[Blackfriars' Journal]

The Warrior and Taxes


Neil H. Fishman, CPA

With the signing of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997(TRA), significant changes involve the U.S. taxpayer. However, it would not hurt to check the tax laws of many countries. A warrior and others need to take the offensive position. Some of the changes are as follows.

Individual Retirement Accounts

When is a good time for the warrior to start saving for retirement? Right now. The self-employed, or employed having no retirement plan, can set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The individual can put away up to $2,000 a year into this account against earned income, and this is an adjustment to your gross income. Furthermore, the income earned on this account is not subject to tax until the funds are withdrawn, which in most cases is not allowed until the age of 59 1/2. Early withdrawal suffers a penalty of 10 percent of the funds withdrawn, as well as, added income to the regular income tax.

  • Changes under the Taxpayer Relief Act '97 include:
  • Non-working spouses are now eligible to make $2,000 IRA contributions even if the working spouse is covered by an employer's plan, beginning in 1998, subject to an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) phaseout ($150,000 to $160,000)
  • A gradual increase in the AGI phaseout for deductible IRA's, beginning in 2003 and reaching $80,000 in 2007 for joint filers and $50,000 in 2005 for single filers
  • New education IRA's permitting annual contributions of $500 per child per year, subject to AGI phaseout beginning at $95,000 (single) and $150,000 (joint)
  • A new back-loaded Roth IRA becomes available in 1998. Contributions to it are non-deductible, but earning can be withdrawn free-of-tax provided that the account has been held for at least five years. Distributions are not made until age 59 1/2, death, disability, or for the purchase of a first home, subject to AGI phaseout ($95,000 to $110,000 single, $150,000 to $160,000 joint)
  • And rules for converting deductible IRA's to Roth IRA's.

Health Insurance for Self-Employed Individuals

A major concern these days is health insurance. As the cost of health care rises, people are joining some form of Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) whether on their own, or through their place of work. For the employed, health insurance is paid through the company, but a self-employed person is responsible for his own health insurance. Several years ago, a law was enacted to allow the self-employed person to take a credit for a portion of their medical insurance premiums. It has not changed, except that in future years, the amount allowed as an adjustment to income will increase. In 1997, an individual is allowed to take 40 percent of his premiums for medical insurance as an above-the-line adjustment to income. This amount will increase to 45 percent for 1998 and 1999, 50 percent for 2000 & 2001, and will gradually increase to 100 percent in 2007.

Other Changes Under the Taxpayer Relief Act '97

  • A new HOPE education credit of up to $1,500 per student per year for qualified post-secondary tuition, consisting of 100 percent of the first $1,000 in expenses, and 50 percent of the next $1,000, beginning in 1998 (subject to AGI phaseout, starting at $40,000 for single filers; $80,000 joint filers);
  • A new lifelong learning credit of 20 percent on the first $5,000 of qualified education expenses through 2002, and the first $10,000 thereafter. This credit can be spread out as the taxpayer chooses, but is subject to the same AGI limits as the HOPE credit;
  • An above-the-line deduction for up to $2,500 in student loan interest (to a maximum of $1,000 in 1998) for the first five years of the loan
  • An extension of Code Section 127 exclusion for employer-provided education assistance through May 31, 2000
  • A $400 per child tax credit ($500 in 1999), phased out as AGI exceeds $110,000 joint, $75,000 single or head of household. And $55,000 married filing separately
  • Modification of the rules regarding the home office deduction starting in 1999;
  • An exclusion of up to $250,000 ($500,000 joint) of gain on the sale of a primary residence, available once every two years, retroactive to May 7, 1997;
  • A new 20 percent maximum rate on long-term capital gains, retroactive to May 7, 1997;
  • A change from 12 to 18 months in the holding period for a capital asset to qualify as long-term, for assets sold after July 28, 1997;
  • The IRS is now authorized to accept payment by credit card.

Things to Do for the Future

Keep accurate records. It is the responsibility of a taxpayer to have accurate and adequate records in the event of an audit by the IRS or a state/city taxing authority. Should this ever happen, it is extremely important to have supporting documentation for everything on a tax return.

For income on a tax return, you must have a W2 or 1099 form to support that which is reported. For the deductions, an individual should have a record of every penny spent. If classes are taken in stage combat, voice, etc., the taxpayer pays by check. The canceled check is your receipt. When an individual pays by cash, it is the responsibility of the individual to ask for a receipt. If one is teaching independently, one should issue receipt for payments received as well as, keeping track of all expenses. An excellent way to keep track of expenses is to buy a calendar and keep a daily record of what, where, and how money was spent.

Have more taken out now. When a person works on film or television projects, he is most likely asked to fill out a pay voucher each day. Many performers will put down the maximum number of dependents allowed. In doing this, they insure the most return on a day's wages. However, the clever warrior will put down the minimum number of dependents. When he receives his check, he will not have as much money as the other group; however he will faire a lot better at tax time. It is better to get by on less now, and perhaps end up with new-found money than to lose one's head trying to scrape around to pay a tax liability.

If you have any questions, you should consult with your tax preparer, or you can contact me at:

Fishman Associates, CPA's, P.C.
100 Merrick Road, #301E
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
Phone (516) 766-3265
Fax: (516) 766-3271
E-mail: fishcpa@IX.netcom.com

Neil H. Fishman, CPA, has been a member of the SAFD since 1988. He has been in public practice in accounting since 1989, and recently became a principal in the firm of FISHMAN ASSOCIATES, CPA'S, P.C. FISHMAN ASSOCIATES, CPA'S, P.C. is a full service accounting firm specializing in closly-held businesses and individuals.

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