an annual survey of Americans to determine their top financial concerns and assess their financial well-being. Harris Interactive conducted this year’s telephone survey on behalf of the AICPA within the United States between March 14 and March 17, reaching a nationally representative sample of 1,011 adults aged 18 and older by landline and mobile phone.
, AICPA Staff.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Six Tips on Making Estimated Tax Payments - IRS Tax Tip 2013-49

Some taxpayers may need to make estimated tax payments during the year. The type of income you receive determines whether you must pay estimated taxes. Here are six tips from the IRS about making estimated tax 

1. If you do not have taxes withheld from your income, you may need to make estimated tax payments. This may apply if you have income such as self-employment, interest, dividends or capital gains. It could also apply if you do not have enough taxes withheld from your wages. If you are required to pay estimated taxes during the year, you should make these payments to avoid a penalty.

2. Generally, you may need to pay estimated taxes in 2013 if you expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes when you file your federal tax return. Other rules apply, and special rules apply to farmers and fishermen.

3. When figuring the amount of your estimated taxes, you should estimate the amount of income you expect to receive for the year. You should also include any tax deductions and credits that you will be eligible to claim. Be aware that life changes, such as a change in marital status or a child born during the year can affect your taxes. Try to make your estimates as accurate as possible.

4. You normally make estimated tax payments four times a year. The dates that apply to most people are April 15, June 17 and Sept. 16 in 2013, and Jan. 15, 2014.

5. You should use Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure your estimated tax.

6. You may pay online or by phone. You may also pay by check or money order, or by credit or debit card. You’ll find more information about your payment options in the Form 1040-ES instructions. Also, check out the Electronic Payment Options Home Page at If you mail your payments to the IRS, you should use the payment vouchers that come with Form 1040-ES.

If you need help determining if you need to make estimates or the amount of your estimates, please call our office at (630) 986-0540. For more information about estimated taxes, see Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax. Forms and publications are available on or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Friday, March 22, 2013

Retirement plan loans as a source of ready cash—the pros and cons

Although it is generally not considered prudent to withdraw funds from a retirement savings account until retirement, sometimes it may appear that life leaves no other option. However, borrowing from certain qualified retirement savings account rather than taking an outright distribution might prove the best solution to getting you through a difficult period. If borrowing from a 401(k) plan or other retirement savings plan becomes necessary, for example to pay emergency medical expenses or for a replacement vehicle essential to getting to work, you should be aware that there is a right way and a number of wrong ways to go about it.
When a plan loan is not a taxable distribution
In general, a loan from a qualified employer plan, such as a 401(a) or 401(k) account, must be treated as a taxable distribution unless you can meet certain requirements with respect to amount, repayment period, and repayment method.
First, however, the terms of the employer-plan must allow for plan loans. Due to administrative costs and other considerations, plan loans are made optional for employer plans. If permitted, however, loans must be made available to all employees.
A loan to a participant or beneficiary is generally not treated as a taxable distribution if:
  • The loan is evidenced by a legally enforceable written agreement that specifies the amount and term of the loan and the repayment schedule;
  • The amount of the loan does not exceed $50,000 or half of the participant's vested accrued benefit under the plan (whichever is less);
  • The loan, by its terms, requires repayment within five years, except for certain home loans; and
  • The loan is amortized in level installments over the term of the loan.
Plan loans may be made only from employer-based plans. Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) cannot be used as collateral for a loan, nor can a direct loan be made from the IRA to the account holder.
Calculating the amount of the plan loan
In addition to the $50,000 or 50-percent vested benefit rule, several other provisions apply to the amount of the plan loan. First, a plan participant may take out a loan of up to $10,000, even if that $10,000 is more than one-half of the present value of his vested accrued benefit. Second, if a plan participant decides to take out another plan loan, the new maximum amount of the total plan loans will be determined by the following method:
($50,000 − (highest outstanding loan balance during the preceding 12-month period − outstanding balance on the date of the new loan)) = new plan loan maximum.
That new plan maximum must be reduced further by any outstanding loan balance.
Repayment period
Participants must repay a loan within five years. There is one exception, however, for a loan used to make a purchase of a first-time home that is a principal residence. The loan term may then be as long as 30 years.
If a participant defaults on a loan payment, the entire principal may become due under the terms of the plan. In addition, most plan terms require that you repay the loan within 60 days if you leave or lose your job. If you cannot repay at that time, the balance of the loan is usually considered a taxable distribution deducted from your remaining retirement plan account balance. That deemed distribution may also incur a 10 percent early distribution penalty.
Repayment method
Loan repayments must be made at least every quarter, and are generally deducted automatically from a participant’s paycheck. Defaulting on a loan causes the IRS to treat the entire outstanding loan balance as a premature (and therefore a taxable) distribution from the employer plan. A deemed distribution occurs at the time of the failure to pay an installment, but the plan administrator can allow a grace period. The deemed distribution then becomes subject to both income tax and the 10-percent early withdrawal penalty.
There are benefits to borrowing from an employer retirement plan, such as providing a ready-made source of credit and the benefit of returning interest paid back into the plan account rather than into the pockets of a third-party lender. There are also many drawbacks to taking out a plan loan. To learn more, please contact our offices.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Careful Planning For Implementation of The Affordable Care Act

When Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its companion bill, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (collectively known as the Affordable Care Act) in 2010, lawmakers staggered the effective dates of various provisions.  The most well-known provision, the so-called individual mandate, is scheduled to take effect in 2014.  A number of other provisions are scheduled to take effect in 2013. All of these require careful planning.
Two important changes to the Medicare tax are scheduled for 2013.  For tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax is imposed on individuals with wages/self-employment income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately). Moreover, and also effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, a 3.8 percent Medicare tax is imposed on the lesser of an individual's net investment income for the tax year or modified adjusted gross income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately).
The Affordable Care Act sets out the basic parameters of the new Medicare taxes but the details will be supplied by the IRS in regulations.  To date, the IRS has not issued regulations or other official guidance about the new Medicare taxes (although the IRS did post some general frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act's changes to Medicare on its web site).   As soon as the IRS issues regulations or other official guidance, our office will advise you. In the meantime, please contact our office if you have any questions about the new Medicare taxes.
Also in 2013, the Affordable Care Act limits annual salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending arrangement (health FSA) under a cafeteria plan to $2,500.  If the plan would allow salary reductions in excess of $2,500, the employee will be subject to tax on distributions from the health FSA.  The $2,500 amount will be adjusted for inflation after 2013.
Additionally, the Affordable Care Act also increases the medical expense deduction threshold in 2013.  Under current law, the threshold to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses is 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.  Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, the threshold will be 10 percent.  However, the Affordable Care Act temporarily exempts individuals age 65 and older from the increase.
The Affordable Care Act's individual mandate generally requires individuals to make a shared responsibility payment if they do not carry minimum essential health insurance for themselves and their dependents.  The requirement begins in 2014. 
To understand who is covered by the individual mandate, it is easier to describe who is excluded.  Generally, individuals who have employer-provided health insurance coverage are excluded, so long as that coverage is deemed minimum essential coverage and is affordable.  If the coverage is treated as not affordable, the employee could qualify for a tax credit to help offset the cost of coverage.  Individuals covered by Medicare and Medicaid also are excluded from the individual mandate.  Additionally, undocumented aliens, incarcerated persons, individuals with a religious conscience exemption, and people who have short lapses of minimum essential coverage are excluded from the individual mandate.
The individual mandate was at the heart of the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act after its passage.  These legal challenges reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2012, held that the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congress' taxing power.
Like the new Medicare taxes, the Affordable Care Act sets out the parameters of the individual mandate.  The IRS is expected to issue regulations and other official guidance before 2014.  Our office will keep you posted of developments.
2014 will also bring a new shared responsibility payment for employers.  Large employers (generally employers with 50 or more full-time employees but subject to certain limitations) will be liable for a penalty if they fail to offer employees the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage.  Large employers may also be subject to a penalty if they offer coverage but one or more employees receive a premium assistance tax credit.
The employer shared responsibility payment provisions are among the most complex in the Affordable Care Act.  The IRS has requested comments from employers on how to implement the provisions.  In good news for employers, the IRS has indicated may develop a safe harbor to help clarify who is a full-time employee for purposes of the employer shared responsibility payment.
