EagleStone Tax & Wealth Newsletter – October 2016

Substantiating Your Charitable Gifts

When you claim a federal income tax deduction for charitable contributions, you must substantiate the contributions by maintaining certain records. The records must establish the charity to whom the gift was made, the amount of cash or the type and value of other property donated to charity, whether anything was received in consideration for the contribution, and certain other requirements. The records needed generally depend on the type and value of the property donated; there may be some overlap in requirements. In general, do not attach the records to your income tax return. Keep the records so that you can provide them to the IRS if requested to do so.

Cash contributions

In order to claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of cash, a check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a record of such contributions through a bank record (such as a cancelled check, a bank or credit union statement, or a credit card statement) or a written communication (such as a receipt or letter) from the charity showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. If you make charitable contributions through payroll deductions, you generally may substantiate the charitable deduction using the charity’s pledge card along with either a pay stub, a Form W-2, or some other employer-furnished document showing the amount withheld and paid to charity. If you make a single contribution of $250 or more by payroll deduction, the pledge card or a document from the charity must state that no goods or services were provided in return for the payroll deduction.

All contributions of $250 or more

If you claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of $250 or more, you must substantiate the contribution with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution from the charity. The acknowledgment must contain the name of the charity, the amount of any cash contribution, and a reasonably detailed description of any non-cash contribution. The acknowledgment must also include either (1) a statement that no goods and services were provided by the charity in return for the contribution, (2) a good-faith estimate of the value of such goods and services (these reduce the amount of the charitable deduction), or (3) a statement that the goods and services were token benefits or consisted entirely of insubstantial membership benefits or intangible religious benefits. The acknowledgment is considered contemporaneous if you receive it by the earlier of the date on which you file your tax return for the year of the contribution or the due date (including extensions) for the return.

Noncash contributions

If you make any noncash contributions, you must generally get a receipt from the charitable organization with the name of the charitable organization, the date and location of the contribution, and a reasonably detailed description of the property. You must also keep a reliable written record showing the name and address of the charitable organization, the date and location of the contribution, a reasonable detailed description of the property, the fair market value of the property (and how it was determined), the adjusted basis of the property, the amount claimed as a deduction, and the terms of any conditions attached to contribution of the property.

If the value of the contribution is $250 or more, you must also substantiate the contribution with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution from the charity as described previously.

If the value of the contribution is over $500, your records must also include how you got the property (e.g., purchase, gift, inheritance, or exchange), when you got the property, and the cost or other basis of the property (including any adjustments).

If you claim a deduction of over $5,000 for a noncash charitable contribution of one item or a group of similar items, you must also obtain a qualified written appraisal of the donated property from a qualified appraiser.

Ten Year-End Tax Tips for 2016

Here are 10 things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves between now and the end of the year.

1. Set aside time to plan

Effective planning requires that you have a good understanding of your current tax situation, as well as a reasonable estimate of how your circumstances might change next year. There’s a real opportunity for tax savings if you’ll be paying taxes at a lower rate in one year than in the other. However, the window for most tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so don’t procrastinate.

2. Defer income to next year

Consider opportunities to defer income to 2017, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may enable you to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.

3. Accelerate deductions

You might also look for opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as medical expenses, qualifying interest, and state taxes before the end of the year, instead of paying them in early 2017, could make a difference on your 2016 return.

4. Factor in the AMT

If you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), traditional year-end maneuvers such as deferring income and accelerating deductions can have a negative effect. Essentially a separate federal income tax system with its own rates and rules, the AMT effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you’re subject to the AMT in 2016, prepaying 2017 state and local taxes probably won’t help your 2016 tax situation, but could hurt your 2017 bottom line. Taking the time to determine whether you may be subject to the AMT before you make any year-end moves could help save you from making a costly mistake.

5. Bump up withholding to cover a tax shortfall

If it looks as though you’re going to owe federal income tax for the year, especially if you think you may be subject to an estimated tax penalty, consider asking your employer (via Form W-4) to increase your withholding for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly through the year instead of when the dollars are actually taken from your paycheck. This strategy can also be used to make up for low or missing quarterly estimated tax payments.

6. Maximize retirement savings

Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pretax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can reduce your 2016 taxable income. If you haven’t already contributed up to the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so by year-end.

7. Take any required distributions

Once you reach age 70½, you generally must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (an exception may apply if you’re still working and participating in an employer-sponsored plan). Take any distributions by the date required–the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 50% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required.

8. Weigh year-end investment moves

You shouldn’t let tax considerations drive your investment decisions. However, it’s worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves that you make. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses over and above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.

9. Beware the net investment income tax

Don’t forget to account for the 3.8% net investment income tax. This additional tax may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified AGI exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately, $200,000 if head of household).

10. Get help if you need it

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to tax planning. That’s why it often makes sense to talk to a tax professional who is able to evaluate your situation and help you determine if any year-end moves make sense for you.

The Importance of Saving for Retirement at a Young Age

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If you’re an adult in your 20s, you are entering an exciting stage of life. Whether you’ve just graduated from college or are starting a new career, you will encounter many opportunities and challenges as you create a life of your own.

As busy as you are, it’s no surprise that retirement may seem a long way off, especially if you’re just entering the workforce. What you may not realize, however, is that there are four very important advantages to begin planning and saving for retirement now.

