Word to the Wise – August 2019

5 Surprising Taxable Items

Wages and self-employment earnings are taxable, but what about the random cash or financial benefits you receive through other means? If something of value changes hands, you can bet the IRS considers a way to tax it. Here are five taxable items that might surprise you:

  1. Scholarships and financial aid. Applying for scholarships and financial aid are top priorities for parents of college-bound children. But be careful – if any part of the award your child receives goes toward anything except tuition, it might be taxable. This could include room, board, books, travel expenses or aid received in exchange for work (e.g., tutoring or research). Tip: When receiving an award, review the details to determine if any part of it is taxable. Don’t forget to review state rules as well. While most scholarships and aid are tax-free, no one needs a tax surprise.
  2. Gambling winnings. Hooray! You hit the trifecta for the Kentucky Derby. But guess what? Technically, all gambling winnings are taxable, including casino games, lottery tickets and sports betting. Thankfully, the IRS allows you to deduct your gambling losses (to the extent of winnings) as an itemized deduction, so keep good records. Tip: Know when the gambling establishment is required to report your winnings. It varies by type of betting. For instance, the filing threshold for winnings from fantasy sports betting and horse racing is $600, while slot machines and bingo are typically $1,200. But beware, the gambling facility and state requirements may lower the limit.
  3. Unemployment compensation. Unfortunately the IRS doesn’t give you a break on the taxes for unemployment income. Unemployment benefits you receive are taxable. Tip: If you are collecting unemployment, you can either have taxes withheld and receive the net amount or make estimated payments to cover the tax liability.
  4. Crowdfunding. A popular method to raise money for new ventures or to support a special cause is crowdfunding through websites. Whether or not the funds are taxable depends on two things: your intent for the funds and what the giver receives in return. Generally, funds used for a business purpose are taxable and funds raised to cover a life event (e.g., special causes or medical assistance) are considered a gift and not taxable to the recipient. Tip: Prior to using these online tools to raise money, review the terms and conditions and ask for a tax review of what you are doing. If you need to account for taxes, reserve some of what you raise for this purpose.
  5. Cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are considered property by the IRS. So if you use cryptocurrency, you must keep track of the original cost of the coin and its value when you use it. This information is needed so the tax on your gain or loss can be properly calculated. Remember, the tax rate on property can vary if you own the cryptocurrency more than a year, so record all dates. Tip: For those considering replacing cash with things like Bitcoin, you need to understand the gain or loss complications. For this reason, many people using cryptocurrency do so for speculative investment purposes.

When in doubt, it’s a good idea to keep accurate records so your tax liability can be correctly calculated and you don’t get stuck paying more than what’s required. Please call if you have any questions regarding your unique situation.

Cash Flow Concepts That Can Save Your Business

A sad and oft-repeated truth is that half of all new businesses fail within the first five years. Although many factors contribute to business failure, a common culprit is poor cash management. All businesses, large and small, must deal with the uncertainty of fluctuating sales, inventories and expenses. Follow these practices to moderate the ebb and flow of cash in your business:

  • Analyze cash flow. If you don’t know it’s broken, you can’t fix it. The starting point for any meaningful action to control cash is discovering where the money’s coming from and where it’s going. Get a handle on cash by monitoring your bank accounts for at least one complete business cycle; then use that information to establish a realistic forecast. This should be done throughout the year to help you understand your seasonal cash needs.
  • Monitor receivables. Extending credit to risky customers, failing to identify late payers, refusing to collect payment on a timely basis — these practices amplify cash flow problems. Mitigate receivable fluctuations by generating aging reports. Use the report to follow up when payments are late. You may even wish to offer discounts to customers who pay early.
  • Slow down payments. Prudent cash flow management dictates that you retain cash as long as possible. So pay your vendors on time — not too early. Of course, if suppliers offer discounts for early payment, take advantage of cost savings whenever possible. Also consider negotiating with suppliers to extend payment terms.
  • Time large expenses. If you know a property tax payment is due in May, start setting aside money in a separate fund in October. The same holds true for any large payment that comes due during the year. If your equipment is nearing the end of its useful life or your roof is showing signs of wear, start saving now. Don’t let big expenditures catch you by surprise.

By taking these steps and endeavoring to smooth out cash fluctuations, proficient managers keep their companies strong throughout the business cycle.

No Excuses. Time to Lower Your Tax Bill

It’s easy to push tax planning to the sidelines when tax laws are ever-changing and hard to understand. Here are some common (but often unfounded) reasons for avoiding tax situations, plus tips to help get past them and start paying less tax this year:

  • It doesn’t make a difference. This point of view is especially problematic in years with unique situations. Even in uneventful years, external forces like new tax laws can be managed if planned for in advance. Selling a house? You can avoid taxes if primary residence requirements are met. Starting a business? Choosing the correct entity can save you a bunch of taxes. Getting ready to retire? Properly balancing the different revenue streams (part-time wages, Social Security benefits, IRA distributions and more) has a huge impact on your tax liability.
  • It’s out of your control. Timing is important when it comes to minimizing taxes, and the timing is often in your control. Bundling multiple years of donations into one to get a deduction, holding investments over one year to get a lower tax rate, and making efficient retirement withdrawals are just some examples of prudent tax strategies that you control.
  • There’s not enough money. There are tax strategies to be implemented at all income levels, not just those at the top of the tax bracket. Tax deductions are available for student loan interest, IRA contributions and others even if you claim the standard deduction. Certain tax credits (called refundable credits) will increase your refund even if you don’t owe taxes. Missing any of these tax breaks can unnecessarily increase your taxes.
  • I only need help at tax time. When the standard deduction doubled in 2018, many people assumed they could kick their feet up and wait for a big refund. That assumption proved to be false for a large number of taxpayers when their refunds came in lower than expected or turned into a tax bill. Don’t let this happen to you! Every year has it’s own set of changes and challenges that you should plan for well before tax time rolls around.
  • It’s too overwhelming. Tax planning is often as simple as looking for ways to reduce taxable income, delay a tax bill, increase tax deductions, and take advantage of all available tax credits. The best place to start is to bolster your level of tax knowledge by picking up the phone and asking for assistance.

Thankfully, it’s not too late. If you haven’t scheduled a tax-planning meeting for 2019, now is a great time to do so.

BACK