Some Tax Saving Strategies from the Wall Street Journal
September 3, 2011
Income, estate, and other federal tax levies have commonly been a bone of contention between those with different political ideologies; but the current conflict has reached unusual heights, with various million- and billionaires publicly expressing their views (pro or against) about current tax laws. Of course, million- or billionaires aren’t the only ones with strong opinions about taxes.
If you feel that you pay too much in taxes, Brett Arends of the Wall Street Journal has some tips to help you save on taxes in the future. Much of his article is tongue-in-cheek, but the suggestions are valuable ones. Of special interest to our firm and our clients are four of the tips nestled in the middle of the article:
Give to your family. “Until the end of 2012 you can give $5 million, tax-free… In addition you can give $13,000 a year to each recipient — each child or grandchild — and a spouse can do the same. So a married couple with, say, three children and eight grandchildren can give another $286,000 a year, on top of that one-off $10 million. Over ten or twenty years that really adds up.”
Put your grandkids—and great grandkids—through college. “Money paid directly to schools or colleges escapes estate taxes.” Furthermore, if you contribute to a 529 educational savings account that money can be tucked away—and eventually used by the student for whom it is intended—tax free (so long as it is used for educational purposes.)
Buy life insurance. Proceeds from a life insurance policy can go to your beneficiaries tax-free upon your death, although you may have to make some arrangements ahead of time. The article states that “Typically you put the policy in an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust… The premiums that you pay annually are gifts to the beneficiaries… And when you die, the proceeds of the policy go to the trust, for the beneficiaries, free of estate tax.”
Talk to an estate planner. “There are other moves that can cut your estate tax, too. A Qualified Personal Residence Trust can slash the estate taxes on a residence. A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, or GRAT, can slash them on an investment portfolio. So, too, can setting up a Family Limited Partnership. Financial planners say this is a great time to put investments — like stock — into a GRAT.”
If you have questions about these tax-saving strategies, or other strategies that can help you preserve your estate for your heirs, please contact our office. We can help you determine what your best options are to help protect your assets—and your family—in the years to come.
The Tax-Lady Cometh
February 24, 2011
It’s that time of year again; the time of year when everyone starts gathering receipts, assessing income and expenses, and making appointments with tax advisors. Tax time can be a very stressful time for many families, but—with the help of this article from MSN Money—perhaps tax season can be made a little bit easier. The article lists 13 tax breaks from 2010 that can help save you money, including:
- The tax credit for first time homebuyers (if you’re not a first time homebuyer don’t give up, there’s a credit for existing homeowners too.)
- The parking and transit credit
- The college tuition tax credit
- The credit for energy-saving home improvements
And then of course there are the two we’ve been mentioning here on our blog for the past few months:
- The estate tax exemption, and
- The annual gift tax exemption
Of course, not every item on the list is going to apply to every reader, but if even one or two credits apply to you or your family it can be a huge help.
Don’t rely only on this article to ease your 2010 tax burden, your own advisors and tax planners—who know more about your family’s personal and business finances—will be able to give you much more in-depth advice on how best to address your own tax situation. In addition, talking to a professional advisor right now provides the perfect opportunity to tackle any issues in 2011, hopefully making this time next year a much happier and less stressful time for everybody.
What to Expect from Estate Taxes in 2011
December 22, 2010
It has been a long and uncertain year for anybody interested in the future of the estate tax, filled with a few ups, a few downs, and a lot of speculation. But after the recent passage of the new bipartisan tax bill all of the confusion and speculation is finally at an end, and it’s very close to what we anticipated early last week. The bill is good news for most taxpayers; the Wall Street Journal says there are “many winners, a few losers,” and according to the New York Times “Almost no one will have to worry about paying the estate tax under the tax legislation just approved by Congress.”
Here is a brief overview of what you can expect in 2011:
New Estate Tax Exemptions and Rates: The new bill sets the estate tax exemption at $5 million per individual ($10 million per married couple), with amounts over the exemption taxed at a 35% rate. This is opposed to the $3.5 million exemption and 45% rate some lawmakers were hoping for.
