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WHAT'S NEW WITH THE FICA REFUND?

A lot is new!!!  And it's all good!  Check out the memorandum issued by the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis and you'll see that the court found that medical residents and fellows might not be subject to FICA taxes in many instances.

For more information, go to our February, 2001 Newsletter or read through the IRS' Chief Counsel Advice Memorandum on this issue.

 

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Check out our Directory of Lawyers to find an attorney familiar with the issues that affect you and your colleagues, and our Directory of Financial Advisors to find an experienced professional who can help.

 

 
December, 2003

WHAT'S NEW?

by Andrew D. Schwartz, CPA

HOME OFFICE UPDATE

Back in 1999, the government made it easier for people to qualify for the home office deduction.  No longer were you required to perform your income producing activity (such as seeing patients) within your home office.  Instead, as long as you used a portion of your home regularly and exclusively to perform administrative and managerial tasks related to your trade or business, you would qualify.

For renters, this was great news.  Since rent isnít otherwise deductible on your federal tax return, being able to claim the home office deduction made a portion of your rent deductible.

For homeowners, however, there was always a trap.  If you sold your home for a gain, you would generally be taxed on the portion of your home that you claimed as your home office.  This pitfall caused many homeowners to forego this deduction.

Well, the IRS issued final regulations this year pertaining to homeowners who claim the home office deduction, and re-wrote the rules in favor of the homeowner.  Under the new rules, if the home office is within your home (and not a separate structure on your property), you no longer would be taxed on the portion of the gain that is attributable to your home office when you sell your home.  All you need to do is pay taxes on the depreciation you claimed over the years.

If you were eligible to claim the home office deduction during any of the three previous tax years, and didn't do so because you owned your home and were worried about paying taxes when you sell your home, you still have time to file an amended tax return claiming the home office deduction.

INCREASED TAX BREAKS FOR STUDENTS PAYING TUITION

Anyone paying tuition should be aware of these changes taking effect in 2003 and 2004:  

  • Increased Tax Credit.  For 2003, if you paid at least $10,000 in tuition, youíll see your tax savings double to $2,000.  Thatís because the tuition eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit is now $10,000, up from $5,000 in 2002.  However, if youíre single and earn more than $51,000, or married and earn more than $103,000, youíre not eligible for this tax credit.

  • Deducting Higher Education Expenses.  In 2004, taxpayers can claim a $4,000 deduction for qualified higher education expenses paid during the year, up from $3,000 in 2003, as long as your income doesnít exceed $65,000 if youíre single or $130,000 if youíre married.   Plus, in 2004, single taxpayers can earn up to $80,000 and married couples can earn up to $160,000, and still deduct $2,000 in higher education expenses.

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CHECKLIST TO CUT YOUR TAXES

It's not too late to cut your 2003 tax bill.  Prior to December 31st:

  • Increase your 401(k) and 403(b) contributions if you haven't been contributing at the maximum rate all year.  This year, you can put away up to $12,000 into your 401(k) or 403(b) plan.  If youíre self-employed, consider setting up a Solo 401(k) by 12/31.

  • Take a look at your withholding and instruct your employer to withhold additional taxes if you havenít had enough taxes withheld during the year and might get hit with an underpayment penalty.

  • Consider selling your non-retirement investments that have decreased in value since your capital losses can offset other capital gains realized during the year, and then can be used to offset up to $3,000 of wages and other income.

  • Send in your January, 2004 mortgage payment early enough so it will be processed prior to 12/31/03.  By sending in your payment a few weeks early, you can deduct the interest portion of that payment a full year earlier.

  • Clean out your closets and donate your clothing and household items to a charitable organization since "non-cash" contributions are deductible if you itemize.  Donít forget to get a receipt.

  • Pre-pay your projected state tax shortfall if you'll be itemizing your deductions and not subject to the alternative minimum tax.

  • Pay off your medical bills if your total medical expenses will exceed 7.5% of your income.

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SECOND MAJOR TAX-CUT PACKAGE IN JUST THREE YEARS

by Andrew D. Schwartz, CPA

With a presidential election right around the corner, itís only a matter of time before we start hearing about tax simplification once again.  And the timing couldnít be better.  Thanks to the two tax law changes enacted during the past three years, the income tax code has never been more complicated. 

How will the 2003 Tax Act affect you?

