Renting Out your Home or Vacation Home?

Dear Client:

You must consider the vacation home rules when you

• rent a bedroom in your home and also use it personally, or
• rent your beach home (or any other home you own) and also use it personally.

Personal Use of the Dwelling

Rent or use by relatives. Personal use includes more than meets the eye. You have personal use of a dwelling when you rent to or allow use by a relative. The rent charged makes no difference.

Paying and non-paying relatives who use your vacation home complicate your deductions. Such use by your relatives is personal use by you. The relatives who come with this personal-use taint include your

• mom and dad,
• brothers and sisters (whole and half),
• sons and daughters,
• grandchildren and grandparents, and
• spouse.

Planning tip. Do not rent to the tainted relatives.

Co-owners

Co-owners must count both use by their relatives and use by themselves as personal use. Thus, if you own a rental home with others, make sure you know about the personal use by the co-owners and also use by their tainted relatives.

Charitable Donations

Charitable donations produce personal use. No matter how much the charitable donor pays for use of your dwelling unit, the IRS counts the charitable use as personal use by you.

If you donate a week of vacation-home use to your school’s annual auction, you have a week of personal use. It makes no difference what the successful bidder pays for that week of use.

Double whammy. Your charitable gift of the right to use your dwelling unit for the week does not produce a deductible contribution for you. The IRS regulations deny a charitable contribution deduction for a gift of the right to use property.

Thus, the charitable gift penalizes you twice. First, the days you donate are days of personal use by you. Second, your donation of the days does not create a charitable deduction for you.

Swaps

Swaps produce personal use. Similarly, you have personal use when you swap dwelling units with a friend or under an exchange agreement. Swaps and bargains produce personal days. You count as personal use of your dwelling unit any days that you

• allow a person to use your unit under an agreement that lets you use another dwelling, whether or not you charge rent; or
• charge less than fair rent.

Example 1. You and Nelson swap one week of vacation-home use. Nelson’s use of your dwelling unit during the one-week swap counts as personal use by you.

Example 2. You and Johnson rent each other’s mountain homes for a week at fair market rent. Johnson’s rental of your dwelling unit during that one week counts as personal use by you. Example 3. You charge your child’s favorite teacher only 67 percent of the fair rent to use your beach home for a week. The teacher’s use of the beach home counts as personal use by you.

Repair Days

Repair days do not produce personal use. Tax law says that you do not use your dwelling unit on days when your principal purpose for such use is repair or maintenance. To qualify the day as a repair day, you must work substantially full-time repairing or maintaining the dwelling unit.

Example 4. You and your spouse arrive Thursday evening at your lakeside cottage after a long drive, but in time for a late dinner at the cottage. You spend a normal workday on both Friday and Saturday getting the unit ready for rental. Your spouse does no work on the house and simply relaxes at the beach.

You depart Sunday, a little before noon. According to the IRS’s examples, your principal purpose for that trip is maintenance. You do not count Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday as days of personal use. The repair days are non-use days.

Example 5. You own a mountain cabin that you rent in the summers. You spend a week at the cabin with your family. The family members work substantially full-time repairing the cabin. You spend about three to four hours each day during that week helping, and the rest of the time fishing, hiking, and relaxing. According to the IRS, your family’s principal purpose of that week’s stay is maintenance; therefore, the days are not days of personal use.

Again, the repair days are non-use days.

Rented Fewer Than 15 Days

Tax-free income. If you rent your dwelling for fewer than 15 days, you do not report the rental income or any rental expenses on your tax return. The income is tax-free. You do not share it with the government.

Planning tip. Do you have an event coming to your area that might command high rents? Examples include a major golf tournament, Olympic event, or other activity that could allow you to rent at a high rate for a short period.

Say you have a summer home on the beach next to a major golf tournament. You rent the home for $10,000 a week for two weeks. You have $20,000 of tax-free income.

Personal Residence or Rental?

The amount of personal use determines how you will treat your tax deductions on the dwelling. You have a tax code-defined rental of the dwelling when your personal use is either

• 14 days or less, or
• 10 percent or less of the days rented.

Example 6—rental. You rent your resort home 260 days. You use it personally for 26 days. Ten percent of your resort home is a personal home. Ninety percent is a rental property.

Example 7—hobby rental. With 30 days of personal use of the resort home in example 6, you have a residence. Your deductions on the rental part during the current tax year may not exceed your rental income (i.e., you have no tax shelter possibility).

