Another professional affiliation we take seriously here at Step By Step Financial is our relationship with the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors. Founded by a pioneer member of NAPFA, Bert Whitehead, the ACA is a growing group of financial counselors who share his belief in unbiased, independent financial advice and consumer advocacy. With a rigorous training program and high credential requirements, the ACA maintains some of the toughest-to-meet standards in the industry for its fiduciary standard of care required of its planners.
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.
Below are my notes and questions I used for the Lead$ Summit today at the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce. Use these notes to help you “retool” for the New Year! Feel free to leave comments below.
Presented by: Kevin Jacobs, CFP®, EA
Owner of Step By Step Financial, LLC
Definition of Character
- “The ability to meet the demands of reality.”
- Dr. Henry Cloud, Integrity, pg. 24
Aspects of Character
- “The ability to connect authentically (which leads to trust).”
- “The ability to be oriented toward the truth (which leads to finding and operating in reality).”
- The ability to work in a way that gets results and finishes well (which leads to reaching goals, profits or the mission).”
- The ability to embrace, engage, and deal with the negative (which leads to ending problems, resolving them or transforming them).”
- The ability to be oriented toward growth (which leads to increase).”
- The ability to be transcendent(which leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself).”
- Dr. Henry Cloud, Integrity, pg. 35
With knowing the definition of character, now we can progress at evaluating our life and retooling for the future.
- Are there things you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
- What is not working in your life?
- Is your life in balance?
- Do you have enough leisure time, vacations, travel, hobbies, and fun in your life?
- What is your “top ten” list and what are you doing do achieve them?
- What are 10 things you most love doing?
- Are there any big adventures you want to have?
- How’s your health? Are there changes you want to make?
- Do you want to reduce stress or increase your level of fitness?
- Are there areas of personal growth that you would like to pursue?
- Is there a degree or professional designation you want to receive? What steps are you taking to achieve it?
- Are you as involved as you would like in your community?
- Are your friendships what you would like them to be, in terms of both quality and quantity?
Vocational / Business
- Are you happy in your current career or profession?
- Is it rewarding for you?
- Do you want to increase your income?
- Is your business profitable?
- Do you want to start a business?
- Are there planning or marketing ideas you would like to pursue for your business?
- Are you working a reasonable number of hours?
- Have you set your 2011 business activity and income goals?
- What priority does money take in your life?
- What are you building wealth for?
- How much do you need?
- Are there changes you would like to make in your income, expenses, cash flow, debt, savings, reserves, emergency funds, investing, taxes, or net worth, for example?
- Are you making the progress toward your retirement / financial independence that you would like?
- Are there any impending financial decisions that you need to plan for?
- Is college education funding for your children / grandchildren satisfactory?
- Are there any changes or improvements you need to make to your home?
- Is your estate planning up to date? Are you on track to leave the end-of-life gifts you want to make?
- Have you reviewed your insurances recently?
- Are there family goals you have – trips, more time together, for instance?
- How is your relationship with your spouse?
- How are your relationships with your children?
- How are your relationships with other family members – siblings, parents, confidants?
- Are your family members taken care of for the future?
- Do the important people in your life know how much you love and care for them?
Philanthropy/ Charitable Giving
- Do you want to volunteer more – or differently?
- Are your charitable contributions at the level you would like?
- Are you satisfied with the legacy you plan on leaving?
- Are there things you want to simplify or consolidate in your life?
- How is your spiritual / religious life? What can you do to improve it?
- Are there any spiritual growth activities you want to participate in?
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.
If you are looking for some tax tips directly from the IRS, you can check out the website below. I find these “tips” to be very helfpul.