Reduced rates:  Just about everyone will save taxes since the top bracket was reduced by 3.6%, and the next three brackets were each cut by 2%.  A single person with taxable income of $78,400 will save $1,000 in taxes.  With $278,400 in taxable income, the savings jumps to $5,000.

Good news for investors:  The maximum long-term capital gains tax rate was cut to 15% for most taxpayers, but only for post-May 5, 2003 transactions. Remember, to qualify as long-term, an investment must be held for more than one year before being sold.  The tax rate on dividends was also cut to 15%, a reduction of 23.6% from the previous top rate.

Increased child tax credit:  This recent tax-cut package also increased the tax credit for children under the age of 17 to $1,000 per child, an increase of $400 per child over the prior rules.  If you have children, and your 2002 income was low enough, you should have received a check for $400 per child during the summer. 

Beware of the A.M.T.:  One byproduct of this tax-cut package is that your chances of getting hit by the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) have increased substantially.  When youíre subject to the AMT, you lose out on your personal exemptions, your standard deduction, and on certain itemized deduction.  While your mortgage interest and charitable contributions generally remain fully deductible, your real estate taxes, state income taxes, unreimbursed professional expenses, and certain home equity loan interest arenít deductible under the AMT.

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TAX AND FINANCIAL PLANNING CALENDAR FOR DECEMBER, 2003

Month

Income Taxes

Saving and Investing

 

 

December

  • 4th quarter state estimates should be paid by 12/31 for people who itemize their deductions

  • Keogh plans and Solo 401(k)'s must be established by 12/31

  • 529 Plans must be funded by 12/31

  • Last chance to maximize annual contribution to your 401(k) or 403(b) plan.

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2003 & 2004 TAX FACTS

  • For 2003, the standard deduction for a single individual is $4,750 and for a married couple is $9,500. 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. Our February, 1998 newsletter addressed the issue of itemizing your deductions.
  • For 2003, the personal exemption is $3,050. Individuals will claim a personal deduction for themselves, their spouse, and their dependents. 
  • The maximum earnings subject to social security taxes has increased to $87,900 for 2004 from $87,000 in 2003.
  • The standard mileage rate is $.36 per mile for 2003, and then will increase to $.375 for 2004. Deducting automobile expenses was addressed in our February, 1996 newsletter .
  • The maximum annual contribution to a 401(k) plan or a 403(b) plan will increased from $12,000 for 2003 to $13,000 for 2004.  And if you'll be 50 or older by December 31, 2003, you can contribute an extra $2,000 into your 401(k) or 403(b) account this year, and an extra $3,000 next year.
  • The maximum annual contribution to your IRA is $3,000 for 2003 and 2004.  And once you turn 50, you can contribute an extra $500 into your IRA this year and next year.

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copyright - 2003 - The MDTAXES Network

Want to Cut Your Tax Bill?

Sign up for our Online Web Conference on Moonlighting and Deduction Professional Expenses to be presented by Andrew Schwartz, CPA on Thursday evening, January 29th at 9 pm ET.


Tax and financial planning calendar for December, 2003


Interact with our CPAs everyday on The MDTAXES Message Board


Join our Live Tax Chat on the first Wednesday of each month at 9 pm (eastern time)


The Millionaire Next Door.  Find out the habits of America's wealthy. You'll be surprised at who comprises the bulk of America's millionaires.

Organize Your Finances with Quicken 2001 in a Weekend

Both these books are available at Barnes&Noble.com.
 


SAVE MONEY BY TAKING ADVANTAGE OF LOW INTEREST RATES

Are you taking advantage of these reduced rates?  Lower rates will help you cut down on the time it takes you to get out of debt by minimizing the interest you pay each month.  Remember, the lower the interest rate, the larger the portion of your monthly payment that will get applied against your outstanding balances.

  • If you're carrying a balance on your credit cards, there are plenty of opportunities available to cut your interest rate.  Check out CardOffers.com to find the best deals available.

  • If you still owe student loans, see how much you'll save by consolidating your loans into one loan with a lower interest rate at FinancialAid.com or at AAMC.org.

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HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR CREDIT REPORT LATELY?

You work hard to keep your credit report as clean as possible. Even so, the current credit reporting system allows for incorrect items to appear on your report that could adversely affect your credit score. Make sure that the information on your credit report is accurate by ordering a free copy of your credit report on-line at  OnlineCreditInfo.com or by purchasing a merged credit report reflecting information from all three credit reports at 130secondreport.com.

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