August 2017 Tax Newsletter

Your HSA as a retirement tool - the facts
Hitting the jackpot on gambling losses
Is it worth filing an amended tax return?
Learn from the 'best places to work'
Have adult children? Take steps to avoid medical access denial.

Your HSA as a retirement tool - the facts

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are a great way to pay for medical expenses, and since unused funds roll over from year to year, the account can also provide a source of retirement funds in addition to other plans like 401(k)s or IRAs. But be awareof how HSAs compare to other retirement investment tools.

• HSAs work best when they are used to pay for qualified medical expenses. Neither your original contributions to an HSA nor your investment earnings are taxed when used this way.
• There is no required minimum distribution after you reach age 70Ω, like there is with 401(k)s and IRAs.
• You can only contribute to an HSA if you have a high deductible health insurance plan. The downside of these plans is that you pay more out of pocket each year when you need to use health services.
• Annual contributions to HSAs are limited to $3,400 a year for individuals and $6,750 a year for families (add $1,000 for people aged 55 or older).
• HSAs typically have fewer investment options compared with other investment tools including 401(k)s and IRAs. They also often have high management and administrative fees.
• Before you reach age 65, non-medical withdrawals from HSAs come with a whopping 20 percent penalty, plus they are taxed as income.
• Even after age 65, both contributions and earnings are taxed when they are withdrawn for non-medical expenses. In this way, HSAs compare unfavorably with 401(k)s and IRAs, which end their early withdrawal period earlier, at age 59;. They also have lower early withdrawal penalties of just 10 percent.

HSAs are a powerful tool to help manage the ever-rising costs of health care. Knowing the rules and the costs associated with them can help you position an HSA with your other retirement options.

Hitting the jackpot on gambling losses

Gambling may not be for everyone but many people occasionally place wagers at the track or indulge in games of chance. You may be one of them. If you're lucky enough to hit a jackpot, or even if you have relatively modest winnings, the IRS expects you to report those amounts as taxable income. On the other hand, you can reduce the tax on those winnings with deductible losses from your other gambling activities. Perhaps one of the best benefits of this tax deduction is that it can be claimed without meeting the usual tax law requirements for similar miscellaneous expenses.

The winning thresholds that require reporting vary by gambling activity, but generally, if you receive $600 or more from gambling activities during the year, you must report the income on your annual tax return. This includes winnings from trips to the casino and racetrack and even the bingo games at your local house of worship. It doesn't matter if the money goes to a private business or a charity.

Fortunately, you can offset the tax by claiming gambling losses, up to the amount of your winnings. But you can't claim any loss for the excess. You are strictly limited by this rule.

Now here's the kicker: Normally, you can deduct only miscellaneous expenses above 2 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). But this doesn't apply to gambling losses. Therefore, your losses are fully deductible down to the penny!

It's important to keep track of your losses through detailed records. For instance, if you bet at the track, log your wagers for each race and supplement it with documentation like losing ticket stubs. Similarly, if you're playing blackjack at a casino, list the amounts won and lost at each table. Bingo players should record the number of games played, the cost of cards, and amounts collected on winning cards. If your activities rise to the level of being a "professional" gambler, you can deduct all of your losses, even if they exceed your winnings. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.

Is it worth filing an amended tax return?

Suppose you just glanced at the 2016 tax return you filed in April and noticed an error or omission. Or maybe you remembered a deduction you neglected to include on your return from the prior year. Is it too late to fix things?

Not at all. As long as you meet the statutory deadline, you can file an amended return for the appropriate tax year, even if the original return was filed only a short time ago. But the question remains: Should you do it? The answer: It depends. There are several factors to consider in this decision, including the amount of tax at stake, whether the IRS owes you money, or you owe the IRS.

If the IRS owes you money, it may not be worth the extra cost and inconvenience of filing an amended return when the differential is insignificant. On the other hand, if you have a legitimate gripe and the refund would be substantial, go ahead and file an amended return. Many people suspect that filing an amended return increases your likelihood of being subject to an audit, but the IRS denies this.

If you owe the IRS money, the amount of the discrepancy is not as important. Typically you should file an amended return and pay the difference you owe as soon as you can. Otherwise, you run the risk of being assessed extra interest and penalties on top of the regular income tax that is rightfully due.

The deadline for filing an amended return is three years from the original due date and the IRS generally has the same three years to review your return. The audit period is extended to six years if you've underreported income by 25% or more. There is no time limit if fraud is involved. Still not sure if filing an amended return is the right move in your case?

If you have questions, contact us.

Learn from the 'best places to work'

Google, Facebook, and Southwest Airlines are among the top five companies on job search site Indeed's "Best Places to Work 2017" list. You may not have the resources of these large companies, but you can incorporate some of their ideas into your company's culture.

Respect. The best companies cultivate a culture of respect, according to a poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management. Employees say they feel valued by their leaders and their coworkers regardless of their background, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender.

Opportunities for growth. Leaders at the best companies evaluate staff regularly and look for ways to challenge them in new areas.

Communication is key. At the best companies, leaders and staff talk constantly. The organization regularly seeks feedback about its culture, practices, and operational challenges. Leaders are accessible and open to discussion about business problems and successes.

Clear goals. The best companies openly state well-defined objectives and the steps required to achieve them, according to Fortune magazine.

Accountability. The best companies make sure workers are confident they'll be rewarded for performance and held responsible for achieving their objectives.

Bottom line: When you treat your employees with respect and keep challenging them, they're less likely to leave for greener pastures.

Have adult children? Take steps to avoid medical access denial.

Imagine your college-aged daughter has an accident while away at school and ends up in the emergency room. When you call the hospital, you are denied information about her care because you do not have the proper forms signed. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you do not have legal access to your child's health information after they reach age 18, even if your child is still your dependent and their health insurance coverage is in your name. To avoid this administrative nightmare, take the following steps.

1. Make sure your health insurance coverage will cover your child at his or her new campus home.
2. Have your son or daughter sign a HIPAA authorization form allowing you access to their medical information.
3. Create a multipurpose medical power of attorney authorization, which will not only give you authorization to help make medical decisions, it can also include an advance directive or living will.
4. Scan two copies of these documents - one for you and one for your child - and keep them in a secure place along with a copy of your student's insurance card.