If you have any questions about the provisions in the Affordable Care Act we have discussed, please contact our office.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What Taxpayers Should Know About Identity Theft and Taxes  IRS Special Edition Tax Tip 2013-05, February 20, 2013
Protecting taxpayers and their tax refunds from identity theft is a top priority for the IRS. This year the IRS expanded its efforts to better protect taxpayers and help victims dealing with this difficult issue.
When your personal information is lost or stolen, it can lead to identity theft. Identity thieves sometimes use your personal information to file a tax return to claim a tax refund. Then, when you file your own tax return, the IRS will not accept it and will notify you that a return was already filed using your name and social security number. Often, learning that your return was not accepted or receiving a contact from the IRS about a problem with your tax return is the first time you become aware that you’re a victim of identity theft.
How to avoid becoming an identity theft victim.
  • Guard your personal information. Identity thieves can get your personal information in many ways. This includes stealing your wallet or purse, posing as someone who needs information about you, looking through your trash, or stealing information you provide to an unsecured website or in an unencrypted e-mail.
  • Watch out for IRS impersonators. Be aware that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or social media channels to request personal or financial information or notify people of an audit, refund or investigation. Scammers may also use phone calls, faxes, websites or even in-person contacts. If you’re suspicious that it’s not really the IRS contacting you, don’t respond. Visit our Report Phishing web page to see what to do.
  • Protect information on your computer. While preparing your tax return, protect it with a strong password. Once you e-file the return, take it off your hard drive and store it on a CD or flash drive in a safe place, like a lock box or safe. If you use a tax preparer, ask how he or she will protect your information.
How to know if you are, or might be, a victim of identity theft.
Your identity may have been stolen if the IRS notifies you that:
  • You filed more than one tax return or someone has already filed using your information;
  • You owe taxes for a year when you were not legally required to file and did not file; or
  • You were paid wages from an employer where you did not work.
Respond quickly using the contact information in the letter you received from the IRS so that we can begin to correct and secure your tax account.
If you think you may be at risk for identity theft due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity, an unexpected bad credit report or any other way, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit toll-free at 1-800-908-4490. The IRS will then take steps to secure your tax account. The Federal Trade Commission also has helpful information about reporting identity theft.
If you have information about the identity thief who used or tried to use your information, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
For more information – including how to report identity theft, phishing and related fraudulent activity – visit the Identity Protection home page on and click on the Identity Theft link at the bottom of the page.
IRS Works to Protect Taxpayer Refunds, Detect and Resolve Identity Theft Cases
The IRS takes identity theft-related tax fraud very seriously and realizes that identity theft is a frustrating process for victims. By late 2012, the IRS assigned more than 3,000 employees — more than double from 2011 — to work on identity theft-related issues.
The IRS continues to enhance its screening process to stop fraudulent returns. During 2012, the IRS protected $20 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft, compared with $14 billion in 2011.
The IRS recently announced that a year-long nationwide focus on tax refund fraud and identity theft has resulted in more than 100 arrests in 32 states and Puerto Rico. In January 2013 alone, the IRS targeted 389 identity theft suspects resulting in 734 enforcement actions. To learn more, see IRS Intensifies National Crackdown on Identity Theft on

