Thinking About Becoming An Enrolled Agent ?

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Thinking About Becoming An Enrolled Agent ?

Mar 25, 2017 Posted by Sanjiv No Comments

 Do you want to be called a tax expert? Is it your goal to represent taxpayers before the IRS? Do you desire to be respected as a professional?  If so, you should work towards becoming an enrolled agent or EA.

Enrolled agents are specialists who represent the cream of the crop when it comes to taxation. They are the only federally recognized tax practitioners who can represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service.

EAs and CPAs can help taxpayers facing the various tax problems:

  • Tax evasion
  • Tax fraud
  • Tax debt
  • Failure to file/pay tax penalties
  • IRS audit
  • Tax liens
  • Tax levies
  • Unfiled tax returns
  • Appeals
  • Collection issues

There are only less than 50,000 practicing EAs in the United States, according to the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).

The relatively small number of practicing enrolled agents in the US can be attributed to the expertise necessary to become one, as well as the stringent requirements for maintaining the license.

While it isn’t easy to become an enrolled agent, the rewards are more than worth it, so to speak.  Enrolled agents are highly in demand. They are needed by law and accounting firms.  These professionals can also find employment in banks and investment firms. Some pros also choose to put up their own private practice.

How to Become an Enrolled Agent

 Unlike other professional designations, there is no educational requirement for a person wanting to become an enrolled agent.

However, you must prove your knowledge on tax related matters by either passing the EA exam or working with the IRS for at least five years.

The EA exam is also called the Special Enrollment exam. It consists of three parts, with each one testing your knowledge on taxation.

The first part concerns individual taxpayers, covering sections on income and assets, deduction and credits, taxpayer information, taxation and advice, and returns for individuals.

The second part focuses on business entities with sections on businesses, specialized returns and tax payers, and business financial information. It is widely considered by EAs as the toughest section in the exam.

The third part focuses on representation, practice, and procedure.

Aside from passing the test, you will be subjected to a thorough investigation conducted by the IRS.

Maintaining Certification 

If you successfully passed the exam, you will be federally recognized as an enrolled agent. However, you will need to do the following to maintain your certification:

  1. Renew your Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) annually.
  2. Renew your status as an EA every three years
  3. Undergo 72 hours of continuing education (CE) every three years. There’s a minimum requirement of 16 hours of CE per year, with at least two hours on ethics.  The need to undergo at least two hours of ethics training annually is in line with the Department of Treasury’s Circular 230.

 Joining Professional Organizations

 There are numerous professional organizations of enrolled agents. The NAEA is perhaps the biggest and most prestigious of them.

The Washington, DC-based organization aims to promote the highest level of professionalism, skills, and knowledge among its members. It is also a staunch advocate of taxpayer rights.

Established in 1972 as an offshoot of the Chicago-based National Association of Enrolled Federal Tax Accountants, the NAEA has grown into a large organization with more than 11,000 members.

Those members are demanded to take 30 hours of CE every calendar year, or 14 hours more than the 16 hours set by the IRS. They are then required to report the number of hours of CE they’ve garnered in the past year for renewal of their membership in the upcoming year.

The NAEA lets its members earn missing CE hours in the next calendar year to make up for the less than 30 hours that they accumulated in the previous year.

NAEA Membership Benefits

 While there are other professional groups of enrolled agents, the NAEA is widely considered to be the most prestigious in the country. Aside from completing annual continuing education that surpasses the requirements of the IRS, NAEA members are known to abide by a code of ethics. They also conduct themselves in a very professional manner.

Once you become an enrolled agent, you should aim to join the NAEA. Becoming a member of this organization opens the door to numerous professional benefits such as:

  1. Continuing education. Members of NAEA can participate in seminars, conferences, and conventions that can update their skills and knowledge, and set them up for success. Some of the more common CE topics include ethics, tax preparation, accounting, advanced IRS summons, among others.
  1. Participation in year-long events. NAEA conducts seminars, conventions, and meetings during the entire year. These events provide networking and educational opportunities to its members.

A key event in the NAEA calendar is the NAEA national conference. This is the only annual educational event in the country designed particularly for Circular 230 practitioners looking to focus on client representation before the IRS. The event is anchored by the National Tax Practice Institute.

