If you own foreign investments, you may have an additional federal tax filing requirement this year. Read more

If you own foreign investments, you may have an additional federal tax filing requirement this year.

Form 8938, “Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets,” is due April 17, 2012, and is filed as part of your individual tax return. You’ll use Form 8938 to disclose interests in certain foreign financial accounts when your ownership exceeds the reporting requirements.

What are the reporting requirements? They vary depending on where you live and your filing status. For example, say you’re married and live in the United States, and you’ll file a joint tax return for 2011. You’ll include Form 8938 with your tax return when the total value of your reportable assets on the last day of 2011 is more than $100,000, or if the value exceeds $150,000 at any time during the year.

Tip: In some cases, you may also need to file Form 8938 for tax year 2010.

Reportable assets include investment accounts you own that are held in foreign financial institutions, interests in foreign entities, and stocks or securities issued by foreign individuals or companies.

You’ve probably noticed the reporting requirements are similar to the “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts” (FBAR), a separate return you may already be filing. Be aware the new Form 8938 does not replace the FBAR, which you’ll still need to complete by June 30.

Penalties for failure to file Form 8938 start at $10,000. We urge you to contact us so we can help you evaluate your filing requirements for foreign investments.

Bring your corporate minutes up to date

Writing up the minutes of board of directors’ meetings is not exactly a high priority for most business owners. Yet well-documented corporate minutes can provide valuable supporting evidence if your tax positions are ever questioned.

Minutes are especially important where any kind of related-party transactions occur, such as payments, loans, or distributions between the company and its owners. For example, the IRS may challenge the amount of compensation paid to a business owner as unreasonable. Corporate minutes that document the factors considered by the board in approving the compensation can be a strong defense against such a challenge.

Another area that receives close scrutiny from the IRS is the amount of earnings that are retained in the business rather than distributed as taxable dividends. A penalty applies to retained earnings over a certain limit unless they can be justified by business needs. Corporate minutes can be a strong piece of supporting evidence if they clearly spell out the reasons that the company needs to retain funds — for example, to purchase assets or for working capital.

If your company has a tax-qualified retirement plan or a stock option plan, the minutes should show decisions by the board adopting or modifying the plan. They should also document annual decisions on the percentage of contribution to profit-sharing plans and any decisions on fringe benefits, such as medical reimbursement accounts.

Corporate minutes need not be lengthy, but they should provide a clear record of corporate actions and the business factors that were considered when those actions were taken. You should think of your minutes as a key element of your tax planning strategy.

If your corporate minutes need updating, contact your attorney and take care of this important bit of business housekeeping.

Rundown of 2012 Tax Law changes

* PAYROLL TAX CUT for employees extended through February
 29, 2012. (Social security tax rate on wages up to
 $110,100 will be 4.2% rather than 6.2%.)
* ADOPTION TAX CREDIT decreases to $12,650 for adoption
 of an eligible child.

* SECTION 179 maximum deduction decreases to $139,000,
 with a phase-out threshold of $560,000.

* STANDARD MILEAGE RATE for business driving remains at
 55.5¢ a mile. Rate for medical and moving mileage
 decreases to 23¢ a mile. Rate for charitable driving
 remains at 14¢ a mile.

* ESTATE TAX top rate remains at 35%, and the exemption
 amount increases to $5,120,000. The ANNUAL GIFT TAX
 EXCLUSION remains at $13,000.

* 401(k) maximum salary deferral increases to $17,000
 ($22,500 for 50 and older).

* SIMPLE maximum salary deferral remains at $11,500
 ($14,000 for 50 and older).

* IRA contribution limit remains at $5,000 ($6,000 for
 50 and older).

* KIDDIE TAX threshold remains at $1,900 and applies up
 to age 19 (up to age 24 for full-time students).

* NANNY TAX threshold increases to $1,800.

* TRANSPORTATION FRINGE BENEFIT limit decreases to $125
 for vehicle/transit passes and increases to $240 for
 qualified parking.

* SOCIAL SECURITY taxable wage limit increases to
 $110,100. Retirees under full retirement age can earn
 up to $14,640 without losing benefits.

* HSA CONTRIBUTION limit increases to $3,100 for
 individuals and to $6,250 for families. An additional
 $1,000 may be contributed by those 55 or older.

Five Year-End Tax Tips

* Early this month check the amount of 2011 tax you have prepaid through withholding and quarterly estimates. If you’ve underpaid, consider increasing your withholding before year-end. Withholding is considered to have been paid evenly throughout the year. This could prevent your being charged underpayment penalties for 2011.

* Avoid the marriage penalty. If a wedding or divorce is in your plans, be aware that your marital status as of December 31 determines your tax status for the whole year. Changing the dates of a year-end event may save taxes. Even though recent tax laws provided some relief from the marriage penalty, they did not eliminate it.

* Plan for losses. Check your basis in any S corporation in which you are a shareholder and where you expect a loss this year. Be sure you have sufficient basis to enable you to take the loss on your tax return.

* Use this year’s annual gift tax exclusion. If you make annual gifts to family members or others, make sure you complete your gifts for 2011 by December 31.

* Squeeze in planned equipment purchases before December 31. Taxpayers must usually deduct the cost of business property over several years. A special election allows taxpayers to expense up to $500,000 of new and used property purchased and put into service in 2011. Also check into the 100% bonus depreciation allowance for new equipment purchases.

Property such as machinery, equipment, and furnishings qualify. Be careful with special rules that apply to automobiles and personal computers.

New law provides tax credits for hiring veterans

On November 21, 2011, President Obama signed the “Three Percent Withholding Repeal and Job CreatOn November 21, 2011, President Obama signed the “Three Percent Withholding Repeal and Job Creation Act” into law. This new law repeals three percent withholding on certain payments to government contractors. The law, H.R. 674, was amended to include the “Vow to Hire Heroes Act” which provides tax credits to employers who hire unemployed veterans.