Excess deductions carried forward. When the law deems your dwelling a residence, the deductions attributable to the rental are limited to gross rental income. The good news is that you carry forward the deductions in excess of the gross income limit to next year.

Treatment as a Rental Property

If, based on your rental and personal use, tax law classes your summer home as a rental property, you should follow the IRS allocation method to get the best tax breaks.

Personal part of interest lost. If tax law classes your dwelling as a rental property, any mortgage interest allocated to your personal use is non-deductible consumer interest (ouch!).

Passive loss rules. The dwelling classified as a rental property faces the passive loss rules.

Seven-day rule. The dwelling that is a rental under the 14 days and 10 percent tests is not rental real estate under the passive loss rules if the average rental period during the year is seven days or less, as we explain in Know These Tax Rules If Your Average Rental Is Seven Days or Less.

As you can see, there’s much to know about vacation homes. If you would like me to help you make sure you have the rules in hand, please call me on my direct line at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Sincerely,

Bob

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Retirement Plan and IRA Rollover Advice

When moving your retirement money to an IRA, you should follow this one rule of thumb.

If you fail to follow the rule I’m about to reveal, you can face two big problems.

• First, your check will be shorted by 20 percent.
• Second, you will be on the search for replacement money.

Here is this very important rule of thumb that you need to follow: Move the money using a trustee-to-trustee transfer. Nothing else.

There are two types of transfers that can be used to move qualified plan distributions into IRAs in a tax-free manner: (1) direct (trustee-to-trustee) rollovers and (2) what we will call traditional rollovers.

If you want to do a totally tax-free rollover, do nothing other than the direct (trustee-to-trustee) rollover of your qualified retirement plan distribution into the rollover IRA.

This is easy to do. Simply instruct the qualified plan trustee or administrator to (1) make a wire transfer into your rollover IRA or (2) cut a check payable to the trustee of your rollover IRA (this option is less preferable than a wire transfer).

Your employee benefits department should have all the forms necessary to arrange for a direct rollover.

If you want to discuss the trustee-to-trustee rollover with me, please don’t hesitate to call me on my direct line at (805) 264-3305.

Sincerely,
Bob
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services

P.S. Also use the trustee-to-trustee rollover when moving your IRA to another IRA.

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Tax Traps to Avoid in Retirement

Tax Traps to Avoid in Retirement
By Charles Sherry, M.Sc.

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

It’s a quote that comes down to us from Benjamin Franklin, who uttered the phrase in 1789.

Taxes–federal, state, local, sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax, payroll tax, tolls, fees, taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, gift tax, inheritance tax, and cigarettes and alcohol. There has even been a rising chorus that is calling for a special tax on junk food.

Yes, Ben Franklin nailed it. We can’t escape taxes. Before we jump in, let me say that this is a high-level summary. It’s designed to educate and avert surprises. Planning for tax outlays doesn’t reduce the discomfort that goes with paying Uncle Sam. But preparation can reduce the tax bite and eliminate unexpected surprises.

As I always emphasize, feel free to reach out to me with specific questions, or consult with your tax advisor.

That said, let’s get started.

1. Estimated quarterly tax payments may be required.

If you have never been self-employed, you are accustomed to having federal, state (if your state has an income tax), and payroll taxes withheld from each paycheck.

When you stop working, there are no more W-4s to complete and no one is withholding taxes for you. But that doesn’t absolve you of your year-end tax liability.

You can make estimated payments each quarter. You can also have taxes withheld from your pension, social security, or IRA distribution.

If you have yet to file for social security, you may choose to have Social Security withhold 7%, 10%, 12% or 22% of your monthly benefit for taxes. Or you may decide not to have anything withheld.

But make sure enough is withheld or your estimated quarterly payments are sufficient. Otherwise, you may face a penalty.

Does it sound complicated? You don’t have to go it alone. Tax planning is a part of retirement income planning. If you have any concerns or questions, please reach out to me.

Check out this IRS link: https://www.irs.gov/payments/pay-as-you-go-so-you-wont-owe-a-guide-to-withholding-estimated-taxes-and-ways-to-avoid-the-estimated-tax-penalty

Link to IRS Withholding Calculator: https://www.irs.gov/payments/tax-withholding

2. Social security may be taxed.

If you file as an individual and your combined income (adjusted gross income?+ nontaxable interest?+?half of your Social Security benefits) is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits.

