Should University Donations Trigger Tax Breaks for the Wealthy?

Universities big and small receive donations from many different sources, including wealthy alumni. However, not all donations are created equal and because the wealthy donors get a huge tax break for their significant donations, some wonder if that is really fair.

For example, Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, recently donated $400 million to Stanford, where he attended business school. That donation will give Knight a $158 million tax break. Some find that in of itself unfair, but others question why some schools, which already have deep pockets anyway, get such large sums of money without being taxed for it? Plus, the majority of the donations are given to these top schools, while other less prestigious universities are often left scrambling for much-needed resources.

However, on the flip side, many donors would argue that they make these donations for true philanthropic purposes and not for the added benefit of a large tax break. Some counter-argue that all the donation money could be used for better purposes. However, there’s no question that the nation’s top universities help the country in many industries, as well as give the economy a boost in many forms as well, including training thousands of the brightest minds.

Of course, it’s an argument that has no easy answer, but probably one that won’t get much traction, because wealthy alumni have always been able to donate their money to the universities or causes they choose. That is not likely to change any time soon.

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Who Really Qualifies as a Dependent for Taxes?

How many dependents do you really have? Who can really be counted as a dependent? These are some of the most common questions that all taxpayers have. Can you count all of your children, live-in help, or perhaps a dog or other family pet? What about a friend who decides to crash at your place and basically mooch off you the entire year; can he or she be counted as a dependent?

As far as the IRS is concerned, there are two different kinds of dependents but there are dozens of scenarios that can fall under these two categories. There are also different rules for each type. The first type of dependent is classified as a qualifying child. The second type is a qualifying relative.

A qualifying child must be related to you, either by birth or adoption, or be a step or foster child. You must also provide more than half of the child’s total financial support and you can be the only person claiming that child on your return. To be a dependent the child must also be 18-years-old or younger, or if he or she is a full-time student, younger than 24-years-old.

The rules for being counted as a qualifying relative are much different. First, if your relative is a blood relative then he or she does not have to live with you in order to be counted. However, he or she must not provide more than half of his or her own support and that person cannot make more than $4000.

For a person who is not a blood relative to qualify as a dependent – like a lifelong friend who is down on his/her luck, or just plain lazy, or even your significant other – that person must live with you the entire year and their income must be less than $4,000 for the entire year. No one else can claim the person and you have to provide more than half of his or her financial support.

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Which Tax Breaks Help High Net Worth Taxpayers the Most?

It’s no secret that the United States government generally taxes high net worth individuals at a much higher clip than those in the lower- and middle-income brackets. However, despite that fact, there are still many provisions in the tax system, if used properly, can help wealthy earners save on their taxes. So what are some of the best breaks afforded to the wealthy?

High net worth individuals use several tax breaks to ease their tax burden, and most of them use the skill and experience of a trusted accounting firm to help them maximize the tax breaks available to them. For example, the wealthy often save a bundle on taxes because tax rates are smaller for qualified dividend income and long-term capital gains. In fact the capital gains tax is probably the biggest break the wealthy employ.

Another big tax break the wealthy receive is the “wage cap” on Social Security payroll tax. The government automatically deducts 6.2 percent from employees’ paychecks, but that is only applied to the first $118,500 someone earns. After that the wealthy don’t pay any more payroll taxes.

Lastly, the estate tax offers another way for the wealthy to reduce their tax bills. That’s because the lifetime exclusion has risen from $2 million in 2008 to $5.45 million currently. In addition, heirs will now also receive a step-up in basis on the assets they inherit.

So, while the nations’ wealthiest individuals do pay more in taxes than everyone else, there are some nice tax breaks available to them that can at least help reduce their bill. Contact GROCO to learn how we can help you hold onto more of your wealth. Call 1-877-CPA-2006.

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Obama Looking to Stick the Wealthy With Even More Taxes

His second term in office is winding down, but President Obama would still like to raise taxes on high net worth individuals before he checks out of the White House at the beginning of next year. Although the president has already taken several measures to raise the effective tax rate on the wealthy, he is calling for even higher taxes on high net worth individuals, as well as big banks.

The president’s proposal includes yet another hike on capital gains. He has already raised the capital gains tax rate to 20 percent, but now he would like to push it all the way to 28 percent. The plan also calls for millionaires to pay at the very least 30 percent of their income to the government. He’s also proposing a new fee “on the largest financial firms on the basis of their liabilities.”