Tax Election Option for 2010 Estates: As mentioned in a previous post, this is one of the biggest parts of the new bill. There may have been no estate tax in 2010, but there was also no “step up in basis,” meaning that heirs selling inherited assets were taxed based on the original acquisition cost of the assets, not on their value as of the date of the taxpayer’s death, as is usually the case. This led to a higher tax paid on the assets if and when they were sold, in spite of the lack of estate tax. Tax election gives 2010 estates the choice of whether to use 2010 or 2011 tax rules—a happy option for 2010 heirs.
Estate, Gift, and Generation-Skipping Taxes: In recent years these three levies have had varying exemption levels, making gift giving and succession planning a challenging exercise at best. The unification of all three makes tax planning and giving gifts to grandchildren much easier than it used to be.
Individual Income and Payroll Taxes: The new bill wasn’t just about estate taxes; it also extends the Bush-era income tax rates; this is good news as it prevents a rise for nearly all taxpayers.
How Long Will It Last? We’re all glad that the waiting is over and we finally know what to expect, but the new law is only effective through 2012, at which point the provisions will “sunset.” So we have a two year reprieve, but the estate tax issue is far from over and we will have to revisit the issue again toward the end of 2012.
With the threat of high estate taxes out of the way does any reason remain to create (or update) your estate plan? Absolutely!
Estate planning is about more than just planning for taxes, it’s about taking control of your assets and choosing how your estate will be distributed. Divorce, second marriages, planning for college, charitable gifts—these are just a few of the reasons why estate planning is essential regardless of the state of the estate tax.
At the very least, the recent fluctuation of the law means that you’ll want to have your existing plan professionally reviewed and updated to ensure you don’t have any outdated clauses that could negatively affect your heirs.
Prepare Now for an Uncertain Future
October 14, 2010
There’s a useful saying that goes something like this: “Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.” Never has that saying been as useful as it is right now in regards to asset protection and estate planning. As Laura Lallos mentions in her article in the Morningstar Advisor, “Estate attorneys are trained to prepare for every contingency. But how do you plan for the unimaginable? Who would have predicted a U.S. tax system with no estate tax at all–and no certainty about what the estate tax will look like in 2011?”
Planning for the future when the future is so foggy is a challenge at best, but this unique year for taxes offers some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for giving and saving as well. This seems to be a time of contradictions. As the article points out, “The best strategy that financial advisors and attorneys can pursue now is to prepare their clients for the worst. On the bright side, some clients can also seize opportunities created by the gaping holes in the tax law for 2010.”
The article suggests a number of strategies that you can implement now to prepare for an uncertain future. Some of these include:
Give monetary gifts now, when the gift tax rate is a low 35%, in order to lessen your taxable estate. Better still, gift away assets, such as real estate, that are likely to appreciate in the future.
Take advantage of the one-year-only lapse in the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax.
Create a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust before the end of October to take advantage of the currently very low Section 7520 rate.
See your estate planner and make sure your estate and asset protection plans truly are “prepared for the worst.” We may not yet know what next year will bring, but that doesn’t mean we can‘t take steps to ensure our clients are prepared for whatever the future may hold.
How to Plan for the Future While Estate Tax Debate Continues in the Senate
July 13, 2010
With all the estate tax proposals currently floating around the Senate the future of the estate tax is anybody’s guess… but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying to figure it out. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal touches on some of the more recent (and more controversial) proposals floating around Washington.
The proposal that is currently getting the most attention comes from Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and three Senate Democrats who say that “It’s time for multi-millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.” And pay they would! According to Sanders’ proposal “the [estate tax] exemption would be $3.5 million for an individual or as much as $7 million for a couple, with a tax rate of 45%. But estates with taxable assets between $10 million and $50 million would pay a 50% rate, and estates valued above $50 million would pay 55%. A further 10% surtax would apply to assets above $500 million.”
Of course, it’s too early to get worked up just yet, Sanders’ proposal is just one of many right now, and the debate still rages in the Senate with no clear winner in sight. Of course, if no action is taken the estate tax will come back in 2011 with a 55% tax rate on estates above a mere $1 million.
