Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • May 12

    I’ve written before about what a good tax planning technique hiring your children can be. (See “Hiring Your Children for the Summer: The Job of Last Resort or Just Good Tax Planning,” Taxing Times, June 2015.) It can be an effective way of shifting income from your high rate to as low as zero percent! It can also be good for the kids. However, as a recent tax court decision demonstrates, it’s important to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

    The case involved Lisa Fisher, a New York attorney, faced with a common dilemma to find summer care for her children, all under the age of nine. So, during the summer, she brought them into her office two or three days a week where they shredded waste, mailed letters, answered phones, greeted clients, and copied documents.

    Fisher took deductions for the $28,770 in wages she paid her kids over a three year period. But, she didn’t keep any payroll files or issue any W-2s. She didn’t keep any records substantiating the work they did or establishing that she paid “reasonable compensation” for the work performed. Nor could she present any documentary evidence, such as cancelled checks or bank statements, to verify that she actually paid them the wages she deducted.

    You know where this is headed. The IRS disallowed the deductions for the children’s wages and imposed an accuracy related penalty. The Tax Court affirmed that decision.

    Bottom line: Hiring your children to work for your business, or rental properties, can be perfectly legal tax planning. But, you have to follow the rules and document everything in order to protect the benefits.

  • Jan 6

    A thoughtful estate plan can make your heirs lives easier. But it is your parents’ estate planning that will make your life easier.

    Not every family has fostered the ability to speak openly in love. But if you have begun that process, here is an outline of what grown children need to know about their parents’ business. In fact, adults of any age should update their estate plan every year.

    And, as a parent, if you are willing to share some of this information with your children—especially if one of them is also the executor of the estate— they’ll appreciate having the facts and be more prepared emotionally when the time comes. They will know your wishes ultimately anyway, and good communication will lessen any surprises ahead of time. They will benefit from knowing the answers to the following questions:

    Do you have enough saved for a comfortable retirement? Many financial planners use a safe withdrawal rate by age to make sure the clients will still have enough money toward the end of their retirement. But, this isn’t always the case, and is worth looking into. If your spending is under this withdrawal rate, you have more than enough and probably can leave a legacy to your heirs. But, if you are over this rate, you may run out of money and have to compromise your standard of living abruptly. It may be uncomfortable, even embarrassing, for parents to share their finances with their children, but grown children often want to know how their parents are doing.

    Where are the important documents? The five documents your children should be able to retrieve quickly are: a will; a living will; a power of attorney; a directory of basic information; and the latest end-of-year financial statements.

    The directory of information should list the assets of your estate, along with the account or policy numbers and contact phone numbers. It also helps to indicate your intentions for the distribution of each asset, which will help confirm you have the correct titling and beneficiary designations on every portion of your estate.

    You may have structured your will to divide your estate equally among your children. But, if you have tried to make it easy for one child to access your bank accounts by adding his or her name, you have overridden your estate plan and left that child joint tenancy with complete rights of survivorship. This can be a problem.

    Titling and beneficiary designations are legal estate planning actions. It’s best to review them with your legal advisor. Various types of assets are best designated differently in the estate plan. This is not the occasion for do-it-yourself thrift. It is a rare family that has compiled and reviewed a complete list of estate assets: bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, real estate holding, life insurance, health savings accounts, and so on.

    Are there any special bequeaths? Any promises you have made should be documented. Your good intentions won’t matter if you aren’t around to implement them. If you have promised money to a charity, and want that obligation kept, document it. If you have promised to loan a child money, document it. If you have promised to help fund your grandchildren’s college education, document it. Without documentation, none of these promises can be kept if you aren’t around to make the decisions.

    Are there plans to remarry? If parents have remarried, intergenerational estate planning is even more critical. Prenuptial agreements and careful estate planning are required in the case of second marriages, to avoid disinherited children or grandchildren from the first marriage. The default is rarely a good option.

    Do you have any prepaid funeral arrangements? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you have any preferences for a memorial service? Although it may seem macabre to plan your own funeral, a memorial service takes time and thought. It will be that much more special and comforting to your family when it is filled with your favorite music and readings. Encourage your children’s interest in your estate planning. Most of the time, their intentions are honorable. They may simply want to understand your values and therefore your wishes.

  • May 12

    “Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” – Arnold Glasgow

    Now’s the best time to get rid of unnecessary paperwork, as well as to ensure that you caught everything for your 2015 tax return.