Monday, March 11, 2013

2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act (Individuals)

After much debate and anticipation, Congress has passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 which averts the tax side of the fiscal cliff, provides numerous extenders and avoids the automatic sunset provisions that were scheduled to take effect after 2012 under the “Bush-era” tax cuts in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA). 
The impact on individuals is significant. Without the American Taxpayer Relief Act, individual tax rates on all income groups would have increased, taxpayer-friendly treatment of capital gains and dividends would have completely disappeared, the child tax credit would have plummeted to $500, enhancements to education tax incentives would have ended, the federal estate tax would have reverted to a maximum 55 percent, and many other popular but temporary incentives would no longer be available.

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amounts for individuals have been increased for tax years beginning in 2012 and made permanent. The exemption amounts for the 2012 tax year are $78,750 for a joint return or surviving spouse, $50,600 for an unmarried individual not a surviving spouse, $39,375 for married individuals filing separately. The exemption amounts will be indexed for inflation for calendar years beginning after 2012.

Although the AMT exemption amounts for individuals have increased for 2012, the threshold levels for calculating the exemption phaseout remain unchanged, except as to an estate, trust or corporation. Thus, the exemption amount for tax years beginning in 2012 is still reduced by 25 percent for each $1 of alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI) in excess of: (1) $112,500 in the case of unmarried individuals, (2) $150,000 in the case of married individuals filing a joint return and surviving spouses, and (3) 50 percent of the dollar amount applicable to married taxpayers filing jointly in the case of married individuals filing separate returns. However, because the calculation of the phaseout amount is affected by the amount of AMTI exempted, an increase in the exemption amount will also increase the maximum amount of AMTI a person can have before the exemption amount is phased out. 

The American Taxpayer Relief Act makes permanent for 2013 and beyond the lower Bush-era income tax rates for all individuals, except those taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000 ($450,000 for married taxpayers, $425,000 for heads of households).

Income above these levels will be taxed at a 39.6 percent rate. Therefore, the 10, 15, 25, 28 and 33 percent marginal rates remain the same after 2012, as does the 35 percent rate for income between the top of the 33 percent rate (projected to be at $398,350 for most taxpayers) and the $400,000/$450,000 threshold at which the 39.6 percent bracket now begins. Taxpayers who find themselves within the 39.6 percent marginal income tax bracket nevertheless also benefit from extension of all Bush-era rates below that level.

The majority of U.S. businesses are pass-through entities, such as partnerships and S corporations. This means that profits are passed through to their individual owners and therefore are taxed at individual income tax rates. A "C" corporation, with its current corporate level tax rate of 35 percent (which may drop if recent corporate tax reform proposals are adopted), may become more attractive with rates rising to 39.6 percent for some individuals.

Marriage Penalty Relief
The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends all existing marriage penalty relief provisions. Before EGTRRA, married couples experienced the so-called marriage penalty in several areas. EGTRRA gradually increased the basic standard deduction for a married couple filing a joint return to twice the basic standard deduction for an unmarried individual filing a single return. Without marriage penalty relief, the standard deduction for married couples would be 167 percent of the deduction for single individuals rather than 200 percent. For joint filers in 2013, that would have meant a drop of $1,950, from $12,200 to $10,150.

EGTRRA also gradually increased the size of the 15 percent income tax bracket for a married couple filing a joint return to twice the size of the corresponding rate bracket for an unmarried individual filing a single return. Without that relief, the top of the 15 percent rate bracket in 2013 for married taxpayers filing jointly would be set at a projected $60,550 rather than $72,500. 

The American Taxpayer Relief Act raises the top rate for capital gains and dividends to 20 percent, up from the Bush-era maximum 15 percent rate. That top rate will apply to the extent that a taxpayer's income exceeds the thresholds set for the 39.6 percent rate.

All other taxpayers will continue to enjoy a capital gains and dividends tax at a maximum rate of 15 percent. A zero percent rate will also continue to apply to capital gains and dividends to the extent income falls below the top of the 15 percent income tax bracket—projected for 2013 to be $72,500 for joint filers and $36,250 for singles. Qualified dividends for all taxpayers continue to be taxed at capital gains rates, rather than ordinary income tax rates as prior to 2003.

Without the American Taxpayer Relief Act, the maximum tax rate on net capital gain of all noncorporate taxpayers would have reverted to 20 percent (10 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket) starting January 1, 2013.

