10 Things Every Taxpayer Needs to Know About the Pension Law

The Pension Protection Act, signed into law on August 17, 2006, is designed to address the nation-wide problem of under-funded pension plans. The law penalizes noncompliant companies and encourages employee contributions, but many of the changes directly impact taxpayers of all ages, regardless of retirement status.

“Taxpayers will benefit from many of the act’s provisions, some of which come in the form of tax breaks, but individuals cannot take full advantage of the tax breaks until the new laws are fully understood,” said Michael Smith, Managing Authorized Taxpayer Representative at tax services firm FSI Tax Corp.

The following is a rundown of the most important tax code changes and how they will likely affect taxpayers, as well as retirees.

1. Direct IRA Tax Return Deposits

Taxpayers can now have their tax returns deposited directly into their IRA accounts. The IRS already offers taxpayers the option to automatically deposit returns into checking and saving accounts. By adding IRA accounts, legislators hope taxpayers will contribute more funds toward their retirement accounts.

2. 529 College Savings Plans

Many temporary tax laws enacted by the 2001 tax cuts were made permanent by the Pension Protection Act. This includes the ability to make withdrawals from 529 college savings plans without suffering tax penalties.

“Tax-free college savings withdrawals may seem inappropriate in a pension law, but this provision is welcomed by parents who would otherwise resort to tapping their IRAs to fund their children’s education,” said Smith.

3. Saver’s Credit

Another 2001 tax break that was set to expire this year is the Saver’s Credit, a tax credit matching up to $2,000 for lower-income workers who put money into their retirement accounts. This tax break benefits workers who earn less than $25,000 because pre-tax contributions lower the taxpayer’s reportable income and the Saver’s Credit provides additional tax relief with its matching funds.

4. Increased Contribution Levels

In 2001, the IRS temporarily raised employee-sponsored retirement plan contribution levels from $2,000 to $4,000 this year, $5,000 in 2008 and then adjusted by inflation. The higher limits were set to expire in 2010, but the act made them a permanent increase.

This change, also intended to encourage increased contribution amounts, applies to 401(k)s, IRAs, 403(b)s, 457s and catch-up contributions for workers aged 50 and older.

5. Direct Rollovers from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA

Employees who move from one workplace to another were previously permitted to transfer their 401(k)s to traditional IRAs, both of which require taxes to be paid once money is withdrawn. Only then was the individual allowed to transfer the account into a Roth IRA.

The law now permits former employees to transfer their employer-funded retirement accounts directly into a Roth IRA, a popular option due to the fact that contributions are made after taxes are taken from earnings, which means that there are no taxes due upon withdrawing funds.

“The tax code changes enacted by the Pension law benefit taxpayers and steer them toward contributing to their own retirements,” explained Smith. “While companies should be held accountable for funding employee pensions, each taxpayer should take advantage of changes that make it easier to ensure a secure retirement.”

Tax Deductions for Charitable Giving

Non-pension-related tax code changes include several provisions that significantly increase charitable giving regulations, some of which are unlikely to please donors.

5. Documenting Items

To discourage taxpayers from inflating the value of non-monetary charitable donations for inflated tax deductions, the IRS now requires taxpayers to fill out a form detailing the gifts. Additionally, any significant household item, valued at more than $500, must be appraised before the taxpayer can take a deduction.

Many charitable organizations, including Goodwill Industries International, say the new provisions will guard against worthless donations more suitable for the trash bins, but critics argue that increased regulation will discourage would-be donors and cause a decrease in charitable giving.

6. Documenting Monetary Gifts

Monetary donations will also require documentation. Regardless of the amount, a taxpayer should retain proof of any donation. Appropriate documentation can be a bank record, canceled check, credit card statement or receipt from the charity.

“These records are not required to be included in the tax return but they should be kept on hand should the IRS request proof,” advised Smith.

7. Direct Donations from IRAs for Seniors

Another tax law that many charities support affects only seniors. For the next two years, donors 70 ½ or older will be able to donate to charities directly from their IRAs, an accommodation that keeps the donated amount tax-free and avoids tax penalties for early withdrawals.

This provision benefits eligible taxpayers who take the standard deduction, which many older filers do because they receive larger standard deductions. This can also benefit individuals facing donation limits. Generally, people cannot donate more that 50 percent of their incomes, but the money does not count as income when it comes directly from the IRA.