Either way, you’ll want to be prepared, and the only way to do that is to keep in contact with your estate planner and make sure that your plan is designed to handle anything. Although it may be tempting to wait to update your estate plan until a clear decision is made, all that really does is leave your family unprepared if something should happen to you while the tax is in flux. Contact our office to find out what adjustments should be made to your estate plan to keep your family protected while lawmakers continue to debate the future of the estate tax.
Robin Hood Lives On: Tax Breaks to Help Your Family
May 11, 2010
It may seem like you just can’t catch a break when it comes to paying taxes, but according to this article in the Wall Street Journal there are a few little known tax breaks that could end up saving your family money. Some are new—so new, in fact, that it is still before the Senate—such as the tax exemption for employer provided cell phones and smart phones; and some—like the tax free income homeowners can earn if they rent out their home for 14 days or fewer during a year—have been around for a few years.
Of particular interest to our clients is the gift tax exclusion (another lesser known tax break that has been around for a few years.) As stated in the article, “Anyone may give anyone else up to [$13,000] per year in cash or property, free of gift tax. One partner of a married couple can double the gift and the exemption. So a couple with three married children and six grandchildren could give away over $300,000 a year, tax-free.”
We say that this gift tax exclusion may be of particular interest to our clients because if you are looking for a way to lower your estate tax, or anticipate applying for government medical services in the next few years, giving gifts to loved ones right now may help you achieve your goal—if you go about it the right way. One caution: if you make large gifts now, they could prevent you from qualifying for a government subsidy, Medi-Cal, in the event you need long term care in a nursing facility. At the moment, however, there are ways that you can both (1) make tax free gifts to family members AND (2) minimize (or even eliminate) the risk to a long term care subsidy should you need it. However, such gifts must be very carefully managed so as to be compliant with both tax law and with Medi-Cal rules. Expert guidance is essential.
Contact our office if you would like guidance as to how any of these “Robin Hood” tax saving techniques may help your family this year.
Tax Tips to Benefit YOUR Family
April 15, 2010
Tax day is here. Are you ready to file? And just as important—are you taking advantage of all the savings and deductions available to you? Most people who do their own taxes are unaware of some of the lesser-known deductions which can help you save money come tax-time. We have a couple of articles we’d like to share with our readers that may make it easier for your family come April 15th.
A recent article on SmartMoney.com offers 3 often overlooked ways to save on your income taxes. Two of the three items have to do with parenthood and buying a home, but of particular interest to our readers is tip #2, Selling Grandma’s Stuff: “If you sold something last year that you inherited, understand that your tax basis for gain or loss purposes generally has nothing to do with what your benefactor paid for the asset. And that’s probably going to save you a bundle in taxes.” If you sold an asset from an inheritance last year (or if you received an inheritance last year at all, regardless of whether you’ve sold the asset or not) let your tax professional know.
Another potentially useful resource for tax savings is the ABC News article Top Ten Commonly Missed Tax Deductions to Put Cash in Your Wallet. This article reminds us to include the little things—such charity volunteer related expenses, the new car deduction, old school books used for work, and more. There are a number of tax deductions your family may be able to take advantage of… if you just know where to look.
If you have not yet completed your tax return by April 15th, or are still mulling over tax deductions, you may consider filing for an extension. But do it in a timely manner. Ask your tax professional for help. Somtimes the additional time to reflect on your circumstances may be well worth the effort.
Talking Taxes Now Brings Big Savings Next April
July 29, 2009
Everyone knows that March and April are tax season, when everybody scrambles to get their taxes done, mailed off, and out of mind for the rest of the year; but according to this article from Reuters the taxes you pay in April can be significantly lower if you take the time to think about them now.
Author Linda Stern recommends mid-year as the best time to start thinking about your taxes because it gives you plenty of time to take advantage of various planning strategies and tax breaks, many of which she outlines in her article. Stern also points out that scheduling an appointment with your accountant in July—when accountants are not nearly as busy as March or April—means you’ll have more one-on-one time to strategize and discuss your financial situation.
Stern’s article is full of good advice and suggestions for saving on your taxes this year, but she forgets one important strategy: Creating your estate plan. Talking to a lawyer about your estate plan not only helps in understanding and organizing your finances, and protecting your assets for the future; but the money you spend in creating an estate plan can be tax deductable. Talk to your lawyer and accountant now about how you can protect—and save—your money in the future.