Accounting and Tax Partnerships

How Income Taxes Work

Tip: Refund Stats. The average refund during 2016 was about $2,851.
Source: Internal Revenue Service, 2017

The Internal Revenue Service estimates that taxpayers and businesses spend 6.1 billion hours a year complying with tax-filing requirements. To put this into perspective, if all this work were done by a single company, it would need about three million full-time employees and be one of the largest industries in the U.S.¹

As complex as the details of taxes can be, the income tax process is fairly straightforward. However, the majority of Americans would rather not understand the process, which explains why more than half hire a tax professional to assist in their annual filing.²

The tax process starts with income, and generally, most income received is taxable. A taxpayer’s gross income includes income from work, investments, interest, pensions, as well as other sources. The income from all these sources is added together to arrive at the taxpayers’ gross income.

What’s not considered income? Child support payments, gifts, inheritances, workers’ compensation benefits, welfare benefits, or cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer.³

From gross income, adjustments are subtracted. These adjustments may include alimony, retirement plan contributions, half of self-employment, and moving expenses, among other items.

The result is the adjusted gross income.

From adjusted gross income, deductions are subtracted. With deductions, taxpayers have two choices: the standard deduction or itemized deductions, whichever is greater. The standard deduction amount varies based on filing status, as shown on this chart:

Deduction Amounts

Itemized deductions can include state and local taxes, charitable contributions, the interest on a home mortgage, certain unreimbursed job expenses, and even the cost of having your taxes prepared, among other things.

Once deductions have been subtracted, the personal exemption is subtracted. For the 2017 tax year, the personal exemption amount is $4,050, regardless of filing status.

The result is taxable income. Taxable income leads to gross tax liability.

Fast Fact: No Pencil and Paper. The IRS reports that about 40% of taxpayers use tax preparation software. Source: IRS, 2017

But it’s not over yet.

Any tax credits are then subtracted from the gross tax liability. Taxpayers may receive credits for a variety of items, including energy-saving improvements.

The result is the taxpayer’s net tax.

Understanding how the tax process works is one thing. Doing the work is quite another. Remember, this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please consult a tax professional for specific information regarding your individual situation.

  1. September 28, 2016
  2. U.S. News and World Report, March 2, 2016
  3. The tax code allows an individual to gift up to $14,000 per person in 2017 without triggering any gift or estate taxes. An individual can give away up to $5,490,000 without owing any federal tax. Couples can leave up to $10,980,000 without owing any federal tax. Also, keep in mind that some states may have their own estate tax regulations.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.


Tax Management Strategies


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Tax Deductions You Won't Believe

While Americans are entitled to take every legitimate deduction to manage their taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) places limits on your creativity. Here are some examples of deductions from the IRS that were permitted and some that were, well, too creative.¹

Creative Deductions that Passed Muster

Usually a child’s school-related costs are not deductible. However, one taxpayer was allowed to deduct the cost of travel, room and board as a medical expense for sending their child with respiratory problems to a school in Arizona.

Pet food typically doesn’t qualify as a write-off, except in the case where a business owner successfully argued that it was a legitimate expense to feed a cat protecting their inventory from vermin.

Does your child have an overbite? If so, you may find that the IRS is okay with a medical deduction for the cost of a clarinet (and lessons) to correct it.

A deduction for a swimming pool won’t float with the IRS, except if you have emphysema and are under doctor’s orders to improve breathing capacity through exercise. The deduction, however, was limited to the cost that exceeded the increase in property value. And yes, ongoing maintenance costs are deductible as medical expenses.

Deductions that Were Too Creative

The cost of a mink coat that a business owner bought for his wife to wear to dinner for entertaining clients was denied even though he claimed it was an integral part of dinner conversation and provided entertainment value.

Despite having dry skin, one taxpayer was denied a deduction for bath oil as a medical expense.

Losses associated with theft may be deductible, but one taxpayer went too far in deducting the loss of memories when her photos and other life souvenirs were discarded by her landlord.

One business owner reported an insurance payment as income, but then deducted the cost of the arsonist as a “consulting fee.”

Don’t expect taxpayers to pay for enhancements to self-image. Just ask the ballerina who tried to deduct a tummy tuck or the woman who tried to write off her Botox expenses.

Creativity is not something that the IRS typically rewards, so you should be careful testing the limits of its understanding. Seek the counsel of an experienced tax or legal professional for specific information regarding your situation.

  1. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.


Understanding Marginal Income Tax Brackets

Tip: High Bracket. In 1944, the highest federal income tax bracket was 94%. It applied to all income above $200,000 a year and applied to all taxpayers, regardless of filing status.
Source: Tax Policy Center, 2017

By any measure, the tax code is huge. According to Commerce Clearing House's Standard Federal Tax Reporter it's up to 74,608 pages in length.¹

And each Monday, the Internal Revenue Service publishes a 20- to 50- page bulletin about various aspects of the tax code.²

Fortunately, it’s not necessary to wade through these massive libraries to understand how income taxes work. Understanding a few key concepts may provide a solid foundation.

One of the key concepts is marginal income tax brackets.

Taxpayers pay the tax rate in a given bracket only for that portion of their overall income that falls within that bracket’s range.

Tax Works

Fast Fact: First Brackets. In 1913 — immediately after the 16th Amendment gave Congress the power to levy taxes on income — the government set up a system of seven federal income tax brackets with rates ranging between 1% and 7%. Less than one in 100 people had to pay even the lowest rate.
Source: OurDocuments.gov, 2017; IRS, September 28, 2016

Seeing how marginal income tax brackets work is helpful because it shows the progressive nature of income taxes. It also helps you visualize how your total tax rate can be calculated. But remember, this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please consult a tax professional for specific information regarding your individual situation.

