2014 Year End Tax Update

Tax Planning

tax planning


In case you didn’t hear the news, Congress extended all of the tax breaks that ended in 2013… for just one more year. While this leaves the future hazy at least it gives us a little bit of time in 2014 to make some adjustments.

Here is a run down of the extended tax breaks for 2014:

  • Itemized deductions for state sales tax in lieu of income tax (great for Florida residents!)
  • $250 deduction for educators’ classroom supplies (read more about that here)
  • Exclusion of debt forgiveness on primary residences- this is great if you renegotiated your mortgage or had a short sale in 2014 because you won’t pay taxes on it up to $2 mil
  • Direct-to-charity donations for those over 70 ½ who have required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs, up to $100,000
  • The research and development tax credit for business
  • Depreciation- two big changes here:
    • 50% bonus depreciation on fixed assets- take bonus depreciation on all assets whether or not they are new, but new to you (i.e. purchase of used equipment).
    • $500,000 limit on Section 179

In addition to the extended tax breaks, tax-deferred ABLE savings accounts were created for those who became disabled before age 26. Payins of up to $14,000 per year can be made to ABLE accounts, and payouts used for housing, transportation, education, etc. will be tax-free.

Congress also reduced the IRS’s funding for 2015. This means longer wait times if you need to call the Service. It also means that audits will become less frequent. That could be good news if you were planning on an aggressive tax strategy for 2014.

If you have any questions on 2014 tax rules? Want a difference set of eyes to review prior year tax return? Please feel free to contact me to arrange a consultation.

Doing Good and Lowering Your Tax Bill

Doing Good and Lowering Your Tax Bill

Doing Good and Lowering Your Tax Bill


2014 is about to end and you might be thinking about how to lower your tax bill. Given the holiday season, you might also be thinking about how to do some good in the world. There’s still time to do both!

Charitable contributions can be an effective tool to lower your tax bill if you itemize your deductions. Here are some other things to consider:

  • You have to donate to a qualified charity- not individuals, political organizations or candidates.
  • Keep records! Any cash you donate must have a written record with the charity name, date, and amount. For donations over $250, the charity must give you a written letter.
  • Donating clothing or other items? You need to file Form 8283 Noncash Charitable Contributions http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8283.pdf if the gift is more than $500. Gifts over $5,000 need an appraisal.
  • You can only deduct a contribution if the value of anything you receive is less than your contribution. For example, if you paid to go to a charity dinner, only a portion of that is deductible.

Miss America Pageant Plays Accounting Games

Being a South Jersey native and growing up in Atlantic City, the Miss America Pageant was always an exciting thing.  I even got to be in the Miss America Parade in high school with the marching band.  But it wasn’t until seeing this John Oliver piece that I really gave it much thought.  Apparently the organization claims to provide scholarships of $4 million to women.  John’s team dug up all of the organizations tax returns, which are required to be open to public inspection because it is a non profit organization, and discovered that the actual dollar figure of scholarships given out was more along the lines of $500,000.  How can this difference be?  It turns out that Miss America comes to the $4 million figure by adding up all possible scholarships that they give, as well as all other scholarships that other organizations will give to their participants.  That is some creative accounting if I’ve ever seen any.  Watch the video- skip ahead to minute 9 to see the discussion on the tax returns.


How to Fully Deduct Business Gifts

Usually business gift deductions are limited to $25

recite-business gifts

Many business owners might not be aware of this, but gifts that your business gives out to vendors, customers, or other business associates are only tax deductible up to $25 per year, per recipient. This means that if you were thinking of passing out expensive bottles of wine (or tequila if you were thinking of sending your favorite CPA a gift! 😉 from your business, you would only be able to deduct $25 for each bottle on your tax return.

There are some exceptions to this $25 rule that will allow you to deduct the cost of gifts fully:

  • Any item that costs $4 or less and has the giver’s name imprinted on it – think pens, swag bags, etc.
  • Signs and promotional materials for the recipient to use on their business premises.

Tweet: Usually business gift deductions are limited to $25. Read more for exceptions: bit.ly/1qKWyc1 @BetteHochberger

Why Not to Pull Money Out of Retirement Accounts Early

Retirement account penalties

recite-early withdrawal 10%

Hopefully, you have been doing the responsible thing and putting away a nice little nest egg in retirement plans such as pensions, profit sharing plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). If you did, resist the urge to take money out of those accounts before your turn 59½. For starters, the money you withdraw will be taxable to you. Additionally, it is subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty. It’s an IRS “red flag” to forget to include that 10% penalty and increases your chance of an audit.

There are some exceptions to this early-withdrawal penalty. The penalty does not apply if you are disabled, distribution is due to the taxpayer’s death, or benefits are paid out as an annuity over the remaining life expectancy. It also does not apply to IRS withdrawals for educational expenses, certain home-buying expenses, and unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 7.5% AGI.

Tweet: Pull money out of retirement accounts before 59½ and face a 10% early-withdrawal penalty. Read more:bit.ly/1ujjPSt @BetteHochberger

When Outsourced Payroll Goes Bad

IRS doesn't take excuses when it comes to payroll

recite-payroll bankrupt

Usually when you work with a payroll company, the last thing you expect is for them to not send your tax payments into the IRS. Unfortunately, in a recent court case, when a payroll company declared bankruptcy, that is exactly what happened.

