Monthly Archives: June, 2016

Adoption Tax Credit

June 6th, 2016 Posted by Tax No Comment yet

Are you considering adoption?

Adopting a child can be truly rewarding, but the process can be expensive.  However, the cost can be partially offset through the Adoption Tax Credit.

Adoption

For 2016, families can claim a tax credit worth up to $13,460.  You may qualify if you adopted a child and paid qualified expenses relating to adoption.  While this tax credit is non-refundable, any unused portion may be carried forward for up to 5 years.

Qualifying expenses are all reasonable and necessary fees, including:

  • Court costs;
  • Attorney fees;
  • Travel expenses; and
  • Other expenses directly related to the legal adoption of an eligible child.

An eligible child is a child under the age of 18 (who is not the child of your spouse or from a surrogate parenting arrangement), or an individual of any age who is physically or mentally incapable of caring for him or herself.

If you are adopting a U.S. child with special needs, you may qualify for the full $13,460 regardless of your actual qualified expenses once the adoption becomes final.

For adopting children without special needs, when you are eligible to claim the tax credit depends both upon whether the child is a U.S. citizen or resident and when the qualified expense is paid:

  1. If you are adopting a child who is a U.S. citizen or resident:
    • Any qualifying expenses paid before the year the adoption becomes final can be claimed the year after the year of the payment;
    • Any qualifying expenses the year the adoption becomes final can be claimed that year; and
    • Any qualifying expenses paid after the year the adoption becomes final can be claimed in the year of payment.
  2.  If you are adoption a foreign child:
    • Any qualifying expenses paid before the year the adoption becomes final cannot be claimed until the year the adoption becomes final;
    • Any qualifying expenses paid the year the adoption becomes final can be claimed that year; and
    • Any qualifying expenses paid after the year the adoption becomes final can be claimed in the year of payment.

Basically, if you are adopting a child who is a U.S. citizen or resident you can use the qualifying expenses to claim the tax credit even if the adoption does not become final, but if you are adopting a foreign child it must become final.

Additionally, if your employer has a qualified adoption assistance program, any amounts paid to you or on your behalf for the purposes of adopting a child may be excluded from your income.

This tax credit does phase out based upon income.  In 2016, if your modified adjusted gross income is greater than $201,920 it begins to phase out and will be completely phased out when your modified adjusted gross income reaches $241,920.

Paying for College

June 3rd, 2016 Posted by Tax Planning No Comment yet

College is expensive.  There is no getting around that one simple fact.  In one survey, it was determined that for the 2012-2013 school year, the average cost for an in-state public college was $22,261, and the average cost for a private college was $43,289.  Keep in mind that is a per-year cost, and included is the cost of tuition, fees, book, and housing.

The cost hasn’t gone down since then, and it isn’t likely to any time soon.

So what can you do to make college more affordable?

College Bound

Of course there are academic and athletic scholarships.  If you can get any type of scholarship that is of course the ideal situation.  Not only is it “free” money, but it is non-taxable to the extent that it is used to pay for your tuition, fees, books, and other course-related supplies.

It is also very common to take out student loans.  There are a variety of types of student loans, but a common feature for tax purposes is that the interest paid on student loans is deductible.  This deduction phases out for single individuals with income over $75,000 and married couples with income over $155,000.

Already paying for college?  There are several federal tax credits that you can take advantage of:

    • The American Opportunity Credit. This credit is worth up to $2,500 per year per eligible student.  This credit is available for the first 4 years of higher education at an eligible school.  You are able to claim the credit to cover the costs of tuition and required fees, books, and other course-related materials.   An added bonus with this tax credit is that it is partially refundable.  This means that you can get a tax refund of up to $1,000 even if you do not owe taxes.

    • The Lifetime Learning Credit.  This credit is worth up to $2,000 per year per tax return.  The credit is available even after the first 4 years of higher education.

There are also several ways to help to save for college that have tax advantages.

    • Savings Bond Interest Exclusion.  All of the interest income from Series I and Series EE bonds issued after 1989 are tax-free.  To qualify, the bond owner must have been at least 24 years old when the bond was issued, and the money must be used to pay qualified education expenses for yourself, your spouse, or a dependent.  This tax benefit phases out based upon your income level.

      College Graduation

    • 529 Savings Plans.  Your investment into a 529 Savings Plan grows tax-deferred, and the distributions from the plan that are used to pay for the beneficiary’s college costs are tax-free.  With a 529 Savings Plan, the full value of your account can be used at any accredited college or university in the country.  Any non-qualified distributions are subject to a 10% penalty on the earnings and will be taxed.

    • 529 Prepaid Plans.  Prepaid tuition plans are guaranteed to increase in value at the same rate as college tuition.  This means that tuition rates are locked in, offering peace of mind if you expect college tuition to rise. If the student attends an in-state public college, the plan pays the tuition and the required fees.  If the student decides to attend a private or out-of-state college, the plans typically pay the average of in-state public college tuition.  If a student decides not to attend college, the plan can be transferred to another member of the family.  529 Prepaid Plans are exempt from federal income taxation.  If no member of your family attends college, any non-qualified distributions are subject to a 10% penalty on the earnings and will be taxed.

    • Education Savings Account.  Up to $2,000 can be contributed to a Coverdell Education Savings Account in any year.  The amounts deposited into the account grow tax-free until distributed, and the distributions are tax-free as long as they are used for qualified education expenses.  If a distribution exceeds qualified education expenses, the portion attributable to earnings will be subject to a 10% penalty and will be taxed.

Selling Your Home?

June 1st, 2016 Posted by Tax No Comment yet

Are you looking to sell your home?  Then you may be able to take advantage of a major tax benefit!

Home sale

You may be entitled to exclude $250,000 of gain from the sale of your personal residence.  If you are married, you may be entitled to exclude $500,000 of gain!

In order to exclude this gain, you must meet 3 tests.

  1. Ownership Test.   You must have owned the home as a principal residence for at least 2 of the 5 years prior to the sale.  If married, either or both spouses can meet this test.
  2. Use Test.  You must have used the home as a principal residence for at least 2 of the 5 years prior to the sale.  If married, both spouses must meet this test.
  3. Frequency Test.  The exclusion applies to only one sale every 2 years.  If married, this test is not met if either spouse has claimed this exclusion within the past 2 years.

If both spouses do not meet the use and frequency test, then a portion of the exclusion may still be claimed.  In this case, instead of being able to claim the full $500,000 exclusion, the couple would only be able to claim the $250,000 if one spouse meets all 3 tests.

Even if you do not meet these tests, you may be able to claim a reduced exclusion!  A reduced exclusion is available if you sold your principal residence because of:

  • A change in your place of employment;
  • Health reasons; or
  • Unforeseen circumstances.

There is a safe harbor rule defining what qualifies under each of these three exceptions.

Lets look at an example.  In April 2014, John and Jane Smith purchased a small, 2 bedroom house for $500,000.  In September 2015, Jane gave birth to twins and they decided that they needed a larger home to accommodate their larger family.  In October 2015, with the help of a great realtor, the Smiths sold the same house for $800,000.

The Smiths have $300,000 of gain on the sale of their home.  They are afraid they will have to pay taxes on the full $300,000, but they talk to a CPA and learn that they do not have to.  Although they did not meet the 2 year ownership and use tests, they qualified for a reduced exclusion because the birth of multiple children from the same pregnancy is considered an “unforeseen circumstance.”  Because they owned and lived in the house for 18 months, they are able to take a reduced exclusion of $375,000 which is enough to eliminate their entire taxable gain.  They do not have to pay any tax on the sale and can use the extra $300,000 to buy a bigger house!