Understand the time value of money

When making financial decisions, do you consider the time value of money? If you have a basic understanding of time-value concepts, you’ll be able to make better choices in many business and personal financial situations.

* Here’s an example. Say you want to sell a piece of property for $10,000 cash. A potential buyer offers $5,000 cash down, and $5,500 one year from now. How does the buyer’s offer compare to your terms?

If you receive the entire $10,000 today, let’s assume you could earn 5% on the money. A year from now you’ll have $10,500, which is referred to as the “future value” of $10,000.

On the other hand, the future value of the buyer’s offer turns out to be $10,750, which is the sum of the payment one year from now ($5,500) plus the future value of the down payment ($5,250). If the buyer has good credit, you may be better off taking the buyer’s offer.

* Calculate present value. Another way to evaluate this kind of offer is to compare the “present value” of both alternatives. Using a financial calculator or special financial table, and still assuming you can earn 5% on your money, the present value of the buyer’s offer is calculated to be $10,238, compared to a present value of $10,000 for a lump-sum cash payment. A higher present value means a better deal for you, so the buyer’s offer is more attractive.

If you’re on the other side of a transaction (buying something), time-value concepts can also help you make better decisions. For example, a time-value analysis can help you decide whether to buy or lease a car. You can also use time value to analyze investment alternatives, negotiate a divorce settlement, or hammer out the best possible deal when leasing real estate or business equipment.

If you’re about to enter into any financial arrangement that requires you to pay money over time, or entitles you to receive periodic payments, time value could be an important issue. Before you sign on the dotted line, let us help you work through the numbers.

Before the wedding, talk about your finances

Spring and summer — the wedding season is upon us. Before walking down the aisle, take a minute to consider a serious matter.

Couples often enter into marriage without ever having had a discussion about financial issues. As a result, they find themselves frequently arguing about money. If you are planning a wedding, here are some steps you can take to get your marriage off to a good financial start.

* Premarital financial discussions. You and your intended might enjoy the same movies and the same kinds of food, but are you financially compatible? Take some time to discuss your finances before you tie the knot. Talk about your assets, your debts, your credit ratings, and your financial attitudes, including your spending and saving habits. Do you share the same goals, such as having children, buying a home, or continuing your education? How will you finance your dreams?

* How will you handle your finances as a married couple? For example, who will pay the bills? Will you maintain joint or separate checking accounts? If you maintain separate accounts, how will you split your expenses?

* Premarital financial counseling. Every couple needs to work out their own style for handling money. Call upon your accountant to assist you in setting up a budget, controlling your taxes, and mapping out a financial plan for your future.

* Premarital legal counseling. If you have substantial assets, discuss the merits of a premarital agreement with your attorney. If your partner has substantial debt, ask your attorney how you can protect yourself from his or her creditors.

Perhaps you plan on buying a house together or combining financial accounts. Your attorney can advise you on the best way to hold title to your assets.

Discussing your finances before you say “I do” may increase your chances for living happily ever after. Give us a call if you would like assistance in this area.

Some tax facts…

* The Obama’s 2011 tax return reported adjusted gross income of $789,674. Their tax liability was $162,074, giving them an effective tax rate of 20.5%.

* The average tax refund on returns filed for 2011 was $2,983.

* For this tax filing season, the IRS had 5,000 fewer employees than it had a year ago.

* In 1995, 114,000 IRS employees processed 205 million tax returns. This year, 91,000 employees will process 236 million returns.

* The IRS must update its computers with each tax law change. Between 2000 and 2010, Congress made 4,428 changes to the tax code.

New businesses have tax filing requirement

The IRS wants to educate new small business owners about their federal tax responsibilities. “Understanding and meeting their tax filing requirements is one of the biggest challenges faced by people starting out in business,” says the head of the IRS Small Business Division.

Among the common tax issues that can trip up new business owners:

* Classification of workers. Determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors is a matter of law, not the choice of the worker or the employer.

* Federal employment tax deposits. Called trust fund taxes, these deposits must be made according to the appropriate schedule, depending on deposit amounts.

* Quarterly estimated tax payments. Business earnings are not subject to tax withholding; therefore, the owner’s income and social security tax obligations are met through quarterly estimated tax payments.

* Recordkeeping. New businesses need a good recordkeeping system to make tax filing easier and accurate.

* Disaster protection. Financial and tax records need to be protected to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster.

