Archive for the ‘Tax Organizer’ Tag

Get Ready for 2015 Taxes

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

January 8, 2015

 

We are going to take a break from our Back to Basics series to address a few timely issues.

At the beginning of every year, I send each of my clients a tax organizer to assist in gathering all the information necessary to complete the tax returns in an efficient manner.  The tax organizer is customized for the client and includes his or her prior year amounts for comparative purposes (and it serves as a great memory jogger so nothing is left out).

There is also a questionnaire to assist in alerting us to items that may not occur every year, but that may be present in the current year.  I also ask clients additional questions about the status of things like their estate planning, retirement planning, assets, debts, insurance, health care directives, etc. in order to ensure that they are thinking about these important issues each year.

Organizers are a fairly common practice among CPA firms, and for good reason.  They result in more accurate and more efficient tax preparation which should translate into a more accurate calculation of your tax liability, less problems with the taxing authorities, and less cost to you in the long-run.  Some of you may find yourselves saying, “Oh, I never use the organizer.  My CPA knows how I do things, and I have been doing it this way for years, plus my tax stuff is very simple.”

Behind the scenes this translates into moments of, “Oh, yeah, I remember these yellow sheets with the small scribbles from the past – now where did she put the real estate taxes again?”  And then if there is staff involved, there may be an additional conversation, “Okay, now here is what you need to know about how Mrs. Jones organizes her information…”    Since time is a precious commodity, the more of it that is used in the process of assisting you, the higher your bill is going to be.  With some firms, you will see this reflected in your bill each year.  In other firms, your pricing will be more consistent, but will trend higher or lower as a result over a period of years.

Ask yourself, is the firm going to be faster at learning, remembering, and extracting information from hundreds of different client systems with information in different orders, or from one system which is perfectly ordered with its software and that it knows backwards and forwards?  You can minimize the fees related to data collection and entry, and just spend your money on the real value of strategy in preparing the returns.

That said, maybe it is worth it to you to keep doing it the way you have always done it.  A CPA firm is generally going to be intelligent enough to figure it out and let you know what is unclear or what else may be missing in most cases, it just might cost you a little more, and have a little more risk associated with it.

In addition to the organizer each year, I send clients an engagement letter for services to be provided, a limited tax power of attorney to speed up the process in case we need to resolve an issue on a client’s behalf, and an additional organizer letter.  The organizer letter explains new tax developments over the past year, as well as revisiting issues from prior years that remain important and still somewhat fresh.  This year’s organizer letter was six pages long.  I don’t expect clients to necessarily read it all, but it is laid out in an easier manner to skim the topics and see what might be important to read further.

Here is a high level summary of some of the issues from my organizer letter you may want to be aware of:

  1. The IRS took a clear position this year that businesses sending 1099 forms this January must send them to LLCs as well, unless the LLCs have made a special election to be taxed as a corporation.  Fees for not properly sending 1099s have doubled.
  2. President Obama signed a new law this year that requires anyone claiming education credits or education deductions to have a 1098-T when filing their tax returns.
  3. The PATH Act (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes) was signed into law on December 18, 2015.  This was the extender bill for this year which we have grown accustomed to getting at the last minute each year from Congress.  Some notable provisions made permanent include the sales tax deduction as an option in lieu of state income taxes, the IRA‐to‐charity exclusion, enhanced child tax credit, enhanced American opportunity tax credit, enhanced earned income tax credit, above‐the‐line deductions for qualified tuition expenses, the section 179 depreciation deduction for up to $500,000, built‐in‐gains holding period of 5 years for s‐corporations, and enhanced exclusion of gain on sale of small business stock. The qualified tuition deduction, mortgage insurance premiums deductible as interest, and exclusion of income for debt on discharged principal residences where extended through 2016. Bonus depreciation and first‐year bonus depreciation on automobiles was extended through 2019.
  4. Do not do more than one indirect rollover from one retirement plan to another in any 365 day period (not calendar year based), or you will face penalties.  Indirect rollovers are where the retirement plan custodian issues you a check directly, and then you have 60 days to deposit the money with another retirement plan custodian or consider it a distribution.  (You can still do unlimited direct rollovers from one trustee to another.)
  5. Several tax return due dates are changing affecting 2016 returns (not 2015 returns) – due dates for partnerships move to March 15, c-corporations move to April 15, and FinCen 114 for foreign bank accounts move to April 15 and are now eligible for a six month extension.
  6. The new capitalization and repair regulations of 2014 were modified to allow taxpayers to have a capitalization policy of $2,500.  This means businesses can now deduct any item $2,500 or less as an expense without having to include it on a depreciation schedule or take a section 179 deduction for it.  You do not even have to have a written policy to this effect, but you do have to make an annual 1.263(a)-1(f) election on your returns each year to do this.
  7. Watch for 1095-A, B, and/or Cs this year as they will be much more prevalent and will be needed in the preparation of your tax returns to ensure you meet the health care insurance requirement.  Last year was lax.  This year the noose has been tightened.  If you did not have health insurance for all or part of the year, be aware, some exemptions from the health insurance mandate require you to apply to Covered California to get an exemption for use in your preparation.  In other words – get moving!

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Travis H. Long, CPA, Inc. is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. Travis can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Tax Organizers

Originally published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

January 18, 2012

The use of a tax organizer is a great way to prepare for your income tax return when working with tax professionals.  All things considered, it allows the professional to spend more time on important issues, and typically results in a more accurate and less expensive return.

An organizer is essentially a document that prompts you for the vast majority of standard information a tax professional would need to work on your returns in an order that is logical and efficient for the professional.  Organizers often contain questionnaires that alert the professional to potential reportable transactions or areas that may need additional planning or questions.  It also allows the individual to convey preferences about refunds, the use of estimates, future expectations or anything else that seems appropriate.  If you want to get a gold star, sort your supporting tax documents in the same order as the organizer!

Some people think filling out an organizer is a waste of their time because that is what they are paying someone else to do.  The “shoe-box” approach is where all documents are thrown in a box and the professional is supposed to grind out a return.  This is possible, but the reality of the situation is that you will probably end up with either an inferior result or a lot of questions and a large bill.  I have done returns like these over the years – in some cases opening all the client’s mail for the first time including bank statements, bills, and even birthday cards from grandma with a check enclosed!

Better than the “shoe-box” approach is your own ordered approach.  My father was an architect and he had his own business.  I remember the zippered bags he used for sorting tax documents and his all-important summary sheets where he proceeded to add every expense in two-point hand-written font on yellow notebook paper that only he could fully understand (but of which he was quite proud)!  Of course, his CPA – Dan, had to learn parts of it as well.  I can assure you that Dan would have preferred my father use his firm organizer instead, and he probably would have charged my dad less for preparation as a result!

Using a firm provided organizer allows the professional to move quickly through the low value process of data collection and entry and think more about high-impact planning or additional deductions.  The first year you fill out an organizer for a professional, it will typically be more voluminous with many non-applicable pages.  In future years it will often be tailored to you and provide your prior year information for easy comparison – and it helps you know what you may be missing.

In any case, tax organizers are a great tool to help you stay organized from year-to-year.  If you have never used an organizer, you can download one for free from my website at www.tlongcpa.com/forms.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.