    But before I get to what to do if you find something pertinent to your recently-filed tax return, here’s a guide for how long to keep your records…

    Taxes: Seven years
    Richard’s Reasons Why:
    There are three, actually:
    1) The IRS has three years from your filing date to audit your return if it suspects good-faith errors.
    2) The three-year deadline also applies if you’d like to make some sort of amendment because you discover a mistake in your return and can claim a refund.
    3) The IRS has six years to challenge your return if it thinks you underreported your gross income.
    All this adds up to keeping that info for seven years. Beyond that, there’s no reason — except for posterity.

    IRA contribution records: Permanently
    Richard’s Reason Why:
    You’ll need to be able to prove that you already paid tax on this money when the time comes to withdraw.

    Bank records: Usually just one year
    Richard’s Reason Why:
    Those related to your taxes, business expenses, home improvements and mortgage payments will obviously need to be included for next year’s taxes. But, unless there is some sort of emotional or posterity reason, get rid of everything after one year.
    Brokerage statements: Until you sell
    Richard’s Reason Why:
    To prove whether or not you have a capital gain or loss for tax purposes; after this point, shred it.

    Household bills: From one year to permanently
    Richard’s Reason Why:
    When the canceled check from a paid bill has been returned, you can shred the bill with a clear conscience. However, bills for big purchases — such as jewelry, rugs, appliances, antiques, cars, collectibles, furniture, computers, etc. — should be kept in an insurance file for proof of their value in the event of loss or damage.

    Credit card receipts and statements: 45 days/Seven years
    Richard’s Reasons Why:
    Some families don’t even bother to match up their statements, but if you do so, shred the receipts once you’ve verified everything. There’s no reason to keep everyday receipts – unless they support a deduction — beyond this point. For tax-related purchases, you need only keep the statements (and receipts supporting tax deductions) for seven years — after that, shred it, baby!

    Paycheck stubs: One year
    Richard’s Reason Why:
    This is to verify that when you receive your annual W-2 form from your employer, the information from your stubs match. If so, shred all of the stubs … if not, request a corrected form, known as a W-2c. After that’s been handled — shred.

    House/condominium records: Six years/permanently
    Richard’s Reasons Why:
    You’ll want to keep all records documenting the purchase price and the cost of permanent improvements — such as remodeling, additions and installations, as well as records of expenses incurred in selling and buying the property, such as legal fees and your real estate agent’s commission, for six years after you sell your home.

    Holding on to these records is important because any improvements you make on your house, as well as expenses in selling it, are added to the original purchase price or cost basis. Therefore, you lower your capital gains tax when you sell your house.
    Now, in this cleansing process, sometimes you’ll find a receipt or documentation which really would have changed your prior year tax return. That’s when you might have us file an “Amended Return”. However, this decision should be balanced against the cost of doing so, as well as the expected benefit — often these items can be dealt with the following year.
    But here are some other, common reasons to amend…

    * You neglected to report some income earned.
    * You claimed deductions or credits you should not have claimed.
    * You did not claim deductions or credits you could have claimed.
    * You filed under one filing status, but you should have filed under another.

    If you find something like this, let us help you.

    Regardless, let this be a cleansing process for you, and sleep easy knowing you’ve handled this stuff properly.

    Oh, and make sure you use a good shredder!

  • Feb 19

    Like Bama’s win over Clemson – you expected it to happen, but they waited until the last minute to make it happen – Congress has once again extended the “extenders”- a varied assortment of more than 50 individual and business tax deductions, tax credits, and other tax saving laws which have been on the books for years, but which technically are temporary because they have a specific end date. This package of tax breaks has repeatedly been temporarily extended for short periods of time (e.g., one or two years), which is why they are referred to as “extenders.”

    Most of the tax breaks expired at the end of 2014. Now, in legislation passed just before the Congressional Christmas break, the extenders have been revived and extended once again, but this time Congress has taken a new tack. Instead of just rolling the package of provisions over for a year or two, it actually made some of the provisions permanent and extended the remaining provisions for either two or five years, while making significant modifications to several of the provisions.

    Key tax breaks for individuals that were made permanent by the new law include:

    • Tax credits for low to middle income earners that were originally enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and were slated to expire at the end of 2017: (1) the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides up to $2,500 in partially refundable tax credits for post secondary education, (2) eased rules for qualifying for the refundable child credit, and (3) various earned income tax credit (EITC) changes;
    • the $250 above-the-line deduction for teachers and other school professionals for expenses paid or incurred for books, certain supplies, equipment, and supplementary material used by the educator in the classroom; also modified, beginning in 2016, to index the $250 to inflation and include professional development expenses;
    • parity for the exclusions for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits;
    • the option to take an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes instead of the itemized deduction permitted for state and local income taxes;
    • increased contribution limits and carry forward period for contributions of appreciated real property (including partial interests in real property) for conservation purposes; the new law also extends the enhanced deduction for certain farmers and ranchers; and,
    • the provision that permits tax-free distributions to charity from an individual retirement account (IRA) of up to $100,000 per taxpayer per tax year, by taxpayers age 70 ½ or older.

