Monthly Archives: August 2015

Children and Tax Benefits

With the upcoming birth of our son or daughter, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the tax benefits of raising children. The rules can get tricky, and your children must meet certain criteria to become your qualifying children for tax purposes. Here are a few highlights:

Dependency Exemption: For each qualifying dependent child, you can exempt from your income $4,000.

Child Tax Credit: For each qualifying child under 17 years of age you can receive a credit of up to $1,000 per child. The credit phases-out after your modified adjusted gross income is greater than $110,000 for filing jointly and $75,000 for filing as single or head of household.

Child Care Credit: If you pay for daycare, after-care or preschool so that you can work, you may be eligible for a credit of 20% to 35% of the cost, up to a maximum of $3,000 of qualified expenses for one child and $6,000 for two or more. Your children must be under age 13 to qualify.

Education Credits: There are several credits and deductions available for education expenses:

– The American Opportunity Credit provides a credit of up to $2,500 per eligible student for the first four years of college (100% of the first $2,000 of expenses and 25% of the next $2,000).

– The Lifetime Learning Credit provides a credit of up to $2,000 for an unlimited number of years (20% of the first $10,000 of expenses).

– The tuition and fees deduction provides a deduction of up to $4,000 as an adjustment to income (this means that you do not have to itemize).

– Student loan interest deduction allows for a deduction of up to $2,500 as an adjustment to income.

There are income limitations for each credit and deduction which vary widely based upon your modified adjusted gross income and filing status.

Income Shifting: If you are self-employed, you may be able to hire your minor children, pay them wages, and not have to pay income taxes or payroll taxes. Even if you do not own a business you may still be able to shift investment income to your children to minimize taxes. It takes a lot of planning, but strategizing can save a lot of taxes.

These are just some of the tax benefits to having children. Hopefully this will help to offset some of the cost of raising a family.

But It’s Tax Deductible!

Paying mortgage interest, property taxes, equity loan interest, and business expenses are all generally tax deductible. But does it make sense to incur excessive expenses just to produce a tax benefit?

For example, if you are looking to move to a bigger house, you will save a lot of money in taxes, right? Yes, you may actually save income taxes, but at the same time you will have spent much more money. Spending a dollar to save a quarter doesn’t make much sense at all.

Just because qualified business meals and entertainment may be deductible (generally only 50% deductible), it may not make sense to spend excessively. I have seen some business owners spend so much on meals that they could have used this money to hire an assistant so they can work less. Now, that’s real savings!

The One Most Important Thing Your Business Needs

You probably think I am going to say a good accountant is the most important thing your business needs. Although a good accountant is essential, it is not the number one priority. The most important thing your business needs is sales! Call it sales, revenues, fees, customers, or clients, but it is all the same. Without sales you do not have a business, therefore nothing else matters.

Aside from providing excellent products and services, the way to increase sales is to increase your marketing efforts. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be effective. Your marketing efforts should be planned and focused.

As part of your marketing, you need to focus on who you want to target and how. For example, a veterinarian should only target pet owners. Lists can be obtained from database companies, such as infousa that are very specific for both direct mail and email marketing.

The next step is how to contact your target market. Maybe the veterinarian can send a postcard to the pet owners. Maybe he/she can even get more creative and partner with a local, independent pet shop or dog trainer to cross market his/her services. Additionally, a good internet and social media strategy can help you to target your market as well, and make sure to outsource or delegate this function.

Just remember that a good marketing strategy is to diversify your marketing methods. I recommend marketing in at least 3-5 different ways because not all usually work at the same time.

Are You Overwhelmed By Debt?

Why or how do so many people get into trouble with debt? When does it become a problem? There are so many reasons, such as job loss or, health problems, but overall it is a disconnect between income and spending, and not enough focus on financial management.

I’d like to share a few simple ways to reduce your debt and help to minimize its use in the future. If you keep it simple, you are more likely to be successful.

Stop incurring more debt: You can’t get out of debt if you are still using your credit cards. Do not increase your debt or you will never get out.

Emergency fund: By building up an emergency fund, you are less likely to take upon more debt for something unexpected. For now, it can be around $1,000 to start. Ideally, you will want to work towards 3 to 6 months worth of expenses, but it doesn’t make sense at this point to save $10,000 and simultaneously have a $10,000 credit card balance.

Budget: If you are serious about reducing your debt and improving your financial situation, you need to take the time to make a budget. You can use software, such as Excel or Quicken, but a very simple and effective way is to use envelopes. For example, if you are paid weekly by your employer and spend an average of $200 a week on groceries, then place $200 in an envelope labeled groceries. When you go food shopping, bring this envelope so that you can only spend$200 or less. This can be done with all other expenses. It is simplistic, but if it is done right it is extremely effective. My father taught me this one.

Know what you owe and prioritize: Make a list of all of the debts you owe, including credit cards, auto loans, equity loans, mortgages, student loans, etc. Now you need to work at chipping away those debts. The rational place to start is with the highest interest debt, but I don’t recommend this. You should actually try to pay off the smallest balances first because it will give a sense of accomplishment. Once the smallest is paid off, then use that payment toward the next balance. Finances are extremely psychological, as most of our financial decisions are emotional-based.

These few steps are a good place to start to manage and reduce your debt. If you are serious about debt elimination, you will not look for shortcuts, but rather ways to increase your income to pay off your debt sooner and take control. Focus and simplicity are the keys. If you need more help you can contact my office. Additionally, there is an excellent book on this topic that parallels my thoughts on debt, entitled “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey.