Planning can save your vacation home tax deductions

You can enjoy a vacation home and cut your taxes – with some careful planning and a little discipline.

The IRS rules can be complex and potentially restrictive, so a word of caution is in order as you plan the use of your vacation home.

Owners of vacation homes often rent out the property when they’re not using it themselves. Renting out your vacation home may or may not make sense for you. The principal variables are the number of days you rent the property, the number of days of personal use, your individual tax situation, and your personal wishes for the use of your vacation home.

* Rent for 14 days or less and a simple tax break is available. If you rent your vacation home for 14 days or less, all of the rental income is tax-free. This attractive tax benefit can help provide cash for your mortgage and other expenses.

* Rent for more than 14 days and your tax planning and personal life become more complex. If you rent your vacation home for more than 14 days, all your rental income is reportable. Whether you treat the income and expenses as a second residence or as rental property depends on the personal use of your vacation home relative to the time the home is rented out. This test is made annually and determines the nature of deductions, loss carryovers, and the tax treatment if the vacation home is sold.

Please call us to guide you through the IRS rules to find the rental strategy that meets your financial goals, yet ensures the personal enjoyment of your vacation home.

David Bradsher, CPA

Nonprofit organizations may have tax obligations

If you’re an officer or on the board of a community organization, you may wonder about the tax requirements that apply to your group. Generally, an organization will not owe taxes if two things are true:

* It has registered as an exempt nonprofit organization with the IRS, and

* It has no business income from activities unrelated to its exempt purpose.

Registration is quite straightforward. The IRS grants exempt status to groups organized for charitable or mutual benefit purposes. You must submit your application within the first 15 months of the group’s existence. The package consists of an application form, a copy of your Articles of Incorporation or similar document, and a user fee. Some groups, such as churches or those with annual receipts of less than $5,000, don’t even have to register to be considered exempt.

More questions arise on the definition of unrelated business income. Generally, you will owe tax on income from any trade or business that is not substantially related to the organization’s exempt purpose. Fortunately, the definitions are quite favorable in this area. The business really has to be quite distinct from the primary purpose of the organization before income becomes taxable. For example, a charity doesn’t pay tax if it runs a thrift shop and uses the proceeds for its charitable work. Generally, rents from leasing out real property, interest income, and dividends are not subject to tax.

Once it’s registered, an exempt organization will have to file an annual information return on Form 990 or 990-EZ unless its yearly gross receipts do not exceed $50,000. Those exempt organizations with receipts of $50,000 or less must still file an annual return electronically on Form 990-N. Just as with a tax return, there are penalties for filing Form 990 or 990-EZ late or failing to file. There is no penalty on an organization that is required to file Form 990-N but fails to do so; however, if an organizations fails to file an annual return for three consecutive years, its exempt status is revoked.

Generally, the filing deadline is the 15th day of the fifth month after the organization’s year-end. For 2013 returns, the deadline for calendar-year organizations is May 15, 2014. For assistance with this or any of your tax filings, contact our office.

David Bradsher, CPA

Have you checked your withholding lately?

Did you receive a large tax refund or owe a large balance due on your 2013 income tax filing? If so, it may be time for you to check your withholding. Changing your withholding is as simple as filing a new Form W-4 with your employer.

The smart taxpayer will calculate withholding to be as close to the actual amount 2014 tax liability will end up being. That will prevent you from being penalized for underpayment and from giving the IRS interest-free use of your money for a year.

Keep these general rules in mind. You won’t face an underpayment penalty if you pay for 2014, through withholding or quarterly estimated payments, at least 100% of your 2013 tax liability (110% if your adjusted gross income for 2013 is over $150,000), or if you pay at least 90% of what you’ll owe for 2014.

David Bradsher, CPA

Is a business valuation useful? Yes!

For many business owners, a business appraisal or “valuation” can furnish vital planning information and help mitigate risk. Consider the following:

* Establishing a verifiable value for your business can show whether assets have appreciated at a reasonable rate. If not, the firm’s strategy may need to be adjusted.