  1. Enhanced reputation. NAEA works to spread the word about the benefits of hiring an enrolled agent. It taps both traditional media such as print and broadcast and social media to effectively increase the public’s knowledge about enrolled agents, and thereby enhance the potential value of EA to taxpayers. Simply put, the organization strives to make the taxpaying public more appreciative of the value of enrolled agents.
  1. Information sharing. The NAEA offers a tax knowledge base where members can look for answers to some of the more frequently asked questions of tax practitioners.
  1. Marketing tools and membership discounts. The organization offers discounts for office supplies and software that their members can use in their respective offices.

Participating in NAEA Courses

 The NAEA as well as its state affiliates are known to host numerous continuing education (CE) courses. These courses are held all year-round and provide an opportunity for current EAs to hone their skills and keep themselves updated on the latest taxation issues.

Should you become an EA and eventually a member of the NAEA, you can browse the organization’s website, www.naea.org to find and apply for an organization-sanctioned course.

The website features the “Continuing Education” section where you and other EAs associated with the group can learn more about the requirements for continuing education credits.

There’s also the “Calendar” section in the website where NAEA events for the entire year are posted.  The events range from quarterly meetings, annual conventions, and seminars. Attending these events not only provide enrolled agents with the opportunity to earn CE credits, but also get some relaxation in a world-class resort.

For 2017, some of the cities where NAEA courses are scheduled to be held are Orlando, Las Vegas, Denver, and Reno.

Enrolled agents, thus, can improve their skills and knowledge, maintain their certification, and renew their NAEA membership while getting treated to a few days of leisure and vacation.

From a professional standpoint, NAEA courses also provide enrolled agents with the opportunity to network with some of the most dedicated tax professionals and learn from accomplished  tax authorities in the country.

NAEA and its state affiliates, in fact, offer its courses even to non-members.  There are seminars which are open to enrolled agents who are not members of the NAEA and its state affiliates. Signing up for a NAEA course may also benefits like complimentary membership, special member discounts, and access to special publications.

It is also possible to get discounts if a group of enrolled agents participates in a NAEA course. The NAEA and its state affiliates usually give discounts to groups of three or more colleagues who are joining a seminar, convention, or conference.

Enrolled agents can also attend one or two days of multiple-day seminars. The NAEA offers one-day only rates for most of its courses, meaning that EAs don’t have to attend the entire course.

The easiest way to register to any NAEA course is through the Internet. The NAEA website, as well as those of NAEA’s state affiliates, usually have downloadable PDF registration forms which enrolled agents can fill out to signify their participation in a particular course.

How to Save in NAEA Courses Participation

 Truth to be told, participation fees in NAEA courses and events aren’t cheap. The cost of participating in a continuing education course can run to hundreds of dollars. The cost may also be affected by other factors such as the location as well as the number of days of the event.

Yet enrolled agents can deduct the costs of their participation in NAEA courses in their next tax returns. After all, these are considered travel expenses which are defined by the IRS as common and accepted in a trade or business.

Enrolled agents can claim most of the expenses they incur while attending a NAEA organized event or conference. They can write off registration costs, lodging expenses, 50 percent of their meals, and incidental expenses.

Communication-related expenses during a NAEA convention, such as business calls and fax machine fees, may also be written off by enrolled agents. The same goes for other ordinary and necessary expenses related to the business travel like dry cleaning and laundry as well as tips paid for any expenses during the convention.

Transportation expenses can also be written off by enrolled agents who participate in a NAEA course. These include airfare, bus fare, or taxi fare between the enrolled agent’s home and the location of the event.

Since most NAEA events are held in the United States, enrolled agents should have no problems claiming the expenses they incurred in participating in a NAEA continuing education course. However, it is worth mentioning that even conventions held outside the United States may be deducted as a legitimate travel expense.

These include countries such as Aruba, Bermuda, Bahamas, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Republic of Palau, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Honduras, among others.

Of course, enrolled agents know very well that there are also other factors to be considered in justifying the location of a convention. These include, among others, the residence of the participants, purpose and activities of the convention, and locations of previous events.