The law creates the “Returning Heroes Tax Credit” and the “Wounded Warriors Tax Credit.” Employers may qualify for a credit of up to $5,600 for hiring a veteran who has been looking for employment for more than six months. A credit of up to $2,400 applies for veterans who have been unemployed for more than four weeks but less than six months. Employers who hire an unemployed veteran with service-connected disabilities who has been looking for work for more than six months may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $9,600.

The credits apply to new hires after November 21, 2011, through December 31, 2012. For more information about the new law, contact our office.ion Act” into law. This new law repeals three percent withholding on certain payments to government contractors. The law, H.R. 674, was amended to include the “Vow to Hire Heroes Act” which provides tax credits to employers who hire unemployed veterans.

Consider making gifts before year-end

A lifetime gifting program might trim both your estate and income taxes. First, there’s the annual exclusion for gifts. Currently, you can give $13,000 annually to any number of recipients without paying federal gift tax. Married couples can double this amount by gift-splitting; a gift of $26,000 from one spouse is treated as if it came half from each.

Gifts do more than help out children who need the money. They also reduce your estate so your estate will pay less estate tax upon your death. Apart from annual gift giving, you can currently transfer (during your lifetime or through your estate) a total of $5,000,000 with no estate or gift tax liability. On amounts above this threshold, you or your estate will be faced with taxes at the current top rate of $35%. So a consistent program of annual gift giving might create substantial tax savings.

Note that gifts to individuals do not entitle you to an income tax deduction. A gift isn’t a charitable contribution. Conversely, a gift doesn’t constitute taxable income to the recipient. Gifts of income-producing property may, however, reduce your taxable income. Once you’ve given the property away, the recipient, not you, receives the income it produces and pays any income tax due on it.

One advantage to annual gift giving is that it is relatively simple to do, especially if you’re giving away cash. Another advantage is flexibility. You’re not locked into anything; you can see how much you can afford to give away each year. You can give away anything – cash, stock, art, real estate. Valuation is the fair market value on the date of the gift. Subsequent appreciation, if any, belongs to the donee’s estate, not yours.

Before you give away assets, be sure you will not need them yourself to provide income in later years. Consider the impact inflation will have on your resources.

Proper planning is essential in this area; get professional assistance before you do any gift giving. Contact our office if we can help.

Sticking to the rules when making charitable contributions can save tax dollars. Here are three tips.

* Recordkeeping is vital if you want to be able to deduct a contribution to charity.

What records do you need? For starters, to claim an itemized deduction, you’re required to have support for all cash contributions, no matter what the amount. A bank statement, a copy of the cancelled check, or a credit card record will usually suffice for donations under $250. For donations of $250 or more, a statement from the charity is required, giving the charity’s name, the date, the amount of your donation, and the value of goods and services received for the donation, if any. In the case of payroll donations, your pay stub or W-2 can back up your deduction.

The substantiation rules for noncash donations such as household items differ depending on the type of property and its value. For instance, you’ll need a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity for donations of $250 or more. As a general rule, “contemporaneous” means you receive the acknowledgment before you file your return or before the due date of your return, whichever is earlier.

* Make a gift from your IRA. The break allowing a transfer of up to $100,000 from your IRA to a qualified charity is available for 2011. To benefit, you must be over age 70½, and the contribution has to be a direct payment from your IRA to the charitable organization.

* Write down your vehicle mileage for charitable driving. Written records rule, whether you claim the standard mileage deduction of 14¢ a mile or actual expenses. Make sure your log or other paperwork includes the name of the charity, the date, and the miles you drove or the total cost you incurred.

Please call for advice on getting the most benefit from your donations, including appreciated property and out-of-pocket expenses.

When are social security benefits taxed?

Are you considering post-retirement employment? If you’re collecting social security and thinking of returning to the work force, you may have questions about the effect of that income on the taxability of your benefits.

The answer: Under current law, part of your social security benefits may be taxable. How much? The basic rule is that up to 85% of your annual benefits can be subject to federal income tax when your “provisional” income exceeds specified thresholds. Generally speaking, provisional income is the sum of your adjusted gross income plus tax-exempt interest and one-half of your social security benefits.

Benefits are not taxed when your provisional income is below the threshold applicable to your filing status.

The federal thresholds, called base amounts, range from zero, if you’re married filing separately and live with your spouse all year, to $32,000, if you’re married filing jointly.

A $25,000 base applies when you file as single, head of household, or as a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child. If you’re married, but file separately and do not live with your spouse during the year, you’ll also use the $25,000 figure.

Illustration: When you’re married, file a joint return, and your provisional income exceeds $32,000, a portion of your benefits will be taxed.

Please call us to discuss how income from a new business venture or job will impact your taxes. We’ll be happy to help with planning moves, such as the timing of retirement account distributions, that can ease the tax bite.

IRS raises mileage rates effective July 1, 2011

The IRS announced an increase in the standard mileage rates for computing the deductible costs of operating a car for business or for medical or moving purposes. The new rates will apply to driving from July 1, 2011, through December 31, 2011. The revised rates are 55.5 cents per mile for business driving and 23.5 cents for medical and moving driving. The rate for charitable driving is fixed by law and remains at 14 cents per mile.

Tax-Free Distributions From IRA to Charity


The recently signed 2010 Tax Relief Act extended the availability for taxpayers who are receiving required minimum distributions (RMDs) from an IRA to contribute that amount to a charitable organization. The extension applies to contributions of distributions for all of 2010 and 2011. Also, RMD distributions to a charity can be made in January 2011, and elected to be treated as an RMD for 2010.