Officials at charities such as United Way claim that despite being temporary, this provision will likely bring in tens of millions of dollars.

Other Pension Provisions

8. Automatic 401(k) Sign Up

Employers are allowed to automatically sign up employees for a 401(k). This change encourages participation from people who may not otherwise bother to sign up for the plan in the first place, though they will have the option to opt out.

9. Investment Advice

Because employees often choose safer investments for their 401(k)s, which generally result in modest returns, the act allows them to receive investment planning advice to encourage riskier investments with the potential for higher returns. The act also provides protection against dishonest advisers who steer employees toward decisions that could increase their own profit.

10. Non-Spousal Benefits

Two provisions that expand allowable withdrawals are pleasing gay rights activists. The non-spousal rollover lets retirement account assets be transferred to a designated beneficiary upon the retiree’s death and the hardship distribution allows retirement account assets be used for a medical or financial emergency of a beneficiary other than a spouse or a dependent.

The majority of the Pension Protection Act aims to ensure that companies fully fund traditional pension plans over a seven-year period, starting in 2008. But many provisions promote increased individual employee participation in retirement planning.

Smith said that while the new law expands allowances and makes it easier for individuals to increase retirement savings, it may be a step toward employee-funded retirement plans – a move that has many critics concerned.

Author: Maggie Beetz is a writer for FSI Financial Literacy based in Columbia, MD. FSI Financial Literacy aims to spread financial awareness to clients of FSI Tax Corp. (www.fsitax.com), Debt Shield, Inc. (www.debtshield.net) and the general public. For more information call 1-877-437-4669 or email mbeetz@fsiholding.com.

Basics of Tax Appeals in New Jersey

As real estate taxes skyrocket, many taxpayers have begun to look for ways to reduce their tax payments. One common method of accomplishing this is filing a tax appeal. However, since tax appeal procedure affords relief to very few taxpayers, the decision of whether to file an appeal will require a cursory understanding of how the process works.

Most real estate taxes are ad valorem – taxes based upon the assessed value of a person’s property. However, it is important to note that the municipality’s assessment of a property is typically much lower than the property’s actual value. This is in part due to the fact that municipalities infrequently conduct revaluations. Municipalities will therefore operate under the assumption that all properties are under assessed by the same ratio and will increase their tax rate accordingly. Your real estate tax bill is calculated by multiplying your assessment by the municipality’s tax rate. While a municipality’s tax rate is virtually incapable of challenge, your real estate assessment is. Some property owners who seek relief can demonstrate that their assessment, while not higher than the actual property value, is discriminatory in its application and is not even-handedly applied to other residents. This is a common situation; however, appeals made on this basis are relatively difficult to win, primarily because these appeals require that the property owner furnish evidence that his assessment exceeds the average ratio by 15%. Therefore, it is much easier to win an appeal upon a showing that the appellant’s property is over-assessed. Over-assessment is most likely to occur in a municipality that has either been recently revalued or has a high county equalization ratio (the ratio of assessed value to actual value). The tax appeal procedure begins with an application which is due on April 1st. Filing fees for the application range between $5 and $150 depending upon the assessed value of the property. Owners of rental property should keep in mind that in addition to an appraisal, the appeal should be supported by a statement of income and expenses. Usually the municipality will require the filing of this statement several months before the tax appeal deadline. In addition, while property owners may represent themselves in the tax appeal proceeding, the applicant must have an appraiser at the hearing in all cases where an appraisal will be offered as evidence. Our firm represents clients throughout New Jersey, very often on a contingency basis. While the new assessment is guaranteed for a minimum of three years, it is unlikely to change for several years until the next municipal revaluation. Because the amount of real estate tax that you pay is a function of your property value, it is essential that you file a tax appeal if you think the municipality has over-valued your property.

Michael Mirne, Esq., a sole practitioner, has an extensive real estate background and is also certified and licensed as a Tax Assessor in the State of New Jersey. Mr. Mirne received his B.S. Degree from Syracuse University and his J.D. from Seton Hall University. He is currently licensed to practice law in New Jersey as well as all Federal Courts.

How to Reduce Or Eliminate Your Estate Tax

I bet you probably didn’t know that your heirs might have to liquidate ( sell off ) your home or commercial/residential rental properties immediately after your death. This is unless you create an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust or ILIT.
I bet you probably didn’t know that your heirs might have to liquidate ( sell off ) your home or commercial/residential rental properties immediately after your death. This is unless you create an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust or ILIT.