    Key tax breaks for individuals that were extended by the new law include:

    • the exclusion of up to $2 million ($1 million if married filing separately) of discharged principal residence indebtedness from gross income; extended through 2016; the new law also modifies the exclusion to apply to qualified principal residence indebtedness that is discharged in 2017, if the discharge is pursuant to a binding written agreement entered into in 2016;
    • the credit for energy-efficient improvements to principal residence extended through 2016;
    • the deduction for mortgage insurance premiums deductible as qualified residence interest; extended through 2016; and
    • the $4,000 above the line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses; extended through 2016.

    Key tax breaks affecting businesses that were extended by the new law include:

    • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit was extended through 2019; the new law also modifies the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers who hire qualified long-term unemployed individuals (i.e., those who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more) and increases the credit with respect to such long-term unemployed individuals to 50% of the first $6,000 of wages;
    • 15 year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements were made permanent;
    • 50% bonus depreciation was extended for property placed in service during 2015 through 2019; the 50% rate is phased down to 40% for property placed in service during 2018 and 30% for property placed in service during 2019;
    • previously increased first-year depreciation cap on trucks and vans not weighing over 6,000 lbs. has been extended through 2017; the increased first year depreciation is lowered for 2018 and 2019 and disappears in 2020; and
    • increase in Section 179 elective business expensing (up to $500,000 annual write-off of eligible business property costs that is phased out as those cost exceed $2 million for the year) is made permanent; also made permanent is the allowance of expensing for computer software and qualified real property.

    Caution: This article contains a general overview of selected tax provisions contained in the PATH Act and does not address all tax provisions contained in the Act. Tax law is constantly changing due to new legislation, cases, regulations, and IRS rulings. Please contact us if you’re interested in a tax topic that is not discussed in this article.

  • Oct 15

    It didn’t take long for her business to fold.

    She was 22 years old, passionate, excited and a first time business owner.

    Why was she forced to close the doors?

    Not the reason you might expect: lack of sales.

    She went out of business because she didn’t keep good records. Records for taxes, budgeting, and cash flow.

    Depending on your personal experience, it may or may not surprise you that poor recordkeeping is one of the top reasons for business failure.

    Taking care of billing, tracking your expenses, taxes, and other financial housekeeping can seem overwhelming, stressful, or just plain boring for new business owners.

    Even for those who’ve been in business a while it is often one of their least favorite things to do. So it’s easy to coast along thinking everything is hunky dory – that’s a technical term – until WHAM! All of a sudden you discover sales are down by 20 percent and expenses are up by 15.

    Getting and keeping your financial house in order makes things not only less stressful, but can help ensure that you don’t overspend and that you have enough money for your savings, investments and retirement.

    Here are five tips for getting your financial house in order.

     

    1. Get some advice. I know, I know, it sounds self serving but, if you’ve never been in business for yourself, or if you struggle with managing your finances, get some advice. It could be the smartest investment you make in your business, and one that could prove crucial to your survival.
    2. Create a budget. Yes, I know it’s not exciting or sexy. You want to get out there and sell, do, or make whatever you started your business to do. But, IT IS NECESSARY! Be very conservative. Plan for the worst case scenario, not the best.
    3. Track everything. Keeping track of income, expenses, invoices, past due customers, estimated taxes, payroll, etc. can feel daunting at times; however, not doing it can lead to financial ruin or legal hot water. There are plenty of financial tools out there. The QuickBooks you’re already using can be used as a dashboard if you keep it up to date.
    4. Put aside money with every deposit. Put aside a portion of every deposit you make for savings, taxes, and charitable contributions. There are more reasons than I have room to address for why you should save for a rainy day. Included are some real psychological benefits for doing so.
    5. Plan for your retirement. When you are a small business owner, there is no one else to fund your retirement. Even if you’re 22 years old and passionate when you start, that’s not necessarily going to provide you retirement funds when you’re 72. Setting up a retirement plan can also shelter some of your business profits. Start with an IRA then graduate to a SIMPLE plan or Keogh.