If the total is more than $34,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable. Additionally, 13 states–Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia–tax Social Security.

3. Beware of the required minimum distributions for retirement accounts.

Let me put this right up front: failure to take the required distribution could subject you to a steep penalty.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are minimum amounts that retirement plan account owners must withdraw annually starting with the year they reach 70½ years of age or, if later, the year in which they retire.

However, if the retirement plan account is an IRA or the account owner is a 5% owner of the business sponsoring the retirement plan, RMDs must begin once the account holder is 70½, regardless of whether he or she is retired (IRS: Retirement Plan and IRA Required Minimum Distributions FAQs).

RMDs are not required for Roth IRA owners.

The first payment can be delayed until April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½. For all subsequent years, including the year in which you were paid the first RMD by April 1, you must take the RMD by December 31 of the year.

The RMD rules also apply to SEP IRAs and Simple IRAs, 401(k), profit-sharing, 403(b), 457(b), profit sharing plans, and other defined contribution plans.

If you expect to have large RMDs that could push you into a higher tax bracket, it may be beneficial to begin taking distributions prior to 70½. Or, you could convert some of your IRA into a Roth, which will help shelter gains and future distributions from taxes. You pay a tax upfront, but it’s one strategy that can help minimize taxes long-term.

4. The hidden cost of selling your primary residence.

Downsizing can generate cash and reduce your daily expenses. But beware that it may also trigger a tax liability.

If you’ve lived in your primary residence for at least two of the last five years prior to selling, you can exempt up to $250,000 of the profit from taxes if you are single and up to $500,000 if you are married. If you are widowed, you may still qualify for the $500,000 exemption (IRS: Publication 523 (2017), Selling Your Home).

The sale may also trigger the 3.8% tax on investment income. It’s a complex calculation that can ensnare single filers who have net investment income and modified adjusted gross income above $200,000 and $250,000 for married filers. (IRS: Questions and Answers on the Net Investment Income Tax).

The decision to sell shouldn’t be strictly governed by the tax code. However, it’s important to understand the tax ramifications. Timing income streams might be beneficial if a sale will trigger a taxable event.

There are other methods to lower your taxes, including charitable donations. How we structure retirement income, your investments, and distributions from retirement accounts can help to reduce the tax burden. If you need assistance on any of the points I’ve shared, we are happy to assist. Please email me at rcraig1044@aol.com or call me at (805) 264-3305 and we can talk.

Bob

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Time Limit to Correct Social Security Earnings Statement Before It’s Too Late!

Here’s a link to an important article about keeping a eye on your social security earnings records.

There are strict time limits on fixing any errors in your social security earnings record that you need to be aware of. Not correcting the error(s) in a timely fashion could cost you benefits for a lifetime.

http://socialsecurityintelligence.com/check-your-social-security-earnings-statement-before-its-too-late/

If you have any questions about this please feel free to call me.

Bob
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services
(805) 264-3305

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How To Handle a Traditional IRA Inherited from a Non-Spouse

Traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs) became available in 1974 and have been around ever since. This makes your odds of inheriting a traditional IRA pretty good.  

The purpose of this letter is to look at some of the rules that apply when you inherit an IRA from someone other than your spouse.

  Traditional IRA Inherited from a Non-spouse

  Death after start date. If you inherit an IRA from an owner who dies upon attaining age 70 1/2 or later, the IRA must distribute any assets that remain to you (the beneficiary) over the longer of your expected life span or the deceased owner’s expected life span (before death).

  With the exception of separate accounts, if there is more than one beneficiary, the rule requires distribution of the deceased owner’s traditional IRA over the longer designated beneficiary’s life expectancy or the owner’s life expectancy. For this tax rule, the beneficiary with the shortest life expectancy (usually the oldest person) is the designated beneficiary.

  If the owner divided the IRA into separate accounts for the beneficiaries, the accounts act as separate IRAs for distribution purposes.

  Death before start date. If the owner dies before his or her required start date (age 70 1/2), the IRA must distribute any remaining assets under either

 

  • the five-year rule, which requires that the IRA distribute the assets within five years after the death of the owner, or
  • the life expectancy rule, which requires that all remaining assets be distributed over the life span of the designated beneficiary.
 

As you receive the monies from the inherited traditional IRA, you pay taxes at ordinary income rates.  

