Tag Archives: toledo cpa

Protect yourself from Tax Refund Fraud

Tax refund fraud has become a growing concern for taxpayers, state and local governments, and the federal government. Tax departments are implementing strategies to prevent and detect for the 2015 tax season.

The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) is implementing additional safeguards this tax season that will delay state tax refunds. The ODT is anticipating an increase in identity theft directly affecting tax fraud.

tax-fraudLast year, ODT stopped an unprecedented number of fraudulent income tax returns seeking to steal refunds totaling more than $250 million. In previous years, attempted tax fraud averaged roughly $10 million.

In order for the ODT to detect refund fraud due to identity theft, an additional up-front filter will now be applied to all tax refund requests to examine the demographic information reported on a return. This examination will then assign a “probability of fraud” factor that will determine how the return is then further processed by ODT.

If a return is pulled for review, ODT’s additional security measures will require some taxpayers to successfully complete an Identification Confirmation Quiz before the return will continue to be processed. If a taxpayer’s return is selected for identity confirmation they will receive a letter from ODT directing them to http://www.tax.ohio.gov. This will provide access to the quiz and detailed instructions on how to complete it. Taxpayers without access to the Internet will be directed to call ODT at 1-855-855-7579.

Processing of returns for refunds will be delayed due to these additional screening and security measures. According to the ODT, electronic returns requesting a refund may take up to 15 days to be direct deposited and paper returns could take up to 30 days for a physical check to be mailed out.

Not only is the ODT taking aggressive action on identity theft and tax fraud but so is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). For 2015, the IRS is introducing new procedures which will address some of the issues. Effective 2015 tax season, the IRS is limiting the number of refunds directly deposited into a single financial account or onto a prepaid debit card. Therefore, any of the subsequent refunds will be issued by paper check and mailed to the taxpayer. Exceptions will not be made.
Visit the Taxpayer’s Guide to Identity Theft for helpful tips to protect yourself from identity theft or fraud.

By: Aubrey Forche, Staff Accountant

 

Volunteer Expenses — Are They Deductible?

volunteerDonating money isn’t the only way to help out an organization whose cause is important to you. Volunteering your time and expertise can be valuable to the charity and rewarding for you. And, as a bonus, you may be able to deduct some of your out-of-pocket expenses on your income tax return.

What’s Deductible

If you use your car while performing services for the charity, you can deduct gas, oil, and other unreimbursed auto expenses or take the standard charitable mileage deduction (14 cents per mile). If you travel out of town on the charity’s behalf, your travel, lodging, and meal costs may be deductible. The cost of uniforms worn while volunteering is also deductible as long as the uniforms aren’t suitable for everyday use.

What’s Not

You can’t deduct your time or the value of any services you perform. And it goes without saying that you can’t deduct expenses that have been reimbursed by the organization.

You must itemize your deductions to claim a deduction for charitable contributions.

 

IRS Releases 2015 Standard Mileage Rates

The IRS has recently announced the 2015 standard mileage rates available for use in calculating the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes. Starting January 1, 2015, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck will be 57.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, which is up from the 56 cents per mile currently allowed in 2014. In addition, the rate will change to 23 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, which is actually down half a cent from the 2014 rate. The rate for charitable miles driven will remain at 14 cents per mile as this rate is fixed by Congress.

Mileage_Car
Some may wonder why there is such a difference between the business miles rate and the rate for medical or moving purposes. The reasoning behind this is that, in calculating the rate for business miles driven, the IRS uses an annual study of the various fixed and variable costs associated with operating a vehicle. These costs include depreciation, insurance, repairs, tires, maintenance, gas and oil. As inflation causes the cost of many of these expenses to rise, the IRS adjusts their rate for business miles accordingly. In contrast, the rate for medical and moving purposes is based only on variable costs, like gas and oil. As we have all noticed, prices at the pump have dropped considerably in recent months. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy predicts the average price for a gallon of gas to be $2.60 in 2015, the lowest full-year average since 2009. As a result, the rate for medical or moving purposes has decreased to account for this expected drop in gas prices.

