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MONTHLY TAX NEWSLETTER - NOVEMBER 2001

An index and links to our previous months' newsletters can be found at oldnews.html


Interact with our CPAs every day at the MDTAXES Message Board, or the first Wednesday every month, at 9 pm Eastern Time, during our Live Tax Chat 
 


SOCIAL SECURITY MAX INCREASED TO $84,900 FOR 2002

Each year, the government raises the maximum amount of social security taxes that an individual will pay. For 2002, the maximum social security wage base will be $84,900, an increase of $4,500 from the 2001 maximum of $80,400. Since social security taxes are withheld at a rate of 6.2%, the maximum amount of social security taxes that can be withheld from a person's wages will increase from $4,984.80 in 2001 to $5,263.80 in 2002.

In addition to social security taxes, every individual has medicare taxes withheld from their pay at a rate of 1.45%. There is no limit to the amount of wages subject to medicare taxes.

Wages in excess of the social security max for 2001:

For 2001, each employee is subject to social security taxes on the first $80,400 of wages earned during the year. At a rate of 6.2%, this translates into total social security taxes of $4,984.80. There are situations when a taxpayer will have more than the maximum of $4,984.80 withheld during the course of the year.

Since employers are required to withhold social security taxes on the first $80,400 earned by each of their employees (this allows the government to keep the employer's matching contributions), taxpayers who work for more than one employer and earn more than $80,400 during the year will have excess social security taxes withheld. Any excess social security taxes withheld during the year should be reported on your Form 1040 as additional federal income taxes withheld.

For example:

A person works for two employers and earns $50,000 from each employer. Employer #1 will withhold $3,100 in social security taxes ($50,000 * 6.2%). Employer #2 will also withhold $3,100 in social security taxes. The total social security taxes withheld during the year for this person is $6,200. Since the maximum amount of social security taxes that a person will be subject to in 2001 is $4,984.80, this person will have excess taxes of $1,215.20 withheld and should re-characterize those excess social security taxes as federal income taxes withheld.

 

A) Social security taxes withheld by Employer #1

$3,100.00

B) Social security taxes withheld by Employer #2

$3,100.00

C) Total social security taxes withheld during the year (A+B)

$6,200.00

D) Social security max for 2001

$4,984.80

E) Excess social security taxes withheld (C-D)

$1,215.20

 

Calculating the self-employment tax:

Self-employed individuals are subject to social security and medicare taxes as well. These two taxes are reported as part of an additional tax known as the "self-employment tax". Self-employment taxes are calculated on a Schedule SE and are reported as an additional tax on page 2 of the Form 1040.

The self-employment tax is based on a social security tax rate of 12.4% and a medicare tax rate of 2.9%. These rates are double those paid by employees since a self-employed person must pay both the employee's portion and the employer's portion of both taxes.

If an individual earns income as an employee and as an independent contractor, and the combined income exceeds $80,400 in 2001, Section B of the Schedule SE should be completed. Otherwise, the calculation will be incorrect and too much self-employment taxes will be submitted.

www.ssa.gov

A great place to find out more about your social security taxes and projected benefits is at the Social Security Administration's website located at www.ssa.gov.

 

FYI: The social security wage base has been increased each year. The wage base maximum has been increased as follows:

2002 wage base max: $84,900

2001 wage base max: $80,400

2000 wage base max: $76,200

1999 wage base max: $72,600

1998 wage base max: $68,400

1997 wage base max: $65,400

1996 wage base max: $62,700

1995 wage base max: $61,200

1994 wage base max: $60,600


SHOULD YOU CONVERT YOUR IRAS TO A ROTH IRA??

Each year that your income is less than $100,000, you're allowed to convert some or all of your traditional IRAs to a Roth IRA.  By doing so, you'll take IRA money that is growing tax deferred and turn it into Roth IRA money that will grow tax-free.  The downside to converting is that you'll owe taxes on the amount converted.  

Why bring up this topic now?  With the markets down significantly from their highs of two years ago, converting some or all of your IRA money might make sense.  Since your IRAs have most likely decreased in value, the taxes paid on the conversion will be lower this year than ever before.  Plus, once the markets rebound, all of the future earnings will be tax-free for you.