Planning Strategy  

To minimize taxes for your beneficiaries, aim to stretch out the distributions for as long as possible. This makes the five-year plan rarely a good idea. But it does shine the light on youth. The younger the surviving beneficiaries, the more stretch you create.  

By stretching out non-spouse inherited IRA distributions for as long as possible, you can turn a potential tax danger into a tax benefit. IRA stretching is a proven and widely used method in estate planning. It also allows the IRA’s assets to continue to grow tax-deferred, so with wise investments you could create your own legacy.  

You likely need to know the basic rules that apply to inherited IRAs because you have high odds of both inheriting a traditional IRA and leaving one to your named beneficiaries.  

If you would like to discuss IRAs in more detail, simply give me a call.  

Sincerely,

Bob Craig
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services
431 2nd Street, Suite 3, Solvang, CA, 93463
(805) 264-3305
email: rcraig1044@aol.com

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Tax Tips for Real Estate Investors

Tips For Real Estate Investors

If you are a real estate investor I’m sure you are familiar with a number of tax laws and strategies that real estate investors encounter frequently and not so frequently. Things like:

*Tax Rules and Solutions at Purchase and During Ownership of Real Estate *Living With the Passive Loss Regulations *Taxation at the Time of Sale *1031 or Like-Kind Exchanges *Real Estate in Troubled Times

More Specifically:

-Passive Loss Limitations may limit the amount of losses you can deduct each year -Depreciation – how to compute and what is the long term effect on my situation -Capital Gains versus Ordinary Gains -Exclusion Rules for Gain on the Sale of a Principal Residence -Converting a Principal Residence to a Rental or Vice Versa -Installment Sales of Real Estate -Office In Home Rules -Repossessions, Cancellation of Debt and Bankruptcy

As an investor you may or may not have a detailed understanding of how these areas affect your taxes and investment. But you should have at least a basic understanding of how different rules affect the types of investments you have. Details on the above are obviously beyond the scope of this text, but feel free to contact us if you feel less than confident in any of the areas or if you are thinking of buying, selling, renting, exchanging, executing a short sale, etc.

Here are some areas I get a number of questions about. If you have any other areas that you have questions, please use the ‘Ask a Tax Question’ button to the right on any page of this website.

1. Repairs versus Improvements – There is a distinct tax difference between “repairs” to a property and “improvements” to a property. On one hand, the cost of repairs made by a business is deductible. On the other hand, the cost of improvements must be capitalized and written off over time via depreciation deductions.

Check out this handout, click here: Is it a repair or improvement?

The life of improvements to a residential rental building is generally 27.5 years. On a nonresidential building it is generally 39 years. A real long time in either case.

A good strategy is to separate repairs from improvements when work is done on a business or rental building. For example, don’t lump standard repairs with a major renovation. If that occurs, it will take longer to write off the cost of the repairs.

Fix the broken window, replace the doorknobs, fix the leaky faucet and the like prior to the more renovation type of work.

A repair keeps the property in good operating condition over the course of its life. Conversely, an improvement extends the useful life of the property, increases its value or adapts it for a different use.

But check this out:

But even the Internal Revenue Manual that tells IRS agents how to audit you admits that distinguishing repairs from improvements is a gray area. You’d think that replacing a roof is pretty clearly an improvement, right? Common sense tells you it adds value and prolongs the property’s life. But a recent tax court case ruled that an investor could deduct a roof as a repair because it just helped keep the property in good operating condition over the course of its existing expected life.

Remember, this strategy is for business property, like rental properties. Personal home improvements are not deductible at all so, in the case of your home or vacation homes, it would be better to lump all little repairs in with a major renovation so it can be added to the cost basis of the property when sold.

2. Cost Segregation

The IRS says your clients can “depreciate” their property over a “class life” intended to approximate its useful life.

Residential property depreciates over 27.5 years. If they have an apartment house worth $500,000, they write off $16,666 per year. Not bad . . . .

Nonresidential property depreciates over 39 years. If they have, say, a medical office worth$500,000, they write off $12,820 per year. Not as good as the apartment – but still not bad.

But all real estate includes specific, identifiable components that depreciate faster.

For example, land improvements depreciate over 15 years. These include paving, landscaping, underground utilities, and site lighting.

And personal property depreciates even faster – just 5 to 7 years. For residential property, this includes flooring, cabinets and countertops, appliances, window treatments, and wall coverings. For commercial and industrial property, add equipment foundations, exhaust and ventilation systems, security systems, and electrical distribution systems.

