IRS Tax Tips for Deducting Gifts to Charity

The holiday season often prompts people to give money or property to charity. If you plan to give and want to claim a tax deduction, there are a few tips you should know before you give. For instance, you must itemize your deductions. Here are six more tips that you should keep in mind:

1. Give to qualified charities. You can only deduct gifts you give to a qualified charity. Use the IRS Select Check tool to see if the group you give to is qualified. You can deduct gifts to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies. This is true even if Select Check does not list them in its database.

2. Keep a record of all cash gifts.  Gifts of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. You must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity to deduct any gift of money on your tax return. This is true regardless of the amount of the gift. The statement must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, or bank, credit union and credit card statements. If you give by payroll deductions, you should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document from your employer. It must show the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

3. Household goods must be in good condition.  Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. These items must be in at least good-used condition to claim on your taxes. A deduction claimed of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if you include a qualified appraisal of the item with your tax return.

4. Additional records required.  You must get an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. Additional rules apply to the statement for gifts of that amount. This statement is in addition to the records required for deducting cash gifts. However, one statement with all of the required information may meet both requirements.


5. Year-end gifts.  Deduct contributions in the year you make them. If you charge your gift to a credit card before the end of the year it will count for 2015. This is true even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2016. Also, a check will count for 2015 as long as you mail it in 2015.

6. Special rules.  Special rules apply if you give a car, boat or airplane to charity. If you claim a deduction of more than $500 for a noncash contribution, you will need to file another form with your tax return. Use Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions to report these gifts. For more on these rules, visit IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

If you need a handy “Charitable Contributions Guide”, “Charitable Cash Donation Tracker” or a listing of “Non-Cash Valuations” or you require information on Advanced Charitable Giving for Estate Planning Purposes, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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Happy Thanksgiving from NFS


From All of us here at

Northeast Financial Strategies, Inc.

WE GIVE THANKS…

… For Our Families
… For Our Friends
… Four Our Clients
… For Our Communitiy
… For You

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Seven Tips to Protect Your Computer Online

We at NFS urge you to be safe online and remind you to take important steps to help protect yourself against identity theft. Taxes. Security. Together. Working in partnership with you, we can make a difference.

Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are looking to steal your personal information – and your money. But there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself, like keeping your computer software up-to-date and giving out your personal information only when you have a good reason.

We all have a role to play to protect your tax account. There are just a few easy and practical steps you can take to protect yourself as you conduct your personal business online.

Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information:

1. Understand and Use Security Software.  Security software helps protect your computer against the digital threats which are prevalent online. Generally, your operating system will include security software or you can access free security software from well-known companies or Internet providers. Other options may have an annual licensing fee and offer more features. Essential tools include a firewall, virus/malware protection and file encryption if you keep sensitive financial/tax documents on your computer. Security suites often come with firewall, anti-virus and anti-spam, parental controls and privacy protection. File encryption to protect your saved documents may have to be purchased separately. Do not buy security software offered as an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or email! It’s likely from a scammer.

2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically.  Set your security software to update automatically. Malware – malicious software – evolves constantly and your security software suite is updated routinely to keep pace.

3. Look for the “S” for encrypted “https” websites.  When shopping or banking online, always look to see that the site uses encryption to protect your information. Look for https at the beginning of the web address. The “s” is for secure. Unencrypted sites begin with an http address. Additionally, make sure the https carries through on all pages, not just the sign-on page.


4. Use Strong Passwords.  Use passwords of at least 10 to 12 characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words. Don’t use the same password for several accounts. Keep your password list in a secure place or use a password manager. Don’t share your password with anyone. Calls, texts or emails pretending to be from legitimate companies or the IRS asking you to update your accounts or seeking personal financial information are generally scams.

5. Secure your wireless network.  A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows you to connect to the Internet. If your home or business wi-fi is unsecured it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and steal information from your computer. Criminals also can use your wireless to send spam or commit crimes that would be traced back to your account. Always encrypt your wireless. Generally, you must turn on this feature and create a password.

6. Be cautious when using public wireless networks.  Public wi-fi hotspots are convenient but often not secure. Tax or financial Information you send though websites or mobile apps may be accessed by someone else. If a public Wi-Fi hotspot does not require a password, it probably is not secure. If you are transmitting sensitive information, look for the “s” in https in the website address to ensure that the information will be secure.

7. Avoid phishing attempts.  Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. One common trick by criminals is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account and providing a link. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Go directly to the organization’s website. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through unsecured channels.