Most people have the expectation of passing on their wealth to their children or spouse. With the demise of the baby boom generation approaching there will be an enormous transfer of wealth, the government plans to capture some of that wealth with the estate tax. The estate tax is imposed upon death.

As of now if your assets net worth is less than $1.5 million dollars your exempt from the Federal estate tax. For married couples, their exempt up to $3 million dollars. Unfortunately, any amount over the exemption will be taxed under the Federal Estate Tax, which is usually around 45%. This tax must be paid within nine months of the day of your death.

Since few estates hold enough cash to pay for the estate tax, you will be forced to start selling off assets to raise enough money to pay the estate tax on time. The time restraints can sometimes cause people to rush into unfavorable transactions.

Fortunately though, you can use an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust ( ILIT ) to reduce or eliminate your estate tax cost. ILIT’s can be used to generate enormous amounts of cash for your heirs, which you can use to pay the estate tax. When you purchase an ILIT the proceeds are not included in the estate of the insured. The proceeds are strictly for the decedent’s beneficiary, which completely avoids the estate tax. You get 100% of the money estate tax free.

Any ordinary life insurance policy is not the same as an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust. An ILIT is estate tax free; a life insurance policy is taxed. This is because a life insurance policy is under the insured’s estate.

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Foreclosure Epidemic Likely Means Additional Tax Liability

The recent national surge in home foreclosures coming on the heels of the collapse of the sub-prime lending industry and decline in home values likely means additional bad news for those former homeowners who feel like they just lost everything: additional income tax liability.

Income tax liability? From losing your home? Such is the nature of the United States Internal Revenue Code.

Given the foreclosure epidemic and the huge losses to which lenders of all sizes are now exposed, many lenders are willing to enter into a variety of work-out programs with their borrowers to avoid foreclosure. Avoiding foreclosure does not necessarily mean keeping the home, however.

The foreclosure process is time-consuming for the lenders and often subjects them to the additional time and expense of physically evicting the former home owner from the home after the foreclosure sale. From the borrower’s perspective, a foreclosure is a huge blow to credit worthiness and will impact the borrower’s ability to finance major purchases for years to come.

Considering many lenders’ goals of reducing their losses on foreclosures, borrowers have met with success recently in negotiating “short sales” with their lenders. A short sale is the borrower’s reconveyance of the home to the lender for less than the amount owed on the mortgage.

For example: Joe obtained a creative home loan and purchased a home at the height of home values and during the most liberal period in sub-prime lending.

Eventually, the appraised value of Joe’s home began to drop and the “creative” part of his home loan kicked-in. Perhaps his interest rate adjusted or his interest-only payments ceased and he was required to commence paying both principal and interest.

In any event, Joe finds that he cannot afford to continue making the mortgage payments and, due to market circumstances, he now owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth. In other words, he is upside down in the home.

Joe defaults on the mortgage payments and is now subject to the foreclosure process.

Applied to the example above, the borrower might successfully negotiate a short sale with his lender. Many lenders are now accepting a reconveyance of the home and forgiving the remaining debt exceeding the value of the home.

In the example, Joe may have purchased the home for $300,000. He has made interest-only payments on the loan for a year, but due to the recent slump in the market, the home is now worth only $250,000. He still owes $300,000 on the mortgage. The lender, therefore, may accept a reconveyance of the home – in essence a $250,000 payment – against the $300,000 debt.

The sale is “short” because the value of the home does not cover the amount of the mortgage. The lender may forgive the additional $50,000 owed by the borrower in order to avoid the foreclosure process, or to avoid litigation expenses in pursuing the borrower for the deficiency balance, and essentially cut its losses.

For the borrower, he avoids foreclosure and its ramifications to his credit, as well as facing a likely judgment for the amount still owed on the debt.

The hidden drawback here, though, is that the tax code treats Joe’s debt relief as income. By being relieved of the obligation to pay $50,000, the IRS considers that Joe has in effect put $50,000 in his pocket.

The debt relief is subject to ordinary income tax. Joe may not even know of his additional tax liability until he receives an envelope in the mail from the lender containing a 1099 form reporting the debt relief income to the IRS.