If we just take the 27.5 or 39 year depreciation we could be wasting thousands in tax deductions we can take today.

A “cost segregation study” is an in-depth analysis, performed by specially-trained experts, that lets them identify and reclassify costs that qualify for faster depreciation.

Faster depreciation translates into immediate tax savings.

The best part is, new IRS rules let owners “catch up” any deductions they missed as far back as 1987. Without even amending old returns! You can do that simply by filing IRS Form 3115. And you can claim those savings in a single year.

That makes cost segregation the closest you’ll come to a real “tax time machine”! It’s all court-tested and IRS-approved. In fact, the IRS offers a 136-page Audit Techniques Guide that details exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s not for everyone but it can make a big difference in the right situation.

3. Depreciation Recapture

Remember that when a property is sold, all depreciation taken over the life of the investment will reduce your cost basis increasing the gain on the sale.

4. Converting Personal Residence to a Rental

You can convert a personal residence to a rental property and if time limits are adhered to, you can still take at least a portion of your tax exclusion for the sale of a personal residence. If you rent it out after 2008 there will be a proration of the exclusion. This can get complex so check it out with an your tax advisor or call us.

You can also go the other way and convert a rental property to your residence and if you live and own it for a long enough period you may be able to exclude some of the gain. Again, a complex issue, call us if you need help.

5. Inherited Property

If the owner of real property passes away, be sure to get an appraisal of the value of the property at the date of death. This will be the new basis for gain or loss on sale and for depreciation. You should get this appraisal even if there is no estate tax return (706) filing requirement.

Also important is if you own property with your spouse make sure that title is held as community property with right of survivorship (if you’re in a community property state such as California). This way the property will get a full step up in basis on the death of the first spouse. If you have a living trust, be sure to run this by your attorney or tax person to ensure it is setup properly.

Call me if you wish to discuss any of these issues. Thank you, Bob (805) 264-3305

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Tax Tips for Real Estate Agents

Tax Tips For Real Estate Agents

You, as a real estate broker or agent, have two ways to grow your real net income:

1. Financial Offense
2. Financial Defense

Financial offense boost your income. Get more listings, more showings, more closings, sell more expensive properties, add additional services and the like.

Financial offense is hard work! If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Financial defense is simply to cut costs, while maintaining the integrity of your business plan. If you are like most real estate pros, taxes are your biggest single expense—and your biggest roadblock to financial security.

A successful real estate pro can give away 40% or more of their income.

How do you stop the tax madness?

Tax planning guarantees results. You can spend hours and hours and thousands of dollars on speculative marketing efforts that take years to pay off for you. With increased income you spend $5 to net $1.

With taxes, if you save $5, you have $5 more in spendable income.

Tax planning gives you control. You can’t control the economy, interest rates, or any other external forces—but you can make sure you take advantage of every tax break the law allows.

Taking advantage of all the tax breaks and so called loopholes in the tax code is perfectly legal. But it is not all cut and dry, so it is filled with land mines and potential traps, the “red flags.”

To sum up, tax planning works. Together, both your offense and defense will govern the results you get from your business. To bring in the token sports cliché: ‘Offense sells tickets, defense wins games’. This applies to business as well.

Tips of the Month:

Tip #1. Picking the Right Broker or Agent, or How To Be The Broker/Agent That’s Right To Pick.

Do buyers actually go out and look for an agent? Probably most of the time they just stumble over them. At an open house, a cocktail or block party, a friend or relative who knows one is most likely the way we happen upon a broker or agent.

So, look at advice you may give someone on finding the best broker or agent, and make sure you are that person.

Recommendation – People look for referrals. Be out there, let people you’ve done great work for know that you did great work for them. Ask for the referral at the time you do the work when it’s fresh on their minds. And then follow up, don’t let em forget you. Get a testimonial.

Expertise – What is your expertise? Do you specialize in one area or another of real estate? This helps to nail down your target market. Then combine that with the recommendation side and hang with the people who can refer you the prospects that are most likely to own or want properties in your niche. Let them know, you are the professional who has done it before.

Commitment – How committed are you to putting the client first? This is a gut check one. People want a pro that’s totally committed. Are you that person? If not, become that person. Remind yourself each day where your bread is buttered. Fall in love with your prospects and clients. It makes the work more fun too. Are you just dabbling in real estate part-time?

