Look backward and forward for tax savers

You can reach into the past and future to cut your taxes. How? Through the use of tax carryforwards and carrybacks. Here is what you should know about these tax savers.

Some tax deductions have a maximum amount that you can use in any one year. In these situations, the rules generally allow you to apply the unused tax deduction to a past or future tax return. One of the most popular examples of this is the “net operating loss” or NOL. Business owners whose qualified expenses exceed their income are allowed to apply the NOL to taxable income earned in the second prior year, and if there is still loss available, to apply it to last year’s income. Any further unapplied NOL can be used to offset future taxable income.

But there are a few twists to the NOL rules. If your NOL is the result of a theft or disaster, you may be able to carry it back three years. An NOL from farming can be carried back five years. And you may opt to apply all your NOL to future years only, which might not be a bad strategy if you expect to be taxed at higher rates in future years.

Net capital losses, such as from the sale of stocks, can be carried forward (but not back) to offset future capital gains and up to $3,000 of ordinary income. You can also carry forward charitable contributions that exceed 50% of taxable income for up to five years.

It’s important to save all records related to carryback and carryforward deductions for at least three years after the year they are applied. If you have any questions about your potential for tax carryback and carryforward deductions, contact our office. We’ll help you keep an eye on your tax situation, past, present, and future.

David Bradsher, CPA

How your small business can compete against the big boys

When Starbucks or Wal-Mart or Home Depot comes to town, how can a small business successfully compete? That’s a tough question, one that’s been the subject of numerous magazine articles, Internet blogs, and doctoral theses. One strategy that doesn’t work is doing nothing — sitting back to watch what happens. By the time your rival’s doors open, it may be too late to prevent your profit margins and market share from disappearing.

While one answer doesn’t fit all cases, certain strategies have proven effective for many small firms.

* Compete on your own terms. As a small business, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to compete with larger competitors on the basis of price alone. Give your customers something other than bargain prices.

* Capitalize on your advantages. Establish close bonds with customers and provide services tailored to their individual needs. If you own a hardware store, for example, you might provide free delivery and assembly for some items. The key is to develop innovative ways to satisfy your customers’ needs and retain their loyalty.

* Hire (and keep) the best employees. Small businesses can be great places to work. By providing in-depth training and an enjoyable work environment, your employees will generally return the favor by treating customers well. On the flip side, we’ve all met staff at nationwide chains who were inattentive or just plain rude. Small businesses can’t afford to ignore complaints or allow poor customer service. Don’t let one obnoxious employee create a bad reputation for your business.

* Expand your sources of revenue. Maybe you own a coffee shop and Starbucks is moving in. Don’t throw in the towel. Add catering to the services you offer. If a larger competitor comes to town, you may lose some market share, but new sources of revenue can offset those losses.

* Differentiate your product or service. Maybe you provide fresher produce because it’s grown locally. Or perhaps you offer specialty items that the other guys don’t carry. Let your customers know about these differences, and they’ll come to you when something special is needed.

Remember, there will always be room in the marketplace for firms — whether big or small — that provide quality products at a reasonable price and friendly knowledgeable service.

David Bradsher, CPA

Home office recordkeeping simplified

The IRS is reducing the recordkeeping required for the home-office deduction, effective for 2013. Taxpayers who qualify may use a new optional deduction calculated at $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet of an area in a home that is used regularly and exclusively for business. The deduction is capped at $1,500 a year.   Taxpayers opting for the simplified deduction cannot depreciate a portion of the home as they can under the other method. However, business expenses not related to the home, such as advertising, supplies, and employee wages, are still fully deductible.

This simplified option is available starting with the 2013 tax return which will be filed in 2014.

David Bradsher, CPA

Check out your IRA options

It’s not too late to make contributions to an IRA for 2012. You can establish and contribute to a 2012 IRA as late as April 15, 2013. If the IRA is the traditional, tax-deductible kind, you can deduct your contributions on your 2012 tax return. If you’re under age 50, the maximum contribution is $5,000; if you were 50 or older by December 31, 2012, you can contribute up to $6,000.

The “charitable IRA rollover” rule was extended through 2013, permitting taxpayers who are 70½ or older to use their IRA to donate up to $100,000 to charity. The donation must be made directly from the IRA to the charity, and it counts as part of the taxpayer’s required minimum distribution for the year.

If you turned 70½ in 2013, remember that you’re now required to take a minimum distribution from your IRA (and, unless you’re still working, from other retirement plans also) every year. If you delayed taking your first distribution last year, you have only until April 1, 2013, to take it or you’ll be subject to a 50% penalty on the amount you should have taken.

Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is still an available option for all taxpayers. Although a conversion will generate taxable income in the year you do it, later qualifying withdrawals from the Roth will be tax-free. Your conversion opportunities are not limited to just traditional IRAs. You can also convert your 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan to a Roth.

For details or assistance on IRA matters, contact our office.

David Bradsher, CPA

Are you giving the IRS an interest-free loan?

Will you be among the thousands of taxpayers who get a big tax refund this year? While most Americans happily accept their tax refund checks, smart taxpayers understand that refunds actually cost them money. Here’s why:

* The government pays no interest on refunds. Kept in your hands, those dollars could have been productive. For example, you could have invested the money or used it to pay off your debt during the year. If the money had been added to a 401(k) plan, tax would have been deferred on both the investment and its earnings. Even better, your employer might have matched all or part of your investment, adding to your retirement savings.

* Refunded cash is not available for use until actually received. Even though most taxpayers get their checks promptly, circumstances or errors can delay (or stop) a refund.

To prevent losing money on tax refunds, consider reducing your withholding or estimated tax payments. For most taxpayers, withholding must equal either the prior year’s tax or 90% of the current year’s liability. If your annual income changes little, it’s relatively easy to avoid overwithholding. You should consider filing a revised Form W-4 withholding statement with your employer if you’re having too much withheld.

For taxpayers with fluctuating income or multiple sources of income, the problem is more complex. The IRS provides a worksheet with Form W-4, but many people find the form complicated. If you’d like assistance adjusting your withholding, contact our office.

David Bradsher, CPA