Three positive steps to financial well-being

While you’re gathering information to prepare your 2015 tax return, set aside time for a financial review. Here are steps to get started.

  • Compile a year-end list of your assets and debts and compare the list to last year. Are you gaining or losing ground? What actions can you take to improve your financial situation in 2016?
  • Review your insurance. Do you have disability insurance to replace take-home pay if you become incapacitated? What about life insurance – will the benefit provide enough cash to pay your family’s expenses in the event something happens to you or your spouse? Is your home protected with replacement value property insurance? What about insurance for automobile accidents or lawsuits?
  • Update your will and estate plan. What changed during 2015? Did you marry? Divorce? Have a child? Move to a new state? Receive an inheritance? All of these events can affect your planning. This year, you can leave up to $5,450,000 to your heirs with no federal estate tax liability. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore estate planning, which includes expressing your wishes for who will make decisions for you in times of emergencies as well as who will receive your assets.

For more suggestions, call us. We’re here to help.

Three tips to start the tax filing season

  • Check whether your children need to file a 2015 tax return. They’ll need to file if wages exceeded $6,300, self-employment income was over $400, or investment income exceeded $1,050. When income includes both wages and investment income, other thresholds apply.
  • Consider whether you’ll contribute to a Roth or traditional IRA. Since you have until April 18 to make a 2015 contribution (April 19 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts), you can schedule an amount to set aside from each paycheck for the next few months. The maximum contribution for 2015 is the lesser of your earned income for the year or $5,500 ($6,500 when you’re age 50 or older). Be sure to tell your bank or other trustee that these 2016 contributions are for 2015 until you reach the 2015 limit. You can then deduct these 2016 amounts on your 2015 tax return for a quicker tax benefit.
  • Do you need to file a gift tax return? For 2015, you may need to file a return if you gave gifts totaling more than $14,000 to someone other than your spouse. Some gifts, such as direct payments of medical bills or tuition, are not subject to gift tax. Gift tax returns are due at the same time as your federal income tax return.

Call us for more tips on getting ready for filing your 2015 income taxes.

Tax breaks extended retroactively; some are permanent

In mid-December, Congress renewed a long list of tax breaks known as “extenders” that have been expiring on an annual basis. This year many of the rules are retroactive to the beginning of 2015. You may be able to benefit from some of them as you prepare your 2015 federal income tax return.

In addition, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, which was signed into law on December 18, 2015, makes some of the rules effective through December 31, 2016. Others are effective through 2019, and some are effective permanently. Provisions in the Act also make changes to existing tax rules that were not part of the extenders. All of these changes will affect your tax planning for 2016 and future years.

Here’s an overview of selected provisions.

  • The rule allowing tax-free distributions from IRAs to charities is now permanent. When you’re age 70½ and over, this break lets you make a qualified distribution of up to $100,000 from your IRA to a charity.
  • If you or a family member is an eligible student, you may be able to claim a tuition and fees above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education expenses for 2015 and 2016.
  • The deduction for up to $250 of out-of-pocket educator expenses is now permanent. It will be indexed for inflation beginning with 2016 tax returns. You claim this deduction “above the line,” meaning it’s available even if you don’t itemize.
  • The optional itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of deducting state and local income taxes is now permanent.
  • The maximum Section 179 deduction for qualified business property, including off-the-shelf software, is now permanently set at $500,000 (subject to a taxable income limitation). The deduction is phased out above a $2,000,000 threshold.
  • The additional first-year depreciation deduction, known as “bonus depreciation,” is generally extended through 2019 when you buy qualified business property. You can claim this deduction in conjunction with Section 179.

Please call for additional information about the new law.

New rules relax ABLE account requirements

Are you planning to set up an “Achieve a Better Life Experience” (ABLE) account? A recent IRS notice and changes enacted in a tax law passed in December 2015 can help ease the administrative requirements. ABLE accounts are tax-advantaged accounts designed to help you build savings to care for yourself or a loved one with disabilities while maintaining eligibility for benefit programs such as Medicaid. Generally, you’ll qualify for an ABLE account if your disability occurred before age 26.

Call us for details about the latest changes.