Be aware of 2016 payroll rates

The Social Security Administration announced the 2016 wage base for computing the amount of payroll tax will be $118,500, the same as 2015. The wage base is the maximum amount of wages subject to the social security portion of the payroll tax you may know as “FICA.” The total FICA rate is composed of two parts and the rates for both remain the same for 2016. The social security tax portion is 6.2% of an employee’s wages on amounts up to $118,500. The basic Medicare portion is 1.45% of an employee’s wages, no matter the amount. Note that employers must also withhold an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages over $200,000.

Give a gift that will last a lifetime

Financial gifts can bestow benefits for many years to come. Here are options to consider.

  • Fund an IRA. Give your children or grandchildren an early start on a comfortable retirement. For 2015, you can contribute the lower of $5,500 or the earned income of the child to an IRA.
  • Fund a 529 education account. Contributions to a Section 529 college savings plan grow tax-free and withdrawals are tax-free when used to pay qualified education expenses of the account beneficiary.
  • Fund a Coverdell education savings account. You can contribute up to $2,000 annually to a Coverdell. These IRA-like accounts grow tax-free, though the total amount of your gift may be limited, depending on your income.
  • Fund a custodial account. Want to encourage an interest in saving and investing? Buy shares in a mutual fund and combine the gift with a book on investing. Your child can watch the investment grow over time and enjoy dividend payouts too. Modest amounts of investment income can be tax-free to children, although the kiddie tax may apply at higher levels.

Call us to review the tax issues related to these financial gifts.

Take time to review the health of your business

As an owner and/or manager, you probably spend a lot of time monitoring business operations and dealing with everyday problems. But a longer-term approach is also useful. Just as an annual checkup from your physician helps monitor and manage your personal health, an annual checkup can do the same for your business.

Here are tips to get started.

1. Insurance coverage. Instead of automatically writing a check to renew insurance policies when they come due, sit down with your agent. Review your business operations, focusing on any changes. Discuss types of risk that could arise. Ask about new developments in business insurance. Use your agent’s expertise to identify risk areas and suggest suitable coverage.

2. Tax strategy. Consider adjusting taxable earnings for the year, perhaps by accelerating expenses or delaying income at year-end. If your business reports on the cash basis, you could boost 2015 deductions by declaring and paying bonuses in December rather than in early January. Deferred invoicing or early purchases can also reduce your 2015 tax bill.

3. Customer survey. Track customer satisfaction with an online survey. Focus on questions that reveal how well your company performs in areas such as prompt service, staff responsiveness, and understanding of customers’ problems. Ask your customers for insight on potential new products or services, and let them know how much you value their business.

4. Marketing review. Are your current methods and channels working well, or are you simply doing what you’ve always done?

5. Succession planning. Do you have a specific plan for each key managerial position, including yourself? Are you prepared for a short-term absence or a permanent vacancy? Your plan might point out the necessity of promoting from within or recruiting externally.

6. Banking relationships. Meet with your banker. Ask about new products or services that could help your company. Address service concerns or problems that occurred during the year. Look for ways to reduce idle cash, boost interest earned, and improve cash flows.

An annual business checkup can help you evaluate current performance, better manage and execute future operations, and provide a plan for keeping your business on track. If you need assistance, give us a call.

Do you know who you’re giving to?

Many charities use your donations wisely. Unfortunately, others spend too much of your contribution on fundraising and administrative expenses. Some even misrepresent themselves and solicit your money for phony causes. In today’s world, investigating a charity before you make a donation is wise. Here’s a checklist of precautions.

  • Request written documentation about the charity’s mission and how your contribution will be spent. Ask for proof that your donation is tax deductible. If a charity is reluctant to provide information, think twice about making a gift.
  • When you receive a phone solicitation, the caller must provide his or her name, the name of the person or entity on whose behalf the call is being made, and a telephone number or address at which that person or entity can be contacted. If a caller refuses to give you this information, hang up. Report the call to local authorities to help protect others.
  • Be wary about giving your credit card number over the phone. Instead, consider mailing your contribution once you’ve verified that the charity is legitimate and that it represents a cause you’d like to support.
  • Just because an organization gives you a receipt for your records doesn’t mean the organization is tax-exempt or that your contribution is tax-deductible. To find out if an organization is exempt from federal income tax and how much of your contributions to it are tax deductible, visit the IRS website at https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos.

