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    Estate Taxes vs. Inheritance Taxes

    castle-780982_1920-300x225Estate taxes are often referred to as death taxes. It seems that no matter what is going on, the government wants to get a piece of the pie. So when you pass away, if you have a large enough estate, there may be taxes that are owed. On top of that, there are inheritance taxes to be worried about. So how do you know the difference, how much you will owe, and what to plan for? Keep reading as Practical Taxes, your accountant in Billings, explains the difference between estate taxes, inheritance taxes, and who needs to worry about them.

     

    Federal Estate Taxes

    A few years ago, understanding estate taxes was a pain. There was a set amount that would be excluded, and that number stayed the same for a decade. After 10 years it needed to be adjusted for inflation, but congress was trying to decide what to do. There was a fear that it would reset, and anyone that died during the reset period would be subject to massive taxes.

    Fortunately that has been figured out, and the estate tax exclusion now adjusts annually. For tax year 2015, your assets can total $5.43 million before you owe taxes. That means if your assets total $5.45 million, you only owe federal estate taxes on $20,000. Current estate tax rates are between 35% and 45% depending on your situation.

    If you are fortunate to have an estate larger than the exclusion, and thus you will have to worry about the taxes, pay attention to the name of the tax. Estate taxes are paid by the estate before money is distributed to the heirs. The government doesn’t care if those assets are tied up in real estate either. The estate will have to raise the money any way possible to pay the tax.

    State Inheritance Taxes

    Fortunately there are only 15 states (and D.C.) that have an inheritance tax. Montana is not one of them. But in case you have two residences, pay attention.

    State inheritance tax varies by state. There are different exclusions, different tax rates, and different provisions. Since Montana isn’t included, we won’t go into any details; but we can discuss it with you if your situation calls for it.

    Just as estate taxes are paid by the estate, inheritance taxes are paid by the heir.

    How to Avoid Estate Taxes

    There are a couple of ways to avoid estate taxes. One involves reducing the size of your estate, the other actually involves increasing the size.

    Reducing the size of your estate – The only true way to completely avoid estate taxes is to have an estate smaller than the exclusion of $5.43 million. However, rapidly reducing your estate is tough since you can only give away a certain amount every year. You can give $14,000 each year to anyone and avoid gift taxes. So if you have 10 grandkids, you can move $140,000 out to UGMA or UTMA accounts. You can move money out by donating to charity, or setting up an ILIT.

    Increasing the size of your estate – Moving money into an ILIT will actually increase the size of your estate. Let’s suppose your estate is worth $6 million. You start an ILIT (the trust owns the insurance, the estate is the beneficiary) and give the trust $14,000 per year to pay the premiums. Suppose the death benefit is $4 million, your estate (at the time of your death) will be worth $10 million. The benefit here is that even though you owe taxes on the additional value; it is all paid with liquid money that comes from the life insurance.

    Let Practical Taxes Help with Your Estate Planning

    If you have estate planning needs, Practical Taxes can help. We can work closely with your attorney, your financial advisor, and you to draw up these plans. We will help you plan for your estate taxes, or help you avoid them if we can legally make it happen.

    If you don’t have estate tax issues, we offer affordable tax preparation services in Billings. Give us a call at 406-894-2050 to learn more and to schedule your appointment.

     

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    Small Business Smarts

    It’s becoming a popular thing to do: start up a small business, even a “micro” small business (consider the tiny online stores on the Etsy and Ebay websites). And the talk in Government is all about the encouragement of more small business; encourage the working man or woman to set out on their own, get a tax break in the process… And it’s true that owning a small business has considerable benefit to those willing to take on the responsibility: there can be great pride in building a business, pride in ownership, in being your own boss. But there are many overlooked costs and responsibilities that people may not consider when starting out on their own. Here’s a few.

    Wait time and Cost of Licensure, Insurance, Registration…

    Most folks consider the process of licensure when they start up the business, but not everyone considers the cost and scope of insurance; the cost and scope of insuring employees, or the liability of using contractors, operating on their own specialized license, in relation to the liability of the business.

    Paperwork

    Sometimes people get into business without any real foundation of the required paperwork—everywhere in business there seems to be paperwork—and to be bogged down and unprepared for the banal methods of paperwork can be costly for your business. You may want to consider hiring an accountant to help with payroll and other accounting jobs; Practical Taxes will ensure your annual tax liability gets handled smoothly. Did you know, for instance, that when you work for yourself there is a self-employment tax? Have you ever considered how much of your precious time will be taken away by employee background checks and payroll?

    Unfortunately, even businesses built with the best of intentions don’t last long without proper financial planning. If you are planning to go into business on your own soon, or if you are still on the fence, considering it, remember that a quality accountant can help your business run smarter and more efficient. If you have any other questions as to how Practical Taxes can help your business, call today.

