Don’t let taxes cloud your economic decisions

ome tax-cutting strategies make good financial sense. Other tax strategies are simply bad ideas, often because tax considerations are allowed to override basic economics.

Here’s one example of the tax tail wagging the economic dog. Let’s say that you run an unincorporated consulting business. You want some additional tax write-offs, so you decide to buy $10,000 of office furniture that you don’t really need. If you’re in the 28% tax bracket and you deduct the entire cost, this purchase will trim your tax bill by $2,800 (28% of $10,000). But even after the tax break, you’ll still be out of pocket $7,200 ($10,000 minus $2,800) – and stuck with furniture that you don’t really need.

There are other situations in which people often focus on tax considerations and ignore the bigger financial picture. For example:

* Someone increases the size of a home mortgage, solely to get a larger tax deduction for mortgage interest.

* A homeowner hesitates to pay off a mortgage, just to keep the interest deduction.

* Someone turns down extra income, because it might “push them into a higher tax bracket.”

* An investor holds an appreciated asset indefinitely, solely to avoid paying the capital gains tax.

Tax-cutting strategies are usually part of a bigger financial picture. If you are planning any tax-related moves, we can help make sure that everything stays in focus. For assistance, give us a call.

David Bradsher, CPA

Check the tax issues if you are caring for elderly parents

As the population in the U.S. continues to age, more and more people will find themselves caring for their parents. Here are some of the tax breaks that caregivers should consider.

* If you provide more than half of your parent’s support, you may be able to claim your parent as a dependent on your tax return. To be eligible, your parent can’t earn more than $3,900 in 2013, excluding their nontaxable social security and disability income.

* What if you and your siblings all pitch in to support a parent? Anyone who contributes at least 10% of the total support can be the one to claim the $3,900 exemption if all of you sign a multiple support agreement.

* Even if a parent’s income exceeds $3,900 this year, you can still deduct the medical expenses paid on the parent’s behalf, as long as you provide more than half of his or her support.

* If you hire someone to take care of your parent while you work, you might qualify for the dependent care tax credit. Your parent must be physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself.

* Unmarried individuals who support a parent can file their tax returns as “head of household.” To qualify, your parent doesn’t need to live with you. Instead, as long as you pay more than half of the cost of maintaining your parent’s main home, including a rest home or nursing facility, you qualify for this preferential tax treatment.

For more information about the tax issues affecting caregivers and their parents, please give us a call.

David Bradsher, CPA

Many of us are living close to our financial limit these days.

Many of us are living close to our financial limit these days. We pay our bills on time, but there’s not a lot left over. But that’s a dangerous situation. If things go wrong, your financial situation can change very quickly from adequate to critical. Without a cash reserve, you could find yourself in serious trouble.

Imagine this situation. You’re driving home from work when a motorist runs a red light and smashes into your car. You’re rushed to the hospital with a broken leg that must remain in traction for several weeks. You quickly use up any sick leave from your job and your paycheck dries up. Luckily you have basic health and car insurance, but the deductibles and co-pays quickly add up to thousands of dollars. Meanwhile the mortgage and credit card payments are coming due, and you find yourself slipping into arrears.

It sounds grim, but it can easily happen. Natural disasters or a downsizing by your employer can have similar results. And when things go wrong, often several things go wrong at the same time. That’s why it’s a good idea to build a cash reserve of at least three months’ living expenses.

Invest your reserve in a safe, liquid account. Consider investments such as a bank CD, a money market fund, or a very short-term bond fund. Make sure you have easy access to the funds without losing too much interest. And once you’ve built your fund, avoid temptations to raid it for nonessentials.

It may not be easy to build a reserve, especially if you’re barely paying your bills now. But you’ll never get there unless you try. Consider setting aside your tax refund or your next bonus, or set yourself a monthly saving goal. Perhaps you give up one espresso a day, eat at home instead of a restaurant one evening a week, or make your own lunch instead of eating out for a month. However you do it, and however long it takes, you might one day be very grateful that you made the effort.

David Bradsher, CPA

Upcoming dates following government shutdown

Early in the morning of October 17, President Obama signed a bill into law reopening the federal government and extending U.S. borrowing authority. But the law contains deadlines that could leave the country facing the same issues again. Here are the important dates in the law –

* December 13, 2013 – Report required from Congressional budget negotiators on how to solve long-term budget issues.

* January 15, 2014 – Date after which federal government funding runs out.

* February 7, 2014 – Debt limit extension expires.

David Bradsher, CPA

Delay in 2014 filing season

The Internal Revenue Service has announced a delay of approximately one to two weeks to the start of the 2014 filing season due to the 16-day federal government shutdown.

The government closure came during the peak period for preparing IRS systems for the 2014 filing season. Updating these core systems is a complex, year-round process with the majority of the work beginning in the fall of each year.

There are additional training, programming, and testing demands on the IRS this year as the agency works to prevent refund fraud and identity theft.

The IRS is exploring options to shorten the delay and will announce a final decision on the start of the 2014 filing season in December.

David Bradsher, CPA