* Business valuations furnish documentation to support new financing. Lenders need strong evidence that their loans are properly secured, and a business appraisal can supply that evidence. An independent evaluation of business assets also may encourage lenders to offer favorable interest rates.

* If you decide to sell the business, a valuation can help you establish a reasonable selling price. Without a detailed and defensible appraisal, owners sometimes entertain unreasonably low offers. On the other hand, a valuation can keep owners from overpricing the firm and thus discouraging potential buyers.

* What happens if one owner dies or otherwise leaves his or her share of the business to others? In some cases, litigation follows. To ensure that the remaining owners’ interests are protected, the business needs to be appraised beforehand.

* A valuation can also support proper estate planning. If the estate is audited, the IRS is more likely to accept valuations that include a clear and reasoned appraisal. In fact, if discounts are adequately supported by an appraisal, estate taxes may be reduced.

* Business appraisals are also useful when it’s time to figure capital gains. For example, if you inherit a business from your father and decide to sell it, the business can be valued as of the date of your father’s death. A good appraisal can help establish a supportable value for the business and may result in lower capital gains taxes.

For assistance with valuing your business, contact our office.

David Bradsher, CPA

Study reveals retirement concerns

A recent study conducted by Harris Interactive of 1,000 middle class individuals aged 25 to 75 revealed some interesting statistics about retirement attitudes.

Among the survey’s findings:

* 37% of respondents say they don’t expect to retire; instead they expect to work until they are too sick or die.

* 59% said retirement is not their top priority; their priority is paying day-to-day bills.

* 34% felt they would have to continue working until age 80 or beyond because they won’t have saved enough to retire.

* 31% in the 40 to 59 age category say they have a retirement plan; 69% say they have no plan.

* Those who say they have a written plan say they have saved a median of $63,000 for retirement, which represents 32% of their retirement savings goal of $200,000. Those without a written plan say they have saved $20,000 or 10% of their goal.

* A third of those surveyed said that social security would be their primary source of income in retirement.

* 40% said a large unexpected health care expense was their greatest retirement fear; 37% said lower or no social security benefits was their biggest fear.

David Bradsher, CPA

Should you incorporate your business?

One of the first decisions you face as a new business owner is whether or not to incorporate the business. The biggest advantage of incorporating is limitation of your liability. Your responsibility for debts and other liabilities incurred by a corporation is generally limited to the assets of the business. Your personal assets are not usually at risk, although there can be exceptions to this general rule. The trade-off is that there is a cost to incorporate and, in some cases, tax consequences.

Should you incorporate? You might not need to incorporate. Depending on the size and type of your business, liability may not be an issue or can be covered by insurance. If so, you could join millions of other business owners and operate as an unincorporated sole proprietor.

If you do decide to incorporate, you’ll face a choice of corporate forms. All offer limitation of your liability, but there are differences in tax and other issues.

C corporation. The traditional form of corporation is the C corporation. C corporations have the most flexibility in structuring ownership and benefits, and most large companies operate in this form. The biggest drawback is double taxation. First the corporation pays tax on its profits; then the profits are taxed again as they’re paid to individual shareholders as dividends.

S corporation and LLCs. Two other forms of corporation avoid this double taxation: S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs). Both of these are called “pass-through” entities because there’s no taxation at the corporate level. Instead, profits or losses are passed through to the shareholders and reported on their individual tax returns.

S corporations have some ownership limitations. There can only be one class of stock and there can’t be more than 100 shareholders, none of whom can be foreigners. State registered LLCs have become a popular choice for many businesses. They offer more flexible ownership than S corporations and certain tax advantages.

Whether you’re already in business or just starting out, choosing the right form of business is important. Even established businesses change from one form to another during their lifetime. Some companies use more than one type of corporation – for example, an LLC to hold the business’s real estate and an S corporation for other operations.

Consult our office and your attorney for guidance in selecting the form that is best for your business.

David Bradsher, CPA