The reasons for the proposed tax hikes include funding the fight against ISIS, as well as supporting the president’s healthcare and education initiatives. As is to be expected, republicans have already harshly criticized the president’s proposals. In fact the budget committees from both the Senate and the House said there would be no discussion with the president’s budget director about the president’s proposed budget.

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Entrepreneur? Think Deductions, Deductions, Deductions

Are you an entrepreneur looking for a tax break? Entrepreneurs have a lot on their plate, including living with the financial risk of their entrepreneurial efforts. That’s why it’s so important for any entrepreneur to be aware of any and all deductions come tax time. There are dozens of deductions to be had, but the tax code is no picnic to go through. So what kinds of things should you look for if you’re an entrepreneur filing your taxes?

The first thing to keep in mind is that your business expenses are deductions. That means your expenses reduce your overall profit. If your revenue was $500,000, but your expenses – including marketing, equipment and travel, among other things – add up to $200,000 then your net profit is only $300,000. That is the amount you owe taxes on.

Unless you have a C-Corporation you will most likely be responsible for self-employment taxes as well, which is 15.3 percent. Your total tax bill could easily end up being close to 40 percent, depending on how much profit you make and which tax bracket you end up in. It could be even higher than 40 percent. Therefore, any deduction you can get will be helpful. Essentially, at a 40 percent tax rate, every deduction worth $1,000 will save you at least $400 in taxes.

That being said, you must actually run a business and your deductions must be legitimate business expenses. You have both operating expenses and capital expenses to work with but whichever kind you have, make sure to keep careful records and receipts of all your expenses. Don’t overlook the power of deductions as an entrepreneur. They can bring big returns to your overall bottom line.

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Tax Preparers Get Busted for Fraudulent Practices

Every tax season is full of stories and tales of people who go to great lengths to avoid paying taxes. In addition there are dozens of reports of unscrupulous tax preparers that get caught trying to cheat the system: either their clients or the IRS, or both.

We want to share a few of those stories with you, which come from Accountingtoday.com. The first tale comes from Latham, NY, where a 52-year-old tax professional has pleaded guilty to false returns. The preparer admitted to preparing 16 returns that contained all kinds of false information, from false deductions for unreimbursed employee expenses to energy efficiency credits. The false returns were submitted between 2008 and 2011. He could face as much as three years in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Elsewhere, the Justice Department has asked a federal judge to permanently bar three Liberty Tax Service franchises in South Carolina after they allegedly prepared false returns in order to give their clients’ refunds a boost. According to the complaint, one franchise filed returns that included a “bogus ‘arts and crafts’ business on one of its client’s return and a bogus ‘hair care’ businesses on another’s.”

Meanwhile, another preparer, in Louisiana, will be spending two years behind bars and another year of supervised release, along with paying a hefty fine of more than $225,000 after he was convicted of filing a false personal income tax return and preparing bogus returns for many of his clients.

These are just a few examples of dishonest tax preparers that are out there. So now that tax season is in full swing, make sure you choose a tax preparer you can trust.

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Don’t Forget About These Important Tax Write-Offs

The saying goes that it’s the small victories that count. That saying can be especially true during tax time when for many taxpayers any chance to save even a few dollars more is considered a positive. Plus, when you add up enough of the small victories they can equal a significant reward. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the little tax deductions and write-offs that can make a difference when you file.

Most people are aware of some of the more common write-offs at tax time, like charitable donations, mortgage interest and real estate taxes, but there are many others and you should look into every possible write-offs you can find. One example is bad debt. This is debt incurred when you extend credit to someone with a payment plan agreement but that someone never pays you off. However, you must show that the debt really exists and that you have done enough to try to recover it in order to use it as a write-off.

Moving can be another write-off, so long as your move is more than 50 miles away and it was for a new job. That means any reasonable moving expenses, not counting meals, can be written off. Even if you didn’t move, your house can be another place to find deductions. Any eco-friendly upgrades you make to your home could qualify you for certain tax credits.

Two other write-offs that many people can use are business meals and mileage expenses. If you use your car for business, not counting your commute, then each mile is worth 57.5 cents for your 2015 taxes. Likewise, if you take a client or a job candidate out to lunch to discuss business then you can write that expense off as well.

These are just a few of the possible write-offs available to taxpayers. For more possibilities contact GROCO at 1-877-CPA-2006 or contact us online.

