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Five Often-Overlooked Reasons Why You Need a Will
Most people fail to appreciate the full importance of a will, especially if they feel their estate is too small to justify the time and expense of preparing one. And even people who recognize the need for a will often don't have one, perhaps due to procrastination or a disinclination to broach the subject of mortality with loved ones.
Here are five basic reasons why you should have a will:
Reason 1. To Choose Beneficiaries
The intestate succession laws of the state in which you live determine how your property will be distributed if you die without a valid will. For example, in most states the property of a married person with children who dies intestate (i.e., without a will) generally will be distributed one-third to the spouse and two-thirds to the children, while the property of an unmarried, childless person who dies intestate generally will be distributed to his or her parents (or siblings, if the parents are deceased). These distributions may be contrary to what you want. In effect, by not having a will, you are allowing the state to choose your beneficiaries. Further, a will allows you to specify not only who will receive the property, but how much each beneficiary will receive.
Reason 2. To Minimize Taxes
Many people feel they do not need a will because their taxable estate does not exceed the amount allowed to pass free of federal estate tax. These assumptions, however, should be reviewed given the current state of change in the federal estate tax laws. The federal estate tax laws in 2009, 2010 and 2011 are vastly different, for the moment and, therefore, it is important to have your will reviewed and updated as necessary this year.
Most wills were written with the existence of a federal estate tax. However, due to a loophole in the law, both the federal estate tax and the generation skipping transfer tax were repealed at the end of 2009, leaving 2010 without either of these taxes. There is still the gift tax, with the exemption of $1,000,000 during your lifetime, but the tax rate is reduced to 35% in 2010. (In 2009, this rate was 45% and 2011, it will increase to 55%. For both years, the gift tax exemption remains at $1,000,000.)
The federal estate and generation skipping transfer taxes, however, are both scheduled to return in 2011 at much less favorable rates than seen in the past 10 years. In 2011, the estate tax exemption amount will be $1,000,000 with a tax rate of 55% on the remaining estate. This compares to the 2009 exemption amount of $3,500,000 with a tax rate of 45%. Many professionals believe that Congress may retroactively reestablish the 2009 estate tax structure for 2010. This, however, remains to be seen.
Having your will reviewed during these changing times is important as the tax consequences have changed and unanticipated taxes could arise. (For instances, inherited assets subject to capital gain taxes.)
Further, your taxable estate may be larger than you think. For example, life insurance, qualified retirement plan benefits and IRAs typically pass outside of a will or of estate administration. But retirement plan benefits and IRAs (and sometimes life insurance) are still part of your federal estate and can cause your estate to go over the threshold amount. Also, in some states, the estate or inheritance tax differs from the federal laws. A properly prepared will is necessary to implement estate tax reduction strategies.
Reason 3. To Appoint a Guardian
If for no other reason, you should prepare a will to name a guardian for minor children in the event of your death without a surviving spouse. While naming a guardian does not bind either the named guardian or the court, it does indicate your wishes, which courts generally try to accommodate.
Reason 4. To Name an Executor
Without a will, you cannot appoint someone you trust to carry out the administration of your estate. If you do not specifically name an executor in a will, a court will appoint someone to handle your estate, perhaps someone you might not have chosen. Obviously, there is an advantage, and peace of mind, in selecting an executor you trust.
Reason 5. To Help Establish Domicile
You may wish to firmly establish domicile (permanent legal residence) in a particular state, for tax or other reasons. If you move frequently or own homes in more than one state, each state in which you reside could try to impose death or inheritance taxes at the time of death, possibly subjecting your estate to multiple probate proceedings. To lessen the risk of this, you should execute a will that clearly indicates your intended state of domicile.
How To Gauge Your Sales Force's Performance
It's vital, these days, to make sure you're getting the most out of on-premises sales staff. If goals are being met and revenue is where you want it to be, you may not need to use any measuring devices.
But if there is a problem, the following ratios, if applicable to your particular business, may help you pinpoint the problem, analyze it, and take action. The ratios can be applied to your entire business, to a division or department, or to one employee. Progress can be measured by comparing numbers from one month to the next.
Ratio 1: Total sales compensation/ gross sales = direct selling costs (%).
Ratio 2: Gross sales/total hours worked by salespeople = sales dollars per hour.
Ratio 3: Number of sales/number of full-time-equivalent sales people = number of sales per salesperson.
Ratio 4: Gross sales/ number of full-time-equivalent sales people = sales dollars per salesperson.
Ratio 5: Gross sales/ number of sales transactions = average sales dollars per transaction.