It should be noted that starting in 2013, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), higher income taxpayers must also start paying a 3.8 percent additional tax on Net Investment Income (NII) to the extent certain threshold amounts of income are exceeded ($200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for joint returns and surviving spouses, $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). Those threshold amounts stand, despite higher thresholds now set for the 20 percent capital gain rate that previously had been proposed by President Obama to start at the same levels. The NII surtax thresholds are not affected by the American Taxpayer Relief Act. Starting in 2013, therefore, taxpayers within the NII surtax range must pay the additional 3.8 percent on capital gain, whether long-term or short-term. The effective top rate for net capital gains for many "higher-income" taxpayers thus becomes 23.8 percent for long term gain and 43.4 percent for short-term capital gains starting in 2013.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act officially revives the "Pease" limitation on itemized deductions, which was eliminated by EGTRRA. The Pease limitation, named after the member of Congress who sponsored the original provision, reduces the total amount of a higher-income taxpayer's otherwise allowable itemized deductions by three percent of the amount by which the taxpayer's adjusted gross income exceeds an applicable threshold. However, the amount of itemized deductions is not reduced by more than 80 percent. Certain items, such as medical expenses, investment interest, and casualty, theft or wagering losses, are excluded.

However, higher "applicable threshold" levels apply under the new law:
  1. $300,000 for married couples and surviving spouses;
  1. $275,000 for heads of households;
  1. $250,000 for unmarried taxpayers; and
  1. $150,000 for married taxpayers filing separately.

The applicable threshold for the Pease limitation for 2013, as adjusted for inflation and as computed under the sunset rules, would have been $178,150 ($89,075 for individuals married filing separately). Thus, the American Taxpayer Relief Act does not call for a full revival of the Pease limitation at former levels.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act also officially revives the personal exemption phaseout rules, but at applicable income threshold levels slightly higher than in the past:
  1. $300,000 for married couples and surviving spouses;
  1. $275,000 for heads of households;
  1. $250,000 for unmarried taxpayers; and
  1. $150,000 for married taxpayers filing separately.
Under the phaseout, the total amount of exemptions that may be claimed by a taxpayer is reduced by two percent for each $2,500, or portion thereof (two percent for each $1,250 for married couples filing separate returns) by which the taxpayer's adjusted gross income exceeds the applicable threshold level.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends permanently the $1,000 child tax credit. Certain enhancements to the credit under Bush-era legislation and subsequent legislation are also made permanent.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act makes permanent or extends through 2017 enhancements to the earned income credit (EIC) in Bush-era and subsequent legislation. The enhancements to the EIC made by Bush-era and subsequent legislation include (not an exhaustive list) a simplified definition of earned income, reform of the relationship test and modification of the tie-breaking rule.

Adoption Credit/Assistance
The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends permanently Bush-era enhancements to the adoption credit and the income exclusion for employer-paid or reimbursed adoption expenses up to $10,000 (indexed for inflation) both for non-special needs adoptions and special needs adoptions. The adoption credit phases out for taxpayers above specified inflation-adjusted levels of modified adjusted gross income. The phase-out level for 2012 started at $189,710. For 2013, the beginning point for phasing out the adoption credit is projected to be $191,530. The limit on the adoption credit is projected to be $12,770 for 2013.

Child and Dependent Care Credit
The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends permanently Bush-era enhancements to the child and dependent care credit. The current 35 percent credit rate is made permanent along with the $3,000 cap on expenses for one qualifying individual and the $6,000 cap on expenses for two or more qualifying individuals. Expenses qualifying for the child and dependent care credit must be reduced by the amount of any dependent care benefits provided by the taxpayer's employer that are excluded from the taxpayer's gross income.

Employer-Provided Child Care Credit
The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends permanently the Bush-era credit for employer-provided child care facilities and services.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act makes permanent or extends a number of enhancements to tax incentives designed to promote education. Many of these enhancements were made in Bush-era legislation, extended by subsequent legislation and were scheduled to expire after 2012. Some enhancements, notably the American Opportunity Tax Credit, were made in President Obama's first term.