In this particular case, when the payroll company went under it held client funds that were supposed to be paid to the IRS. Some clients received IRS notices that they still owed money while others never received those notices because they went straight to the payroll company. The bankrupt payroll company told some clients it was an IRS error. Regardless, the clients’ money was gone- and they still owed the taxes.

To reduce the risk of something like this happening to you, follow these steps:

  1. Hire reputable payroll companies. I work with http://www.zenpayroll.com.
  2. Don’t allow the payroll company to sign your tax returns. Confirm that the payroll company deposited your tax payments and filed your returns.
  3. Don’t let IRS correspondence be sent to the payroll company.
  4. Request tax account transcripts from the IRS on a regular basis.

Payroll taxes is one area the IRS is not sympathetic or forgiving about. Companies are always responsible for their taxes and the tax courts agree.

Tweet it! IRS doesn’t take excuses when it comes to payroll taxes, even if your payroll company goes bankrupt. bit.ly/1uvBd4p @BetteHochberger


Back To School-Tax Savings For Teachers

Teachers can deduct up to $250 for out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

Teachers can deduct up to $250 for out-of-pocket classroom expenses.


It’s back to school time! As everyone is busy getting ready to head to class, I want to remind the teachers out there that they have a special educator expense deduction.

Eligible educators can deduct up to $250 of any unreimbursed expenses paid for books, supplies, computer equipment, and materials used in the classroom on their personal tax return. To be eligible educators must be a kindergarten through twelfth-grade teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aid, and work at least 900 hours in the school year.

Currently, this deduction is only good for 2013. It expired last December and as of today, has not been renewed for 2014 or later. Hopefully, Congress will extend this.

Tweet it! Teachers can deduct up to $250 for out-of-pocket classroom expenses. Read more: bit.ly/1qrWwnF @BetteHochberger

Bitcoin-It Isn’t Cash

bitcoin not cash

bitcoin not cash


Bitcoin is a new, virtual currency created in 2009. Transactions are made without banks, without fees, and without giving your real name. Exchange Bitcoins via mobile apps or computers, similar to sending cash digitally (like PayPal). Some big companies, such as Dell, Expedia, and Zynga even accept Bitcoin as payment.

Virtual currency sounds great except that as far as the IRS is concerned, Bitcoin is not considered cash. It is considered to be property. Similar to buying and selling stock, you need to record the cost you paid for the Bitcoin and the value when you sold it.

Here’s an example. You buy a Bitcoin for $2- this is your cost. Later you use that Bitcoin to pay for $10 worth of Candy Crush items from Zynga. The $10 would be your sales price. According to the IRS, you have a taxable gain of $8 ($10 sale less the $2 cost), which you need to report on your tax return! Pay $10 to Zynga in cash, and there would not be anything to report.

Tax issues surrounding Bitcoin and virtual currency are new and developing. If you work with Bitcoin and have tax questions, please contact me.

Tweet it! Bitcoin is not cash, according to the IRS. Read more: bit.ly/1oswotn @BetteHochberger

Contractors vs. Employees

contractors vs. employees

recite-contractor vs employee

When companies are hiring there is often a question of whether they are bringing on contractors or employees. Sometimes it is easy to figure out, like when you use an outsourcing company or a subcontractor. Other times it can be more difficult to determine, such as hiring a remote employee or a sales representative.

The IRS asks some questions when determining if someone is a contractor or an employee:

  1. Does the company control what the worker does and how the worker does his job? For example, do you tell the worker he has to work from 9-5, or can he work whenever is convenient to him?
  2. Are the business aspects of the worker’s cob controlled by the company? This can include how you pay the worker, if you reimburse expenses, if you supply tools, etc.
  3. Are there written contracts or employee-type benefits? This can include pension plans, insurance, vacation pay, etc.

There are consequences for miscategorizing employees as contractors. If you are paying workers as contractors when they should be employees, you can be responsible for payroll taxes. Late fees and penalties for missed payroll taxes can be very steep, and the IRS takes this very seriously.

There is no set rule for answering the contractor vs. employee question. Consider the entire relationship, make sure you consider the degree of control involved (what will be done and how it will be done), and make sure you document the decision in case the IRS questions you.

If you have questions about contractors vs. employees or payroll issues, please contact me.

Tweet it! Consider control when determining if workers are contractors vs. employees. Read more: bit.ly/1o9O5rz @BetteHochberger

Is Your Business Just a Hobby?

business hobby loss


What’s the difference between a hobby and a business?  According to the IRS, it is whether or not you are trying to make a profit.  If you are not trying to make a profit and just want to write off the cost of your hobby, then you are subject to the “hobby loss rules.”

Business losses (when expenses are greater than income) can offset other income on your tax return. The general rule is that your business must make a profit in at least three out of the last five tax years. Otherwise, the IRS is allowed to re-characterize it as a hobby.  The reason this is a problem is because losses from hobbies can only be deducted up to the amount of income and only as a miscellaneous itemized deduction on Schedule A. This difference in treatment can significantly affect the amount of tax you pay.

The IRS provides this list to help you determine if you are in business or just enjoying your hobby:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Do you depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

If you are not sure if your business is just a hobby contact me for an evaluation.

Tweet it! If your business has losses in at least three of the last five years, you have a hobby.  bit.ly/UmHnYb @BetteHochberger