Don't Overlook These Valuable Tax Credits
Each year, many taxpayers overlook tax credits, even though they often qualify for one or more of them. Though both tax deductions and credits save you money, they do it in different ways. A deduction lowers the income on which tax is figured. The tax credit is even better because it lowers the tax itself. Take time now to review your records and see if you qualify for one of these tax credits; many are new or expanded for the 2009 tax filing year.
First-time Homebuyer's Credit
A credit limit of $8,000 for qualified first-time homebuyers is available in 2009. Further, long-time residents who owned and used the same principal residence for any 5 consecutive years of the last 8 years prior to purchasing a subsequent new principal residence, may now qualify for a tax credit of up to $6,500. Contact us for further information regarding this credit.
Energy Improvements Qualify for Expanded Tax Credits
People who weatherize their homes or purchase alternative energy equipment may qualify for either of two expanded home energy tax credits: the Residential Energy Property Credit and the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.
American Opportunity Credit Helps Pay for First Four Years of College
More parents and students can use a federal education credit to offset part of the cost of college under the new American Opportunity Credit. This credit modifies the existing Hope credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers. Income guidelines are expanded and required course materials are added to the list of qualified expenses. Many of those eligible will qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student.
New Vehicle Purchase Incentive
New car buyers can deduct the state or local sales or excise taxes paid on the purchase of new cars, light trucks, motor homes and motorcycles. There is no limit on the number of vehicles that may be purchased, and eligible taxpayers may claim the deduction for taxes paid on multiple purchases. However, the deduction is limited to the tax on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of each qualifying new vehicle. Qualifying new vehicles must be purchased, not leased, after Feb. 16, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2010.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) helps low- and moderate-income workers and working families. Working families with incomes below $48,279 (married filing jointly in 2009) and childless workers with incomes under $18,440 often qualify. Ordinarily, you must have earned income as an employee, independent contractor, farmer or business owner. Some disability retirees are also eligible. There is only a slight increase in these income levels for 2010; for example, working families with incomes below $48,362 (married filing jointly) and childless workers with incomes under $18,470, may quality in 2010.
Child Tax Credit
If you have a dependent child under age 17 at the end of 2009, you probably qualify for the child tax credit. This credit, which can be as much as $1,000 for each qualifying child, is in addition to the regular $3,650 personal exemption for 2009 you can claim for each dependent. A change in the way the credit is figured means that more low- and moderate-income families will qualify for the full credit on their 2009 returns. Don't confuse the child tax credit with the child care credit.
Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses
If you pay someone to care for your child so you can work or look for work, you probably qualify for this credit. Normally, your child must be your dependent and under age 13. Though often referred to as the child care credit, this credit is also available if you pay someone to care for a spouse or dependent, regardless of age, who is unable to care for himself or herself. In most cases, you need to obtain the care provider's social security number or taxpayer identification number and enter it on your return.
The saver's credit helps low-and moderate-income workers save for retirement. You probably qualify if your income is below certain limits and you contribute to an IRA or workplace retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Income limits for 2009 are $27,750 for singles and married filing separately, $41,625 for heads of household and $55,500 for joint filers. These income limits are adjusted annually for inflation, however, will remain unchanged for 2010.
The credit, up to $1,000, is based on a percentage (10-50%) of each dollar placed into a retirement plan, up to the first $2,000. The lower the adjusted gross income, the higher the credit percentage; resulting in the maximum credit of $1,000 (50% of $2,000).
A taxpayer's credit amount is based on his or her filing status, adjusted gross income, tax liability and amount contributed to qualifying retirement programs. Form 8880 is used to claim the saver's credit, and its instructions have details on figuring the credit correctly.
Other Credits Available
IRS.gov has information on these additional credits:
Tax Credits Can Save You Money
These credits can increase your refund or reduce the tax you owe. Usually, credits can only lower your tax to zero. But some credits, such as the EITC and the child tax credit, can actually exceed your tax. Though some credits are available to people at all income levels, others have income restrictions. These include the EITC, saver's credit, education credits and child tax credit.
Tax credits help you pay part of the cost of raising a family, going to college, savings for retirement, or getting daycare so you can work or go to school.
Identity Theft During the Tax Filing Season
Consumers should protect themselves against online identity theft and other scams that increase during and linger after the filing season. Such scams may appropriate the name, logo or other appurtenances of the IRS or U.S. Department of the Treasury to mislead taxpayers into believing that the scam is legitimate.
Scams involving the impersonation of the IRS usually take the form of e-mails, tweets or other online messages to consumers. Scammers may also use phones and faxes to reach intended victims. Some scammers set up phony Web sites.