It is important to remember that these standard mileage rates are optional, and taxpayers always have the option of deducting their actual costs incurred with operating a vehicle. While deducting the actual costs may require more work, due to the increased recordkeeping required, in many cases the actual costs method provides the greatest benefit. It is also important to note that, when choosing to use the standard mileage rates, taxpayers should always keep an accurate and detailed log of their miles traveled for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

By: Ruben Becerra, Staff Accountant

Making the Most of Your Business Trip Abroad

If you travel outside of the United States and all of your time is spent doing business activities, then you can deduct the entire amount of travel expense. But say you fly to Madrid for a business meeting and you want to swing by and see Barcelona while you’re across the pond, is your travel still deductible?

Generally the rule states that for travel to be fully deductible, it has to be entirely for business purposes. But for every rule, there are exceptions. Here are four exceptions that can make your travel considered “entirely for business,” and thus making it fully deductible.

UPIMRF-00019855-001

1. You don’t have substantial control over arranging the trip.
This means you’re an employee and either not related to your employer or not a managing executive. Self-employed individuals usually have substantial control over their own business trips and need to meet one of the other exceptions.

2. You’re out of the country for no more than one week.
Any trip that doesn’t exceed 7 days (including travel days) can be fully deductible. This means that if you leave on a Wednesday and get back anytime before the following Wednesday, then you may deduct the full amount of travel.

3. You spend less than a quarter of the time on personal activities.
This means that if you’re overseas doing business for 10 days and spend 3 extra days sightseeing, then less than 25% (3/13 = 23%) is personal.

4. You don’t take major consideration into the vacation aspect of the trip.
This has a little more grey area than the other three and may be harder to prove. However, even if you do have substantial control over the arranging the trip, if you can establish that a personal vacation was not a major consideration during the planning of the trip, your travel can still be fully deductible.

Travel expenses include airfare, taxi or shuttles, or any other transportation related expenses. Of course, if you buy an additional plane or bus ticket for personal vacation or sightseeing purposes during your trip, those would not be deductible as business expenses. The same goes for other expenses that would normally be deductible; they must apply to a business purpose rather than a personal expense.

For the entire write-up on travel expenses see IRS Publication 453.

By: Anthony Mifsud, CPA

5 Strategies for Reducing/Eliminating Your Estate Tax

As many of you know the estate tax exemptions and rates have been all over the board in recent years. For many Americans, this isn’t an issue. However, when you begin amassing a large enough estate this becomes a huge concern. Historically, passing away with a large enough estate has imposed upwards of 55% tax. For 2014, this rate is at 40% with a $5,340,000 personal lifetime exclusion. Below are 5 strategies you can use now to help mitigate any future tax burden you should incur.

EstateTax1. Start gifting smaller amounts
There is an annual gift exclusion of up to $14,000 per person per year. Meaning a married couple could collectively gift 28,000 per year per person without eating into any of their lifetime estate tax exclusion.

2. Gift highly appreciable assets now
Gifts of over $14,000 will still need to be reported on the federal Form 709 (and will consequently count against your lifetime limit) but gifting these assets now, instead of waiting, allows the appreciation to build with the recipient instead of counting against your lifetime limit later on.

3. Buy life insurance
Life insurance proceeds are not includible in your taxable estate and are, therefore, a good way of sheltering your net worth. Doing this essentially transforms taxable assets into non-taxable income once a death occurs (assuming the estate is not the beneficiary of the policy and the decedent is not the owner).

4. Use both exemptions
Currently, the tax code allows for the husband and wife to each claim a $5.34 million estate/gift exemption. If elected timely, any unused portion of a spouse’s estate can be transferred to the surviving spouse (called portability).