Reputation – Reputations good or bad, are earned. They are earned by doing great work. Have letters of recommendation from clients and from your office managers, if applicable, for potential clients.

Drive – Kind of like commitment, but more action oriented. Drive can also be called determination. Do you have it? Are you part-time or full-time? All the drive in the world is useless if you’re not around when the client has a problem or wants to write or respond to an offer.

Flexibility – This goes somewhat with expertise, but how adept are you at sensing the right time to adjust pricing and adapting to changing real estate climates?

List/Sale Ratio – Do you close 70% or more of your listings? What is your listings average time on the market? A smart prospector may ask to see statistics, but even if they don’t, it should give you confidence in knowing the numbers. Also, if they are sub-par, it gives one a goal to work toward.

The Company You Work For – What is the company’s reputation? What is the company going to do for the client? Does your company have systems with strong marketing plans and tools, and systems to communicate these to the client? The company should have a strong reputation of backing up the client.

Bedside Manner – Maybe actually the biggest single factor for selecting a professional to represent a client is his or her bedside manner so to speak. How well do you connect? How well do you sense what the prospective client wants from you? And how willing are you to give them exactly what they want? People can sense these things so you need to have the right attitude and it will shine through.

I hope these are a help. You may have more traits that you have worked out yourself but the key is to become the real estate professional that the clients you want to work for are looking for. Then your confidence and energy will precede you in all your business dealings. These even work to improving yourself in your personal life too.

Tip #2

Successful agents spend more time by far, than unsuccessful agents, finding prospects proactively, presenting, and closing buyers and sellers. Therefore, these items should be priorities for the successful real estate agent.

Tip #3

Be able to help your clients, either with personal knowledge and experience, or by getting an outside advisor, with decisions regarding real estate investments. This helps them make buying and selling decisions quickly and makes you look good. Click Here to read my article on “Tax Tips for Real Estate Investors.”

Go get em!!!

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Tax Deal Made

Well, they did it. They drug it out to the last minute, but they did it. Weeelll, they did some of it. And I’d really like to thank all of them in Washington for dragging us through this during the holidays and leaving us to sort this all out this morning while at the same time trying to digest all the holiday turkey, food and fun.

Most taxpayers got the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, a good thing. As you’ll read below, individuals making more than $400,000 single and married couples making more than $450,000 were not so lucky. For those of you in these income levels, we will be talking personally as soon as all the details are ironed out for where we go from here.

Also, the debt ceiling and spending issues have not been addressed, that’s been ‘kicked down the road ‘ a couple months. If we think this over the holidays bickering was nasty and ugly, I fear we ain’t seen nothin yet.

Tax changes included in Congress’ fiscal cliff legislation (01-01-2013)

Here is a summary of the provisions included in the bill, which the President is expected to sign.

Tax rates beginning January 1, 2013:
A top rate of 39.6% (up from 35%) will be imposed on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, $425,000 for head of household, and $450,000 for married filing joint.

2% Social Security reduction gone

AMT permanently patched
A permanent AMT patch, adjusted for inflation, will be made retroactive to 2012.

Dividends and capital gains
The maximum capital gains tax will rise from 15% to 20% for individuals taxed at the 39.6% rates (those making $400,000, $425,000, or $450,000 depending on filing status, as noted above).

Itemized deduction and personal exemption phase-outs
The Pease itemized deduction phase-out is reinstated, and personal exemption phase-out will be reinstated, but with different AGI starting thresholds (adjusted for inflation): $300,000 for married filing joint, $275,000 for head of household, and $250,000 for single.

Estate tax
The estate tax regime will continue to provide an inflation-adjusted $5 million exemption (effectively $10 million for married couples) but will be applied at a higher 40% rate (up from 35% in 2012).

Personal tax credits
The $1,000 Child Tax Credit, the enhanced Earned Income Tax Credit, and the enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit will all be extended through 2017.

Other personal deductions and exclusions
The following deductions and exclusions are extended through 2013:

  • Discharge of qualified principal residence exclusion;
  • $250 above-the-line teacher deduction;
  • Mortgage insurance premiums treated as residence interest;
  • Deduction for state and local taxes;
  • Above-the-line deduction for tuition; and
  • IRA-to-charity exclusion (plus special provisions allowing transfers made in January 2013 to be treated as made in 2012).
Business provisions
  • The Research Credit and the production tax credits, among others, will be extended through 2013;
  • 15-year depreciation and §179 expensing allowed on qualified real property through 2013;
  • Work Opportunity Credit extended through 2013;
  • Bonus depreciation extended through 2013; and
  • The §179 deduction limitation is $500,000 for 2012 and 2013.

