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Tax savings ideas for 2017

FINANCIAL BRIEFS

17 Midyear Tax Moves You Still Can Make In '17

Trump has provided an outline for tax reform, but nothing has happened yet. In the meantime, take advantage of tax breaks currently on the books, including these 17 items:

1. Capital losses: If you realized capital gains from securities sales earlier this year, you can start harvesting losses. Your losses will go to offset capital gains you realize in 2017 plus up to $3,000 of highly taxed ordinary income.

2. Capital gains: Long-term capital gains that aren't offset by losses will be taxed at a maximum rate of only 15% (20% if you're in the top ordinary income tax bracket). But some upper-income investors also may owe a 3.8% tax on investment income.

3. 401(k) contributions: Reduce your tax liability by boosting contributions to a 401(k) plan. For 2017, the maximum deferral is $18,000 ($24,000 if age 50 or over). Not only do you avoid tax on the contributions, the money in your account compounds on a tax-deferred basis.

4. Roth conversions: This may be a good time to convert funds in a traditional IRA to a Roth. Future Roth IRA distributions are tax-free if they meet certain conditions. And though you'll owe income tax on the amount you convert, transferring the funds over several years could reduce the overall tax bite.

5. Higher education: Is your child going to college in the fall? Generally, you can claim one of two higher education tax credits, subject to phaseouts based on income. A tuition deduction, also off-limits to most high-income families, expired after 2016 but could be revived.

6. Monetary gifts: If you give money to charities this year—by check, credit card, or online—the donation generally is deductible in 2017. But you must observe strict record keeping requirements for charitable gifts of $250 or more.

7. Wash sales: If you acquire substantially identical securities within 30 days of taking a loss on a sale, you can't deduct the loss. Avoid this "wash sale" rule by waiting at least 31 days to buy back the same securities—or you might buy the securities first and wait at least 31 days before selling the original shares.

8. Dividend-paying stocks: Most stock dividends are taxed at the same preferential tax rates as long-term capital gains. To qualify for this tax break, you must hold the shares for at least 61 days.

9. Installment sales: Generally, you can defer tax on the sale of real estate or other property if you receive payments over two years or longer. Besides stretching out tax payments, you might reduce the effective tax rate if you stay below the thresholds for higher capital gains rates and the 3.8% tax.

10. Hiring your child: Does your child need a summer job? If you hire the child to work at your business, the wages are deductible by the business and taxable to your child at his or her low tax rate.

11. Qualified small business stock: If you invest in qualified small business stock (QSBS) of a fledgling company (perhaps your own) and hold it for at least five years before selling it, you can exclude 100% of any gain.

12. Vacation homes: When you rent out your vacation home, you can write off specified rental activity costs, plus depreciation, but be careful: If your personal use of the rental home exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days the home is rented out, deductions are limited to the amount of your rental income.

13. Dependency exemptions: Generally, you can claim a $4,050 dependency exemption for a child graduating from college this spring if you provide more than 50% of the child's annual support. Figure out the amount needed to clear the half-support mark.

14. Charitable gifts of property:Give furniture and clothing in good condition to charity. You normally can deduct the fair market value of property donated to a qualified organization, within certain limits.

15. Dependent care credit: If you pay expenses for the care of your under-age-13 child this year while you (and your spouse, if married) work, you may qualify for the dependent care credit. Note that the cost of summer day camp qualifies, but not overnight camp.

16. Like-kind exchanges: If you swap investment or business real estate you own for like-kind property, the exchange is tax-free, except to the extent you receive any "boot" (e.g., additional money) in the deal. Caution: The IRS imposes timing requirements for this tax break.

17. Estimated taxes: Check to see if you're withholding enough income tax from your paychecks. Make necessary adjustments to avoid owing an "estimated tax penalty" in 2017.

 

This article adapted from an article written by a professional financial journalist for Erickson Financial Solutions, LLC and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

© 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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Inherited IRA

FINANCIAL BRIEFS

When To Disclaim An Inherited IRA

Should you ever pass up a chance to get more money? It depends. Suppose you're in line to inherit IRA assets. When it makes sense, you might use a "qualified disclaimer" so that the assets bypass you on the way to someone else.

A disclaimer is a legal document that lets you waive your right to receive money or property from an estate. If you execute a disclaimer, it's as if you never inherited the assets. Instead, they go directly to the next people in line to receive them. In the case of an IRA, the assets typically wind up with the account's contingent beneficiaries.

Why would you do this? There are two main reasons:

1. Assuming you don't need the money, you might prefer that the assets go directly to the younger generation, usually your own kids or grandkids. You were going to give the assets to them eventually anyway, right? A disclaimer shortens the process while lengthening the time over which the beneficiaries must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from the account. RMDs are based on the life expectancies of the beneficiaries, so the younger they are, the longer the wealth can be preserved.