American Opportunity Tax Credit
The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is extended through 2017. The AOTC is an enhanced, but temporary, version of the permanent HOPE education tax credit. The AOTC gives qualified taxpayers a tax credit of 100 percent of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses and 25 percent of the next $2,000, for a total maximum credit of $2,500 per eligible student. Additionally, the AOTC applies to the first four years of a student’s post-secondary education. The HOPE credit is less and applies only to the first two years of post-secondary education. 
Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses
The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends until December 31, 2013 the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses. The bill also extends the deduction retroactively for the 2012 tax year.

Student Loan Interest Deduction
The American Taxpayer Relief Act permanently extends suspension of the 60-month rule for the $2,500 above-the-line student loan interest deduction. The American Taxpayer Relief Act also permanently expands the modified adjusted gross income range for phaseout of the deduction and repeals the restriction that makes voluntary payments of interest nondeductible.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts
The American Taxpayer Relief Act permanently extends Bush-era enhancements to Coverdell education savings accounts (Coverdell ESAs). These enhancements include a $2,000 maximum contribution amount and treatment of elementary and secondary school expenses as well as postsecondary expenses as qualified expenditures.

Employer-Provided Education Assistance
The American Taxpayer Relief Act permanently extends the exclusion from income and employment taxes of employer-provided education assistance up to $5,250. The employer may also deduct up to $5,250 annually for qualified education expenses paid on behalf of an employee.

Federal Scholarships
The American Taxpayer Relief Act makes permanent the exclusion from income for the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program and the Armed Forces Scholarship Program.

  1. Teachers' Classroom Expense Deduction. The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends through 2013 the teacher's classroom expense deduction. The deduction, which expired after 2011, allows primary and secondary education professionals to deduct (above-the-line) qualified expenses up to $250 paid out-of-pocket during the year. 
  1. Exclusion of Cancellation of Indebtedness on Principal Residence. Cancellation of indebtedness income is includible in income, unless a particular exclusion applies. This provision excludes from income cancellation of mortgage debt on a principal residence of up $2 million. The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends the provision for one year, through 2013. 
  1. Transit Benefits. The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends parity in transit benefits through December 31, 2013. These benefits are a tax-free fringe benefit to employees. Parity in the exclusion limit expired after 2011. 
  1. Mortgage Insurance Premiums. This provision treats mortgage insurance premiums as deductible interest that is qualified residence interest. The American Taxpayer Relief Act extends this provision through December 31, 2013. The provision originally expired after 2011. 
  1. Contribution of Capital Gains Real Property for Conservation. The Act extends for two years, through December 31, 2013, the special rule for contributions of capital gain real property for conservation purposes. The special rule allows the contribution to be taken against 50 percent of the contribution base. The Act also extends for two years the special rules for contributions by certain corporate farmers and ranchers. 
  1. IRA Distributions to Charity. The American Tax Relief Act extends for two years, through December 31, 2013, the provision allowing tax-free distributions from individual retirement accounts to public charities, by individuals age 701/2 or older, up to a maximum of $100,000 per taxpayer per year.

Obviously, the American Tax Relief Act is significant and impacts all taxpayers, including you. This letter provides some of the highlights. If you would like more information on the impact to your tax liability, please call our office for an appointment at (630) 986-0540. We will be happy to discuss the details of the American Tax Relief Act.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (2012 Taxpayer Relief Act) provides a one-year extension of the exclusion from income for the forgiveness of debt on a principal residence. The exclusion now applies to discharges of qualified principal residence indebtedness occurring on or after January 1, 2007, and before January 1, 2014. During the exclusion period, taxpayers who are caught in the current subprime mortgage crisis do not have to pay taxes for debt forgiveness on their troubled home loans.

Debt forgiveness relief was originally granted to taxpayers through the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, effective for debts discharged after January 1, 2007 and before January 1, 2010. The 2008 Stabilization Act extended this relief to debts discharged before January 1, 2013.