Remember, these are only tax changes with regards to the fiscal cliff legislation. As I have stated in prior emails, there are a batch of new taxes that went into effect on January 1st as part of Obama’s 2010 health care reform legislation. To avoid confusion, I will follow up this email with a separate one addressing these new taxes.

I will have a bit of work sifting through all this in the next few days and as details emerge There are sure to be things that were slipped in to this bill that will need to be looked at. For example, there is apparently a $59 million break to algae growers to encourage biofuel production and I will need to see who of you this may affect…

Please email any questions you may have on any of this and how it may affect your situation. For now, gotta hit the books.

Take care,

Bob

Robert W. Craig, E.A. Tax and Business Services (805) 264-3305

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Got the Budget, Now What?

So what did you find out? What insights did you get into your spending habits? Did you find at least a few places where you might save some dough?

This is the fourth post in this series, if you missed any of the others visit www.BobCraig.biz to see all posts, or just click here for post #1, click here for post #2, and click here for post #3.

Well, you’re probably discovering that your finances fall into one of three categories:
1) a deficit position, that is, you’re spending less than you make, and are in debt, and that debt is growing,
2) a break-even position, no debt and spending everything that you make, or
3) a surplus position, there’s more money at the end of the month.

No matter which position you’re in, it can be improved upon. Now the mistake most people make who are in category #1 or #2 is thinking that the answer is to:

Make more money

They think that all they have to do to move out of the #1 or #2 slot is to earn more money. WRONG!!!

People in deficit and break even positions have what is called a bad habit. A habit of spending more that they make, or the habit of spending everything that they make. We are all creatures of habit. And habits, good or bad, become part of us by definition. Check out the definition of habit: A settled or regular tendency or practice, esp. one that is hard to give up.

Making more money is fine, but do not think that making more money will solve all your financial problems. So, what will solve the problems? The answer is to make new habits. How? You don’t try to force the bad habits out the back door, that’s too much work, and it focuses your attention on the bad habit.

No, you identify the bad habit and then replace it with it’s polar opposite, a good new habit. For example, if your identified bad habit is that you don’t take advantage of specials and coupons, the new habit is to be conscious of specials on things you wish to buy, and be on the lookout for coupons for things you spend money on.

Action Step #1: Look at your budget, your current spending patterns and write down the ones where you can see a benefit in creating a new habit with. Just get them on paper for now.

Action Step #2: Rate them in order of ease of dealing with, maybe 1 to 10, 1 being best. Then rate them in order of which ones will have the greatest financial impact for you, again from 1 to 10.

Action Step #3: Assess for yourself which have the greatest financial impact and have a fairly high rating on the ease factor. Remember, we are trying to create new habits here. Don’t overwhelm yourself and try to fix everything today. Also if one would be, in your opinion right now, very difficult to implement for you mentally, emotionally or physically, leave that one for later. If it’s too hard you may give up the whole process. Even small habit changes, when added together with other small changes will yield results far greater than the individual parts. Remember from post #1, little things really add up.

It can take from 21 days to a couple of months to change a habit and make it permanent so just work on those for now. You’ll start seeing results and more money in the bank. You’ll start feeling better about yourself and have less financial worry. At that point you will be impelled to attack the tougher bad habits with confidence and fearlessness. Slow and steady wins the race.

Here’s a bonus action step. Go back to your budget and right at the top of the list of expenses put, “Pay Myself First” and enter the figure of 10% of your income. Now, if you just don’t make enough or have cut your spending down quite yet, start with a smaller number but ultimately shoot for 10%. The habit is what we’re trying to develop so even $5 a week will be habit forming.

Now open up an investment account at your bank, brokerage firm or online account like ETrade and invest the money there and DON’T TOUCH IT!!! Just invest it and watch it grow. It is not to be spent. This will become clear in a later article.

Another thing along these lines is to get a piggy bank, one that’s impossible to get into and put $1 or $5 or $10 or your spare change into it each day. Again, this develops a habit of saving the money we might otherwise piddle away on something we can’t even remember at the end of the day. Then at the end of three months, open it up, count it out and see how much you’ve saved. Now take 10% or 20% of it and just go out and blow it as frivolously as you wish. Take the rest and put it into your investment account. You can play with the percentages, the key here not only to build more cash, but to reward yourself for doing the program.