* Tax scams. New business owners should be alert to the prevalence of abusive tax avoidance schemes. Falling victim to one of these schemes could result in serious tax problems.

For guidance in getting a new business off on the right tax foot, give our office a call

IRS offers penalty relief in “Fresh Start” initiative

Taxpayers who are struggling to pay their taxes may get some relief from the IRS’s expansion of its “Fresh Start” initiative, a program started back in 2008. The new Fresh Start provisions provide penalty relief to the unemployed and make installment agreements on taxes owed available to more people.

Normally, a failure-to-pay penalty of one-half of one percent per month, up to a 25% maximum, is charged for overdue taxes. The “Fresh Start Penalty Relief” initiative gives eligible taxpayers a six-month extension to fully pay 2011 taxes — that is, until October 15, 2012, before the penalty begins to apply. Interest of 3% will still be assessed starting from April 17, 2012.

The penalty relief is available to workers who have been unemployed at least 30 consecutive days during 2011 or 2012 and to self-employed individuals who experienced a 25% or larger reduction in business income in 2011 due to the economy. Income limits apply: the relief is not available to singles with adjusted gross income over $100,000 or to couples with income over $200,000. Also, taxes due cannot exceed $50,000.

The Fresh Start program also changes the eligibility threshold for streamlined installment agreements from $25,000 to $50,000 and increases the maximum term from five to six years.

For details or assistance, contact our office.

What to do if you missed the April tax filing deadline

If you missed the April 17 tax filing deadline for your 2011 return, the IRS has some advice for you.

First, don’t panic. But do file your return as soon as possible. If you owe money on the return, the penalty for late filing and interest on the amount you owe will continue to grow until you file. E-filing is the fastest way to file, and this option is available on 2011 tax returns through October 15, 2012.

Second, pay as much of the tax you owe as you can. If you cannot pay the full amount of tax due with your return, you can ask to make monthly installment payments to the IRS. File Form 9465, “Installment Agreement Request,” or apply online using the IRS Online Payment Agreement Application available at the IRS website (www.irs.gov).

Third, any additional delay in filing will just increase any penalty and interest charges. These include a late filing penalty, a late payment penalty, and interest on taxes not paid by April 17.

If you haven’t filed your return, the problem will not go away by itself. File your return, and if you can’t pay the tax owed, inform the IRS of your current financial situation. For more information or filing assistance, contact our office.

Health care law scheduled to bring three key tax changes

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon issue its ruling on the health care legislation — the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” — passed in 2010. Over half the individual states have challenged the constitutionality of the law that requires individuals to obtain minimum health insurance coverage and penalizes those who don’t comply. The law could be upheld or overturned or the court might strike down select provisions.

Although the health care mandate has received the most attention, three lesser-known tax changes in the law could have a major impact. If these provisions are allowed to stand, they will take effect in 2013.

1. Medicare surtaxes. Taxpayers will owe a new 3.8% Medicare surtax on the lesser of net investment income or the amount by which modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds an annual threshold of $250,000 for joint filers and $200,000 for single filers. For this purpose, “net investment income” includes interest, dividends, royalties and annuities, rent and other passive activity income, capital gains from the sale of property not used in your business, and trading of financial instruments and commodities. It does not include business income, income from tax-free municipals, or distributions from IRAs and qualified retirement plans.

In addition, a separate 0.9% Medicare surtax applies to earned income in excess of $250,000 for joint filers and $200,000 for single filers. A taxpayer might have to pay both surtaxes.

2. Medical deductions. Currently, a taxpayer may deduct unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). This threshold is scheduled to increase to 10% in 2013 for those under age 65.

3. Flexible spending accounts. Currently, there is no legal limit on annual contributions to a flexible spending account (FSA) for health care expenses. Under the health care law, annual contributions to a health-care FSA are capped at $2,500. This amount will be indexed for inflation after 2013.

Faced with these looming tax changes, you may take appropriate steps before 2013. For instance, you might realize long-term capital gains in 2012 to avoid the 3.8% Medicare surtax, especially since the maximum tax rate is only 15% this year (scheduled to increase to 20% in 2013). Similarly, you might consider accelerating nonemergency medical expenses into 2012 to benefit from the lower AGI threshold or to exhaust FSA funds.

We will keep you posted on any major new developments. Don’t hesitate to contact us for tax planning guidance suited to your situation.