The same result may follow if Joe simply walks away from the home, allows foreclosure to proceed, and then the lender elects not to pursue Joe for collection of the deficiency balance on the loan.

The ripple effect of the sub-prime lending market over the past couple of years has yet to reach its full effect. Individual homeowners must be wary of all consequences of divesting themselves of the homes they purchased in that market.

While financial planning might be the last thing on a borrower’s mind when he or she faces the harsh reality that the home will be lost in some way, the unforeseen consequences of a foreclosure or short sale can only be addressed through the sound advice of a tax professional, CPA, or, at the very least, the IRS website.

Of interest to us lawyers, however, is the approach the IRS will take to the likely spate of litigation that will proceed, alleging that these borrowers, now facing additional income tax liability through the loss of their homes, should not be responsible for the 1099 income tax burden, by virtue of alleged fraud or misrepresentation on the part of the sub-prime lenders.

As they say, “the Wheels of Justice grind slowly.” We will all have to wait to see how this shakes out.

Aaron Lovaas is a lawyer practicing in the areas of business litigation, business formation and planning, and real estate matters through his law firm, Shimon & Lovaas, P.C., in Las Vegas, NV. aaron@shimon-lovaas.com; website: http://www.shimon-lovaas.com.

Divorce Under Texas Tax Law

Normally, women in Texas suffer more financially than the men. This is especially true when both parties decide to a divorce. Why? Because by the time the couple decides to separate ways, the husband already has a stable job and the woman has already made a career as a perfect housewife –dish washing, cleaning, massaging the husband, and changing diapers. Thus, the woman’s standard of living decreases while the man’s increases. Most couples think that when they lead separate lives from their spouses, there’ll be no more financial difficulties. Actually, there are lots of financial matters involved in divorce. Consequently, most women suffer more when they are already separated than when they were still in the relationship. This consequence causes women not to pursue the divorce, thus, bears the pain of being in an unhappy relationship. Well, what women need to know to avoid this horrible event in her life is to seek legal counsel and learn about Texas tax law. Among the important Texas taxes that every couple must know is the area of divorce.

The divorce tax law is among the basic knowledge in the Texas tax law that everyone must know. Primarily because most young women of Texas do not realize that getting a divorce requires an extensive financial support; they just never thought that there might come a time that they need to be separated from their “loving” husbands. However, divorce is not automatic. Even the lawyers do not immediately file the case as long as they can still settle the issue between each party. If the lawyers see that the conflict would only bring more affliction to the family, then they would finally file the case. Needless to say, the attorney stands as the mediator of the two parties and their legal counsel. If no settlement is achieved, the case will be brought to court — surely causing thousands of dollars to be spent.

In Texas tax law, Dependency Exemptions are important. This law is only applied to the person who has custody of the children. This law means the tax deducted from the individual is lesser than the ordinary rate, depending on how many dependents that the person has. Another law is about the Selling of Personal Residence wherein the divorcing couple will not be taxed as much as $500,000 upon sale if they own the house for at least 5 years. Meanwhile, partnerships in the Transfer of Business Bonds, have certain tax issues like partnership gains and debt allocation. The transferee will only be taxed once the transferring process is done. The most important matter in divorce tax law is the Child Support System. The deduction of tax depends on the number of children that the person has. It ranges from 20%-40% of the person’s taxable income. Other payment that a voluntary party gives is not taxable and not considered as alimony.

Understanding the Texas tax law is not hard for all women who worry about their future without the support of their husband. It is also imperative to know the different Texas taxes to ensure financial security. Today, a lot of women in Texas are striving to increase their standard of living, separated or not, by finding ways on how to sustain their financial status. These women do these not only for themselves, but also for their children. Even though men usually support the children’s financial needs, more women strive to stand on their own to enable to give their children extra support when the spouses separate.

If you want more texas taxes and texas tax law resources such as this one, check out our website http://www.taxtexas.com

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Tax Attorney Help

Do you remember when everyone read the classified ads? You could buy or sell anything (legal) by placing an ad in the newspaper or the item-specific ad weeklies; of course you still can, but an even better option for most consumers and marketers these days is the online seek/find route. Someone out there is looking for a new home but dreads the process of driving to, walking through, and weighing options while a sales agent breathes down the back of their shirt. The buyer prefers to be their own “finder” but may retain a realtor as the transaction agent, the one who handles the paperwork after finding a new home. Wouldn’t we all like to omit the middleman (or woman) as often as possible, or rather omit their fee? A prospective buyer goes online and looks for a home for sale by owner. That buyer may be in your hometown or on the opposite side of Earth.

