Budget cuts to impact IRS service levels

The IRS has revealed that its level of service to U.S. taxpayers is expected to decline due to a combination of factors – increased workloads and cuts to the agency’s 2015 budget.

The increased workloads are partly associated with new tax issues related to the Affordable Care Act. The budget cuts will impact how the IRS is able to respond to customer service telephone and written inquiries. Also notable: the budget cuts could result in taxpayers experiencing delays in receiving their refunds. [Read more…]

Analyze your breakeven point to make better business choices

Breakeven analysis is an important and useful tool in business. Whether starting a new business, expanding current operations, contemplating an acquisition, downsizing, or approaching banks and other potential lenders, one should know what the breakeven is.

Breakeven is simply the point at which costs equal income – no profit, no loss. It’s an excellent starting point for finding out where the business is and where it can go. It’s the first step in planning future growth. It shows how much sales volume is needed to cover fixed and variable expenses. Once a company has reached breakeven, all gross profit beyond that point goes directly to improving the bottom line.

There are certain limitations for the use of breakeven analysis. It ignores the importance of cash flow and makes the assumption that fixed and variable expenses will stay within the parameters used to calculate the breakeven. Sound business assessment will overcome these shortcomings. [Read more…]

IRS adjusts 2015 tax numbers

The tax law requires that certain tax numbers be adjusted for inflation each year. Because inflation was minimal in 2014, most of these numbers are unchanged or change only slightly for 2015. Here are some of the 2015 tax numbers you’ll need to use in this year’s tax planning.

  • The standard mileage rate for business driving increases from 56¢ per mile to 57.5¢ per mile, effective January 1, 2015. The rate for medical and moving mileage decreases from 23.5¢ per mile to 23¢ per mile. The general rate for charitable driving remains at 14¢ per mile.
  • The maximum earnings subject to social security tax in 2015 is $118,500. The earnings limit for those under full retirement age is $15,720. For those at full retirement age, there is no earnings limit.
  • The “nanny tax” threshold remains at $1,900 for 2015. If you pay household employees $1,900 or more during the year, you’re responsible for payroll taxes.
  • The “kiddie tax” threshold increases from $2,000 to $2,100 for 2015. If your child under age 19 (under age 24 for students) has more than $2,100 of unearned income this year (e.g., dividends and interest income), the excess could be taxed at your highest rate.
  • The maximum individual retirement account (IRA) contribution you can make in 2015 remains unchanged at $5,500 if you’re under age 50 and at $6,500 if you are 50 or older.
  • The maximum amount of wages employees can put into a 401(k) plan increases from $17,500 to $18,000. The 2015 maximum allowed for SIMPLE plans is $12,500. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute up to $24,000 to a 401(k) and $15,500 to a SIMPLE plan.
  • For 2015, the maximum amount that can be contributed to a health savings account (HSA) increases to $3,350 for individuals and $6,650 for families.

Tax legislation could change these and other important tax numbers at any time. Before making important business and personal financial decisions this year, contact us for the latest rules.

Note these upcoming tax deadlines

  • February 2 – Employers must furnish 2014 W-2 statements to employees. Payers must furnish payees with Form 1099s for various payments made. (The deadline for providing Form 1099-B and consolidated statements is February 17.)
  • February 2 – Employers must generally file annual federal unemployment tax returns.
  • March 2 – Payers must file information returns, such as Form 1099s, with the IRS. This deadline is extended to March 31 for electronic filing.
  • March 2 – Employers must send Form W-2 copies to the Social Security Administration. This deadline is extended to March 31 for electronic filing.
  • March 2 – Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2014 estimated tax payments must file 2014 tax returns and pay taxes in full.

One-third of existing home sales are now in cash

Some 33% of sales of existing homes (as opposed to brand-new homes) are now cash-only deals, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

The number of sales in which the buyer doesn’t take out a mortgage began to increase a few years ago during the recession, because well-heeled investors were purchasing large numbers of distressed properties with the goal of rehabbing and flipping them.

But according to the survey, in the last few years investors have been joined by a new group of cash purchasers – retirees. These older folks are selling their homes and using the equity to downsize, or are flush from the stock-market boom and are buying vacation homes or condos as an investment. [Read more…]

Fannie Mae will continue to back larger mortgages

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the quasi-government entities that insure or repurchase a high percentage of mortgages in the U.S., will continue to back mortgages as large as $417,000 – and as large as $625,500 in some high-value areas.