1. Money management skills

Now that you’re out on your own, it’s important to start taking responsibility for your finances little by little. Part of developing financial responsibility is learning to balance future monetary needs with present expenses. Sometimes that means saving for a short-term goal (for example, buying a new car) and a long-term goal (for example, retirement) at the same time.

Once you become used to balancing your priorities, it becomes easier to build a budget that takes into account both fixed and discretionary expenses. A budget can help you pursue your financial goals and develop strong money management skills. If you establish healthy money habits in your 20s and stick with these practices as you grow older, you’ll have a major advantage as you edge closer to retirement.

2. Time on your side

When you’re young, you have the benefit of time on your side when saving for long-term goals (like retirement). You likely have 40-plus years ahead of you in the workforce. With that much time, why not put your money to work using the power of compounding?

Here’s a hypothetical example of how compounding works. Let’s say that at age 25, you start putting $300 each month into your employer’s retirement savings plan, and your account earns an average of 8% annually. If you continued this practice for the next 40 years, you would have contributed $144,000 to your account, accumulating just over $1 million by the time you reached age 65. But if you waited 10 years until age 35 to start making contributions to your plan, you would have accumulated only $440,000 by age 65.

Note: This hypothetical example of mathematical compounding is used for illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific investment. Taxes and investment fees are not considered. Rates of return will vary over time, especially for long-term investments. Investments offering the potential for higher rates of return also involve a higher degree of risk. Actual results will vary.

3. Workplace retirement benefits

If your employer offers a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b), you may find that contributing a percentage of your salary (up to annual contribution limits) will make saving for retirement easier on your budget. Contributions are typically made on a pre-tax basis, which means you can lower your taxable income while building retirement funds for the future. You aren’t required to pay any taxes on the growth of your funds until you take withdrawals. Keep in mind that distributions from tax-deferred retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty if withdrawn before age 59½.

Depending on the type of plan, your employer may offer to match a percentage of your retirement plan contributions, up to specific limits, which can potentially result in greater compounded growth and a larger sum available to you in retirement.

If you don’t have access to a workplace retirement savings plan, consider opening an IRA and contribute as much as allowable each year. An IRA may offer more investment options and certain tax advantages to you.

If you have both a workplace plan and an IRA, one strategy is to contribute sufficient funds to your workplace plan to take advantage of the full company match, and then invest additional funds in an IRA (up to annual contribution limits). Explore the options available to find out what works best for your financial situation.

4. Flexibility of youth

Although there’s a good chance you have student loans, you probably have fewer financial responsibilities than someone who is older and/or married with children. This means you may have an easier time freeing up extra dollars to dedicate toward retirement. Get into the retirement saving habit now, so that when future financial obligations arise, you won’t have to fit in saving for retirement too–you’ll already be doing it.

What are my health-care options if I retire early?

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If you’re eligible for an early-retirement package from your employer, determine whether post-retirement medical coverage is included. These packages sometimes provide medical coverage until you reach age 65 and become eligible for Medicare. Given the high cost of medical care, you might find it hard to turn down an early-retirement package that includes such coverage.

If your package doesn’t include post-retirement medical coverage, or you’re not eligible for an early-retirement package at all, you’ll need to look into alternative sources of health insurance, such as COBRA continuation coverage or an individual health insurance policy, to carry you through to Medicare eligibility.

Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), most employer-provided health plans (typically employers with 20 or more employees) must offer temporary continuation coverage for employees (and their dependents) upon termination of employment. Coverage can last for up to 18 months, or 36 months in some cases. You’ll generally have to pay the full cost of coverage–employers aren’t required to continue their contribution toward coverage, and most do not. Employers can also charge an additional 2% administrative fee.

Individual health insurance is available directly from various insurance carriers or, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, through state-based or federal health insurance marketplaces. One advantage of purchasing coverage through a marketplace plan is that you may be entitled to a premium tax credit if your post-retirement income falls between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level (additional income-based subsidies may also be available).

Some factors to consider when comparing various health options are (1) the total cost of coverage, taking into account premiums, deductibles, copayments, out-of-pocket maximums, and (for marketplace plans) tax credits and subsidies; (2) the ability to continue using your existing health-care providers (and whether those providers will be in-network or out-of-network); and (3) the benefits provided under each option and whether you’re likely to need and use those benefits.

What is the most important component of GDP in the United States?

We often hear in the media that consumer spending is crucial to the overall health of the U.S. economy, but exactly how important is it? Representing approximately two-thirds of overall GDP, consumption–the almighty consumer–is the largest driver of economic growth in the United States. Of the nearly $18 trillion in U.S. GDP (2015), American shoppers are responsible for a piece of the pie worth about $12 trillion.

Consumption is tracked by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and is reported as Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) in its monthly “Personal Income and Outlays” news release. Since the late 1960s, PCE as a percentage of overall GDP has crept up from a low of approximately 58% to nearly 70% today.

PCE is divided into goods and services. The services category typically represents the largest part of PCE, accounting for more than 65% over the past two years. Examples of services include health care, utilities, recreation, and financial services.

Goods are broken down further into durable and nondurable goods. Durable goods are those that have an average life of at least three years. Examples include cars, appliances and furniture. Nondurable goods are those with an average life span of less than three years and include such items as clothing, food, and gasoline.

Durable goods represent approximately 10% of total PCE, while nondurable goods make up about 20%.

So the next time you’re out shopping, for anything from a bottle of ketchup to a new car, consider that you’re doing your part to fuel our nation’s growth.

Sources: World Bank.org, accessed June 2016; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2016; Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2016

 

IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any matter addressed herein.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016

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