Used- car salesman. That’s a term that evokes unpleasant images of a coarse loudmouth in a gaudy plaid sports coat, hawking lemons of various vintage. Our apologies to those professional auto salespersons out there; we know that many of you suffer daily because of that stereotype. A lot of us, male and female, enjoy a review of the auto classifieds; I personally always home in on the ones that indicate a car for sale by owner. Hoards of would-be car buyers search the online ads daily and nightly.

In the piney woods of a northern state where summer is a delight and winter is an endurance test, someone is looking for a change. Butterflies make them smile and snowdrifts send them into depression. Just for such a person is an ad that states “Time Share for Sale by Owner.” Equally anxious to escape the heat of the Deep South is someone who would love to partner with them on a home away from home, a man or woman who yearns to hop onto a snowmobile or strap on skis and cool off. Talk about making everyone happy…

His riding lawnmower blew its engine; the last time he tried to clean out the rain gutters on the eaves, he fell off the ladder, and when he was up there he also noted several loose singles. The fifteen-year guarantee on the roof is about to expire. Arthritis is gaining on him, making home and yard maintenance a real pain–literally. But I want a nice home of my own, he thinks. I don’t want to waste money pouring it down a rented rat hole. He is in the market for a condo; catch his interest and perhaps make a sale by listing your condo for sale by owner. His son works for a large sporting goods store in an affluent section of the city. Just as Dad is ready to move into a new home, his son is ready to move on and rid himself of the unreasonable dictator who is his boss, whose managerial style is causing so much stress that the son’s health is negatively affected. He is ready to become the boss and run his own business. He goes online to search for a business for sale by owner.

The Internet was the prime tool for all of the buyers and sellers in the above scenarios. It can be yours, too.

Simon is the “nom de net” for a professional writer on many topics. His work includes book authorship, TV producer and independent writer for many national magazines. http://tax-attorneys.mustsee.info

When To Get Help From a Tax Attorney

Not every one will need the use of a tax attorney but their usefulness cannot be underestimated when you do need to hire one. First understand that there is a big difference between a tax attorney and a person who prepares taxes, such as a CPA or bookkeeper. If you hire an attorney, anything you say to them is completely confidential. Unlike a CPA or bookkeeper that can be called to testify against you in court should you ever be audited and brought to trial. There are several reasons you may need to hire a tax attorney.

The first and most common reason to hire a tax attorney is that you are in trouble with the IRS. Being audited and dealing the IRS is many people’s worst nightmare. If you get in this situation, it means that your figures didn’t add up and the person who has prepared your original tax filings has at the least made an error or at worst was completely incompetent. By hiring an attorney, he/she will be able to give you the best legal ways of working with the IRS so you can come to a mutually agreed upon conclusion.

Another reason to hire a tax attorney is they understand that the tax laws are not just black and white. There are many shades of gray between the two. He/she can give you many different legal ways to solve the problem and get the IRS of your back.

He/she will also act as a go between you and the IRS. Everyone knows the intimidation tactics the IRS will use to try and get you to cooperate. A good lawyer understands these tactics and how to “fight” them on good legal reasoning. He/she is on your side and basically; he/she will fight your battles for you.

If you owe a significant amount of money in back taxes hiring a tax attorney is your best option. People who try to take on the IRS alone usually end up paying more than those who are legally represented. With attorney-client privilege, you will be able to honestly talk to your attorney about exactly what went wrong so they can find the absolute best options for you. He/she knows the tax law inside and out and can come up with a solution for both the short term and the long term. You cannot underestimate the bully tactics of the IRS. If you ignore them, they will pursue you even more aggressively.

If you own a business or have a larger estate, you should also consider consulting with a tax attorney. He/she will make sure all your assets are set up according to the required tax laws. This can save you thousands of dollars in tax deductions and give you the peace of mind that everything you are doing is above reproach.

The above situations are good reasons to hire a tax attorney. Not every person needs a tax attorney. For instance, if the IRS sends you a letter saying an error was made and you owe such-and-such amount, just pay it.

Visit tax http://www.taxattorneyguru.com for information on criminal and IRS tax attorney’s, as well as, to locate a tax attorney in your area.

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