Asking the right questions and obtaining information from and about a charity is the only way you can be sure your contribution will be used to benefit the causes and people you want to support. If we can help you sort the legitimate from the fake, give us a call.

Some tax benefits will increase in 2016

Each year, the IRS announces inflation adjustments for more than 50 tax provisions. Knowing these numbers can help with your year-end tax planning. Changes for 2016 (for the tax returns you’ll file in early 2017) include an increased standard deduction when you file as head of household ($9,300 for 2016). The standard deduction amounts remain the same as they were for 2015 when you’re single or married filing separate ($6,300), or married filing jointly ($12,600). Please call us about other inflation adjustments.

Make use of your 2015 gift tax exclusion

This year you can give up to $14,000 to as many individuals as you want without any gift tax liability. If you’re married and your spouse joins in the gift, you can, as a couple, elect to give $28,000 to each person with no gift tax liability. Once December 31, 2015, has come and gone, your 2015 gift tax exclusion is also gone. If you plan to make gifts this year, remember that your gifts must be completed by then.

Need money to pay bills? Raiding your 401(k) is not a good idea

When you’re short of cash, raiding your 401(k) plan may seem like a good idea. Here are two reasons why it isn’t.

Penalties and taxes. If you’re not at least 59½ years old, you’ll be hit with a 10% penalty for early withdrawals except in certain limited cases, and the money you withdraw will be taxed at your regular tax rate.

Lost opportunity. If your 401(k) earns an annual return of 5% over the next 30 years, an account with a balance of $50,000 could grow to over $215,000. A withdrawal taken and spent today will cost you that growth.

Bottom line: If possible, find other ways to pay your bills, even if that means contributing less to your 401(k) in the short term. While it’s wise to match funds your company provides, you might consider temporarily reducing contributions that exceed the matching amount.

What about loans? A 401(k) loan also has drawbacks. Again, money that’s not in your account won’t grow. In addition, if you lose your job, you’ll have to repay the outstanding loan balance or face tax penalties.

If you need assistance with financial issues, give us a call.

2016 health care enrollment begins November 1

The health insurance Marketplace (www.healthcare.gov) “open enrollment period” began November 1 for 2016 individual health insurance coverage. Open enrollment is the annual period of time during which health insurance companies must accept your application regardless of your health history. Once open enrollment is over – January 31, 2016, for 2016 policies – you can only get coverage if you have circumstances that allow you to qualify for a special enrollment period.

Avoid underpayment penalties

Check the total taxes you’ve already paid in for the year through withholding from your wages and/or quarterly estimated payments. Are you underpaid? Consider adjusting your withholding for the final months of 2015 or increasing your remaining quarterly estimate. If you employ household workers, include the payroll taxes you’ll owe for them in your calculations. Call us for assistance.

Breakeven analysis helps with business choices

Breakeven analysis is an important and useful tool in business. Whether you’re starting a new business, expanding current operations, contemplating an acquisition, downsizing, or approaching banks and other potential lenders, you’ll want to know your breakeven.

Breakeven is defined as the point at which costs equal income – no profit, no loss. It’s an excellent starting point for finding out where your business is and where it can go. Breakeven is the first step in planning future growth. It shows how much sales volume you need to cover fixed and variable expenses. Once your company has reached breakeven, all gross profit beyond that point goes directly to improving the bottom line.

Of course, breakeven analysis has limitations. For example, it ignores the importance of cash flow and makes the assumption that fixed and variable expenses will stay within the parameters used to calculate the breakeven point. Despite these shortcomings, breakeven can help with business planning.

Here’s how to calculate your business’s breakeven.

First, review your annual financial statement to learn your fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses are those that don’t generally vary in relation to sales volume. Rent, for example, usually stays constant no matter the amount of your sales. The same is typically true for depreciation, utilities, and insurance.

Variable expenses are the cost of goods sold and other costs of sales, such as direct labor and sales commissions.

What about costs that are part fixed and part variable? Split these into separate categories based on your knowledge of your business.