5. Take advantage of unlimited exemptions
When in doubt, be charitable! The IRS allows you to contribute an unlimited amount to the qualified charities of your choice. So if you are considering donating a portion of your estate and are over the exemption limitation this would be a terrific way of sheltering those dollars from taxation.

Courtney Elgin, CPA

2014 Business Year in Review

Busy is good. Most small business owners would rather things were too hectic than too slow. As the year winds down, though, let your staff handle the busy-ness while you look at the business — where you are, what you’ve accomplished in 2014 and where you’re headed in the new year and beyond.

Your bottom line

The quickest way to figure out where you are is to check your bottom line. Are you making money? Are profits better or worse than they were last year at this time? Are you meeting your expectations? If not, why not?

business_outlookYour business plan

Change is inevitable. And businesses have a way of outgrowing their business plans. But if you don’t have a current plan, you don’t have a way of measuring your progress. So if you’ve been “off road” without a plan for a while, it’s time to formalize a plan that reflects past growth and sets new goals for the next several years.

Your competition

The more you know about your competition, the better. Who are they? How are they different? How are they the same? Where do you overlap each other? Understanding their business model will help you prepare strategically for possible changes in the marketplace.

Your secret weapon

Your workforce is your secret weapon, especially if you’re in a competitive market. Dedicated, well-trained employees providing top-notch customer service can help put you out front of even the largest competitor. A rich, competitive benefits package will help you attract — and retain — a high-caliber workforce. Health insurance and retirement plans are highly valued benefits. You can offer a variety of other benefits to suit your employees’ needs and your budget. Ask your financial professional for information.

Your future

Do you have a formal succession plan? Are you grooming someone to take over? A well-trained successor could help in the successful — and profitable — transfer of your business. And you can use life insurance to pre-fund all or part of the sale.

Deducting Charitable Donations: What You Need to Know

The end of the year will be here before we know it and if you are like most taxpayers, you will be scrambling for some last minute tax deductions. A taxpayer can itemize and deduct such items as medical expenses, state & local taxes, real estate taxes, mortgage interest and charitable contributions. While some of those items are added back if you are subject to alternative minimum tax (AMT) or as in the case of medical expenses, they are only deductible if they exceed 10% of income (7.5% for ages 65 and older); charitable contributions are not affected by these restrictions.

Nonprofit_Donation2Come year-end, some taxpayers frantically search for additional deductions. However, charitable organizations can use these donations all year around. So I’m sure the question you’re asking is, “do all donations qualify?” Here are a few general rules that you need to follow if you want your donation to qualify on your Schedule A of your Form 1040.

Cash Donations:
• Donations must be made to a qualified organization. Click here to check to see if your organization qualifies.
• Most donations are deductible up to 50% of adjusted gross income (in some cases 20% and 30% ceilings).
• For all cash donations over $250, the taxpayer needs to keep a record of a receipt or cancelled check with the donation amount, date and qualified organization.

Non-Cash Donations:
• As with cash donations, non-cash donations also need a written acknowledgement of the donation for all donations over $250. If the donation is between $500 and $5,000, additional records for cost basis, acquisition date, and fair market value will be needed. Donations over $5,000, along with the information mentioned above, may need an appraisal.
• Non-cash donations over $500 need to be reported on the Form 8283
• You can donate used clothing and household items, but they have to be in good condition or better. Those items count as a donation up to the current fair market value and not the cost of the item

Nondeductible Donations:
• Donations made to an individual are never deductible
• Donations to foreign charitable organizations are not considered to be a qualified organization
• Any donations made to a political campaign are not considered to be a deductible charitable contribution
• Any donations where you are provided benefit over your donation, is not deductible
• If you donate more than the value of the benefit, you can deduct the difference as a charitable contribution.

There are more specific rules based on different types of charitable contributions, so be sure to consult your tax advisor with any detailed questions you may have regarding your donation.

By: Jill Blakeman, CPA