     

    Integrate these tips into your business and you’ll find it easier to get and keep your financial house in order; therefore making your business less stressful.

  • Jul 10

    Many business taxpayers overlook legitimate business deductions, resulting in an overstatement of their tax liability. Some of the more commonly missed deductions include business expenses paid out of personal funds, expenses related to a home office, and the use of personal telecommunication devices for business purposes.

    General Business Expenses
    Generally, a deduction is allowed for all ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business. Business owners who use their personal funds for business expenses, such as office supplies, often fail to deduct this as a qualifying expense.

    A trade or business expense is deductible as such only if it is “ordinary and necessary.” An “ordinary” expense is generally one that is normal, customary, or usual for a business under the facts and circumstances of the situation. A “necessary” expense is one that is appropriate and helpful for the trade or business. A final requirement is that this expense must be reasonable.

    One of the more commonly overlooked general business expenses is the business use of personal telephones, cellular telephones, and Internet connections. If you carefully document how much these devices are used for personal and business use, the business portion may be deductible.

    Home Office Deductions
    If you use part of your home as a home office, you may be entitled to deduct expenses related to your home office based on the square footage the home-office occupies. Related expenses include mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, insurance, and repairs.

    To qualify for the deduction, the portion of the home that is used for the home office must be used regularly and exclusively as your principal place of business. To be your principal place of business your home office should be the place where, in the normal course of business, you meet with patients, clients, or customers.

    Meals and Entertainment Expenses
    Business owners will frequently use their personal funds to pay for meals and entertainment expenses. These expenses qualify as a business deduction, subject to certain limitations. To be deductible as business expenses, entertainment expenses must have a proximate relation to your trade or business and be reasonably expected to benefit the trade or business.

    Deductions for business meal expenses are subject to the same business connection requirements as entertainment expenses. However, the deduction will be denied if the meals are lavish or extravagant or if you or an employee are not present when the food or beverage is served. The deduction is allowable when the customer’s spouse, your spouse or both are present at the meals, provided the general conditions for deductibility are otherwise present. The cost of entertaining business associates and customers at home is also deductible. However, in the case of business meal entertaining at home, you must be able to clearly show that the expenditure was commercially rather than socially motivated.

    Substantiation
    Regardless of the type of cost you are trying to deduct as a business expense, you must be able to substantiate each expense and how it relates to your trade or business. The importance of keeping accurate and appropriate records cannot be over emphasized.

  • Jun 5

    Bryan Martin had always dreamed of owning his own business, but, according to a Time.com article, it wasn’t until insurance giant Zurich shuttered their regional Indianapolis office where he worked that he decided to strike out on his own.

    “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” the article quoted Martin, who had just turned 51 and has a wife and 13-year old twins. “Right now, I’m just worried about financially making all this work.”

    Are you out there with Martin? Has the rising unemployment rate sent you into the entrepreneur minefield? Are you crawling along like a soldier, poking the ground with a stick, trying to find, identify, and avoid the tax mines just to pay your mortgage and put food on the table? A growing number of the nation’s jobless are doing just that.

    But as the ranks of brand new entrepreneurs swells so is the likelihood of errors and even, dare I say it—IRS audits! The IRS audits individual returns with Schedule C income at twice the rate of those without. Since the IRS’ Tax Gap analysis identifies underreporting of business income as a $109 billion problem, accounting for more than half of the total underreporting by individuals, the chances of those audits increasing are pretty good.

    Many new entrepreneurs, strapped for cash, try to cut corners and make the rookie mistake of forgoing the use of accountants and attorneys and picking up TurboTax® to handle their taxes on their own.

    The Internal Revenue Code is fraught with obstacles and the wide-eyed rookie is unlikely to recognize the danger signs. “My neighbor told me I could do this,” won’t stand up against the glare of an IRS examiner. Many budding business owners hear about the generous tax benefits for business expenses from travel and entertainment to the holy grail of tax deductions, the home office. But most have no clue what is allowed and what will send up a red flag. There are many misconceptions about the tax laws and the wrong decision can turn dreams into nightmares.

    The sheer magnitude of available tax breaks causes problems for many rookies. When you’re a self-employed small business owner, nearly everything looks like it should be deductible. After all, many feel they don’t do anything that isn’t business related.

    But the pearly-gate vision of deducting everything leads many an entrepreneur to forget the rules of mine clearing and wander off course into profit-bleeding blunders. Some of the most common mistakes include poor record-keeping, questionable tax deductions, putting expenses on the wrong tax form or line and failing to pay quarterly estimates to Uncle Sam.