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Tax Aspects of Divorce and Separation

When it comes to legal separation or divorce, there are many complex situations to address. A divorcing couple faces many important decisions and issues regarding alimony, child support, and the fair division of property. While most courts and judges will not factor in the impact of taxes on a potential property settlement or cash payments, it is important to realize how the value of assets transferred can be materially affected by the tax implications.

Dependents

One of the most argued points between separating couples regarding taxes is who gets to claim the children as dependents on their tax return, since joint filing is no longer an option. The reason this part of tax law is so important to divorcing parents is that the federal and state exemptions allowed for dependents offer a significant savings to the custodial parent, and there are also substantial child and educational credits that can be taken. The right to claim a child as a dependent from birth through college can be worth over $30,000 in tax savings.

The law states that one parent must be chosen as the head of the household, and that parent may legally claim the dependents on his or her return.

Example: If a couple was divorced or legally separated by December 31 of the last tax year, the law allows the tax exemptions to go to the parent who had physical custody of the children for the greater part of the year (the custodial parent), and that parent would be considered the head of the household. However, if the separation occurs in the last six months of the year and there hasn’t yet been a legal divorce or separation by the year’s end, the exemptions will go to the parent that has been providing the most financial support to the children, regardless of which parent had custody.

A non-custodial parent can only claim the dependents if the custodial parent releases the right to the exemptions and credits. This needs to be done legally by signing tax Form 8332, Release of Claim to Exemption. However, even if the non-custodial parent is not claiming the children, he or she still has the right to deduct things like medical expenses.

Child support payments are not deductible or taxable. Merely labeling payments as child support is not enough — various requirements must be met.

Alimony

Alimony is another controversial area for separated or divorced couples, mostly because the payer of the alimony wants to deduct as much of that expense as possible, while the recipient wants to avoid paying as much tax on that income as he or she can. On a yearly tax return, the recipient of alimony is required to claim that money as taxable income, while the payer can deduct the payment, even if he or she chooses not to itemize.

Because alimony plays such a large part in a divorced couple’s taxes, the government has specifically outlined what can and can not be considered as an alimony expense. The government says that an alimony payment is one that is required by a divorce or separation decree, is paid by cash, check or money order, and is not already designated as child support. The payer and recipient must not be filing a joint return, and the spouses can not be living in the same house. And the payment cannot be part of a non-cash property settlement or be designated to keep up the payer’s property.

There are also complicated recapture rules that may need to be addressed in certain tax situations. When alimony must be recaptured, the payer must report as income part of what was deducted as alimony within the first two payment years.

Property

Many aspects of property settlements are too numerous and detailed to discuss at length, but separating couples should be aware that, when it comes to property distributions, basis should be considered very carefully when negotiating for specific assets.

Example: Let’s say you get the house and the spouse gets the stock. The actual split up and distribution is tax-free. However, let’s say the house was bought last year for $300,000 and has $100,000 of equity. The stock was bought 20 years ago, is also worth $100,000, but was bought for $10,000. Selling the house would generate no tax in this case and you would get to keep the full $100,000 equity. Selling the $100,000 of stock will generate about $25,000 to $30,000 of federal and state taxes, leaving the other spouse with a net of $70,000. While there may be no taxes to pay for several years if both parties plan to hold the assets for some time, the above example still illustrates an inequitable division of assets due to non-consideration of the underlying basis of the properties distributed.

Under a recent tax law, a spouse who acquires a partial interest in a house through a divorce settlement can move out and still exempt up to $250,000 of any taxable gain. This still holds true if he or she has not lived in the home for two of the last five years, the book states. It also applies to the spouse staying in the home. However, the divorce decree must clearly state that the home will be sold later and the proceeds will be split.

Complications and tax traps can also occur when a jointly owned business is transferred to one spouse in connection with a divorce. Professional tax assistance at the earliest stages of divorce are recommended in situations where a closely held business interest is involved.

Retirement

When a couple splits up, the courts have the authority to divide a retirement plan (whether it’s an account or an accrued benefit) between the spouses. If the retirement money is in an IRA account, the individuals need to draw up a written agreement to transfer the IRA balance from one spouse to the other. However, if one spouse is the trustee of a qualified retirement plan, he or she must comply with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to divide the accrued benefit. Each spouse will then be taxed on the money they receive from this plan, unless it is transferred directly to an IRA, in which case there will be no withholding or income tax liability until the money is withdrawn.

