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Sellwood CPA gives tax tips for minefield of new tax laws

by: David F. Ashton Don’t put off filing your taxes, CPA Minkoff says; get them in on time – or be prepared to pay a hefty penalty.

Over recent decades, federal and tax laws have changed at a relatively leisurely pace, as compared to the last year or so.

'Beware of these numerous changes; they can have a major impact on taxpayers,' was the message from Sellwood CPA Kevin Minkoff, who proclaims himself and his Gateway-District firm proclaims 'Not Your Ordinary Bean Counter'. He was speaking to members and guests of the Foster Area Business Association (FABA) on February 23, when they met at the New Copper Penny in the Lents neighborhood.

'Six or seven years ago, there were 'only' about 9,600 pages of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code,' Minkoff began. 'Today, the IRS Code contains more than 17,000. Most of that 8,000-page increase happened just in the last two years.'

These rapid and numerous changes, Minkoff quipped, 'mean that your federal and state legislators have been 'working overtime' on your behalf - and it also means I'll have a busy career until I retire.'

The accountant went on to point out that there were seven tax law changes in 2009; and ten tax law bills enacted last year in 2010.

17 tax law bills were passed, changing and modifying the tax code as we know it.

That is in comparison to the previous two years - 2007 and 2008. There were only eight tax law bills enacted over those two years - but there were 17 in the last two years.

And, new tax acts enacted as late as December 17, 2010, means 'The State of Oregon may not be able to process your returns until sometime in May or June. According to Oregon law, the State has to either 'reconnect' to the Federal tax changes, or, or ignore any tax changes and keep their system the same.'

Nevertheless, this does NOT excuse taxpayers from submitting their tax returns on time in April, he quickly added.

What does all of this mean for business owners?

'Make sure your accountant or tax preparer is staying on top of the ever-changing tax laws,' Minkoff suggested.

For example, Section 179 that allows a business owner to 'write off' certain qualified capital expenditures in the year that the equipment was purchased. 'Otherwise, these assets must be depreciated - expensed out - over a number of years, on a schedule mandated by the IRS. The amount that can be expensed in the year has gone from $100,000 a couple years ago to $200,000 18 months ago - to $250,000 about six months ago - and in December they raised it to half a million dollars.'

Congress raised the limit, he said, to simulate business-related purchases - hopefully, of American-made goods. 'Although, there are very few incentives to specifically buy American-made products,' He added.

During his detailed presentation, Minkoff rapidly covered many other changes including:

• Tax credits for purchasing health care insurance for employees;

• The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit that benefits the self-employed, directly reducing self-employment earnings for tax purposes;

• Hiring incentives to stimulate creating 'summertime' and part-time jobs for youths in designated communities; and,

• Business start-up expenses can now be written off in the year they are incurred - instead of over five years.

'The number-one best thing any businessperson can do,' Minkoff advised, 'is to get your accounting in order. Doing proper bookkeeping means accounting for every penny you take in and spend. This really helps, when it comes time to prepare your taxes.

'But even more important,' he stressed, 'is that this information helps you make better decisions.'

Other suggestions include:

• Never eat alone - 'Invite someone - an affiliate, employee or client - to share a meal. At least 50% of the meal is deductible. At meetings or conferences, you can write off 50% of your own meal.'

• Hire your kids - 'If you have children between 7 and 17, you can hire them as a business expense - with no payroll taxes due. They do have to document their hours worked, and must be doing something constructive - even if it's just taking out the trash.'

• Form an 'S Corporation' - 'An LLC gives you no tax advantage. Proprietor, partner, or LLC is self-employed. There is no tax form for an LLC. If you form one with you as the sole member, you are normally treated as a sole proprietor. An S-corp will save tax on profit after you pay your 'reasonable' salary on which you pay income tax and SSI. What is left over is free of self employment tax. An 'S-corp' shareholder doesn't pay the 'second tax' on dividends they pay themselves, as you would with a regular corporation.'

Minkoff pointed out that, because of how the calendar falls, the actual tax deadline day this year is April 18th. 'Just because there are still many tax code changes in the air, don't put off doing your return. And, pay what you believe you owe by the deadline. You may have to amend your return, but there is no tax penalty forgiveness.'

However, Oregon's legislature finally moved to clarify and correct uncertain parts of the state's tax code in March.

For more information on the Foster Area Business Association (FABA), go online to their Internet website: www.fosterarea.org .