2. A disclaimer may reduce a family's overall tax liability. The RMDs from IRAs generally are taxed at ordinary income rates, which go as high as 39.6%. Younger children and grandchildren are likely to pay tax at a much lower rate.

For a disclaimer to work, it has to be an irrevocable, unqualified refusal to accept property, and it must meet the following requirements:

  • It must be in writing with a declaration and signature of the person who is making the disclaimer.
  • It must identify the property (or the partial interest in the property) that is being disclaimed.
  • It must be delivered to the party or entity responsible for transferring the assets (for example, an IRA custodian or trustee).
  • The disclaimer has to be executed less than nine months after the property was transferred (or within nine months of when the disclaiming person reaches age 21, if that's sooner).
  • As a result of the disclaimer, the assets must pass to the new recipients without any direction from the person making the disclaimer. You can't decide to give the money to someone other than the legal beneficiaries next in line.

 

This process can be technically complicated, so you'll need to work with an attorney to provide the proper language for a disclaimer, which must take into account whatever is required under state law. Also, take great care in completing any beneficiary designation forms furnished by an institution.

 

This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Erickson Financial Solutions, LLC Columbia, Missouri and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

© 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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Best Social Security Benefits

Time Your Social Security Benefits For Top Results

What's the payoff for working most of your life and paying Social Security tax into the system? When your time to retire finally comes, you'll be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your work history and when you choose to begin receiving benefits. If you're married, you may have additional options for Social Security, even if one spouse has worked little or not at all.

A particular couple's optimal strategy depends on your age, the age of your spouse, and your health status, among other factors.

Your basic options for receiving benefits are to start early, begin benefits at your full retirement age (FRA), or to delay benefits until later.

  • You can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but if you do, you'll lock in smaller benefits than you would have gotten if you'd waited longer. If you retire at age 62, your benefit will be about 25% lower than if you waited until FRA.
  • If you wait until FRA (also called "normal retirement age") to apply for benefits, there's no reduction. Your FRA depends on the year in which you were born. For most post-World War II Baby Boomers, the age is 66. However, FRA increases gradually and tops out at age 67 for those born after 1960.
  • Finally, if you postpone your benefits until after FRA, you'll receive an increased monthly payment. For each year you wait, you'll get about 8% more, until you reach age 70. (Waiting past 70 doesn't increase your benefit amount.)

 

These basic rules apply to individuals. If you're married, you can claim benefits based on your own work record or you can get 50% of the benefit your spouse is entitled to, if that's higher.

Because Social Security benefits are guaranteed for life, starting early with a smaller benefit still could deliver significant income over your remaining years. Yet you may collect more overall if you start later or if you live for a long time. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) the average life expectancy of someone at age 65 is now 84.3 years for a male and 86.6 years for a female.

What should a married couple do? Every situation is somewhat different, but consider these three common scenarios:

Scenario 1. Adam and Eve are close in age and income. Because they're both in good health and enjoy their jobs, they plan on working past FRA. They also have enough savings, plus their work income, to sustain them easily until age 70. Currently, Adam has a life expectancy of age 88, while Eve's is age 90. If they elect early benefits at age 62, they would be entitled to an estimated lifetime benefit of almost $1.25 million. But if they wait until age 70 to apply for benefits and then live as long as expected, they could receive close to $125,000 more.

Scenario 2. In our next example, Romeo and Juliet have shorter life expectancies due to health issues. Currently, Romeo has a life expectancy of age 78 and Juliet has a life expectancy of age 76. If they claim benefits at FRA, it's estimated that the couple will receive almost $100,000 more than if they delayed benefits until age 70, based on their life expectancies.

Scenario 3. Jack and Jill are both in their early sixties. Jill is in better health than Jack. If they start benefits at age 62, let's say Jack would get $1,500 a month and Jill $750 per month. Those amounts would rise to $2,000 monthly for Jack and $1,000 for Jill if they claim benefits at FRA. However, by delaying benefits until age 70, Jack will receive about $2,650 a month. What's more, if Jill outlives Jack as expected, she is entitled to benefits based on 50% of Jack's higher monthly amount. Depending on how long Jill lives, her total benefits easily could increase by $50,000 or even more.

One of these scenarios might be similar to your situation, but you'll need to factor in your own variables—including how long you want to or need to work, as well as other financial and personal considerations and your health status—as you consider the best times for you and your spouse to begin receiving Social Security benefits.

 

This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Erickson Financial Solutions, LLC and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

 

© 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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Tax Scams to Avoid in 2017

IRS Reveals The "Dirty Dozen" Tax Scams For '17

The IRS has released its annual list of the "Dirty Dozen" tax scams to watch out for in 2017. Here's a recap of the IRS' summary of the top 12:

1. Phishing: A scammer may pose as a representative of an organization you know and trust, perhaps sending mass emails under another person's name or purporting to be a bank, credit card company, tax software provider, or government agency. The goal is to get you to provide personal information.

