• GJM Blog

    Important Industry News & Helpful Tips

File early to reduce your risk of tax return fraud

With the well-publicized security breach at major retailer Target recently, identity theft is likely on your mind. And stolen credit isn’t your only risk.

In an increasingly common scam, identity thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. When the real taxpayers file their returns, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns. It can take months to straighten things out, causing all sorts of headaches and delaying legitimate refunds.

You can reduce your likelihood of becoming a victim by filing your return as soon as possible after you receive your W-2 and 1099s. If you file first, it will be the thief who’s filing the duplicate return, not you.

Also, if you did shop at Target during the security breach, be sure to check your bank and credit card accounts frequently, and consider signing up for the free year of credit monitoring the retailer is offering potential victims.

If you’d like to file your tax return early this year, please contact us. We’d be happy to help. Also let us know if you have questions about protecting yourself from tax return fraud and identity theft.

Time for an estate plan checkup

Now that we’re in the new year, it’s time for an estate plan checkup. Why? First, various exclusion, exemption and deduction amounts are adjusted for inflation and can change from year to year, so it’s a good idea to see if they warrant any updates to your estate plan:

 

2013

2014

Lifetime gift and estate tax exemption

$5.25 million

$5.34 million

Generation-skipping transfer tax exemption

$5.25 million

$5.34 million

Annual gift tax exclusion

$14,000

$14,000

Marital deduction for gifts to noncitizen spouse

$143,000

$145,000

But inflation adjustments aren’t the only reason for an estate plan checkup. You should also review your plan whenever there are significant changes in your family, such as births, deaths, marriages or divorces. And your estate plan also merits a look if your financial situation has changed significantly.

If you want to find out if your estate plan needs updating — or if you don’t have an estate plan and would like to put one in place — please contact us. We can help you ensure you have a plan that will achieve your goals.

Why self-employed should consider a retirement plan before year end

For 2013, the maximum IRA contribution is $5,500 — $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older on Dec. 31. (The maximum IRA contribution or deduction may be reduced or eliminated depending on various factors.) But if you’re self-employed, you may be eligible for a retirement plan that allows you to make much larger contributions. As long as you set up one of the following plans by Dec. 31, 2013, you can make deductible 2013 contributions as late as the 2014 due date of your tax return:

Profit-sharing plan. This allows discretionary contributions and flexibility in plan design. The 2013 contribution limit is $51,000 ($56,500 for taxpayers age 50 and older). Defined benefit plan. This plan sets a future pension benefit and then actuarially calculates the contributions needed to attain that benefit. So you may be able to contribute more to a defined benefit plan than to a profit-sharing plan. The maximum future annual benefit toward which 2013 contributions can be made is generally $205,000. Various caveats and limits apply, so contact us for details. But act soon; there’s not much time left to set up a plan for 2013.

Will your donations be more powerful this year?

Maybe. Deductions are more valuable when tax rates are higher, and higher-income taxpayers face higher rates in 2013. But the return of the itemized deduction reduction could make your donation deduction less valuable. Also keep in mind that the amount of your deduction depends on various factors, including what you give. For example:

Long-term capital gains property. This might be stocks or bonds held more than one year. You may deduct the current fair market value. You also avoid any tax you’d pay on the gain if you sold the property. So such property can make one of the best donations.

Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation:

  • If the property isn’t related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as an antique donated for a charity auction), your deduction is limited to your basis.
  • If the property is related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as an antique donated to a museum for its collection), you can deduct the fair market value.

Services. You may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.

It’s important to pay attention to the many additional rules and limits that apply. If you don’t, your benefit could be smaller than expected. So before making a significant donation, please contact us to find out the tax benefit you’ll receive.

Smart timing of business income and expenses may save or defer tax

By projecting your business’s income and expenses for 2013 and 2014, you can determine how to time them to save — or at least defer — tax. If you’ll be in the same or lower tax bracket in 2014, consider:

Deferring income to 2014. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services. Accelerating deductible expenses into 2013. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before Dec. 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid. But if it looks like you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in 2014, accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses may save you more tax. Accurately projecting income and expenses can be challenging. For help, please contact us. We can also provide additional ideas for timing business income and expenses to your  tax advantage.