How Federal Income Tax Brackets Work

Say a married couple, filing jointly, in 2017, had a taxable income of $175,000. Each dollar over $153,100—or $21,900—would fall into the 28% federal income tax bracket. However, the couples' total federal tax would have been $35,885—just about 20%, of their adjusted gross income.

How Federal Income Tax Works

This is a hypothetical example used for illustrative purposes only. It assumes no tax credits apply.

2017 Federal Income Tax Brackets

Your federal income tax bracket is determined by two factors: your total income and your tax-filing classification.

For the 2017 tax year, there are seven tax brackets for ordinary income — ranging from 10% to 39.6% — and four classifications: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, and head of household.

2011 Federal Income Tax Brackets

  1. Washington Examiner, April 15, 2016
  2. Internal Revenue Service, 2016

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.


What If You Get Audited?

Tip: The chance of being audited rises with income level. In 2016, only 0.6% of those with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 were audited; 2.1% of those with incomes between $500,000 and $1 million were audited; and 18.8% of those with incomes over $10 million were audited.
Source: Internal Revenue Service, 2017

“Audit” is a word that can strike fear into the hearts of taxpayers.

However, the chances of an Internal Revenue Service audit aren’t that high. In 2016, the IRS audited 0.7% of all individual tax returns.¹

And being audited does not necessarily imply that the IRS suspects wrongdoing. The IRS says an audit is just a formal review of a tax return to ensure information is being reported according to current tax law and to verify that the information itself is accurate.

The IRS selects returns for audit using three main methods.²

  • Random Selection. Some returns are chosen at random based on the results of a statistical formula.
  • Information Matching. The IRS compares reports from payers — W2 forms from employers, 1099 forms from banks and brokerages, and others — to the returns filed by taxpayers. Those that don’t match may be examined further.
  • Related Examinations. Some returns are selected for an audit because they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers whose returns have been selected for examination.

There are a number of sound tax practices that may reduce the chances of an audit.

Fast Fact: Generally, the IRS audits returns within three years of their being filed. If it identifies substantial errors, it can go back further. Even then, the IRS will generally not go back further than six years.
Source: Internal Revenue Service, 2017

  • Provide Complete Information. Among the most commonly overlooked information is missing Social Security numbers — including those for any dependent children and ex-spouses.
  • Avoid Math Errors. When the IRS receives a return that contains math errors, it assesses the error and sends a notice without following its normal deficiency procedures.
  • Match Your Statements. The numbers on any W-2 and 1099 forms must match the returns to which they are tied. Those that don’t match may be flagged for an audit.
  • Don’t Repeat Mistakes. The IRS remembers those returns it has audited. It may check to make sure past errors aren’t repeated.
  • Keep Complete Records. This won’t reduce the chance of an audit, but it potentially may make it much easier to comply with IRS requests for documentation.

Remember, the information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

Audits Have Changed

Most audits don’t involve face-to-face meetings with IRS agents or representatives. In 2015, the latest year for which data is available, 71% were actually conducted through the mail; only 29% involved face-to-face meetings.

Audits Have Changed

Internal Revenue Service, 2016

  1. Internal Revenue Service, 2016 
  2. Internal Revenue Service, 2016

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.


WHAT IF YOU GET AUDITED?

Tip: The chance of being audited rises with income level. In 2016, only 0.6% of those with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 were audited; 2.1% of those with incomes between $500,000 and $1 million were audited; and 18.8% of those with incomes over $10 million were audited.
Source: Internal Revenue Service, 2017

“Audit” is a word that can strike fear into the hearts of taxpayers.

However, the chances of an Internal Revenue Service audit aren’t that high. In 2016, the IRS audited 0.7% of all individual tax returns.¹

And being audited does not necessarily imply that the IRS suspects wrongdoing. The IRS says an audit is just a formal review of a tax return to ensure information is being reported according to current tax law and to verify that the information itself is accurate.

The IRS selects returns for audit using three main methods.²

  • Random Selection. Some returns are chosen at random based on the results of a statistical formula.
  • Information Matching. The IRS compares reports from payers — W2 forms from employers, 1099 forms from banks and brokerages, and others — to the returns filed by taxpayers. Those that don’t match may be examined further.
  • Related Examinations. Some returns are selected for an audit because they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers whose returns have been selected for examination.

There are a number of sound tax practices that may reduce the chances of an audit.

Fast Fact: Generally, the IRS audits returns within three years of their being filed. If it identifies substantial errors, it can go back further. Even then, the IRS will generally not go back further than six years.
Source: Internal Revenue Service, 2017

  • Provide Complete Information. Among the most commonly overlooked information is missing Social Security numbers — including those for any dependent children and ex-spouses.
  • Avoid Math Errors. When the IRS receives a return that contains math errors, it assesses the error and sends a notice without following its normal deficiency procedures.
  • Match Your Statements. The numbers on any W-2 and 1099 forms must match the returns to which they are tied. Those that don’t match may be flagged for an audit.
  • Don’t Repeat Mistakes. The IRS remembers those returns it has audited. It may check to make sure past errors aren’t repeated.
  • Keep Complete Records. This won’t reduce the chance of an audit, but it potentially may make it much easier to comply with IRS requests for documentation.

Remember, the information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

Audits Have Changed

Most audits don’t involve face-to-face meetings with IRS agents or representatives. In 2015, the latest year for which data is available, 71% were actually conducted through the mail; only 29% involved face-to-face meetings.

Audits Have Changed

Internal Revenue Service, 2016

  1. Internal Revenue Service, 2016 
  2. Internal Revenue Service, 2016

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.