Organizing Tax Records This Summer Can Help You Keep Your Cool

If the sweltering dog days of summer aren’t incentive enough to get out of the sun for awhile, the IRS suggests another reason to head indoors: organizing your tax records. Devoting some time mid-year to putting your tax-related documents in order may not only keep you out of the sun, but it should also make it easier for you to prepare your tax return when the filing season arrives.

Here are some things the IRS wants individuals and small business owners to know about recordkeeping.

  • What to keep – Individuals.  In most cases, keep records that support items on your tax return for at least three years after that tax return has been filed. Examples include bills, credit card and other receipts, invoices, mileage logs, canceled, imaged or substitute checks or other proof of payment and any other records to support deductions or credits claimed. You should typically keep records relating to property at least three years after you’ve sold or otherwise disposed of the property. Examples include a home purchase or improvement, stocks and other investments, Individual Retirement Account transactions and rental property records.

  • What to keep – Small Business Owners.  Typically, keep all your employment tax records for at least four years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later. Also, keep records documenting gross receipts, proof of purchases, expenses and assets. Examples include cash register tapes, bank deposit slips, receipt books, purchase and sales invoices, credit card charges and sales slips, Forms 1099-MISC, canceled checks, account statements, petty cash slips and real estate closing statements. Electronic records can include databases, saved files, e-mails, instant messages, faxes and voice messages.

  • How to keep them – Although the IRS generally does not require you to keep your records in any special manner, having a designated place for tax documents and receipts is a good idea. It will make preparing your return easier, and it may also remind you of relevant transactions. Good record keeping will also help you prepare a response if you receive an IRS notice or need to substantiate items on your return if you are selected for an audit.
To help you jump start your organizing, you can download the NFS Income Tax Organizer here.

Moving This Summer? Here are 10 Helpful Tax Tips

School’s out for the summer (for a little longer anyway), and summer is a popular time for people to move – especially families with children.  If you are moving to start a new job or even the same job at a new job location, the IRS offers 10 tax tips on expenses you may be able to deduct on your tax return.

1. Expenses must be close to the time you start work  Generally, you can consider moving expenses that you incurred within one year of the date you first report to work at a new job location.

2. Distance Test  Your move meets the distance test if your new main job location is at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your previous main job location was from your former home.  For example, if your old main job location was three miles from your former home, your new main job location must be at least 53 miles from that former home.

3. Time Test  Upon arriving in the general area of your new job location, you must work full time for at least 39 weeks during the first year at your new job location. Self-employed individuals must meet this test, and they must also work full time for a total of at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months upon arriving in the general area of their new job location. If your income tax return is due before you have satisfied this requirement, you can still deduct your allowable moving expenses if you expect to meet the time test. There are some special rules and exceptions to these general rules, so see Publication 521, Moving Expenses for more information.

4. Travel  You can deduct lodging expenses (but not meals) for yourself and household members while moving from your former home to your new home. You can also deduct transportation expenses, including airfare, vehicle mileage, parking fees and tolls you pay, but you can only deduct one trip per person.

5. Household goods  You can deduct the cost of packing, crating and transporting your household goods and personal property, including the cost of shipping household pets. You may be able to include the cost of storing and insuring these items while in transit.

6. Utilities  You can deduct the costs of connecting or disconnecting utilities.

7. Nondeductible expenses  You cannot deduct as moving expenses: any part of the purchase price of your new home, car tags, a drivers license renewal, costs of buying or selling a home, expenses of entering into or breaking a lease, or security deposits and storage charges, except those incurred in transit and for foreign moves.

8. Form  You can deduct only those expenses that are reasonable for the circumstances of your move. To figure the amount of your deduction for moving expenses, use Form 3903, Moving Expenses.

9. Reimbursed expenses  If your employer reimburses you for the costs of a move for which you took a deduction, the reimbursement may have to be included as income on your tax return.

10. Update your address  When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive mail from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS.

More details are available in IRS Publication 521 and Form 3903. IRS publications and forms are available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-829-3676.

For a detailed Moving Guide from NFS, please request one here. 

How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

HOW MUCH LIFE INSURANCE DO I NEED?

How much life insurance is enough depends on your individual needs and your financial objectives for your family.

While life insurance cannot replace you, it can provide the funds to:

  • PAY FINAL EXPENSES
  • REPLACE ALL OR A PORTION OF YOUR INCOME
  • KEEP YOUR FAMILY IN THEIR HOME
  • ESTABLISH A COLLEGE EDUCATION FUND
  • COVER FINANCIAL EMERGENCIES
  • PROVIDE A CHILD AND/OR HOME CARE FUND

How much life insurance is enough?
This question is best answered through an analysis of your family and financial situation, as well as your financial goals and objectives. Contact us to begin your FREE analysis.
To view the complete NFS Financial Facts Newsletter for August 2012, click here. 

Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

The Internal Revenue Service has some important information for those who have sold or are about to sell their home. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude all or part of that gain from your income.

Here are 10 tips from the IRS to keep in mind when selling your home.

1. In general, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used your home as your main home for two years out of the five years prior to the date of its sale.

2. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).

3. You are not eligible for the full exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.

4. If you can exclude all of the gain, you do not need to report the sale of your home on your tax return.

5. If you have a gain that cannot be excluded, it is taxable. You must report it on Form 1040, Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.

6. You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.

7. Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the adjusted basis of the home you sold, the gain (or loss) on the sale, and the gain that you can exclude. Most tax software can also help with
this calculation.

8. If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is ordinarily the one you live in most of the time.

9. Special rules may apply when you sell a home for which you received the first-time homebuyer credit. See Publication 523, Selling Your Home, for details.

10. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive mail from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS of your address change.

For more information about selling your home, see IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home. This publication is available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

For a detailed Moving Guide from NFS, please request one here.

Links:
Publication 523, Selling Your Home (PDF)
Form 8822, Change of Address (PDF)
Tax Topic 701 – Sale of Your Home

Paying Off Debt the Smart Way

Being in debt isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Between mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans – most people are in debt. Being debt-free is a great goal, but you should focus on the management of debt, not just getting rid of it. It’s likely to be there for most of your life – and, handled wisely, it won’t be an albatross around your neck.

You don’t need to shell out your hard-earned money for exorbitant interest rates, or always feel like you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. You can pay off debt the smart way, while at the same time saving money to pay it off faster.

Know Where You Are

First, assess the depth of your debt. Write it down, using pencil and paper, a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, or a bookkeeping program like Quicken. Include every financial situation where a company has given you something in advance of payment, including your mortgage, car payment(s), credit cards, tax liens, student loans, and payments on electronics or other household items through a store.Record the day the debt began and when it will end (if possible), the interest rate you’re paying, and what your payments typically are. Add it all up, painful as that might be. Try not to be discouraged! Remember, you’re going to break this down into manageable chunks while finding extra money to help pay it down.

Identify High-Cost Debt

Yes, some debts are more expensive than others. Unless you’re getting payday loans (which you shouldn’t be), the worst offenders are probably your credit cards. Here’s how to deal with them.

Don’t use them. Don’t cut them up, but put them in a drawer and only access them in an emergency.
Identify the card with the highest interest and pay off as much as you can every month. Pay minimums on the others. When that one’s paid off, work on the card with the next highest rate.
Don’t close existing cards or open any new ones. It won’t help your credit rating.
Pay on time, absolutely every time. One late payment these days can lower your FICO score.
Go over your credit-card statements with a fine-tooth comb. Are you still being charged for that travel club you’ve never used? Look for line items you don’t need.
Call your credit card companies and ask them nicely if they would lower your interest rates. It does work sometimes!

Save, Save, Save

Do whatever you can to retire debt. Consider taking a second job and using that income only for higher payments on your financial obligations. Substitute free family activities for high-cost ones. Sell high-value items that you can live without.

Do Away with Unnecessary Items to Reduce Debt Load

Do you really need the 800-channel cable option or that dish on your roof? You’ll be surprised at what you don’t miss. How about magazine subscriptions? They’re not terribly expensive, but every penny counts. It’s nice to have a library of books, but consider visiting the public library or half-price bookstores until your debt is under control.

Never, Ever Miss a Payment

Not only are you retiring debt, but you’re also building a stellar credit rating. If you ever move or buy another car, you’ll want to get the lowest rate possible. A blemish-free payment record will help with that. Besides, credit card companies can be quick to raise interest rates because of one late payment. A completely missed one is even more serious.

Do Not Increase Debt Load

If you don’t have the cash for it, you probably don’t need it. You’ll feel better about what you do have if you know it’s owned free and clear.

Shop Wisely, and Use the Savings to Pay Down Your Debt

If your family is large enough to warrant it, invest $30 or $40 and join a store like BJ’s or Costco. And use it. Shop there first, then at the grocery store. Change brands if you have to and swallow your pride. Use coupons religiously. Calculate the money you’re saving and slap it on your debt.

Each of these steps, taken alone, probably doesn’t seem like much. But if you adopt as many as you can, you’ll watch your debt decrease every month.