8 Questions to Ask your CPA at Tax Time

 

 February 17, 2014



It’s time to gather paperwork and prepare your returns by April 15th. Since it’s likely been a year since you last spoke to your CPA, it’s important to outline any changes in your personal situation and familiarize yourself with revisions in the tax code. Here are eight important questions to discuss with your CPA this tax season.

 

You probably know the tax-time drill by now: As you prepare to meet with your tax accountant, you gather W-2 and 1099 forms, receipts, banks statements, and mortgage documents.

 

But that’s just the beginning. The real issue is what has changed in your life the past year? The paperwork tells your financial story, but there may be a lot more going on with your life than can be seen in your documents.

 

A good CPA will ask you questions, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be comprehensive. Only you know everything that has happened in the past year. You have the responsibility to give the CPA the right information—and then ask the question: “Does this make a difference?”

 

1. What kind of difference does a family change make? Or how about a major purchase?

 

Be sure to tell your CPA about any births, adoptions, marriages, separations, divorces, or deaths. Have your children reached a milestone age like 18 or 21? Have they left school and started jobs, possibly changing their deductibility status?

 

Death in the family is especially important: Does an inheritance trigger a federal or state estate tax? If an inheritance includes an IRA or 401(k), the tax rules are strict and, failure to properly manage the inheri­tance could have major tax consequences.

 

Major purchases can also have a big ef­fect. A second house may mean another set of home-related deductions. But prob­ably not a third house, as the homeowners can typically only get deductions from two residences.

 

2. What will my tax bracket be in 2014?

 

Your tax bracket is the rate at which the last dollar of income will be taxed. Know­ing your tax bracket helps you and your ad­visor calculate the tax efficiency of various investment or financial planning proposals.

 

A paycheck change is only one factor, so don’t make immediate assumptions: tax brackets can change for many reasons, including changes in tax law as well as changes in your tax filing status.

 

Tax filing status depends on whether you are married or single and whether you have dependents to claim on your tax return. A change in income or an increase in interest and dividends or even gambling or lottery winnings could also change your tax bracket.

 

3. Can you help me estimate my income for 2014?

 

Go beyond salary. Bonuses, freelance as­signments, investment income, alimony winnings, and more all play a role.

 

And it’s not enough to know gross income. It’s also important to have an estimate of adjusted gross income, modifications to adjusted gross income, and taxable income. Each of these types of income is dependent on various deductions or credits that need to be estimated in order to come up with projections for the new year.

 

Why is this even important? An accurate estimate of 2014 income allows you to properly manage retirement savings plans, for example. And it helps to make sure your financial advisor and your CPAs are com­municating with each other and working from the same page.

 

In order to estimate the various forms of income for 2013, you’ll need to provide your tax advisor with certain information so the numbers can be crunched. For ex­ample, your CPA will need to know if you plan on making approximately the same amount of charitable contributions this year as you did last year. And if there was a one-time or unusual event last year, such as a sale of an asset, the CPA will need to adjust the estimate accordingly.

 

4. Do I have any remaining loss carryfor­wards going into 2013?

 

Loss carryforwards are tax losses as a result of selling investments at a loss. The IRS only permits you to deduct investment losses to the extent that they are offset by gains of up to $3,000 a year. Any losses in excess of this can be carried forward to future tax years, hence the name “loss car­ryforwards.”

 

Your CPA can help you determine your loss carryforwards by looking at your past tax returns. The answer can help you better understand how investment activity af­fects your tax situation. Occasionally, your financial advisor may suggest that you sell some assets to absorb some of these previ­ous losses for precisely this reason. “Tax loss harvesting” is traditionally a year-end activity, but it really should take place throughout the year as investment oppor­tunities present themselves.

 

5. Should I increase my retirement plan contributions?

 

Type of Retirement Account

Maximum Contribution

401(k), 403(b), Most 457 & Federal Govt Thrift Savings

$17,500

IRA

$5,500

IRA Catch Up Contributions

$1,000

401(k) Catch Up Contributions

$5,500

                   Source: IRS

 

The IRS hasn’t increased the contribution amounts for most types of retirement plans in 2014, so there’s no incentive there for making contribution increases.

 

However, that doesn’t mean you should just leave it as is. Phase-out limits for various plans have increased, so even if your in­come is up, you may still be able to put away more. This is a good conversation to have with all of your advisors this time of year.

 

6. Do you have any recommendations for reducing my 2014 taxes? What about 2015 and beyond?

 

CPAs can recommend a number of strate­gies that might help reduce tax liability in the future. A variety of laws, such as ACA, have changed the playing field. Some of the strategies may be complex and may need the input of your financial advisor. Others may be within your control. For example, if you are a small business owner, you may have the ability to accelerate expenses into a new year.

 

7. Should I change my tax withholding for 2014?

 

Various situations may mean that you need to change your withholding on your Form W-4 with your employer. If you’ve gotten married, divorced, or had a baby, you’ll need to make changes on your W-4. Also, if you’ve been getting large tax refunds, it may make sense to increase the number of exemptions you take on the W-4 to match up what you pay in tax with your actual tax obligation.

 

8. Is there anything my financial advisor can do to help my tax situation?

 

There’s a close relationship between fi­nancial planning and taxes. That’s why it’s good to ask your CPA this question and pass the answer along to your financial advisor. The better informed your advisors are about your tax situation, the more ef­fective they can be in planning and manag­ing your investment and financial affairs.

 

Don’t assume that tax efficiency is the only goal. If you’re retired and in a low bracket, for example, it may not be worth it to accept a low return to take advantage of tax-advantaged investment like municipals. This is the perfect opportunity for three-way communications between you, your financial advisor, and your CPA.

 

As always, please call us with any questions. 

Sincerely,

Edward J. Kohlhepp, CFP®, ChFC, CLU, CPC, MSPA
 
Edward J. Kohlhepp, Jr., CFP®, MBA

 

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kohlhepp-Investment-Advisors/143204745739600

 

Please contact us whenever there are any changes to your financial situation, personal situation or investment objectives.


By Richard J. Koreto

Richard J. Koreto has been a journalist covering tax and finance for 20 years. He is the author of “Run It Like a Business: Top Financial Planners Weigh In on Practice Management” and is a past president of the New York Financial Writers’ Association.

Copyright © 2014 by Horsesmouth, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT NOTICE This reprint is provided exclusively for use by the licensee, including for client education, and is subject to applicable copyright laws. Unauthorized use, reproduction or distribution of this material is a violation of federal law and punishable by civil and criminal penalty. This material is furnished “as is” without warranty of any kind. Its accuracy and completeness is not guaranteed and all warranties expressed or implied are hereby excluded.

 

 

 

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