Should you consider converting your IRAs to a Roth IRA?  To help you decide what to do, we've prepared this Roth IRA Conversion Quiz.

Please answer the following ten questions. When you are done, simply add up your score, and compare your score with the table found at the bottom of this page to determine whether you should consider converting your IRA to a Roth IRA.

Question 1: How many years before you anticipate taking distributions from your IRA or Roth IRA?

  • More than 20 years (2 points)

  • 10 - 20 years (4 points)
  • 5 - 10 years (6 points)
  • Less than 5 years (8 points)

 
Question 2: At what rates do you think you'll pay taxes in the future? (Currently, there are five tax brackets: 15%, 28%, 31%, 36%, 39.6%.)

  • You will be taxed at a much higher tax rate in the future. (2 points)

  • You're not sure, but you're fairly certain that your tax rate will NOT decrease in the future. (4 points)
  • Once you retire, you'll be taxed at a lower tax rate. (6 points)
  • The whole tax system is going to change within your lifetime and you won't pay any income taxes in the future. (8 points)

 
Question 3: Will you be in a different tax bracket in the near future?

  • You anticipate a dramatic change in your job situation and see yourself earning significantly more money starting next year. (2 points)

  • You anticipate that your earnings will increase during the next few years to the point that you'll be taxed at a higher tax bracket. (4 points)
  • You anticipate that your tax situation will not change substantially during the foreseeable future. (6 points)
  • You anticipate that, in the foreseeable future, you'll have very little taxable income as a result of returning to school, retiring, taking a sabbatical, or for any other reason. (8 points)

Question 4: How will you pay the taxes that will be due in connection with the conversion? Remember, the taxes on the conversion will be due in the year of the conversion.

  • You currently have enough money sitting in a savings account to pay the taxes that will be due. (2 points)

  • You'll be able to adjust your withholding at work to cover the additional taxes that will be due without impacting your family budget too badly. (4 points)
  • The money needed to pay the taxes is fully invested in stocks and mutual funds. To pay the taxes that will be due, you'll need to sell some of those investments. (6 points)
  • You won't be able to come up with the money to pay the taxes on the conversion without withdrawing money from the Roth IRA. (8 points)

 
Question 5: Do you trust the government not to change the rules as they pertain to Roth IRA's?

  • Over your lifetime, the government won't change any of the rules pertaining to Roth IRA's. (2 points)

  • The rules will change, but amounts contributed to your Roth IRA prior to the date that the rules are changed will be grandfathered and, therefore, not subject to income taxes when withdrawn. (4 points)
  • While you're hopeful that the rules pertaining to Roth IRA's won't change, you feel that, during your lifetime, distributions from Roth IRA's will be subject to some level of income taxes. (6 points)
  • There is no way that, during your lifetime, the government won't begin to tax distributions from Roth IRA's. (8 points)

 
Question 6: How do you feel about pre-paying income taxes to the government?

  • You're not opposed to pre-paying income taxes today if you can save significant taxes in the future. (2 points)

  • You'd prefer not to have to pre-pay any income taxes, but the many benefits of the Roth IRA make it acceptable. (4 points)
  • You have trouble rationalizing pre-paying taxes today; especially when you have no guarantees as to what the tax rules will be like when you begin to withdraw money from your IRA's. (6 points)
  • You only pay taxes to the government when you're absolutely required to pay them and would never even consider pre-paying as little as one dime in taxes to the government. (8 points)

 
Question 7: At what age will you begin to withdraw money from your IRA or Roth IRA?

  • You plan to wait as long as possible before taking any distributions from your IRA or Roth IRA to maximize the tax deferred growth. (2 points)

  • You won't need the money when you retire, but you view the money in your IRA or Roth IRA as your savings and you plan to spend some of it during your lifetime. (4 points)
  • You will retire with a moderate amount of savings, but will PROBABLY need to begin taking withdrawals from your IRA's around the time you turn 70. (6 points)
  • You will have few assets in addition to your IRA's when you retire, so you will DEFINITELY begin taking distributions from your IRA or Roth IRA before reaching the age of 70. (8 points)

Question 8: How do you feel about your heirs paying income taxes on the balance in your IRA's and Roth IRA's that they will eventually inherit?