Some people always come back and say, “I can’t do this.” “I can’t” almost always translates into “I won’t.” Just try it for 60 days, test drive it, if it doesn’t work you can always go back to the old way but, if you’ve read this far, the old way has probably not been satisfactory for you.

Robert W. Craig, E.A.
www.BobCraig.biz

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The Nasty “B” Word

This is the third post in a series to help us regain control of our money and get that money working for us so hopefully someday we won’t have to work it anymore.  If you missed the first two installments, click here for part 1, and click here for part 2, to bring yourself up to speed.

Our minds are cunning creatures.  When we think about all this cutting back on spending stuff often it tells us things like; “hey, you work hard, you deserve that soda every day” or “inflation is running rampant, better spend it now while it’s still worth something.”

Now, both of those may hold some validity, and you do deserve to enjoy things, but wouldn’t those things you buy be much more enjoyable if your finances were under control? If all your bills are paid, the car’s maintained, you’ve got six months income for a cushion for emergencies, you are building a retirement account, you are putting money away for short or long term goals, and are spending money that is actually designated for fun…don’t you think you might enjoy the expenditure a whole lot more?

Now that you’ve freed up some money the million dollar question is…”what do I do with it?”

Not so fast, sorry but now I have to bring up the “B” word. It’s time to figure out what you have ‘coming in’ each month, and how much you have ‘going out’ each month. You also need to know your expenditures by category. You’ve probaby guessed the “B” word is budget. Yeah, the word gives me a pang when I see it too, but in reality it’s not that hard to do for a household or even a business though, for a business you may want some help from your accountant.

Truth be told, most of us put this off or neglect it completely. We think we have it ‘all in our heads’. I used to think that, that I had a grip on it. Bottom line is that this thinking is a subconscious head-in-the-sand trick to keep us from facing the fact that we overspend. We know we overspend, we just don’t want expose ourselves from our bliss of ignorance.

If this sounds like you and you’re struggling financially, or not struggling but have that nagging frustration that, even though you may make a nice income, you are not progressing year to year. “Where does it all go?” you ask. Well until you get it on paper…You will never know where it all goes!

It doesn’t have to be a long-winded affair. Pull out your bank statements, checkbook register and credit card statements for the past 12 months along with your current paystubs and/or business draws if you’re self-employed. Get a columnar pad or use the computer program Excel and make columns for sources of income and categories of expenses, and then go through your bank statements, checkbook register, and credit cards and list each expense under it’s category. Note: use the credit card statements for charges, not your checkbook register for the payments. It’s vitally important to know what you charged, not just the payment.

Be as detailed as you can while not being too specific. For example, use a category called Groceries and Household Supplies, rather than Vons, Ralphs, Costco, etc. You may if you wish breakout Groceries from Household Supplies. You can go here for a free Excel template, just scroll down to where it says Download Now: http://www.vertex42.com/ExcelTemplates/personal-monthly-budget.html

This will help you out with categories and when you tally your income and expenses, you can plug the numbers in to see where you’re at now.

The next step is to be brutally honest with yourself on the numbers. Some expenses are absolutely necessary for survival, food, clothing, shelter, getting to work, certain insurances, etc.

Some seem necessary but really are not necessary like, cable tv (yes, it is not required for survival), health club memberships (essential to stay fit but one can workout at home), holiday gifts (we’ve had some bad years where we bought absolutely nothing, and lived through it), etc. We’re just identifying things here so don’t be afraid to be honest.

Some are just not necessary like, movies, booze (that hurts me too), cigarettes, eating out, the daily coffee at the coffee shop…you’ll know what these are.

Again, the idea is not to cut all of these things out. It’s just vital to know what’s coming in and going out, and which can be sliced, diced, cut up, reduced or eliminated. If you find you have to cut something out completely today, once things are squared up and fixed, you have the choice to pick it up again as an expenditure. It will be your choice and the joy that you know you can afford it will make it much more enjoyable than before.

This whole budget thing is so crucial and you may decide you want some help in getting going on this so if you need assistance, I offer a service for this, so do give me a call at (805) 264-3305.

Good luck and happy hunting.

Robert W. Craig, E.A.
www.BobCraig.biz

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