Claiming travel expenses in the next tax return isn’t the only way for enrolled agents to save the next time they participate in a NAEA course. They can also seek the assistance of professional EA groups. There are numerous organizations of EAs – and not just the NAEA– that offer scholarship programs to  both current and aspiring enrolled agents.

For example, the California Society of Enrolled Agents offers scholarship to California residents wishing to pursue accounting, finance, and other courses in preparation for the special enrollment preparation.

It also offers scholarship to current EAs in California who wish to take up courses like Tax Court in their desire to broaden their knowledge in the field of taxation.

The NAEA, meanwhile, has its own scholarship program funded by its members. This grant covers the registration expenses of educational programs offered at NAEA conferences.

Joining Online Courses

Enrolled agents may also join online courses or webinars offered by the NAEA.  Online courses are a lot cheaper than seminars, conventions, and other continuing education classes offered by the organization.

Moreover, these courses are suited for enrolled agents who don’t have the time to attend seminars or meetings organized by the NAEA. Participants of online courses can also earn continuing education credits.

There is also a lot of variety in the topics discussed in online courses. Some may be aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skills of enrolled agents such as seminars on tax update, while others may be focused on enabling EAs to improve their practice such as using social media to reach out to more potential customers.

There are a lot of career opportunities awaiting enrolled agents in the United States. Organizations particularly the NAEA are more than willing to help professional growth of EAs. One way to  achieve this is the offering of various NAEA courses such as seminars, conventions, and meetings.  Enrolled agents should be pragmatic enough to grab the opportunity and participate in NAEA courses, whether held in or outside the US.

Hire Your Children To Save Taxes

Jan 19, 2017 Posted by Sanjiv No Comments

Child labor is a subject that has a negative connotation in our society. For most people, it means depriving children of their childhood. It means forcing them to work when they should be at home watching TV, or playing in the fields.

But it is a different matter altogether if the child is employed by his or her parent’s company.

If you have a small business and you have children aged below 18 years old, it is highly recommended that you hire them as employees. It can be a very fulfilling experience to them. It can hasten their growth, develop a sense of pride and self-worth, and teach them to be more responsible.

Moreover, it can save your company thousands of dollars in taxes. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone—your children can be productive during their spare time and you andyour company can get to save a lot of money.

Hiring teen and young adults in a family owned business benefits both parents and the young ones. Parents get to save more as their businesses have lesser tax burden. Children, on the other hand, can be productive and get some extra money for their extracurricular and summertime activities.

Tax Benefits

There are several ways for your company to benefit from hiring your children as workers:

  1. The child’s salary is free from taxes.

You might know that the first $6,300 of income in a fiscal year is free from federal taxes. This is called the Standard Deduction. So if you hire a child as an employee of your firm, you’re basically keeping that amount in the family. Hire someone else and that $6,300 is taken out of you.

That money coming from your own pocket can be used by your son or daughter to buy a car, or go on a vacation. Even better, he can use it to support himself or his college education.

  1. The child’s salary will be tax deductible.

Let’s say that you are hiring your child with an annual pay of $6,300.  You can declare that amount as tax deductible from your business income.  The first $6,300 earned by a child working in his/her parent’s firm is not subject to tax. Yes, this means that your child’s earning will not only be subject to federal income tax tax but also state tax, FICA, or Medicare.

You, as the business owner, meanwhile, can declare that amount as fully deductible. This means that you will get a tax relief based on your child’s salary as an employee of your business.

For instance, your business is in the 35 percent tax bracket. You hire your 14-year old son to work in your office and help you with the filing of documents, or working  with the spreadsheets. For the year, he earns $6,300 in wages. He must also has no other sources of income.

You, as the business owner, stand to save $2,205 since the full amount of his wages will be deductible as compensation.

  1. No FICA taxes.

As mentioned earlier, your child’s salary isn’t subject to FICA tax. This means your firm won’t have to pay FICA taxes on your child’s wages.

However, there are certain requirements for your child’s salary to be exempt from this kind of tax:

  1. Your business is a sole proprietorship
  2. It is a husband-wife partnership
  3. It is a husband-wife LLC considered as husband-wife partnership for tax purposes
  4. It is a single member LLC treated as sole proprietorship for tax purposes

It should be noted that your child’s salary is not exempt from FICA taxes if your business is a corporation. FICA tax exemption is also not applied if the business is a partnership, or one or more partners are not parents of the child.

