Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why You Should Not Fear an IRS Audit

Other than a traffic ticket, the most common fear in America is the dreaded IRS tax audit. It brings to mind the threat of harassment, penalties or even jail time. Do not fear though, only 2% of all tax returns are ever audited at all. And what if the IRS audits you? Keep your cool and relax because an audit is simply the IRS's way of requesting more information about your tax return. It is not an accusation of any wrongdoing.

Even though a small percentage of taxpayers are audited each year, it is estimated that every one of us will be audited at some point in our lives. This is because the IRS uses random audits along with categorically targeted audits to achieve compliance with the tax laws.

You should always be prepared for an audit by the IRS. You must be able to produce the supporting documents that prove your deduction was legitimate. This is done by good record keeping. Make sure that you have on file somewhere the original documents that support your claim. And never take any deductions on your tax form that you know are incorrect or you aren't sure about, when in doubt talk to a tax professional.

Here are two ways to minimize your chance of being audited by the IRS:

1. You will decrease the chances of being audited if you sign your own return. The only exception to this is if you are a high paid professional such as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. It seems that the IRS is wary of people who make a lot of money preparing and signing their own returns.

2. If you file your tax return after April 1, you are less likely to receive a categorical random audit by the IRS. This is because the IRS computers select a certain number of returns at random for categorical audits until the programmed quota is met. Then the IRS computer stops requesting random audits for that category. This strategy will decrease your odds of an audit substantially.

Some people are called into an audit anyway. It is important that you relax and remember that the IRS wants to confirm the accuracy and completeness of your filed return. You are not being accused of anything. They just are requesting more information.

In the event of an audit, you have the right to:

1. Take your tax preparer with you to help clarify your position. This helps because the tax preparer speaks the auditor's language.

2. You can request a more convenient time for the meeting with the IRS. The law stipulates that the time of the audit meeting must be convenient for both parties.

3. If you are not satisfied with the auditor's determination, you can and should appeal to an IRS supervisor. The supervisor is trained in public relations and can help resolve the issue in your favor many times.

Above all don't make the audit more than it really is. It is a normal function of the IRS's business. Remember that the best defense against an audit is to avoid one in the first place. If you keep your records in good order, you should have nothing to worry about even if an audit is requested.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Get All Your Home Business Tax Deductions

In any home business you definitely have more tax advantages than if you were self-employed. The tax advantages become substantial when you consider how you can improve the profitability of your home business by declaring all of the deductions you are entitled to.

You may be missing some very important deductions. You must itemize your deductions for your home business operation on a separate schedule just as you would for your personal deductions. Knowing which deductions you are entitled to can save your home business hundreds of dollars a year.

Here is some background information on how your income tax amount is arrived at by the IRS.

The U.S. taxation code states that almost all income is subject to federal income tax. The way that you, as the owner of your home business, arrive at the final amount of income tax is as follows:

Gross Income - (All Expenses + Miscellaneous Deductions + Depreciation on Assets) = Taxable Income.

Taxable Income X (Your Tax Rate) = Income tax for the fiscal year.

Here is a quick definition of the terms in the above taxation equation:

Gross Income = The total of all income for the year after the cost of the inventory has been paid for.

Expenses = All costs of doing business during the fiscal tax year. Examples include payroll, materials, supplies and interest on business loans, etc. To find out if an expense qualifies as a legitimate business expense, consult your accountant or the IRS.

Depreciation = This is the way of spreading out the deductibility of an asset over a period of more than one year.

The IRS has certain different depreciation schedules for different business property. This is done for assets like real estate, equipment and other assets with a long economic life. This method of taxation write-off has certain advantages. Be sure to talk to your accountant regarding proper depreciation rules. These rules are subject to change by the Congress and the IRS.

Miscellaneous Deductions:

This is an often misunderstood and overlooked way to save a lot of money on taxes. Remember that these types of expenses must be totaled up and declared on a separate schedule of your income tax forms.

Always track your expenses and be sure to save at least one copy of every deduction. You will be asked for proof of every transaction that is declared as a deduction if you are audited by the IRS!

Here is a list of some of the things you can deduct from your income taxes:

Business related expenses include:

1. Air fares
2. Auto expenses
3. Books and Magazines
4. Educational Expenses
5. Home Office Space* + a portion of utilities, telephone, and maintenance costs
6. Office Furniture
7. Cleaning Expenses
8. Meals with Business Clients
9. Laundry Expenses (When Traveling)
10. Advertising
11. Impairment-related Expenses
12. Licenses and Regulatory Fees

* If you own your home you must use the IRS depreciation rules to determine this deduction. If you rent you may also deduct a portion of your rent.