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    Tax Implications of Selling Your House

    Tax Implications of Selling Your House

     

    A great way to build wealth is to own a house. Now keep in mind that buying a house ajust because you think it’s the perfect investment is actually not the way to go. A house is a good investment, but there are better ways to invest that will earn a bigger return.

    But what happens when you want to sell your house? Suppose you want something bigger, or maybe smaller. Perhaps you’re sick of maintaining your home and you want to move into a rental. Or you have been transferred out of state for your job. No matter what the reason for selling, there are tax implications of selling your house that you need to be aware of (don’t worry, your accountant in Billings, Montana will know the specifics; you just need to be aware).

    Avoiding Taxes when Selling Your House

    In 1997 the Taxpayer Relief Act was passed. This law provided a big relief to those who were selling their home and making a bit of a profit on it. Before the law was passed you had to reinvest those profits into another home (a bigger home) within a certain time period. Now you get a big break.

    2 of the last 5 – The law states that if you have lived in the house, as your primary residence, for at least two of the last five years, then you can claim the capital gains exclusion when selling your house.

    $250,000 to $500,000 – If you file your taxes as single, then you can profit $250,000 on the sale of your house and not have to pay taxes on the gains. If you are married, then you can profit up to $500,000 on the sale of your house.

    Age is Just a Number – You can claim the capital gains exclusion no matter how old you are. You don’t have to be over 55 to get this.

    Before 1997 it was pretty hard to sell a house, make a profit, and get away without paying the taxes. Now it is pretty easy to sell a house, make a profit, and not have to worry about paying taxes on the gains. But there are times when you still might owe.

    When do You Pay Taxes when Selling Your House?

    Not everyone can get away without paying taxes on the sale of their house. But you almost have to try hard to pay those taxes.

    If you profit more than the exclusion allows, then you will owe taxes when selling your house. But the good news is that you don’t owe taxes on the full amount. For instance, if you are married, and you sold your house and made a profit of $500,100, you would only have to pay taxes on the $100 over the exclusion amount. There is more though. If you make over $200,000 per year, there is a Medicare tax imposed on the gains over and above the exclusion.

    Keep in mind that you can only claim the exclusion for one house at a time. So if you sell your primary residence, you can claim the exclusion. But then if you sell your vacation home, you cannot claim the exclusion (because you weren’t living there for 2 of the last 5 years).

    Taxes when Selling Your House

    Still have questions about the tax implications when selling your house? Contact Practical Taxes today!

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    April 15th Is Tax Day: Information For Anyone Needing An Extension

    It’s that time of year again; April 15th marks the end date to pay 2017 income tax. If you miss this date, you will be subject to a tax penalty—fee. But you do have a chance to file for tax extension, and a tax extension will allow a person a six-month-long period (Given an extension, October 15th will be the new date at which 2017 income tax filing will be due) in which they can file and avoid the tax penalty. You can get the extension on the IRS website here: www.irs.gov. And the deadline to request an extension from the IRS is April 17th, which allows people a few extra days, post Tax Day, to get their income tax affairs in order. There are special rules, however, for individuals who serve abroad in a combat zone or, what the IRS calls, a hazardous duty area. People who live outside the United States are also given certain consideration.

    The form to receive an extension is rather short and simple to complete, and, usually, tax extensions are provided automatically. Also, if you cannot afford to immediately pay your income tax, it’s best to either file on or before Tax Day and then sort out the particulars of the required income tax payment with the IRS—the IRS does offer several payment plans—or file for an extension by the 17th of April. To not have filed your taxes will end up costing you considerably more in the long run than an IRS interest rate or the percentage penalty for a delinquent payment (remember there is no penalty for an extension, as long as the income tax is filed on or before the 15th of October).

    If you have any questions as to how to communicate with the IRS about your financial situation, how to handle an extension, or would like advice on how to get your 2017 income tax filed, and then paid, then call the experts at Practical Taxes today.

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    The Curse of the Lottery Winner

    The Curse of the Lottery Winner

    People dream of winning the lottery. They make big plans on what they would do if they were to win millions of dollars, and they talk about how many people they would help. Of course they complain that the government would take approximately half of their winnings in the form of taxes, but overall they would still be happy with the huge surplus of money that they are left with. So how is it that about 70% of those who win the lottery will go bankrupt?

    The Curse of the Lottery Winner

    Unfortunately a sudden influx of money does nothing to help improve financial sense. So when people suddenly win millions upon millions of dollars, they simply stick with their same foolish spending habits. Only now those habits are at a much larger scale.

