Update your beneficiary designations

Who have you designated as beneficiaries for your insurance policies and retirement accounts? If you can’t remember, you’re not alone. But it’s worth checking. If you make the wrong decision, it could affect who inherits those assets. In some cases, it could also change the taxes your beneficiaries will pay and the value they’ll receive. Here are some key facts about beneficiary designations.

What are they?

* When you designate a beneficiary for an account, you are naming the person you want to inherit that account.

* Your designation determines who will inherit the assets in the account, regardless of what your will might say. Generally, the assets will bypass probate and go straight to the person or institution you named.

* You can designate a person or group of persons, a charity, a trust, or your estate. You may also want to designate a secondary or backup beneficiary in case the primary is no longer living.

Why are they important?

* It’s important to keep beneficiary designations up to date because they determine who will inherit the assets in your accounts. Changing your will won’t change the beneficiaries.

* There can be tax implications too. With a traditional IRA, your choice of beneficiary can affect how quickly withdrawals must be made and taxes paid. That can change the value of the IRA to your beneficiary.

How do you update them?

* First, find copies of all your current designations. Contact your insurance company and plan trustees if you can’t locate the documents.

* Review them and decide what changes you’d like to make. Make an appointment to go over the changes with your tax or estate planning advisor.

* Send your updated designations to the account trustees. Make sure you receive confirmations and keep copies in your records.

David Bradsher, CPA

Every new business needs a record system

Many small start-up businesses are off and running before any record system has been set up. There is money deposited into the new business checking account, some from invested funds and some from sales. Money has been paid out for equipment and supplies, some by check and some by cash out of pocket or from sales receipts.

This informal method of cash receipts and disbursements needs to be formalized. The bookkeeping system does not need to be complicated. In most cases, you can continue to operate much as you have. You just need to do it in a way that leaves a few more tracks.

For example, make all purchases by check. The small miscellaneous cash paid-outs from your pocket (or the petty cash box) are reimbursed by a check with a listing of the expense codes. All your cash receipts are deposited into the bank. No more taking cash from the till for lunches, supplies, etc.

If all the money received by the business is deposited into the bank and all expenses are paid by a company check, the proper journal entries are easy to create from the bank statement.

If you are starting a new business, don’t wait until the end of the year and surprise your accountant with a box of miscellaneous receipts. That is the most expensive and least effective use of your accounting information. In addition to setting up the proper record system, your accountant will provide you with guidance on other business, tax, and financial matters.

David Bradsher, CPA

Check your tax withholding for 2015

Withholding too much tax from your wages isn’t a smart financial move. Review how much you’re having withheld in 2015 to see if it matches the actual tax liability you expect to have. If an adjustment is needed, file a new Form W-4 with your employer.

David Bradsher, CPA

Not all “income” is taxable

There are several sources of revenue that are not subject to income tax.

Here are the most common sources of money that are not taxed on your federal income tax return:

* Borrowed money such as from banks or personal loans.

* Money received as a gift or inheritance from family or friends.

* Money paid on your behalf directly to a school or medical facility.

* Most life insurance proceeds.

* Cash rebates from businesses when you buy an item.

* Child support payments.

* Money you receive for sustaining an injury.

* Scholarships for tuition and books.

* Disability insurance proceeds from a policy purchased with after-tax dollars.

* Up to $500,000 of profit for a couple selling their personal residence.

* Interest received on municipal bonds.

If you have included any of these on your income tax return for the past three years, you can amend your return for a tax refund.

If you would like assistance in determining what to include on your income tax return, please contact us. We are here to help you.

David Bradsher, CPA