Check IRS Publication 535 to find out if you can deduct any or all of the above.

As you can see there are many deductions that are allowable for your home business. The best way to get more information on tax deductions and related information on income taxes is to go online to www.irs.gov. There you will find a helpful search engine containing thousands of government publications that you can research and print out if you need to.

Now you have a good idea of the deductions you are entitled to take. So do your research, keep track of your expenses and take all of the deductions you can for maximum profit every year.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tax Implications of Retirement Accounts

There are several retirement accounts with tax implications. 401K accounts, Keogh accounts, Roth IRAs and standard IRAs are some of the most important and widely know retirement accounts.

What is an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)?

An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a retirement investment into which you put contributions on which you do not pay taxes until you withdraw the money from the account after you retire. Usually, your tax bracket will be lower after retirement and so you won't have to pay as high a percentage of the money in taxes as you would have if the money had been taxed at the time it was originally earned. When you put money into an IRA, you get a tax deduction. When you take a "distribution" from that IRA later, it counts as taxable income. There are penalties for early withdrawal up to age 59 1/2.

You are required to start taking money out of your IRA no later than at age 70 1/2.

You should check with your accountant or the IRS to see how much you can contribute in the current tax year. How much of this money is tax deductible depends on your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and whether you are covered under an employer retirement plan.

There are other variations of the standard IRA, such as the "Simple IRA," a relatively new but popular employer based plan allowing employer contributions and a higher contribution by the taxpayer.

What is a 401K Retirement Account?

A 401K plan is named after a section of the 1978 U.S. Tax code. It is a plan offered by employers which allows you to automatically save a portion of your income for retirement without paying taxes now on the money you are saving. As with the IRA, the idea behind it is you'll be in a lower tax bracket after retirement and therefore will have less tax to pay on the saved money than you would pay now at your higher salaried income rate. You only pay taxes on the money when you withdraw it from the 401K account after retirement.

Usually, the 401K money is automatically deducted from your paycheck by the company's payroll system in much the same way your taxes are withheld.

In its basic configuration, a 401K account is similar to a standard IRA, but in many employers' plans, there is a matching contribution from the employer which provides the real power to the plan. Beware. Many companies invest the 401K plan money heavily in their own company stock. If the company has an unusually bad financial problem, you might find this money in jeopardy as well as your job. The best 401K plans allow you to control the investment vehicles for your money.

Typically, at the time of retirement, a 401K plan is "rolled over" into a standard IRA, from which the retiree then makes withdrawals over time to provide retirement income.

What is a Keogh Retirement Account?

A Keogh retirement account is a tax deferred retirement plan for self employed people. If you are self employed, with a sole proprietorship or a partnership, then this is the plan you may want to consider setting up. Any type of qualified retirement account can be set up to cover self employed individuals. You should also look into 401K plans, and standard and Roth IRAs.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each. One advantage to the Keogh plan is that contributions are deducted from the gross income. Contribution limits are more liberal than those allowed with some other retirement accounts. As with other retirement accounts, tax is deferred until money is withdrawn, usually after retirement. In some cases, lump sum withdrawals may be eligible for 10 year averaging which can provide a tax benefit.

Another IRA type used for self employed sole proprietors is a SEP IRA which has less complex filing administrative paperwork and allows higher contributions.

What is a Roth IRA?

The Roth IRA came into existence in 1998 and is named after the late Senator William V. Roth, Jr. The chief advantage of a Roth IRA is obvious. Although there is no deferral of taxes on the money originally invested in a Roth IRA, as in other IRAs, all income earned by the investments in a Roth account is tax free when it is withdrawn. Another benefit is that you are not required to take distributions beginning at age 70 1/2 as with other accounts, so if you don't need the money to live on, it can continue growing and earning for you tax free. Also, a Roth IRA makes it easier in some cases to take early withdrawals without penalties compared to other retirement accounts.

For many people, the Roth IRA is a wonderful retirement investment account. Some employers offer Roth 401K plans.

There are, however, limitations on who may contribute and under what conditions. Individuals with higher incomes may not be able to use a Roth IRA. Check with your accountant or the IRS for current rules.

You need to plan early and do your homework thoroughly. Review your choices regularly since rules and types of accounts change over time. Don't wait until you are 60 to start planning for your retirement or you'll be sorry.