Tips From Donna (February 2017 Wesban Monthly)
by Donna Gordon on February 15th, 2017

​QUIZ: HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY RETIREMENT BENEFITS?

Social Security is an important source of retirement income for millions of Americans, but how much do you know about this program? Test your knowledge, and learn more about your retirement benefits, by answering the following questions.
Questions
1. Do you have to be retired to collect Social Security retirement benefits?
a. Yes
b. No
2. How much is the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker?
a. $1,360
b. $1,493
c. $1,585
d. $1,723
3. For each year you wait past your full retirement age to collect Social Security, how much will your retirement benefit increase?
a. 5%
b. 6%
c. 7%
d. 8%
4. How far in advance should you apply for Social Security retirement benefits?
a. One month before you want your benefits to start.
b. Two months before you want your benefits to start.
c. Three months before you want your benefits to start.
5. Is it possible for your retirement benefit to increase once you start receiving Social Security?
a. Yes
b. No
Answers
1. b. You don't need to stop working in order to claim Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you plan to continue working and you have not yet reached full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on your year of birth), your Social Security retirement benefit may be reduced if you earn more than a certain annual amount. In 2017, $1 in benefits will be deducted for every $2 you earn above $16,920. In the calendar year in which you reach your full retirement age, a higher limit applies. In 2017, $1 in benefits will be deducted for every $3 you earn above $44,880. Once you reach full retirement age, your earnings will not affect your Social Security benefit.
2. a. Your benefit will depend on your earnings history and other factors, but according to the Social Security Administration, the average estimated monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker (as of January 2017) is $1,360.1
3. d. Starting at full retirement age, you will earn delayed retirement credits that will increase your benefit by 8% per year up to age 70. For example, if your full retirement age is 66, you can earn credits for a maximum of four years. At age 70, your benefit will then be 32% higher than it would have been at full retirement age.
4. c. According to the Social Security Administration, you should ideally apply three months before you want your benefits to start. You can generally apply online.
5. a. There are several reasons why your benefit might increase after you begin receiving it. First, you'll generally receive annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Second, your benefit is recalculated every year to account for new earnings, so it might increase if you continue working. Your benefit might also be adjusted if you qualify for a higher spousal benefit once your spouse files for Social Security.
For more information, visit the Social Security Administration website, ssa.gov.
1Social Security Fact Sheet, 2017 Social Security Changes


TAX TIPS FOR THE SELF-EMPLOYED

Being self-employed has many advantages — the opportunity to be your own boss and come and go as you please, for example. However, it also comes with unique challenges, especially when it comes to how to handle taxes. Whether you're running your own business or thinking about starting one, you'll want to be aware of the specific tax rules and opportunities that apply to you.
Understand the self-employment tax
When you worked for an employer, payroll taxes to fund Social Security and Medicare were split between you and your employer. Now you must pay a self-employment tax equal to the combined amount that an employee and employer would pay. You must pay this tax if you had net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment.
The self-employment tax rate on net earnings (up to $127,200 in 2017) is 15.3%, with 12.4% going toward Social Security and 2.9% allotted to Medicare. Any amount over the earnings threshold is generally subject only to the Medicare payroll tax. However, self-employment and wage income above $200,000 is generally subject to a 0.9% additional Medicare tax. (For married individuals filing jointly, the 0.9% additional tax applies to combined self-employment and wage income over $250,000. For married individuals filing separately, the threshold is $125,000.)
If you file Form 1040, Schedule C, as a sole proprietor, independent contractor, or statutory employee, the net income listed on your Schedule C (or Schedule C-EZ) is self-employment income and must be included on Schedule SE, which is filed with your Form 1040. Schedule SE is used both to calculate self-employment tax and to report the amount of tax owed. You can deduct one-half of the self-employment tax paid (but not any portion of the Medicare surtax) when you compute the self-employment tax on Schedule SE.
Make estimated tax payments on time
When you're self-employed, you'll need to make quarterly estimated tax payments (using IRS Form 1040-ES) to cover your federal tax liability. You may have to make state estimated tax payments as well.
Estimated tax payments are generally due each year on the 15th of April, June, September, and January. If you fail to make estimated tax payments on time, you may be subject to penalties, interest, and a large tax bill at the end of the tax year. For more information, see IRS Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.
Invest in a retirement plan
If you are self-employed, it is up to you and you alone to save sufficient funds for retirement. Investing in a retirement plan can help you save for retirement and also provide numerous tax benefits.
A number of retirement plans are suited for self-employed individuals:
SEP IRA planSIMPLE IRA planSIMPLE 401(k) plan"Individual" 401(k) plan
The type of retirement plan you choose will depend on your business and specific circumstances. Explore your options and be sure to consider the complexity of each plan. In addition, if you have employees, you may have to provide retirement benefits for them as well. For more information, consult a tax professional or see IRS Publication 560, Retirement Plans for Small Businesses.
Take advantage of business deductions
If you have your own business, you can deduct some of the costs of starting the business, as well as the current operating costs of running that business. To be deductible, business expenses must be both ordinary (common and accepted in your field of business) and necessary (appropriate and helpful for your business).
Since business deductions will lower your taxable income, you should take advantage of any deductions to which you are entitled. You may be able to deduct a variety of business expenses, such as start-up costs, home office expenses, and office equipment.
Deduct health-care expenses
If you qualify, you may be able to benefit from the self-employed health insurance deduction, which would enable you to deduct up to 100% of the cost of health insurance that you provide for yourself, your spouse, your dependents, and employees.
In addition, if you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, you may be able to establish and contribute to a health savings account (HSA), which is a tax-advantaged account into which you can set aside funds to pay qualified medical expenses. Contributions made to an HSA account are generally tax deductible. (Depending upon the state, HSA contributions may or may not be subject to state taxes.)

CAN THE IRS WAIVE THE 60-DAY IRA ROLLOVER DEADLINE?

If you take a distribution from your IRA intending to make a 60-day rollover, but for some reason the funds don't get to the new IRA trustee in time, the tax impact can be significant. In general, the rollover is invalid, the distribution becomes a taxable event, and you're treated as having made a regular, instead of a rollover, contribution to the new IRA. But all may not be lost. The 60-day requirement is automatically waived if all of the following apply:
A financial institution actually receives the funds within the 60-day rollover period.You followed the financial institution's procedures for depositing funds into an IRA within the 60-day period.The funds are not deposited in an IRA within the 60-day rollover period solely because of an error on the part of the financial institution.The funds are deposited within one year from the beginning of the 60-day rollover period.The rollover would have been valid if the financial institution had deposited the funds as instructed.
If you don't qualify for this limited automatic waiver, the IRS can waive the 60-day requirement "where failure to do so would be against equity or good conscience," such as a casualty, disaster, or other event beyond your reasonable control. However, you'll need to request a private letter ruling from the IRS, an expensive proposition — the filing fee alone is currently $10,000.
Thankfully, the IRS has just introduced a third way to seek a waiver of the 60-day requirement: self-certification. Under the new procedure, if you've missed the 60-day rollover deadline, you can simply send a letter to the plan administrator or IRA trustee/custodian certifying that you missed the 60-day deadline due to one of 11 specified reasons. To qualify, you must generally make your rollover contribution to the employer plan or IRA within 30 days after you're no longer prevented from doing so. Also, there is no IRS fee.
The downside of self-certification is that if you're subsequently audited, the IRS can still review whether your contribution met the requirements for a waiver. For this reason, some taxpayers may still prefer the certainty of a private letter ruling from the IRS.


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