After a brutal winter in many parts of the country, summer is finally here. While you’re enjoying the warmer weather, it’s still important to remain diligent about business and personal tax planning. Fortunately, many of the following hot summer tax-planning tips enable taxpayers to combine business with pleasure.
You may be eligible to write off 50% of the cost of business meals and entertainment if you entertain clients before or after a substantial business discussion. For instance, after you hammer out a business deal, you might treat a client to a round of golf and then dinner and drinks at a restaurant. The 50% limit applies to all the qualified expenses, including the amounts you pay for the client, yourself and your significant others.
Summer Tax Tip #2: Throw a Company Picnic
You can generally deduct the cost of a picnic, barbecue or similar get-together. Not only will these events provide your workers with a break from the daily grind, but the 50% limit on meals and entertainment expense deductions also doesn’t apply. There is one caveat: The entire staff must be invited to qualify for the 100% deduction. Otherwise, expenses are deductible under the regular business entertainment rules.
Summer Tax Tip #3: Donate Household Items to Charity
Are you planning to clean out the garage, attic or basement this summer? If so, you’ll probably find household goods — such as used clothing and furniture — that you don’t want or need anymore. Consider donating these items to charity. Assuming they’re still in good condition, you may take a charitable deduction on your 2015 personal tax return based on the current fair market value of any donated items. Use an online guide or consult your tax professional for valuations.
Summer Tax Tip #4: Send the Kids to Camp
Parents who need to work may decide to send young children to summer camp while school is out. Assuming certain requirements are met, the cost of camp may qualify for a dependent care credit. Generally, the maximum credit is $600 for one child and $1,200 for two or more kids. But this tax break is available only for the cost of a day camp, including specialty camps for athletics or the arts. Overnight camp doesn’t qualify.
Summer Tax Tip #5: Buy an RV or Boat
If you purchase a recreational vehicle (RV) or boat for personal use this summer, you can deduct annual state sales taxes paid during the year in lieu of your state and local income taxes. This option is particularly appealing in locales with no (or low) state and local income taxes.
Taxpayers who choose to deduct sales taxes based on the optional IRS table (instead of tracking actual expenses) may write off the sales tax for certain high-cost items like RVs, boats and cars in addition to the table amount. For additional tax saving opportunities related to RVs and boats, see “Don’t Sleep on This Tax Break” at right.
Summer Tax Tip #6: Minimize Vacation Home Use
Federal tax law allows you to deduct expenses related to renting out a vacation home to offset the rental income you receive. With summer already underway, you’ve probably worked out a rental schedule for your vacation home, but remember that you can’t deduct a loss if your personal use of the home exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the time the home is rented out. Watch your personal use to ensure you remain below the 14-day or 10% limit.
Summer Tax Top #7: Rent Out Your Primary Residence
Do you live in an area where a summertime event — such as the U.S. Open golf tournament, the Hampton Classic horse show or the San Francisco Marathon — will be held? If you rent out your home for no more than two weeks, you don’t have to comply with the usual tax rules. In other words, you aren’t taxed on the rental income — it’s completely tax-free — but you can’t deduct rental-based expenses either.
Summer Tax Tip #8: Harvest Investment Gains or Losses
Summer is a convenient time to survey your investment portfolio. If you’ve already incurred capital losses from securities transactions this year, any gains you realize between now and the end of the year may be absorbed by those losses. Conversely, if you incurred capital gains from securities transaction earlier this year, the losses you harvest in the second half of the year can offset those gains plus up to $3,000 of ordinary income in 2015.
Summer Tax Tip #9: Generate an Energy Credit
If you replace or upgrade your air conditioning system this summer, you may qualify for a residential energy credit. The credit is equal to 30% of the cost of energy-saving devices, including air conditioners, air circulating fans, doors and skylights. Specific credit limits apply to certain items. For example, there’s a $50 limit for air circulating fans. And there’s an overall lifetime energy credit limit of $500.
Summer Tax Tip #10: Take Advantage of Business Travel
Suppose you’re required to go on a business trip this summer. You can write off your travel expenses as long as the trip’s primary purpose is business-related — even if you indulge in some vacationing. For instance, if you spend the business week in meetings and the weekend sightseeing, the entire cost of your airfare plus business-related meals, lodging and local transportation is deductible within the usual tax law limits. Just don’t deduct any personal expenses you incur on your side-trip.
Summer Tax Tip #11: Support a Recent Graduate
If your child just graduated from college, this is probably the last year you can claim a dependency exemption for him or her. However, you must provide more than half of the child’s annual support to qualify for the $4,000 exemption. To clear the half-support threshold, consider giving the graduate a generous graduation gift, such as a car to be used on the first job. Unfortunately, dependency exemptions may be reduced for high-income taxpayers.
Summer Tax Tip #12: “Go Fishing” for Deductions
The IRS won’t allow you to claim deductions for an “entertainment facility,” such as a boat or hunting lodge. But you can still write off qualified out-of-pocket entertainment expenses, subject to the 50% limit. For example, if you take a client out on your boat, no depreciation deduction is allowed — but you may be eligible to write off the costs of boat fuel, food and drinks, and even the fish bait, if you qualify under the usual business entertainment rules.
More Tips Available
These are just a dozen possibilities to consider. Your tax adviser may have many other ideas. With the proper planning, you can bask in the sun and tax-saving opportunities all summer long.
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