That’s the word from the new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the two mortgage giants.

This is good news for buyers who want to take out larger mortgages. Mortgages of more than Fannie and Freddie’s maximum amounts are usually considered “jumbo” loans, and borrowers typically have to meet much higher standards and face many more restrictions. [Read more…]

FHA plans to reduce mortgage insurance for many borrowers

One of the simplest ways for a first-time homebuyer to obtain a mortgage is with a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

The FHA doesn’t make loans, but it insures them for lenders. This makes lenders much more willing to offer a mortgage, because if the borrower defaults, the FHA will be on the hook.

FHA loans often require a down payment of as little as 3.5 percent, and can be obtained in many cases by people who have iffy credit or who have a bankruptcy or foreclosure in their past.

The catch is that borrowers have to pay mortgage insurance. Actually, they usually have to pay two types of insurance – an upfront payment of 1.75 percent of the loan amount (which can be rolled into the loan), and a monthly payment that depends on the length of the loan and the amount of the down payment, but can be as much as 1.35 percent annually. [Read more…]

How to buy a vacation home with friends or family

Sales of vacation homes have been rising sharply lately. Across the country, the number of vacation homes sold last year was up 30% from the year before, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Vacation homes now account for 13% of all home sales. The median price last year was $168,700. Interestingly, most vacation home buyers are under age 45.

Many people have long dreamed of owning a second home, but buying one can seem like a big stretch. One solution is to join forces with friends or family and purchase a home together.

This can be an ideal solution – you get to use the home for part of the year, just as you planned, but you can also share the cost, the maintenance work and the expenses with others. [Read more…]

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Mary did an outstanding job representing us in the recent purchase and closing of our new home.
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Mary is very knowledgeable, trustworthy and responsive. I am selling my house for the first time and it is also a FSBO (for sale by owner) deal. She made the transaction go very smoothly.

~George, a real estate client

Average monthly U.S. apartment rent hits $1,099

The average monthly apartment rent in the U.S. hit $1,099 in the second quarter of 2014, up 3.4% from a year ago.

This was the 18th consecutive quarter in which rents increased, according to research firm Reis, Inc. Over the past year, rents rose 4% or more in many cities across the country, including San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Houston, Nashville, and Denver.

What you need to know about easements on your property

An “easement” is a legal right of someone who doesn’t own a piece of property to use the property for a particular reason. Many properties have easements on them, so it’s important to know about them if you’re considering buying real estate.

An easement permits a third party (such as a neighbor) to use part or all of a property for a specific purpose. For instance, someone may have a right to walk or drive over part of the property to access their home, or to go hunting or fishing there.

The most common type of easement is a utility easement, which says that a utility company can access part of a property to maintain its services. This is generally no big deal – but if a utility truck shows up on your land one day and begins excavating a lot of dirt to upgrade a gas line, it can be very disruptive. [Read more…]

How to make sure your funeral wishes are followed

Many people have very specific preferences for how their funeral should take place. These can include where they want the funeral to be held, who should be invited, what the person will wear, who should speak, what music should be played, and who should act as pallbearers.

If these things are important to you, it’s a good idea to take steps to make sure your wishes are carried out properly. You can write detailed instructions, and let your family know where they can find the information.

It may be tempting to include this information in your will, but you should remember that wills are often not opened until long after the funeral is over. It’s usually better to write a separate document. You might want to attach a copy of it to your health care directive. [Read more…]

Seniors can use Social Security as an interest-free loan

Did you know that if you start receiving Social Security early, but change your mind within 12 months and pay all the money back, you can still wait until your full retirement age and collect much larger monthly benefits?

In effect, after you reach age 62, you can use Social Security as a short-term interest-free loan.

Although this option doesn’t make sense for most people, there are situations where it’s a good idea. For instance, a senior who is laid off from a job after age 62, but expects to find a new job soon, could use Social Security benefits to “tide them over” and then repay the benefits from the new job’s salary. This might be smarter than tapping long-term investments or retirement accounts, both of which could result in higher taxes. [Read more…]

Reverse mortgages can pose big problems for heirs

Reverse mortgages can be a big help to seniors who need extra cash, but they can become a big headache for the person’s family members after they pass away or move to a nursing facility. Family members need to be aware of their rights and obligations, because they usually have to make decisions quickly after a person dies or moves.