  1. Setting up retirement savings plan.

What most people don’t realize is that children under 18 can contribute to their own individual retirement account (IRA). This can be a great way for them to get a head start as far as saving and investing money is concerned.

Your child can contribute up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA. He can subtract the amount from their income for tax purposes. However, your child can’t make more contribution to what he earned in a year. So if he earned $5,000 in a year, the maximum IRA contribution he can make is $5,000.

  1. Shifting a parent’s higher taxed income to a child.

Since your child can save by a) having his income exempt from taxes and b) having the option to set up IRA on the income, you can then shift your higher taxed income to him.

Going back to our examples, your son makes $6,300 and then adds $5500 as a contribution to an IRA. Thus he has $11,800 shielded from taxes, and your business can write off that amount as a legit business expense that can reduce your gross income.

That’s the maximum amount that your child can make in a year sans tax. If you give him a higher pay than $6,300 in a year, the next $9,275 will only be taxed at a rate of 10%.

Thus, your son stands to have a tax of just $927.50 for the year on aggregate earnings of $21,075.

You’ll be wise enough to include that amount in your own income as you can incur a tax liability of $10,600. You can save up to $9,672 in taxes by doing so.

Guidelines

There are several things that you should know if you are to hire your kids as employees. Knowing these guidelines should keep the IRS from disallowing your company from claiming said tax exemptions:

  1. He/she must be a real employee.

Your children should be hired as bona fide employees. This means that they have work that is helpful and appropriate for your business. Typical jobs for children include routine office work such as typing jobs, stuffing envelopes, cleaning the office, answering phones, or making deliveries.  Tech-savvy teenagers can help in marketing a company through social media. Or they can help in maintaining the spreadsheets of the firm.

They can’t be hired for jobs that have no connection with your business, like mowing your lawn at home. Suffice to say, children shouldn’t be asked to do household chores and get compensated for it.

Since your child is considered as a real employee, he or she should fill out their timesheets. It is also recommended that they sign a written employment agreement that specifies the duties and work hours of the employee.

  1. The work must be age-appropriate.

The work assigned to your child should be age-appropriate. There’s a chance that a 8 or 9 -year old child can help in some tasks in the office like stuffing envelopes or even making deliveries. But it will be difficult for the IRS to believe that a child aged below that age can perform any useful work for your firm. Employing a 6 or 7 year old for photocopying work or filing can put you in trouble with the IRS.

It’s also a no-no for children aged 16 years and below to work in a dangerous industry. Hence if your business is heavy equipment contracting, you can’t assign your 15-year old son to the field.

  1. Child should comply with legal requirements.

Since the child is considered a real employee, he or she should comply with the same legal requirements as you would when you hire a stranger. Thus, he will have to apply for a Social Security Number and fill out IRS Form W-4. He or she should also complete Form I-9 of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

  1. Compensation must be reasonable.

Simply put, your child’s salary should be consistent with market rates.

Many shrewd business owners would try to give their children a big compensation because it can give them more tax savings in the long run. It would enable them to shift much of their income to their kids who are likely to be in a much lower income tax bracket. But you shouldn’t attempt to do this as the IRS would eventually find out about this if they do an audit.

In paying your children, you should give them a reasonable compensation. The total compensation must include the salary plus all the fringe benefits such as health insurance and medical expense reimbursements.

To get an idea on how much you are to pay your child, you can call an employment agency to see the typical compensation for the type of work that your youngster will do in your business.

  1. Pay in cash.

It’s up to you to decide how much you would pay your son for the services he renders to your business. Just make sure that you pay him in cash if you don’t want to get in trouble with the IRS. Compensation in the form of foods and other things won’t cut it.

There was this case of a tax preparer in Washington who also owned an employment agency. She employed her three children aged 8, 11, and 15. The kids earned a combined $15,000 in two fiscal years for doing tasks like filing and stuffing envelopes. Their mom deducted their salary as business expenses. The IRS disallowed it.

Why?  It’s because the children’s wages was used by their mom to pay for their food, often pizza.  Also, she used the money to pay for their tutor’s fees.