    Winning the lottery could help someone out tremendously. And the economic impacts of the lottery can’t be argued with. After all, those who win the lottery spend a considerable amount of it right away. They buy new houses, new cars, give to charities and family members, they pick up the tab at a restaurant… for every customer there. Lottery winners seldom have a problem finding ways to spend their money.

    However, without a set plan on how to spend the money, most will make foolish money mistakes that ultimately reduce them right back to where they were before they won their millions of dollars. If you don’t believe me that winning the lottery brings some unnecessary hardship, check out these 10 people that couldn’t handle their winnings.

    Make a Plan before You Win

    There is really no financially sound reason that you should even try to win the lottery in the first place. In fact, the odds of winning are astronomically high. But you can take this advice and apply it to other financial windfalls like receiving an inheritance, getting a large tax refund, or maybe even an unexpected bonus at work.

    Before any money actually comes in, make a sound plan to use it appropriately. For instance, you might want to pay off all of your debt, buy a new car, give a little to your family members, and take a vacation. Depending on your situation, that should only take up a few hundred thousand of your winnings. After that, invest the rest in a trust, preferably an irrevocable trust that has detailed information about who can take money out and how much they can access.

    Without a plan, we as humans are likely to overspend. Whether it is on ourselves, giving to charities, or all around just wasteful use of money, the lottery winnings will disappear quickly.

    If You’re Lucky

    If you have been lucky enough to win the lottery, you will want to enlist the help of an accountant in Billings, Montana. With the help of Practical Taxes, you can be sure that your money will be put to the best use, and your taxes will be minimized. Have you seen a sudden influx of money? Did that money disappear a lot faster than you care to admit?

    Practical Taxes is a full service accounting firm in Billings, Montana. While tax preparation is a huge part of our business, we also love to help with payroll services. One specialty is online payroll services; no matter what part of the country you live in, we can get your payroll done.

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    IRS

    Have you heard of the phone scam where someone calls and pretends to represent the IRS? The scammers inevitably ask for personal information, and, too often, people willingly give out their personal information, such as their social security number to these scammers. The scammers also ask for money. And, unfortunately, people pay it; or they provide their banking account numbers. It’s estimated that over ten thousand people—more everyday—have been affected by these phone scams; estimated that over fifty-four million dollars has been paid to these scammers. But you should know that there should never be a day where an IRS agent simply calls you up, unannounced, and asks personal questions.

    The IRS will make initial contact via the good old USPS. If they are requesting money, they will send to you in the mail a bill, requesting payment. The bill will look like any other bill you would receive in the mail; however, it will be from the IRS. There will be directions in the bill as to how to proceed to pay the bill or how to contact the IRS with any questions you may have; it will be simple and to the point. The IRS may notify you of a possible attempt to contact you via telephone—possibly even request a face-to-face meeting—but, when they do call, they won’t request that you tell them all your personal information. Remember, the IRS already has a lot of your personal information, and they won’t ask you for your social security number over the phone; they won’t ask you to tell them your bank routing codes, or your checking account number; they won’t ask you to pay your bill over the phone, and they won’t initially demand a payment—remember that you have rights, too, and one of those rights is to appeal. And they won’t threaten to have you arrested by the local police if you don’t pay.

    Call Practical Taxes for all your tax needs.

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    Tax Bill

    Unless you have been hiding under a rock, or you pay as little attention to the news as possible, you would have heard that our Government—in particular the Republican Party in the Senate—is attempting a massive tax reform. It’s interesting and a little unsettling—the bill passed in the Senate, late at night, just hours after the almost 500-page document—parts of which were edited in pen and scribbled on the margins (taxes are a hotly contested and divisive topic right now!)—was given out to members of the Senate But this is the politics of tax reform. And what does the tax bill, at least at it stands today, mean for the rest of us?

    Ok, let’s only scrape the surface of this, focusing only on how a possible tax reform could affect the average person’s taxes. Regardless of the politics behind tax legislation—these days politics are a very, very divisive topic—remember that these numbers will likely—most definitely—change, at least somewhat, and nothing here is completely definitive (nor is it a sure thing) as this bill has only been voted on, and passed, in the Senate; but, the statistics, at least so far, are interesting to dissect. First, earners from across the board, including people who make only ten-thousand dollars every year on up to people making over a million dollars a year could see a possible tax cut in the first year that this bill gets enacted—2019. A good percentage of the people who make over forty-thousand dollars annually on up to over a million will see a tax cut—not everyone, but a good percentage. But—and here is where the legislation gets tricky—by the year 2027, those tax cuts, especially for the people earning under one-hundred-thousand dollars every year, don’t exist, and these people will be required to pay in on their taxes.

    No, the current discussion of tax reform will not affect this year’s taxes, which are coming up fast. Make sure to make your appointment with Practical Taxes and forego the anxieties involved with the tax season.

