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Tax Preparation vs. Tax Planning
Many people assume tax planning is the same as tax preparation but the two are actually quite different. Let’s take a closer look:
What is Tax Preparation?
Tax preparation is the process of preparing and filing a tax return. Generally, it is a one-time event that culminates in signing your return and finding out whether you owe the IRS money or will be receiving a refund.
For most people, tax preparation involves one or two trips to your accountant (CPA), generally around tax time (i.e., between January and April), to hand over any financial documents necessary to prepare your return and then to sign your return. They will also make sure any tax reporting on your return complies with federal and state tax law.
Alternately, Individual taxpayers might use an enrolled agent, attorney, or a tax preparer who doesn’t necessarily have a professional credential. For simple returns, some individuals prepare and file their own tax forms with the IRS. No matter who prepares your tax return, however, you expect them to be trustworthy (you will be entrusting them with your personal financial details), skilled in tax preparation and to accurately file your income tax return in a timely manner.
What is Tax Planning?
Tax planning is a year-round process (as opposed to a seasonal event) and is a separate service from tax preparation. Both individuals and business owners can take advantage of tax planning services, which are typically performed by a CPA and accounting firm or an Enrolled Agent (EA) with in-depth experience and knowledge of tax law, rather than a tax preparer.
Examples of tax planning include bunching expenses (e.g., medical) to maximize deductions, how to use tax-loss harvesting to offset investment gains, increasing retirement plan contributions to defer income, and best timing for capital expenditures to reap the tax benefits. Good recordkeeping is also an important part of tax planning and makes it easier to pay quarterly estimated taxes, for example, or prepare tax returns the following year.
Tax planning is something that most taxpayers do not take advantage of – but should – because it can help minimize their tax liability on next year’s tax return by planning ahead. While it may mean spending more time with an accountant, say quarterly or even monthly, the tax benefit is usually worth it. By reviewing past returns an accountant will have a more clear picture of what can be done this year to save money on next year’s tax return.
If you’re ready to learn more about what strategies you can use to reduce your tax bill next year, help is just a phone call away.
OCTOBER 1 DEADLINE TO SET UP SIMPLE IRA PLANS
Of all the retirement plans available to small business owners, the SIMPLE IRA plan (Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees) is the easiest to set up and the least expensive to manage. The catch is that you’ll need to set it up by October 1st. Here’s what you need to know.
WHAT IS A SIMPLE IRA PLAN?
SIMPLE IRA Plans are intended to encourage small business employers to offer retirement coverage to their employees. Self-employed business owners are able to contribute both as employee and employer, with both contributions made from self-employment earnings. In addition, if living expenses are covered by your day job (or your spouse’s job), you would be free to put all of your sideline earnings, up to the ceiling, into SIMPLE IRA plan retirement investments.
HOW DOES A SIMPLE IRA PLAN WORK?
A SIMPLE IRA plan is easier to set up and operate than most other plans in that contributions go into an IRA you set up. Requirements for reporting to the IRS and other agencies are minimal as well. Your plan’s custodian, typically an investment institution, has the reporting duties and the process for figuring the deductible contribution is a bit easier than with other plans.
SIMPLE IRA plans calculate contributions in two steps:
1. Employee out-of-salary contribution
The limit on this “elective deferral” is $13,000 in 2019, after which it can rise further with the cost of living. Owner-employees age 50 or older can make an additional $3,000 deductible “catch-up” contribution (for a total of $16,000) as an employee in 2019.
2. Employer “matching” contribution
The employer match equals a maximum of three percent of employee’s earnings.
An owner-employee age 50 or over in 2019 with self-employment earnings of $40,000 could contribute and deduct $13,000 as employee plus an additional $3,000 employee catch up contribution, plus a $1,200 (three percent of $40,000) employer match, for a total of $17,200.
ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES TO SIMPLE IRA PLANS?
Because investments are through an IRA you must work through a financial institution acting, which acts as the trustee or custodian. As such, you are not in direct control and will generally have fewer investment options than if you were your own trustee, as is the case with a 401(k).
You also cannot set up the SIMPLE IRA plan after the calendar year ends and still be able to take advantage of the tax benefits on that year’s tax return, as is allowed with Simplified Employee Pension Plans, or SEPs. Generally, to make a SIMPLE IRA plan effective for a year, it must be set up by October 1 of that year. A later date is allowed only when the business is started after October 1 and the SIMPLE IRA plan must be set up as soon as it is administratively feasible.
Furthermore, once self-employment earnings become significant however, other retirement plans may be more advantageous than a SIMPLE IRA retirement plan.
If you are under 50 with $50,000 of self-employment earnings in 2019, you could contribute $13,000 as employee to your SIMPLE IRA plan plus an additional three percent of $50,000 as an employer contribution, for a total of $14,500. In contrast, a Solo 401(k) plan would allow a $31,500 contribution.With $100,000 of earnings, the total for a SIMPLE IRA Plan would be $16,000 and $44,000 for a 401(k).
If the SIMPLE IRA plan is set up for a sideline business and you’re already vested in a 401(k) in another business or as an employee the total amount you can put into the SIMPLE IRA plan and the 401(k) combined (in 2019) can’t be more than $19,000 or $25,000 if catch-up contributions are made to the 401(k) by someone age 50 or over. So, someone under age 50 who puts $9,500 in her 401(k) can’t put more than $9,500 in her SIMPLE IRA plan for 2019. The same limit applies if you have a SIMPLE IRA plan while also contributing as an employee to a 403(b) annuity (typically for government employees and teachers in public and private schools).
HOW TO GET STARTED SETTING UP A SIMPLE IRA PLAN
You can set up a SIMPLE IRA plan account on your own; however, most people turn to financial institutions. SIMPLE IRA Plans are offered by the same financial institutions that offer any other IRAs and 401(k) plans.