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Late Obamacare Forms Could Be Big Problem for Taxpayers

While you may or may not like Obamacare, the fact is the president’s health care plan has caused problems at tax time since its inception. Apparently, this year is no different. According to a recent report, because of a delay in new tax forms for the health law this year, many taxpayers are facing more confusion.

This year, government programs, insurers and employers are required to send tax forms to consumers, which are used to report whether or not they provided, or offered health insurance that was adequate and affordable. These forms, 1095-B and 1095-C are to help taxpayers with their returns, but they do not have to turn them in with their return.

Unfortunately, for many taxpayers, these forms might not show up until just before the tax deadline, because the IRS has given these entities until March 31 to issue these forms, instead of the usual January 31 deadline.

The good news is that the IRS has said to go ahead and file your return on time even if you haven’t received the required forms. If you make a mistake on your return because you didn’t have the form, the IRS says you won’t have to file an amended return. The other concern is that if any of the forms are inaccurate, which happened last year, or if taxpayers aren’t aware or don’t understand the new rules, then many more problems could arise.

If you aren’t sure how these forms will affect your tax return, or you still haven’t received them, then please contact GROCO for more help.

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Using a Tax Shelter? IRS Says Beware

People look for many different ways to save on taxes, or even to avoid paying some of the taxes they really do owe. However, despite taxpayers’ best efforts, the IRS is always on the prowl and if you’re using unscrupulous means to avoid paying taxes there is a good chance you will get caught, including employing what the IRS calls “abusive tax shelters and structures.”

According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen taxpayers should stay away from anyone who promotes or sells phony tax shelters whose only purpose is to avoid paying taxes that are owed. These schemes can end up costing taxpayers much more in penalties, interest and back taxes, said Koskinen.

Koskinen added that these types of schemes “have evolved from simple structuring of abusive domestic and foreign trust arrangements into sophisticated strategies that take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit/debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions.”

If you want to save on taxes legally your best bet is to work with a highly capable accounting and tax firm, like GROCO, which knows how to utilize every legal tax measure available in order to get you the best refund possible. Give us a call or contact us online and make sure you avoid the perils of getting involved with the wrong kind of “tax help.”

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How to Handle Tough Decisions

Everyone has to make decisions in life and many of those decisions can be very difficult to make. The same can be said for businesses. Decision makers in the business world face a lot of tough choices and some of these choices can actually make or break their companies. So how do they make tough decisions? How do CEOs and other top-level executives make those hard choices? There are many different philosophies that decision-makers use and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to making tough decisions. However, when I spoke with David Bradford about how he makes tough decisions he shared one idea with me that he feels makes a huge difference for any decision maker, and in turn, that person’s company.

Timing Does Matter

David, who is the current Chairman of the Board of VIEW – Virtual Immersive Educational Worlds aka FluentWorlds, has also spent time as an Executive, as a CEO and a as Chairman at several other companies, including Novell, Fusion-io and HireVue. When I asked him point blank how he makes tough decisions he told me his philosophy. He said: “It’s better to make a good decision today than an excellent one six months from now.” Dave went on to tell me that he has seen, especially with startup companies, the CEO be “so caught up in doing the ‘right’ thing, in terms of making the right strategic decision that it becomes disabling to the organization.”

Waiting for the Perfect Time Is Wrong

No one wants to make the wrong decision because one catastrophic choice could set a company back for years, or worst-case scenario become the cause of its complete downfall. It’s not uncommon for a decision maker to spend hours stressing over important choices in order to try to determine the best possible decision. However, by waiting too long to make a decision you could end up doing more harm than you would have done by making a good decision sooner, even if it wasn’t the best possible choice. Again, as David told me, making a good decision in the moment is better than waiting six months to make the perfect decision. He then hammered that point home by telling me, “You’ve got to make decisions now.”

Follow the Best Examples

David also said that he has seen CEOs that have great decision making skills and those are the ones that he loves to emulate. For example, he mentioned that he and Scott McNealy, the CEO and co-founder of Sun Microsystems have become good friends over the years. He said that one thing he loves about Scott is that “he is a decisive guy, no mistake about it.” So that is the kind of decision maker that David tries to follow. When it comes to making decisions, no one is perfect. People don’t always make the right choices, but as David explained to me it can be much worse to delay a decision too long and you can actually end up hurting your company more by waiting. Therefore, when you are faced with a difficult choice, be decisive.

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