2. Phone Scams: Crooks may make aggressive phone calls when impersonating an IRS agent. The person might threaten you with police arrest, deportation, license revocation, or some other action—which legitimate agency employees wouldn't do.

3. Identity Theft: Watch out for identity theft, especially during tax-filing season, when someone might steal your Social Security number and use it to file a tax return, claiming a fraudulent refund.

4. Return Preparer Fraud: The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service. But some dishonest preparers perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft, and other scams.

5. Fake Charities: Look out for groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Take a few extra minutes to ensure your hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. Visit IRS.gov to check out their status.

6. Inflated Refund Claims: Promoters may offer exorbitant refunds. Be wary of anyone who asks taxpayers to sign a blank return, promises a big refund before looking at their records, or charges fees based on a percentage of the refund. Fraudsters rely on flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts—even word of mouth via community groups—to find victims.

7. Excessive Claims for Business Credits: The fuel tax credit—which isn't available to most taxpayers and usually is limited to off-highway business use, including farming—often is claimed improperly. Taxpayers also should avoid misuse of the research credit. Claims for that credit may be disqualified for failure to participate in or to substantiate qualified research activities or to satisfy tax law requirements.

8. Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Avoid the temptation to falsely inflate deductions or expenses on returns to pay less than what you owe or to get a bigger refund. Think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions and business expenses or improperly claiming credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit (CTC).

9. Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Avoid the temptation to inflate deductions or expenses on your return to underpay taxes and possibly receive a larger refund. Overstating deductions for charitable contributions and business expenses or claiming invalid personal credits could lead to large bills for back taxes, interest, or even criminal prosecution.

10. Abusive Tax Shelters:Abusive tax schemes have evolved from illegal domestic and foreign trust arrangements into even more sophisticated strategies. These scams often take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit or debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions.

11. Frivolous Tax Arguments: The IRS also describes common frivolous tax arguments made by those who refuse to comply with federal tax laws. Frequently, taxpayers refuse to pay taxes on religious or moral grounds by invoking their First Amendment rights. Those efforts inevitably fail, and the penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000.

12. Offshore Tax Avoidance: A recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows why it's a bad bet to hide money and income offshore. Taxpayers are served best by coming in voluntarily and taking advantage of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to catch up on their tax responsibilities.

 

This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Erickson Financial Solutions, LLC and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

 

© 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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Investment Fundamentals

When financial advisors explain the reasons to invest in, or not invest in, particular stocks, they often refer to the "fundamentals" of the companies in question. Media pundits also may cite "fundamentals" in their stock prognostications. And corporate officers may brag about their companies' "fundamentals."

But what does it all mean? They're generally referring to fundamental analysis, a traditional school of thought in looking at companies' basic numbers as a way to evaluate profitability.

Unlike technical analysis of a company, which focuses on the recent trading and pricing history of the company's stock, fundamental analysis paints a broad picture of a company. This process identifies the fundamental value of the shares and leads to decisions to buy or sell the stock.

With technical analysis, you're trying to spot patterns that will help predict whether the fortunes of a company will rise or fall. In contrast, fundamental analysis involves profit margins, management decisions, growth potential, balance sheets, a company's role in a specific industry or sector, and political and other events, domestically and globally, that might affect its performance.

But fundamental analysis isn't limited to figuring out which stocks to buy and when to buy them. It is also about analyzing the timing of possible sales or purchases.

For example, when the stock market is booming, as it was at the start of 2017, investors are quick to jump on the bandwagon, while during times of stock market decline, the same investors often flee in a panic. That's what happened in 2008 and 2009, when the economy contracted and share prices fell by more than half. Of course, there are times when it makes sense to sell stocks, but it is best not to base such decisions on fear.

A better idea is to take a closer look at the fundamentals. In doing so, you might ask—and get answers to—these questions after a market decline has pushed down the price of a particular holding:

  • Is the business model still solid?
  • Have profit margins remained consistent?
  • Is the company financially sound?
  • Is the company likely to thrive over time?

 

If the answers are "yes," you may be well-served to retain your shares in the company for the long term. However, if the firm appears to be heading in the wrong direction, has shrinking profit margins, and sports a business model that is out of touch with changes in the industry, you probably should sell sooner rather than later.

Of course, you don't have to pour through financial reports and other documents to guide your decisions. If you invest in mutual funds, their professional managers are doing this work for you, analyzing company fundamentals to help them decide what to buy or sell to maximize their funds' performance. And we routinely help clients investigate stock fundamentals as they shape their portfolios. Please give us a call if you'd like to discuss your current and potential holdings.

For more information, contact a fiduciary, fee-only adviser in Columbia or Jefferson City Missouri.

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