     

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    Child Tax Credit

    Let’s discuss the Child Tax Credit. It’s a tax credit, taken annually, by people with children. The credit does not apply to everyone, however, and there are limitations and rules that govern when it can be used. Here are a few reasons why the Child Tax Credit might be a big advantage for your family.

    The amount of the Child Tax Credit is one-thousand dollars per qualifying child. That means if you have three children who qualify for the Child Tax Credit, then you will get one-thousand dollars for each of the qualifying children. The child needs to be under the age of seventeen to qualify (sixteen and under).

    To claim the child, you will need to have a legal parental relationship with the child. This relationship includes: son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, grandchild, niece or nephew. Brother, sister, etc., applies only in the case that the child meets the requirements for financial support. In order for the child to meet the financial criteria, the child cannot have provided more than half of their own support—the bulk of the financial responsibilities should fall on the parent.

    There are also citizen and resident requirement to meet when claiming this credit. The child must be a citizen of the United States, a U.S. National, or a legal resident alien. The child needs to have lived in your household, in your care, for half the year. There are some exceptions to this requirement, however they don’t apply to everyone, and should be discussed with your tax preparer.

    It’s for reasons such as these that hiring a tax preparer, come tax season, is important. Your relationship with your child may not be black and white. You might not know if your child qualifies for the credit or not. A qualified, professional tax preparer can help you through the process; they can make sure you get each and every dollar back on your taxes. Remember, if you make a mistake on your taxes, the IRS may audit you to get every last penny, but they won’t be banging on your door ready to hand you back money you’ve already paid. Don’t leave money behind.

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    Bookkeeping

    Bookkeeping is vital to any business. Everything a business does financially should be recorded for official record. Tax records, financial statements, receipts of purchase, and ledgers should be organized and stored. Record keeping is vital to business success, and here are a few reasons why.

    Audit

    No one likes an audit. But the more prepared you are for an audit the better. If you have all of your financial documents in one place, an audit goes quick and easy. Oftentimes, what gets audited are small discrepancies that diligent bookkeeping can, hopefully, clear up easily. An audit takes your attention away from your business, and causes unneeded anxieties and stress. If you do get audited, the IRS will request all of your applicable records, so make sure that you have everything ready to show them.

    Deductions

    Tax deductions are important. At tax time, it’s important that every dollar your business spends, gets noted at the end of the year. Each and every dollar counts. This applies to businesses as much as it does to individuals. Keep track of every receipt! If the IRS ever questions an expense, you will have the evidence to back it up!

    Tax Time!

    At tax time, you will have all the required paperwork ready. If your books are well kept, up to date, then everything at tax time should go quick and easy. You don’t want to have to scramble at the end of the year for all of you tax documents.

    If you have any questions as to how to keep diligent books, or would like the assistance of a qualified accounting and tax professional, then Practical Taxes is here to help. At the end of the day, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone qualified have your back? Wouldn’t it be beneficial at the end of the year to have your business in the hands of the reliable services of a tax professional who understands your business’s needs? Practical Taxes is ready to help, and can customize accounting services to fit all your needs. Call today to schedule an appointment.

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    Marketing

    If you own a small business, you know just how important the standard tax write-off is. What you may not know is that marketing costs are win-win write-offs for every small business. Every small business needs to standout, meaning that every small business should be doing everything in their power to get out their name and then to keep their name in their local community (or local online community—i.e. Etsy). And the expense that comes from marketing a business is directly related to a future write-off on your taxes. Now, this isn’t to say that everything you do will lead to a write-off. The IRS believes that all tax write-offs should be reasonable in amount, and directly related to your business (How it’s related could bristle the hairs on the back of an IRS agent’s neck). Here are few ways to market your business that make for simple, straight-forward write-offs at the end of the tax season.

    A new or up-to-date website

    The rules and designs of the web change almost monthly. Google has new rules for keeping websites at the top of search engines, and customers have come to expect proficient designs that are easy to navigate. So, hiring someone (or, if you yourself have the spare time and experience) to update your website, add to its design, or shake things up. If there are any fees involved to host the website through a third party, these may also be accounted for. Also adding premium services so that your website runs smooth and efficient.

    The Google Search Words Campaign

    Many businesses spend exorbitant amounts on google ad-words, search terms. These can add up quickly. At the end of every month google should provide you with a receipt from the month’s transactions—this data is also included in your Google analytics package, however, just to be safe, don’t wait until tax season to save this data, in case anything were to happen.

    Flyers

    A marketing flyer is still be an effective marketing strategy in the digital age. Or a personalized Christmas card from your business to your customers at Christmas. Oftentimes, things like flyers, cards, and letters are easily deductible. Keep every receipt!

    If you need advice as to which potential deductions will benefit your business, Practical Taxes is here and ready to help.

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