In general, the amount of the forgiveness of debt on a principal residence that is included in income is equal to the difference between the amount of the debt being cancelled and the amount used to satisfy the debt. The tax on this income creates an additional burden to taxpayers already struggling financially. The 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act provides relief from this burden so that taxpayers can recover faster. These rules generally apply to foreclosure or the exchange of an old obligation for a new obligation.

If you have any questions regarding this provision or if you have concerns regarding a home foreclosure, we can answer any questions and discuss your options in greater detail. Please call our office at (630) 986-0540 at your earliest convenience to arrange an appointment.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


In general, if you use your vehicle in pursuit of a trade or business, you are allowed to deduct the ordinary and necessary expenses incurred while operating the vehicle. However, any expenses associated with the personal use of the vehicle are not deductible. For purposes of these deductions, "car" includes a passenger vehicle, van, pickup or panel truck.

Personal vs. business miles. Business use of your car can include traveling from one work location to another work location within your tax home area; visiting customers; attending a business meeting away from the regular workplace; and traveling from home to a temporary workplace if you have one or more regular places of work. The costs of travel between home and a regular place of work, however, are nondeductible commuting expenses.

Standard mileage rate vs. actual cost method. In lieu of proving the actual costs of operating an automobile owned by them, employees and self-employed individuals may compute the deductible costs for their business use of an auto using a standard mileage rate. The 2012 standard mileage rate is 55.5 cents per mile. You may not depreciate your car or deduct lease payments if you use the standard mileage rate method. If you use the actual cost method, you may take deductions for depreciation, lease payments, registration fees, licenses, gas, insurance, oil, repairs, garage rent, tolls, tires and parking fees. Regardless of the method used, if the vehicle is driven for personal as well as business purposes, only expenses or mileage attributable to the percentage of business use are deductible. There are separate considerations involved in leasing a car for business.

Substantiation. If you are using your car for business purposes, whether owned or leased, proper recordkeeping is critical. The recordkeeping requirements vary depending upon which method you use. If you use the standard mileage rate, you should keep a daily log showing the miles traveled, destination and business purpose. Recordkeeping under the actual cost method is somewhat more onerous.  You should also keep a mileage log if you use the actual cost method in order to establish business use percentage. In addition, you must keep receipts, invoices and other documentation to verify expenses. Finally, you must be able to prove the original cost of the vehicle and the date it was placed in service for business use in order to claim depreciation.

Vehicle fringe benefits. The fact that an employer allows an employee to use an employer-provided car for personal purposes generally does not deprive the employer of a vehicle expense deduction. An employer who provides a vehicle to an employee as a fringe benefit may use one of the special valuation rules, rather than the fair market value (FMV) of leasing a comparable car, to calculate the amount of the benefit that is attributable to the employee’s personal use of the car. These special rules include the lease, cents-per-mile, commuting, and fleet-average valuation rules. An employer is not required to use the same valuation rule for all of the vehicles that are provided to employees. However, once a valuation method for a particular vehicle is elected, it must be used for income tax, employment tax, and reporting purposes for all employees who share the vehicle, as well as those who use it in subsequent periods.

Employers must report their employees’ personal use of the car on their W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. They are not required to withhold income taxes on this income, although social security and railroad retirement taxes must be withheld. An election not to withhold income taxes may be made on an employee-by-employee basis. However, affected employees must be notified in writing by the later of January 31st of the applicable year, or 30 days after the day on which the employee receives a car.

An employee with an employer-provided car must substantiate the business use of the car with adequate records or evidence in order to claim a fringe benefit exclusion from income for personal use of the car. An employee who uses a personal car in the performance of services for his or her employer is entitled to deduct the car expenses if the car is used for the convenience of the employer, and is required as a condition of employment. Any unreimbursed employee expenses attributable to such use are deductible only to the extent that they exceed two percent of the employee’s adjusted gross income (AGI).

Whether you are an employer, an employee, or a self-employed individual, we would like to evaluate the business use of your vehicle(s) in order to provide guidance in claiming and substantiating these expenses. Please call us at your earliest convenience to arrange an appointment at (630) 986-0540. We look forward to talking with you soon.