Two tax-smart ideas for your tax refund

Are you looking forward to your tax refund? By now you know how much you’ll be getting and approximately when the cash will land in your bank account. The only question is, what’s the best way to put the money to work for you?

Here are two tax-smart ideas.

Fund your IRA. Depending on your income, making a contribution to a Traditional IRA could result in a deduction on next year’s tax return – and possibly a credit of as much as $2,000. For 2016, you can contribute a maximum of $5,500 to your IRA. Add another $1,000 for a total of $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older.

Invest in knowledge. Establish a qualified tuition plan, commonly called a Section 529 plan, or a Coverdell Education Savings Account. While contributions are not tax-deductible, the account earnings grow tax-free, and distributions used for educational expenses are also generally tax-free.

Do you need work-related training? Education required by your employer or courses that improve or maintain skills necessary for your present job, can qualify for a deduction.

Give us a call if you would like to talk about how these options apply to your tax situation.

 

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Taxable or not taxable? The taxability of income, gifts, or services you receive,

Have you ever wondered about the taxability of funds or services you receive? There are many areas in the tax code that cause confusion regarding what’s taxable. These are some of the most common.

Alimony. Alimony is taxable to the person who receives it and deductible to the person who pays it. Special rules apply. Make sure you have proper documentation as part of a divorce decree to ensure you can support your tax position.

Child support. Child support is not taxable to the person who receives it on behalf of their dependent. It is also not deductible for the person who pays it.

Free services. Free service is almost always taxable as ordinary income under IRS barter regulations. You should report the fair market value of services received as income on your tax return. If you exchange services, you can deduct allowable business expenses against the value of services received.

Illegal activities. Even income received from illegal activities is taxable income and must be reported. Incredibly, the IRS even states that stolen items should be reported at the fair market value on the date the thief stole the item.

Jury duty pay. This is taxable as ordinary income. Yes, even doing your civic duty can be a taxable event.

Legal settlements. A general rule of thumb with legal settlements is to consider what the settlement replaces. If the settlement revenue replaces a taxable item, like lost wages, the settlement often creates taxable income. This area is complex and often requires a detailed review.

Life insurance proceeds. Generally life insurance proceeds paid to you because of the death of an insured are not taxable. However, there are a number of exceptions to this general rule. For example, if you receive benefits in installments above the value of the life insurance policy at time of death, or if you receive a cash payout of a policy, you could have taxable income.

Prizes. Most prizes received should be reported as ordinary income using the fair market value of the item received. This area has been a major surprise to contestants on game shows and celebrities who have received large gifts at celebrations like the Academy Awards.

Unemployment compensation. Typically unemployment compensation is to be reported as taxable income. Many are confused by this because of a temporary federal tax law that made unemployment compensation non-taxable during the recent economic recession. This is no longer the case.

Some of these areas can be complicated. What is most important is to realize when to discuss your situation. Call us if you need help.

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Building customer loyalty – A few basics

Studies have shown that businesses often spend five to six times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. Over the long term, those dollars add up. In fact, a company’s ability to care for its customers often determines its survivability in the marketplace. Make customers happy and they’ll stick with you; disappoint them and they’ll tell their friends.

Building customer loyalty is a matter of focusing on the basics. Does your company need to refocus on any of them?

Hire friendly people. You have probably visited a business where you encountered a grumpy salesperson or a bashful receptionist. Unlikeable staff will not generate repeat business. The staff you employ should enjoy interacting with people. If your employees regularly hide out in the back room instead of greeting clients, it’s time to take a hard look at your hiring practices.

Request customer feedback. This can be as simple as spending a few minutes with a customer to inquire about his or her experience with your company. Be specific. Instead of asking “How was our customer service today?”, ask a more specific question like, “Did our salesperson answer all your questions about XYZ product?” You might also establish a focus group of customers to solicit ideas for improving your products and services.

Follow up. If customers spend valuable time providing their opinions via surveys, suggestion boxes, or focus groups, don’t ignore what they have to say. Let them know that you take their ideas seriously and are looking for ways to implement at least some of their suggestions.

Never stop training. Often employees treat customers rudely or disrespectfully because they simply lack training in proper etiquette. Show them the proper way to answer phone calls, how to make eye contact and smile, how to help without being pushy. With a little focused training, most people can learn good customer service skills. Take time upfront to develop these skills in your employees and you’ll reap dividends in customer loyalty.

Model proper behavior. Simply put, the boss should exemplify top-notch customer service. If your employees see you treating clients poorly, don’t be surprised if they assume that such behavior is acceptable.

Remember: it’s easier to keep an existing client than to beat the bushes for a new one. It’s cheaper, too.

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