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are at least 62 years old to borrow money on their house. The homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, based largely on the value of the home, the age of the borrower, and current interest rates. The loan doesn’t have to be paid back until the house is sold or the homeowner moves out or passes away.

If a couple takes out a reverse mortgage together and one spouse dies, but the other spouse continues living in the house, then nothing happens. But when the last homeowner dies or moves, the entire loan suddenly becomes due. [Read more…]

Here’s yet another danger of ‘do-it-yourself’ wills

Some people try to save money by writing their own will using a pre-printed form or an online program, without consulting a qualified attorney. We often advise people that this is a mistake, and that the potential unfortunate consequences of using a homemade will can be far worse than the cost of doing it the right way in the first place.

A recent case from Florida provides yet another example of why this is true.

A woman named Ann Aldrich wrote her will on something called an “E-Z Legal Form.” She listed her assets – including a house, a car, and a bank account – and said that they should go to her sister. She also said that if her sister died first, they should go to her brother. [Read more…]

Should you enroll in Medicare if you’re still working?

Many people today keep working beyond age 65 – the age when most people become eligible for Medicare. If you’re still working and your employer offers health coverage, do you need to enroll in Medicare? Should you do so?

The answers can be complicated – and there may be different answers for the different “parts” of Medicare. Here’s a closer look:

Medicare Part A. Part A of Medicare covers hospital visits and nursing home stays, as well as certain types of care provided by home health agencies. It’s usually smart to go ahead and enroll in Part A even if you’re still working, since it’s free for most people and it may supplement your employer’s insurance. [Read more…]

Circle these tax dates on your 2015 calendar

It’s tax return filing season once again. Among the tax deadlines you may be required to meet in the next few months are the following:

  • January 15 – Due date for the fourth quarterly installment of 2014 estimated taxes for individuals, unless you file your tax return and pay any taxes due by February 2.
  • February 2 – Employers must furnish 2014 W-2 statements to employees. Payers must furnish payees with Form 1099s for various payments made. (The deadline for providing Form 1099-B and consolidated statements is February 17.)
  • February 2 – Employers must generally file annual federal unemployment tax returns.
  • March 2 – Payers must file information returns, such as Form 1099s, with the IRS. This deadline is extended to March 31 for electronic filing.
  • March 2 – Employers must send Form W-2 copies to the Social Security Administration. This deadline is extended to March 31 for electronic filing.
  • March 2 – Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2014 estimated tax payments must file 2014 tax returns and pay taxes in full.

Do you owe the “nanny tax”?

A good domestic worker can help take care of your children, assist an elderly parent, or keep your household running smoothly. Unfortunately, domestic workers can also make your tax situation more complicated.

Domestic workers of all types generally fall under the “nanny tax” rules. First, you must determine whether your household helper is an “employee” or an “independent contractor.” If you provide the place and tools for work and you also control how the work is done, your helper is probably an employee. For example, at one end of the spectrum, a live-in housekeeper is probably an employee. At the other end of the spectrum, a once-a-month gardening service may qualify as an independent contractor. [Read more…]

IRS announces 2015 mileage rates

The IRS has announced the mileage rates that are to be used for business, medical, moving, and charitable driving in 2015. The rate for business driving increases from last year’s 56 cents a mile to 57.5 cents a mile. The rate for medical and moving mileage decreases from the prior year’s 23.5 cents a mile to 23 cents a mile. The general rate for charitable driving remains at 14 cents a mile.

Congress approves tax extenders through 2014

In its final session of the year, Congress extended a long list of tax breaks that had expired, retroactive to the beginning of 2014. But the reprieve is only temporary. The extensions granted in the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 remain in effect through December 31, 2014. For these tax breaks to survive beyond that point, they must be renewed by Congress in 2015, setting up another lengthy debate.

Although certain extended tax breaks are industry-specific, others will appeal to a wide cross-section of individuals and businesses. Here are some of the most popular items. [Read more…]