While the mother argued that it was her children who asked her to spend their earnings that way, the Tax Court ruled in favor of the IRS. It noted that it is her parental obligation to provide food and support her children’s education, and the wages of the kids should not be used for these purposes.

  1. Be diligent about documentation and book keeping.

One way to ensure that this arrangement won’t backfire on you is to be diligent about the documentation and book keeping. Doing so would convince federal or state auditor that you reasonably employed your children for your business, and that your tax claims are legit.

Aside from getting all the state permits necessary to employ children, your company’s recordkeeping and payroll tax accounting must also be fool-proof. The payroll for your kids must be done in the same way that an employer would do the payroll for another employee. Paying a fair market rate, as mentioned earlier, would also satisfy the auditors.

  1. Your child should also help your business.

Finally, business owners should not only be concerned with the tax savings they’ll get when they hire their children. They must also be sure that their children can do the tasks assigned to them. The children should be able to help the business, and not just for the tax savings that the firm gets because of them.

Sure, they’ll reduce taxes by employing a child. But if the child doesn’t do a good job at work, then it would probably best to hire another individual to do the job for the firm.

Let’s say that a father hires his 15-year old son to help typing documents in his office. He’s able to save $3,000 in taxes for doing so. But if his son just lounges around the office and doing nothing, then the father didn’t really get the best out of this arrangement. It would have been better for him to hire another person who can actually help his company.

With the tax savings that small business owners can get, it really makes a lot of sense for them to hire their children during summer or even on weekends. The business owner not only stands to save on taxes, but also instils in his/her children values like hard work and responsibility.

If you decide to do this, you should ensure that you do things right. Get your children the necessary permits. Do your accounting cleanly. And give them real wages—not slices of pizza. If you do things correctly, you can save thousands of dollars in taxes while training your children who could be your successor one day.

tax shelter for business

Tax Shelter Ideas

Feb 23, 2015 Posted by Sanjiv No Comments

Tax Shelter Ideas for Small Business Owners

In general, a tax shelter refers to a program which allows business enterprises or individuals to either defer or reduce payment of income taxes. Such programs may not suit everyone and legitimate ones do involve some level of risk, which not all investors are comfortable to undertake. However, with the correct information, the process of taking advantage of these shelters becomes less involving.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) applies huge discretion when applying tax shelters as this area has traditionally been prone to abusive practices by both individuals and businesses.

How IRS Views Tax Shelters

Tax shelters are defined by the IRS as investments that normally requires making substantial contributions which oftentimes are associated with commensurate risk levels. For an individual, tax shelter implies an investment which involves liability incurred within the short-term, with hopes of making appreciable gains across the long term.

For instance, if someone invested in property situated within a low-income environment, depreciation benefits of such property would be termed as legitimate tax shelter.

The losses or tax deductions which a person can take on potential tax shelter gets limited to total worth of investment or amount at risk. The amount viewed as being “at risk” for example might get limited to:

  • Adjusted basis of property
  • Cash invested
  • Loans taken for which someone bears personal responsibility to repay

Treatment of Losses

It is vital gaining the understanding that business activity losses or credits are easily considered passive activity losses or credits. These may only be utilized for offsetting income from different passive activities. You cannot utilize them for offsetting income sources like wages, dividends or interest. Passive losses generated in excess from any tax shelter can be carried forward, or till the investor sells off the asset.

Take care of tax shelters which get marketed with promises of write-offs being more significant that the invested amount. IRS considers such as Abusive Tax Shelters. People generally make investments with hopes of generating huge amounts of profits. Legitimate shelters involve a certain level of risk, cut down fairly on taxes and generate income. If IRS takes note of someone operating an abusive scheme, the individual is then required to pay tax owed along with penalties and interest.

Legitimate Tax Shelters

It is vital knowing how to identify a questionable program. You may achieve this goal by adhering to three primary rules in order to distinguish between legal and illegal tax shelters as follows:

  • If the primary purpose of a given transaction is lowering taxes and not offering other economic gains to parties involved, consider such a business deal unethical or questionable.
  • Transactions involving exchange of goods, assets or even services at prices which lie well below the fair market value should be viewed with suspicion.
  • If the interest rate paid to a different party is unusually high or low, with the sole intention being sheltering income from taxes, such an arrangement should be seen as unethical.