The IRS and E-mail
Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. Further, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. The IRS does not request financial account security information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers.
Object of Scams
Most scams impersonating the IRS are identity theft schemes. In this type of scam, the scammer poses as a legitimate institution to trick consumers into revealing personal and financial information - such as passwords and Social Security, PIN, bank account and credit card numbers - that can be used to gain access to and steal their bank, credit card or other financial accounts. Attempted identity theft scams that take place via e-mail are known as phishing. Other scams may try to persuade a victim to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a larger gain. These are known as advance fee scams.
How an Identity Theft Scam Works
Most of the scams that impersonate the IRS are identity theft scams. Typically, a consumer will receive an e-mail that claims to come from the IRS or Treasury Department. The message will contain an enticing or intimidating subject line, such as tax refund, inherited funds or IRS notice. Usually, the message will state that the recipient needs to provide the IRS with information to obtain the refund or avoid some penalty. The message will instruct the consumer to open an attachment or click on a link in the e-mail. This may lead to an official-looking form to be filled out online or send the taxpayer to a seemingly genuine but bogus IRS Web site. The look-alike site will then contain a phony but genuine-looking online form or interactive application that requires the personal and financial information the scammer can use to commit identity theft.
Alternatively, the clicked link may secretly download malware to the consumer's computer. Malware is malicious code that can take over the computer's hard drive, giving the scammer remote access to the computer, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.
Phony Web or Commercial Sites
In many IRS-impersonation scams, the scammer sends the consumer to a phony Web site that mimics the appearance of the genuine IRS Web site, IRS.gov. This allows the scammer to steer victims to phony interactive forms or applications that appear genuine but require the targeted victim to enter personal and financial information that will be used to commit identity theft.
The official Web site for the Internal Revenue Service is IRS.gov, and all IRS.gov Web page addresses begin with https://www.irs.gov/.
In addition to Web sites established by scammers, there are commercial Internet sites that often resemble the authentic IRS site or contain some form of the IRS name in the address but end with a .com, .net, .org or other designation instead of .gov. These sites have no connection to the IRS. Consumers may unknowingly visit these sites when searching the Internet to retrieve tax forms, publications and other information from the IRS.
Frequent or Recent Scams
There are a number of scams that impersonate the IRS. Some of them appear with great frequency, particularly during and right after filing season, and recur annually. Others are new.
Other Known Scams
The contents of other IRS-impersonation scams vary but may claim that the recipient will be paid for participating in an online survey or is under investigation or audit. Some scam e-mails have referenced Recovery-related tax provisions, such as Making Work Pay, or solicited for charitable donations to victims of natural disasters. Taxpayers should beware of an e-mail scam that references underreported income and the recipient's "tax statement", since clicking on a link or opening an attachment is known to download malware onto the recipient's computer.
How to Spot a Scam
Many e-mail scams are fairly sophisticated and hard to detect. However, there are signs to watch for, such as an e-mail that:
What to Do
Taxpayers who receive a suspicious e-mail claiming to come from the IRS should take the following steps:
More information on IRS-impersonation scams, identity theft and suspicious e-mail is available on IRS.gov.
Seven Ways to Get a Jump Start on Your Taxes
Earlier is better when it comes to working on your taxes. You are encouraged to get a head start on tax preparation, especially since early filers avoid the last minute rush and get their refunds sooner.
Here are seven easy ways to get a good jump on your taxes long before the April deadline is here:
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Missing Your Form W-2?
You should receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, from each of your employers for use in preparing your federal tax return. Employers must furnish this record of 2009 earnings and withheld taxes no later than February 1, 2010 (if mailed, allow a few days for delivery).
If you do not receive your Form W-2, contact your employer to find out if and when the W-2 was mailed. If it was mailed, it may have been returned to your employer because of an incorrect address. After contacting your employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for your employer to resend or to issue the W-2.
If you still do not receive your W-2 by February 15th, contact the IRS for assistance at 1-800-829-1040. When you call, have the following information handy:
If you misplaced your W-2, contact your employer. Your employer can replace the lost form with a "reissued statement." Be aware that your employer is allowed to charge you a fee for providing you with a new W-2.
You still must file your tax return on time even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you cannot get a W-2 by the tax-filing deadline, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, but it will delay any refund due while the information is verified.
