Tax time is the right time for a financial review

Now is an ideal time to review your financial affairs. You have to gather information to prepare your tax return at this time. Why not take one more step and do something positive for your financial well-being?

The following suggestions will get you started on your financial review:

* Hold a discussion with your family. Spouses and children need to share and prioritize their financial aspirations.

* Write down your financial goals. How much money will you need to meet each goal? When will you need the money, and how will you get it?

* Do a net worth statement (a list of your assets and debts), and compare it to last year’s statement. Are you gaining or losing ground?

* With your goals (and the effects of inflation) in mind, review the performance of your investments.

* Take steps to protect what you already have. Goals may become instantly unobtainable if you lose your present assets or your income potential.

* Do you have adequate disability insurance coverage to replace take-home pay if you become incapacitated?

* Do you have the proper amount of life insurance if you or your spouse should die?

* Do you have replacement value property insurance on your home?

* Do you have adequate insurance for calamities such as automobile accidents or lawsuits?

* Make sure that you need all of the insurance that you have. Do not duplicate employer-provided coverage. Review your coverage annually; do not just automatically renew policies.

* Review your will and your estate plan. Did your situation change during 2011 (marriage, divorce, births, deaths, move to another state, for example)? This year, the top estate tax rate is 35% with a $5,120,000 exemption. Make appropriate changes to your will and estate plan.

* Review your credit use. Keep your credit card bills current. If you’re finding that hard to do, it’s probably time to cut up some of those credit cards and get your debt under control.

* Organize your records. If you had trouble assembling data for your financial review, you need a better system. Set one up.

For help with any aspect of your review, call us. We’re here to assist you in any way we can.

Do your children need to file a 2011 tax return?

Check your children’s need to file a 2011 tax return. A return is needed if wages exceeded $5,800, the child had self-employment income over $400, or investment income exceeded $950. If the child had both wages and investment income, other thresholds apply. Contact us for any filing assistance you may need.

Bring your corporate minutes up to date

Writing up the minutes of board of directors’ meetings is not exactly a high priority for most business owners. Yet well-documented corporate minutes can provide valuable supporting evidence if your tax positions are ever questioned.

Minutes are especially important where any kind of related-party transactions occur, such as payments, loans, or distributions between the company and its owners. For example, the IRS may challenge the amount of compensation paid to a business owner as unreasonable. Corporate minutes that document the factors considered by the board in approving the compensation can be a strong defense against such a challenge.

Another area that receives close scrutiny from the IRS is the amount of earnings that are retained in the business rather than distributed as taxable dividends. A penalty applies to retained earnings over a certain limit unless they can be justified by business needs. Corporate minutes can be a strong piece of supporting evidence if they clearly spell out the reasons that the company needs to retain funds — for example, to purchase assets or for working capital.

If your company has a tax-qualified retirement plan or a stock option plan, the minutes should show decisions by the board adopting or modifying the plan. They should also document annual decisions on the percentage of contribution to profit-sharing plans and any decisions on fringe benefits, such as medical reimbursement accounts.

Corporate minutes need not be lengthy, but they should provide a clear record of corporate actions and the business factors that were considered when those actions were taken. You should think of your minutes as a key element of your tax planning strategy.

If your corporate minutes need updating, contact your attorney and take care of this important bit of business housekeeping.

Rundown of 2012 Tax Law changes

* PAYROLL TAX CUT for employees extended through February
 29, 2012. (Social security tax rate on wages up to
 $110,100 will be 4.2% rather than 6.2%.)
* ADOPTION TAX CREDIT decreases to $12,650 for adoption
 of an eligible child.

* SECTION 179 maximum deduction decreases to $139,000,
 with a phase-out threshold of $560,000.

* STANDARD MILEAGE RATE for business driving remains at
 55.5¢ a mile. Rate for medical and moving mileage
 decreases to 23¢ a mile. Rate for charitable driving
 remains at 14¢ a mile.

* ESTATE TAX top rate remains at 35%, and the exemption
 amount increases to $5,120,000. The ANNUAL GIFT TAX
 EXCLUSION remains at $13,000.

* 401(k) maximum salary deferral increases to $17,000
 ($22,500 for 50 and older).

* SIMPLE maximum salary deferral remains at $11,500
 ($14,000 for 50 and older).

* IRA contribution limit remains at $5,000 ($6,000 for
 50 and older).

* KIDDIE TAX threshold remains at $1,900 and applies up
 to age 19 (up to age 24 for full-time students).

* NANNY TAX threshold increases to $1,800.

* TRANSPORTATION FRINGE BENEFIT limit decreases to $125
 for vehicle/transit passes and increases to $240 for
 qualified parking.

* SOCIAL SECURITY taxable wage limit increases to
 $110,100. Retirees under full retirement age can earn
 up to $14,640 without losing benefits.

* HSA CONTRIBUTION limit increases to $3,100 for
 individuals and to $6,250 for families. An additional
 $1,000 may be contributed by those 55 or older.

New Years Resolution – Do your beneficiary choices need updating?

Are your beneficiary designations up to date? Do you even know which accounts have beneficiaries and who you’ve designated? It’s easy to lose track. But it’s important to keep them current. Here’s why.

When you designate a beneficiary for an account, that person inherits the assets in the account, regardless of what your will might say. That’s why updating your will periodically might not be enough. Typically, you’ll have beneficiaries for each of your IRAs, your 401(k) or other retirement plans, annuities, and insurance policies.

Your designations could be out of date just because of life’s changes. Since you made your initial choices, you might have married, had children, or divorced. Some of the beneficiaries you chose could have died, divorced, or married. Their circumstances could have changed so you no longer want them to be the beneficiary.

Also, the tax laws change frequently, and they can have an impact on your choices. Choosing the wrong beneficiary, or failing to name a contingent beneficiary, can affect the long-term value of your IRA assets after you die. That’s why it’s important to review your choices with tax consequences in mind.

Here’s how to update your designations. At a minimum, you should have copies of your beneficiary designations in one place. If you don’t, call the trustees of your retirement accounts and your insurance agent, and request copies.

Then review the documents and decide what changes you’d like to make. Make an appointment to review your decisions with your tax and estate planning advisor. Discuss matters such as naming secondary beneficiaries and naming your estate as a beneficiary (sometimes not a good idea).

Finally, send your changes to the account trustee, ask for a confirmation, and keep copies in your records. For any assistance you need, contact our office.