Tax Accrual Work-Papers

The IRS maintains a policy of requesting tax accrual along with other financial audit work-papers that relate to tax reserves. This applies to deferred tax liabilities and footnotes which disclose contingent tax liabilities that appear in audited financial statements.

Owning a legitimate auto repair business enables you take advantage of numerous tax deductions, which are unavailable to mere employees. This includes partial deductions to expenses incurred on housing, automobile, entertainment and meals as well as cell-phone expenditure.

While some expenses get deducted within a year, others get spread out over a number of years.

You can write off full cost of new furniture and computers within this year as per IRS Code Section 179. This might not be significant to a relatively new business that may not generate a lot of income within at first. A wiser strategy therefore might be deferring some portion of deductible expenditure to years in future, which accountants call “depreciation”.

You may deduct some portion of “start-up costs” if this year is your first in business. However, beyond a certain level you will require spreading the remainder of associated costs across your tax returns for the next several years. This practice is termed “amortization” in accounting.

Remember not to overlook the expenses below when filing tax returns:

  • Legal and Accounting Fees
  • Website/ Advertising costs
  • Association Dues
  • Truck and Auto Expense
  • Computer Expense
  • Bank Charges
  • Subscriptions and Dues
  • Training and Education
  • Furniture and Equipment
  • Home Office Expense
  • Gifts
  • Insurance
  • Permits and Licenses
  • Postage and Delivery
  • Meals and Entertainment
  • Printing
  • Office Administration Fees and Rent
  • Maintenance and Repairs
  • Start Up Costs
  • Retirement Savings
  • Materials and Supplies
  • Telephone
  • Travel
  • Taxes (Payroll Tax, Property Tax etc)

Knowing the tax code is important for anyone who owns a business and IRS Publication 463 spells out on available business tax credits relating to travel, entertainment, gift as well as car expenses. Think about hiring services of a tax professional to aid in preparing tax returns for your auto repair business.

Major Student Loan Defaults : Another Financial Disaster

Mar 3, 2012 Posted by Sanjiv No Comments

A nationwide survey of US bankruptcy attorneys has revealed that four out of five more clients have been found to be struggling with student loans. It has been noticed that the number of student loan debtors have increased drastically over the last few years. About 25% of 860 attorneys found that their number of student loan cases has increased by more than 50 percent as reported by the National Association of the Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. The picture currently is such that it looks a lot like the nation is about to face a huge catastrophic financial meltdown.

This disturbing trend has raised an alarm in the nation. Most of the bankruptcy attorneys interviewed have reported that very student loan debtors have a chance to get rid of their loan owing to hardship. Most of the attorneys are finding it difficult to separately classify student loan debts to debtors.  Some attorneys who were surveyed say that some cases are almost 15 years old and are still being pursued. This spells for a huge loss for both the lenders and the debtors.

Student Loan Solution By Sanjiv Gupta CPA

After an array of surveys conducted it has been found that it is not only the school goers who are faced with this problem but also college students. College tuition fees are also spiraling way out of limit which have resulted in more students taking loans to pay college fees. With so many college students being burdened under debt the chances of going bankrupt is huge. Of the borrowers who started their repayment schedule on the year of graduation, almost 25 percent of them have failed to return the loan later and 15 percent have dropped out. Another newspaper group says that seniors who graduated with loans in 2010 owe a tax amount of $25,250 which is a 5 percent boost from the previous year.  With the growing unemployment situation they failed to pay back the loans.

Another research into this situation has revealed that it is not just the students who are shouldering the burdens but also the parents. Guardians who cosigned loans to help pay for their children’s education are also facing trouble. Loans to parents have seen a major jump to 75 percent since the year 2005-2006. Parents share an average of $34,000 in student loan the study reports. This figure will eventually rise to $50,000 over a standard 10 year loan repayment period. This makes the situation bleaker and the future unstable!

The study also reports that due to the current unemployment situation people in the age group 35-49 are found to be borrowing loans more often. This is so as many out of work Americans are opting for retraining and new educational degrees in order to bag a job. The report thus warns that this blossoming student debt brings in the possibility of a major economic threat to America.

Are you planning on taking a Student Loan ? Have you consulted with your CPA ?