Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Health Insurance. Are you among the lucky few who will continue to be covered after retirement? If not, you'll need to replace the coverage. If you will be eligible for Medicare, you may want to start checking up on "Medigap" coverage.
- Tip: Before you retire, take care of any non-emergency medical, dental, or optical needs (if your employee plan coverage is broader than Medicare).
Other Types of Insurance. Once you retire, you may need to replace employer-provided life insurance by buying added life coverage. You should also consider purchasing long-term health care insurance to cover the risk that you'll need a lengthy nursing home stay in the future.
Social Security. Decide whether you want to take early Social Security benefits if you're retiring before your full retirement age. You can get 80% of your benefits at age 62.
- Tip: For most people, taking Social Security benefits at their full retirement age makes the most financial sense. Be sure to discuss this with a financial advisor if you think you might need to take early benefits.
Company Plan Payout. It's important to plan well in advance how you'll take the payout from your pension plan or 401(k) plan. Will you transfer the funds to an IRA? How will the funds be invested?
Relocation. If you're planning on moving to another state, check out various states to see what the financial ramifications of living there will be.
- Tip: If you'll be relocating, it might be a good idea to buy the new home before retirement.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
- Contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2009 count for 2009. This is true even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2010. Also, checks count for 2009 as long as they are mailed in 2009 and clear, shortly thereafter.
- Check that the organization is qualified. Only donations to qualified organizations are tax-deductible. IRS Publication 78, available online and at many public libraries, lists most organizations that are qualified to receive deductible contributions. The searchable online version can be found at IRS.gov under Search for Charities. In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they are not listed in Publication 78.
- For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction, including anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2009 Form 1040 Schedule A, available now on IRS.gov, to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
- For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes the name of the charity, date of the contribution, and a reasonably-detailed description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information, as well as the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value. Additional rules apply for a contribution of $250 or more.
- The deduction for a motor vehicle, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C, or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.
- If the amount of a taxpayer’s deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 must be submitted with the tax return.
To figure the value of items you have donated, please contact me so that we can put together accurate valuations.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
A Section 529 plan is a tax-favored way to save for a student’s college education. For starters, you can set aside generous amounts in a state-sponsored savings plan. There’s no current tax on accumulations within the account, and distributions are tax-free if used to pay for tuition, room and board, and other qualified college expenses.
With college savings plans, however, you’re the one taking investment risk. These plans, also sponsored by states but generally available to out-of-state investors as well, let you spend your money on any public or private college. And though the investment menus vary widely from one 529 to the next, many plans offer a range of options similar to those in a 401(k) retirement plan. Most provide age-adjusted accounts that shift from more aggressive, stock-dominated portfolios when a child is young to more conservative, largely fixed-income allocations when college age approaches. But investors also may be able to choose all-stock accounts. Those seemed like a good deal when share prices were rising, but the recent market plunge has hit such accounts particularly hard.
The question, of course, is what to do now if your child’s account has suffered deep losses. You may need to reconsider your investment allocations, and a new IRS rule, in effect only for 2009, permits you to shift investments within a plan twice rather than just once during the year. Your first step, as painful as it may be, is to look at your current 529 account balances and project what they’ll be when your student starts school. Then consider possible changes to your strategy.
- If your child is graduating from high school soon, damage control is in order. It may be tempting to roll the dice on stocks, hoping to recoup some of your losses, but at this point preservation is much more important than growth. An allocation dominated by bonds or cash investments probably makes sense.
- If you have younger children too, consider changing the 529 plan beneficiary to someone who won’t need the funds until the markets have had a chance to recover. Or simply delay making withdrawals until the later years of college. These strategies assume you have other funds available to pay near-term expenses.
- If college is still years in the future, having much of your plan invested in stocks could still be a good idea. Share prices have taken a big hit and may fall further, but being patient and staying invested for the eventual rebound may reward you nicely. Even so, choosing a diversified investment option could minimize volatility and increase potential gains.
- Switching to a prepaid tuition plan now could relieve you of future investment risk. But it will lock in your 529 plan’s losses and also limit your child’s choice of college.
- Increasing current contributions to college accounts could also help make up for the market plunge. With college costs rising quickly and potential sources of financial aid shrinking, having personal savings to draw on will be more important than ever in the years ahead.
Of course, education savings is only one of your many financial priorities. We can help you assess your current situation and work with you to make sure your overall financial strategy remains on track. We can also assist you in filing FAFSA forms.
Monday, December 7, 2009
The Internal Revenue Service has issued the 2010 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2010, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:
50 cents per mile for business miles driven
16.5 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes
14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations
The new rates for business, medical and moving purposes are slightly lower than last year’s. The mileage rates for 2010 reflect generally lower transportation costs compared to a year ago.
The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. Independent contractor Runzheimer International conducted the study.
A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for any vehicle used for hire or for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.
Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.
Revenue Procedure 2009-54 contains additional details regarding the standard mileage rates.
Friday, December 4, 2009
- At least once a year, write down your investment goals and what strategy you will use to reach them. This will keep you focused.
- Instead of giving money to many different charities, pick a few that are important to you, and give them a larger amount. This type of directed giving not only makes more sense, but will make it easier to track your donations at tax time.
Related Financial Guide: CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS: How To Give Wisely
- Inventory your household possessions, with a camera or camcorder if you desire. Keep the inventory at work or in a safe-deposit box. This inventory will help should you need to submit a homeowner's insurance claim.
- Use one insurance agent and one financial adviser for your transactions.
- If you have doubts about entering into a transaction, don't do it. You will probably save yourself money, time, and aggravation.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), enacted earlier this year, expanded two home energy tax credits: the nonbusiness energy property credit and the residential energy efficient property credit.
Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit
Homeowners going green should also check out a second tax credit designed to spur investment in alternative energy equipment. The residential energy efficient property credit, equals 30 percent of what a homeowner spends on qualifying property such as solar electric systems, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines, and fuel cell property. Generally, labor costs are included when calculating this credit. Also, no cap exists on the amount of credit available except in the case of fuel cell property.