You can expect the institution to give you a plan document and an adoption agreement. In the adoption agreement, you will choose an “effective date,” which is the start date for payments out of salary or business earnings. Again, that date can’t be later than October 1 of the year you adopt the plan, except for a business formed after October 1.
Another key document is the Salary Reduction Agreement, which briefly describes how money goes into your SIMPLE IRA plan. You need such an agreement even if you pay yourself business profits rather than salary. Printed guidance on operating the SIMPLE IRA plan may also be provided. You will also be establishing a SIMPLE IRA plan account for yourself as participant.
READY TO EXPLORE RETIREMENT PLAN OPTIONS FOR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS?
SIMPLE IRA Plans are an excellent choice for home-based businesses and ideal for full-time employees or homemakers who make a modest income from a sideline business and work well for small business owners who don’t want to spend a lot of time and pay high administration fees associated with more complex retirement plans.
SETTLING TAX DEBT WITH AN IRS OFFER IN COMPROMISE
An offer in compromise (OIC) is an agreement between a taxpayer and the Internal Revenue Service that settles a taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. That’s the good news. The bad news is that not everyone is eligible to use this option to settle tax debt. In fact, nearly 60 percent of taxpayer requested offers in compromise were rejected by the IRS. If you owe money to the IRS and are wondering if an IRS offer in compromise is the answer, here’s what you need to know.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
If you can’t pay your full tax liability or doing so creates a financial hardship, an offer in compromise may be a legitimate option. However, it is not for everyone, and taxpayers should explore all other payment options before submitting an offer in compromise to the IRS. Taxpayers who can fully pay the liabilities through an installment agreement or other means, generally won’t qualify for an OIC.
To qualify for an OIC, the taxpayer must have:
- Filed all tax returns.
- Made all required estimated tax payments for the current year.
- Made all required federal tax deposits for the current quarter if the taxpayer is a business owner with employees.
IRS ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA
Whether your offer in compromise is accepted depends on a number of factors; however, typically, an offer in compromise is accepted when the amount offered represents the most the IRS can expect to collect within a reasonable period of time. This is referred to as the reasonable collection potential (RCP). In most cases, the IRS won’t accept an OIC unless the amount offered by a taxpayer is equal to or greater than the reasonable collection potential (RCP), which is how the IRS measures the taxpayer’s ability to pay.
The RCP is defined as the value that can be realized from the taxpayer’s assets, such as real property, automobiles, bank accounts, and other property. In addition to property, the RCP also includes anticipated future income minus certain amounts allowed for basic living expenses.
The IRS may accept an OIC based on one of the following criteria:
Doubt as to liability. An OIC meets this criterion only when there’s a genuine dispute as to the existence or amount of the correct tax debt under the law.Doubt as to collectibility. This refers to whether there is doubt that the amount owed is fully collectible such as when the taxpayer’s assets and income are less than the full amount of the tax liability.
Effective tax administration. This applies to cases where there is no doubt that the tax is legally owed and that the full amount owed can be collected but requiring payment in full would either create an economic hardship or would be unfair and inequitable because of exceptional circumstances.
APPLICATION AND FEES
When requesting an OIC from the IRS, use Form 656, Offer in Compromise, and also submit Form 433-A (OIC), Collection Information Statement for Wage Earners and Self-Employed Individuals. If you are applying as a business, use Form 433-B (OIC), Collection Information Statement for Businesses. A taxpayer submitting an OIC based on doubt as to liability must file additional forms as well.
A nonrefundable application fee, as well as an initial payment (also nonrefundable), is due when submitting an OIC. If the OIC is based on doubt as to liability, no application fee is required, however.
If the taxpayer is an individual (not a corporation, partnership, or other entity) who meets Low-Income Certification guidelines they do not have to submit an application fee or initial payment and will not need to make monthly installments during the evaluation of an offer in compromise.
The initial payment is based on which payment option you choose for your offer in compromise:
- Lump Sum Cash. Submit an initial payment of 20 percent of the total offer amount with your application. If your offer is accepted, you will receive written confirmation. Any remaining balance due on the offer is paid in five or fewer payments.
- Periodic Payment. Submit your initial payment with your application. Continue to pay the remaining balance in monthly installments while the IRS considers your offer. If accepted, continue to pay monthly until it is paid in full.
If the IRS rejects your OIC, you will be notified by mail. The letter will explain why the IRS rejected the offer and will provide detailed instructions on how to appeal the decision. An appeal must be made within 30 days from the date of the letter.
5 TIPS FOR APPLYING FOR TAX-EXEMPT STATUS
If you’re thinking about starting a nonprofit and want to apply for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, you’ll need to use Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Here are five tips to ensure a successful application:
1. The application must be complete and must include the user fee.
2. Some organizations may be able to file Form 1023-EZ, a streamlined version, if they meet certain criteria such as projected or past annual gross receipts of $50,000 or less for a period of three years.
3. Churches and their integrated auxiliaries (organizations affiliated with a church or association of churches that receives financial support primarily from internal church sources and not public or governmental sources), as well as public charities whose annual gross receipts are normally less than $5,000 do not need to apply for 501(c)(3) status to be tax-exempt.
4. Every tax-exempt organization, including a church, should have an Employer Identification Number (EIN) regardless of whether the organization has employees. An employer identification number is an organization’s account number with the IRS and is required for the organization to apply for tax-exempt status. Once the EIN is received by the organization, it must include it on the application.
5. Generally, an organization that is required to apply for recognition of exemption must notify the IRS within 27 months from the date it was formed.
If you have any questions about applying for tax-exempt status, please call for assistance.