Extreme caution should be exercised when there are company pension and profit-sharing benefits, Keogh plan benefits, and/or IRAs to split up. Unless done appropriately, the split up of these plans will be taxable to the spouse transferring the plan to the other.

Tax Prepayment and Joint Refunds

When a couple prepays taxes by either withholding wages or paying estimated taxes throughout the year, the withholding will be credited to the spouse who earned the underlying income. In community property states, the withholding will be credited equally when spouses each report half of their income. When a joint refund is issued after a couple has separated or divorced, the couple should consult a tax advisor to determine how the refund should be divided. There is a formula that can be used to determine this amount, but it is wisest to use a qualified individual to make sure it is properly applied.

Legal and Other Expenses

To the dismay of most divorcing couples, the massive legal bills most end up paying are not deductible at tax time because they are considered personal nondeductible expenses. On the other hand, if a part of that bill was allocated to tax advice, to securing alimony, or to the protection of business income, those expenses can be deducted when itemizing. However, their total — combined with other miscellaneous itemized deductions — must be greater than 2% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income to qualify.

Divorce planning and the related tax implications can completely change the character of the divorcing couple’s negotiations. As many divorce attorneys are not always aware of these tax implications, it is always a good idea to have a qualified tax professional be involved in the dissolution process and planning from the very early stages.

If you are in the process of divorce or are considering divorce or legal separation, please contact the office for a consultation and additional guidance. You can also request a copy of our FREE GUIDE titled “Dealing with Divorce” by clicking here.

FREE GUIDE – “Dealing with Divorce”

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IRS Promises More Identity Theft Protections in 2016 Filing Season

After acknowledging earlier this year that hackers breached one of its popular online apps, the IRS has promised more identity theft protections in the 2016 filing season. The IRS, along with partners in the tax preparation community, has identified and tested more than 20 new data elements on returns to help detect and prevent identity-theft related filings. The agency is also working to prevent criminals from accessing tax-time financial products.

Identity Theft

Combating identity theft is on ongoing process as criminals continue to create new ways of stealing personal information and using it for their gain. Tax-related identity theft typically peaks early in the filing season. Criminals file bogus returns early so taxpayers remain unaware you have been victimized until they try to file a return and learn one already has been filed. Between 2011 and 2015, the IRS identified 19 million suspicious returns and prevented the issuance of some $60 billion in fraudulent refunds. During the 2015 filing season, the IRS detected and stopped more than 3.8 million suspicious returns.

However, criminals continue to probe for weaknesses. In May, the IRS discovered that criminals had breached its Get Transcript app. Return information of as many as 300,000 taxpayers may have been compromised, the IRS reported.

New Protections

In March, the IRS began working with the return preparation community and the tax software
industry to develop a coordinated response to tax-related identity theft. The stakeholders, the IRS reported, have focused on a number of areas including improved validation of the authenticity of taxpayers and information on returns, increased information sharing to improve refund fraud detection and expand prevention, as well as more sophisticated threat assessment and strategy development to prevent risks and threats.

One outgrowth of the process is the creation of new data elements that can be shared at the time of filing with the IRS to help authenticate a taxpayer’s identity. The IRS explained that there are more than 20 new data components. They will be submitted with electronic return transmissions during the 2016 filing season. Some of the data elements are

  • Reviewing the transmission of the tax return, including the improper and/or repetitive use of internet addresses from which the return is originating;
  • Reviewing the time it takes to complete a tax return, so computer mechanized fraud can be detected.
  • Capturing metadata in the computer transaction that will allow review for identity theft related fraud.

“We are taking new steps upfront to protect taxpayers at the time they file and beyond,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said at a news conference in Washington, D.C. “Thanks to the cooperative efforts taking place between the industry, the states and the IRS, we will have new tools in place this January to protect taxpayers during the 2016 filing season.”

Financial Products

Previously, the IRS announced that it would limit the number of direct deposit refunds to a single financial account or pre-paid debit card to three. Fourth and subsequent valid refunds will convert to paper checks and be mailed to the taxpayer. The IRS emphasized that it will continue to bolster its efforts to curb tax-time financial product fraud.

If you have any questions about tax-related identity theft, or you would like a copy of our FREE GUIDE titled “Taking Charge – What To Do If Your Identity is Stolen”, please contact our office.

Contact Our Office Today For a FREE Copy

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