If you receive a corrected W-2 after your return is filed and the information it contains does not match the income or withheld tax that you reported on your return, you must file an amended return on Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
Deduction for Credit or Debit Card Convenience Fees
If you pay your income tax (including estimated tax payments) by credit or debit card, you can deduct the convenience fee you are charged by the card processor to pay using your credit or debit card. The deduction is claimed for the year in which the fee was charged to your card as a miscellaneous itemized deduction on line 23 of Schedule A (Form 1040) (and is subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor).
Economic Recovery Payments
Any economic recovery payment you received during 2009 is not taxable. These $250 payments are being made to most people who:
If you are married and you and your spouse both meet these requirements, each of you may get a $250 payment.
If you are entitled to a payment, you will get it automatically. You do not need to apply for it.
Save Time and Reduce Mistakes by Synchronizing Your Data
The New Year's here, the Christmas bills are rolling in, and income taxes loom. Maybe you can't save money just now, but how about an easy way to save time and keystrokes? If you use Microsoft Outlook 2002, 2003, or 2007 for contact management and QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise 2005 and up for financial management, you can synchronize data to avoid entering the same contact information twice.
It's easy, but you need to take care to follow instructions precisely anytime you're integrating multiple databases. You can't unring that bell. Start by backing up your data in each program, as shown in Figure 1. For Outlook, check your help files; the data file format changed in 2003. QuickBooks users should use the program's standard built-in tools by clicking File|Save Copy or Backup. You can either save your QuickBooks file locally (to a CD or USB flash drive) or use QuickBooks Online Backup (30-day free trial; starts at $4.95/month for 5 GB).
Get in Sync
QuickBooks lets you synchronize three kinds of contact information with Outlook:
Note: You can't synchronize employee contact information.
To get started, click File|Utilities|Synchronize Contacts. QuickBooks Contact Sync must be installed on your PC before you do your first sync. When the window shown in Figure 2 opens, click OK and follow the instructions for downloading and installing.
QuickBooks will prompt you to shut down Outlook before you start, if you haven't already done so. When the installation is finished, you'll see the window shown in Figure 3. And you'll notice that the installation has added a new toolbar to your copy of Outlook.
Click Finish and restart Outlook. You'll see a window titled QuickBooks Contact Sync for Outlook (this can be disabled once you've gone through the initial import by unchecking the box in the lower left corner). Make sure you're logged into QuickBooks as the Administrator and that the company file you want to synchronize is open.
Click Get Started. A box that says Connecting to QuickBooks will open, and there'll be a short delay. After the connection is made, the Begin Setup window opens. Click the Setup button to launch the wizard. If you have more than one Outlook contact file (for example, if you use Outlook with Business Contact Manager), you'll have to select the file you want to sync.
Click Next. The next screen asks you to specify which contact types you want to sync (customers, customer jobs, and/or vendors). If any of your contacts are personal, you can choose to exclude those. Click Next after each of those screens.
QuickBooks Contact Sync includes a mapping tool, which helps ensure that the correct fields in each program are matched. For example, Company in one program should "map" to Company in the other as shown in Figure 4.
The final step in the setup process is critical if you don't want to lose important data, so choose the next option carefully. You need to tell QuickBooks Contact Sync what to do if the same contact exists in both programs but their properties are not exactly the same. Your options:
Once you've made your selection, click Save. If you want to go back over any of these settings, click Setup. Otherwise, click Cancel or Sync Now.
After you've completed the first synchronization, you'll need to perform a manual sync each time you want to make the databases match. To do so, click the QuickBooks ContactSync menu in Outlook. This menu provides a number of options, including Preferences.
Sync Now and Save Time Later
Saving time these days is saving money. You can use those extra minutes (or hours) to build your business instead of always having to worry about running it. QuickBooks Contact Sync can give you some of those extra minutes, help you avoid frustration, and aid in keeping your databases clean and up to date.
Review Your Savings Plan
Establish or review your savings plan to begin accumulating assets for your life goals. Professional guidance will be helpful in reviewing investment alternatives.
Review Your Retirement Plan
Establish or review your retirement plan. Explore the availability of deferred compensation programs through your employer, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans. Begin contributing as soon as you are eligible.
Review January's Budget vs. Actuals
Compare January income and expenditures with your budget. Make adjustments as appropriate to your February expenditures. Make sure you have invested your planned savings amount for January.
Collect Your Tax Information
Verify that you have received all necessary forms W-2 and 1099 and a statement showing the year-end balance of IRA and Keogh plans. Contact the appropriate company for any that have not been received. For those that have been received, make certain that the amounts agree with your records.
Although taxes for personal returns are not due until April 15, it is best to get an early start since additional follow-up may be necessary.
Tax Due Dates for February 2010
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