    It’s critical that businesses maintain books, records, separate bank accounts and credit cards from their owners. In the event of an audit, people often lose, not because they were trying to get by with something, but because of poor records. When a taxpayer can’t produce records to match the tax return, the auditor smells blood. They have spotted a weakened wildebeest separated from the herd and they are going in for the kill.

    Make no mistake, it will be painful.

    But it doesn’t have to happen. With the proper records and the right advisor you can successfully chart a course across the tax minefield and come out unscathed.

    If you’ve entered the minefield, or are thinking of entering it, remember, our experience can help you identify the obstacles, spot the dangers and chart a successful crossing.

  • Oct 31

    Being self-employed has several advantages: you control your own destiny, you take the risk – and reap the rewards, and you set your own work schedule. One disadvantage that many despise is having their business tax burdens placed solely on them. So let’s look at a few ways to help ease that burden:

     

    • You will make the time to organize and record your business activity in a systematic fashion throughout the year. Don’t wait till the last minute to gather your business documents (including income and expenses). A sure fire way to create stress at the end of the year, or at the tax-filing deadline, is to put-off gathering all the information for someone to prepare your business and personal returns until the last minute. Waiting until the last minute makes it easy to leave out or overlook pertinent information that could potentially help save you money.
    • You will review your gross income and expenses to-date on a regular basis. If you failed to follow the first commandment, then estimate your income using last year’s income as a baseline and adjust up or down accordingly. When estimating expenses don’t forget business meals and entertainment, gifts, equipment, supplies, taxes, licenses, etc. Also, make a separate folder to retain documentation of your home office expenses which may include utilities, rent or mortgage interest paid, insurance, etc. These documents will come in handy when deciding if you should make quarterly tax estimates.
    • You will set aside money to cover your tax obligations. Self-Employed individuals often ask, “How much should I set aside for taxes?” Each tax situation is different, but as a rule-of-thumb we suggest setting aside approximately 30% of your income to cover federal, state, and self-employment taxes. The best way to do this is to create a separate bank account and deposit the money for taxes in this account. This can be used as a safe guard; out of sight, out of mind.

     

    The keys to easing this tax burden are good record keeping, staying organized, and periodically setting some time aside throughout the year for tax planning. Remember, we are always here to help answer any of your tax planning questions.

  • May 30

    Too often natural disasters strike and serve as reminders that it’s important for both individuals and businesses to protect themselves against the potential financial consequences of such events. A few smart steps we recommend include making electronic backups of important records, including your insurance policies, tax returns, bank and credit card account information, and vital records. It is critical that you store this backup at a separate location that will be easy to access if your area suffers damage. You should also take the time to take pictures or videos of your home or business and store them separately, in case you need to make an insurance claim.

    If you run a business, you must consider how you will get up and running again after a disaster. It’s a good idea to develop contingency plans that will enable employees to work from home or elsewhere if your location is damaged or inaccessible. Both businesses and families should consider using phone trees, or other methods, to maintain contact in an emergency. Review your contact and contingency plans every year to be sure they are up to date.

  • Jan 24

    Approximately 3.4 million taxpayers claimed the home office deduction in 2010. Would you believe the IRS just made it easier? I know – hard to believe, but they did. This year the IRS has issued a simplified method of deducting the home office. Of course you still have to meet the same home office requirements that have always been in place, regular and exclusive use as your main office, but it’s now easier with less paperwork and little time spent on record-keeping.

    The simplified method allows you to deduct five dollars per square foot of your home office up to a maximum of 300 square feet. However, the home office deduction cannot exceed your business income. The new simplified method allows you to deduct the home office without keeping track of all your utilities, maintenance and other expenses. And don’t fret, you could still deduct the mortgage interest paid, real estate taxes, and casualty losses on Schedule A as an itemized deduction.

    There are, however, some disadvantages to using the simplified method versus the actual expense method. You should know that under the simplified method you are forfeiting any previous home office deduction carryforwards and the ability to carry forward any excess deduction to a future year. Also, the simplified method does not take into consideration depreciation for your home office. With the actual expense method you can apply previous year carryforwards (limited to business income), carry the excess deduction to future years, and calculate depreciation on your home office.

    Afraid of making a mistake? No need to worry, the decision is not permanent. If you choose the simplified method and then believe it wasn’t the best decision for you, next year you can change the home office deduction method back to the actual expense method. Just know that after you file your return, the IRS will not allow you to amend your return to reflect the change in the method of the home office deduction. So, let us help you to decide if the simplified or the actual method for the home office deduction is best for you in your situation.