Most financial professionals will give you their credentials, which will include the professional organizations they belong to. Here at Step By Step, one of our longtime associations is NAPFA: National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. In fact, many of our referrals come from their handy “find an advisor” function on the website. Every advisor is required to pledge a Fiduciary Oath annually (no sales commisions for products, complete disclosure of business practices) and adhere to a strict Code of Ethics. They provide ongoing continuing education for affiliated advisors and are often noticeable in the public sphere, promoting integrity in the financial profession. Step By Step is proud to be a part of NAPFA. We hope you’ll take 40 seconds to view their latest video: The NAPFA Story. It gives a great background introduction to how it came to be and it’s mission.
I find three of the most common “do-it-yourself” tax preparation mistakes include capital gains, business asset depreciation and rental home cost basis.
Many people do not know the difference between short-term (1 year or less) and long-term (1 year and 1 day+) capital gains tax treatment. I have met individuals who had to pay more in tax then necessary because they sold their asset within a day or two of it becoming a long-term asset. Knowing the difference between short-term and long-term capital gains can save you up to 20% or more on your federal return. If you receive an inherited asset, it is deemed to be a long-term capital gain and it receives a step-up in basis. This means your basis is what it was worth on the day the grantor died. If you have capital gains on your return and/ or your received an inherited asset, I strongly encourage you to seek out a professional and competent tax professional.
Moreover, another area worth significant tax savings on your return is calculating and planning your business asset deprecation correctly. I have had to amend many returns to correct their depreciation schedules. It is important you keep your purchase documentation for business assets and allow your tax professional to determine the best course of action in preparing your depreciation schedules. Many times, if I have a start-up business, it is more advantageous to depreciate business assets rather than taking a Section 179 expense deduction. If your business is showing a loss even before you have calculated depreciation, it is probably not in your best interest to expense the asset.
Finally, cost basis tracking on rental properties is another area where I see common mistakes. This is especially evident with converted personal to rental property. If you convert your home from a personal residence to a rental, your basis for depreciation is either the FMV (Fair Market Value) or adjusted basis at the time the property was converted. The adjusted basis is the original purchase price of the home in addition to many improvements and purchasing expenses. The basis for your rental property is the lower of these numbers (current FMV or adjusted cost basis).
Unless you have a very simple tax return, I strongly encourage you to seek out the advice of a competent professional. Tax preparation work is very tricky and can cost you in the long run if it is not done correctly. If you have capital gains, business depreciation or rental property on your return, I would consult with either a CPA or Enrolled Agent before filing your own return. The value of a good professional should far outweigh any fee they may charge.
Many people fail to plan when it comes to taxes. You can save significant amounts of money regarding your tax liability if you are willing to be plan. Below you will find some proactive tax planning strategies:
1. Learn the range for the marginal tax brackets. You can find these at http://taxes.about.com/od/preparingyourtaxes/a/tax-rates_2.htm. With some planning, you may be able to reduce your taxable income so as to be taxed at a lower marginal rate.
2. Evaluate your investments and make sure you not only have them allocated appropriately, but also determine if they are in the most tax-efficient vehicle. See previous blog entry regarding asset location at http://stepbystepfinancial.org/blog/2009/06/14/asset-location-an-often-overlooked-aspect-of-investing/
3. Fund your available retirement plans as much as possible. Don’t just contribute what the company gives you as a match!
4. Document the non-cash charitable contributions you make to organizations, such as Goodwill and Salvation Army. You give more than you realize.
5. Keep track of miles for business, unreimbursed employee expenses, charity and medical.
6. Use your investment losses in your non-retirement accounts to offset gains.
7. Be mindful of potential state tax deductions for contributions to 529 college savings plans.
8. Consider Donor Advised Funds for charitable purposes.
There are many other potential tax planning strategies so I encourage you to speak to your tax professional for ideas and suggestions. Tax preparation is nothing other than “documenting history.” Tax planning is where the real money is saved. I encourage you to take some time before the end of the year to see how you can proactively plan to reduce your 2010 tax liability.