  • You'll do whatever it takes to minimize the taxes that your heirs will pay on amounts that they inherit from you. (2 points)

  • You'd be willing to pay some taxes now to have your heirs avoid being subject to income taxes on the IRA's and Roth IRA's that they inherit. (4 points)
  • You would regret if your heirs had to pay a lot of taxes on their inheritance, but you wouldn't be so upset that you would consider paying some taxes in advance. (6 points)
  • The fact that your heirs might be subject to income taxes on the IRA's that they inherit doesn't bother you in the least. (8 points)

Question 9: How do you feel about the long-terms prospect of your IRA investment portfolio?

  • You're confident that the stock markets will ultimately return to their historical growth rates of more than 10 percent per year . (2 points)

  • You don't think we'll ever see growth like we saw in the 90's, but feel that you can come up with a diversified portfolio that will get you a decent return. (4 points)
  • You've become risk adverse and will invest only in very conservative investments. (6 points)
  • You feel that the markets are still overvalued and will continue to go down in value in the short-term. (8 points)

Question 10: How do you feel about withdrawing money from your IRA's for education costs, medical expenses, or other uses?

  • You view money in your IRA's as available to be used in a financial emergency (excluding education or medical expenses) and would reluctantly withdraw money from your IRA's if a cash crisis were to arise. (2 points)

  • You would not even consider invading your IRA's prior to your retirement. (4 points)
  • You have a tendency to spend every dime available to you and would most likely end up withdrawing money from you IRA's UNLESS the amounts withdrawn were subject to income taxes and the 10% premature distribution penalty. (6 points)
  • In the future, you intend to use the money in your IRA's to pay for your family's education or medical expenses since there won't be any other source of money available to you at that time. (8 points)

Bonus Question: What will your income be this year? If you're married, you need to determine what your combined income will be.

  • Your adjusted gross income  will be less than $100,000. (0 points)

  • Your adjusted gross income will be greater than $100,000 (100 points)

The Results

Total up the points from each question. If your score is:

  • Less than 30, you should DEFINITELY consider converting your IRA to a Roth IRA this year.

  • Between 31 and 42, you should PROBABLY consider converting your IRA to a Roth IRA.
  • Between 43 and 48, you have a TOUGH DECISION to make.
  • Between 49 and 60, you should PROBABLY NOT consider converting your IRA to a Roth IRA.
  • Greater than 60, you should DEFINITELY NOT consider converting your IRA to a Roth IRA.


CALENDAR FOR THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER, 2001

Month

Income Taxes

Saving and Investing

 

 

November

  • Good time to make semi-annual donation of clothing and household items to charitable organizations

  • Need to make applicable elections in connection with employer's flexible spending account

  • Contact MDTAXES CPA to discuss any year end tax planning questions or strategies

  • Determine whether you should convert your IRAs to a Roth IRA


 

FALL IS A GREAT TIME FOR FOLIAGE AND FOR FINANCIAL PLANNING

If you're married, and you and your spouse need some guidance, check out

NewlywedFinances.com.

(Brought to You By Your Friends at MDTAXES.COM)

 


2000 & 2001 TAX FACTS

  • For 2001, the standard deduction for a single individual is $4,550 and for a married couple is $7,600. A person will benefit by itemizing once allowable deductions exceed the applicable standard deduction. Itemized deductions include state and local income taxes, real estate taxes, mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and unreimbursed employee business expenses.

  • For 2001, the personal exemption is $2,900. Individuals will claim a personal deduction for themselves, their spouse, and their dependents.
  • The maximum earnings subject to social security taxes has been increased to $84,900 in 2002 from $80,400 in 2001.
  • The standard mileage rate has been increased to $.345 per mile as of January 1, 2001 from $.325 per mile during 2000.
  • The maximum annual contribution to a 401(k) plan or a 403(b) plan remains at $10,500 for 2001, and has been increased to $11,000 for 2002.


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