Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

11th Annual Balser Symposium for Professional Advisors and Erev Balser

Mauldin & Jenkins was an Executive Sponsor at the 11th annual Balser Symposium. Bob Heuel , Greg Morgan and Carl Garner attended this professional advisors council, which was organized by the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and the United Way of Greater Atlanta. The event was January 27 at the Georgia Tech global learning center.  The program featured Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D. of the University of Texas McCombs School of Business.

One of our Atlanta partners, Bob Heuel, had this to say about Mr. Raghunathan: “He was a fantastic speaker, and his top was happiness.  He’s the author of the book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?”

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Cobb Chamber’s 75th Annual Dinner Celebration

Mauldin & Jenkins’ Kristen Lord, Steve Bryne, Jeff Fucito, Carl Garner, Aleisa Howell and Greg Morgan, along with their significant others, enjoyed a night out at the Cobb Chamber’s annual dinner celebration.  The evening, presented by WellStar, was this past Saturday and featured a fantastic dinner, great networking and socializing and a presentation honoring all those that have made significant contributions to enhance our quality of life and make Cobb a better place to live!

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

2016 higher-education breaks can save your family taxes

Was a college student in your family last year? Or were you a student yourself? You may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2016 return. To max out your higher education breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that will provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.

Credits vs. deductions

Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:

  1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
  2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.

But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.

If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative.

Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.

Be aware that the tuition and fees deduction expired December 31, 2016. So it won’t be available on your 2017 return unless Congress extends it or makes it permanent.

How much can your family save?

Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2016 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.

© 2017

Monday, January 30th, 2017

A Helping Hand for Our Albany Neighbors

This past Saturday, our Albany office volunteered to assist one of the many victims of the recent tornadoes that hit Albany, GA. Mr. Don Baldwin is an elderly widower who lives about 4 miles south of the Albany airport. There were approximately 50 oak trees on his property many of which have major damage or have been destroyed. Staff and partners trimmed major branches from a couple of the oaks and assisted Mr. Baldwin in moving the debris to the back of his property where he intends to burn it at a later date.

A big “well done” to those who spent their Saturday serving others including: John McDuffie, Albany Partner-in-Charge, David Clayton, Ryan Inlow, Jay Shirah, Bradley Abell, Kyle Nichols, Tiffany Galligan, Blair Blackburn and Sandra Usrey.

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

Put email list segmentation to work for your nonprofit

Your not-for-profit likely has a growing list of email addresses for donors, members, volunteers and other supporters. Are you making the most of it? If you send every one of your organization’s communications — donation requests, newsletters, meeting announcements — to everyone, you probably aren’t using these addresses as effectively as you could. Email segmentation can help you get the right messages to the right people.

Strengthen engagement

Not everyone is interested in everything your nonprofit has to say, and too many irrelevant emails can make people tune out or unsubscribe. That’s just one of many reasons to think about sending particular emails to only specific slices of your list.

Segmentation can also increase your response rates and strengthen engagement. Recipients will get more information they value and less that doesn’t interest them, fostering greater trust in your organization and its communications. And segmentation lets you experiment with different tones, writing styles, subject lines and visual presentations to determine which work best. You may learn that different groups respond differently based on the message.

Potential segments

If you already have the data, you can begin tailoring emails according to such demographic factors as age, gender, location and income. If you don’t already possess this information, though, gathering it can prove delicate — be careful not to turn off potential supporters with your inquiries.

You also could segment your list on the basis of past actions. For example, track activities such as event attendance, volunteer work, donations or membership renewal. Further narrow the segment by setting a date parameter (for example, activity within the past year).

Or create subgroups based on donation amounts or specific campaigns. “Super donors” whose giving exceeds a certain threshold, “super attendees” who attend a specified number of events in a year and “super volunteers” who donate a certain number of hours in a year might receive every email, while others receive fewer.

Personal and effective

Carving your email list into segments can empower you to craft more personalized and powerful communications that help build loyalty and achieve your goals. Contact us for more advice about improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your nonprofit.

© 2017

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

The investment interest expense deduction: Less beneficial than you might think

Investment interest — interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities — generally is deductible for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax purposes. But special rules apply that can make this itemized deduction less beneficial than you might think.

Limits on the deduction

First, you can’t deduct interest you incurred to produce tax-exempt income. For example, if you borrow money to invest in municipal bonds, which are exempt from federal income tax, you can’t deduct the interest.

Second, and perhaps more significant, your investment interest deduction is limited to your net investment income, which, for the purposes of this deduction, generally includes taxable interest, nonqualified dividends and net short-term capital gains, reduced by other investment expenses. In other words, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends aren’t included.

However, any disallowed interest is carried forward. You can then deduct the disallowed interest in a later year if you have excess net investment income.

Changing the tax treatment

You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates.

If you’re wondering whether you can claim the investment interest expense deduction on your 2016 return, please contact us. We can run the numbers to calculate your potential deduction or to determine whether you could benefit from treating gains or dividends differently to maximize your deduction.

© 2017

Friday, January 20th, 2017

These Dirty Birds Are Ready for the Big Game!

Let’s go Falcons! Rise Up!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Whistleblower policies protect nonprofit staffers — and their employers

Individuals who report illegal or unethical practices may risk their careers, or take other kinds of risks, when they do. Whistleblower policies help protect them. No federal law specifically requires not-for-profits to have such policies in place, but several state laws do. And IRS Form 990 asks nonprofits to state whether they have adopted a whistleblower policy.

Having a policy increases the odds that you’ll learn about current or potential problems before the media, law enforcement or regulators do. Encouraging stakeholders to speak up also sends a strong message about your commitment to good governance and ethical behavior and fosters an environment of accountability.

Your whistleblower policy should be tailored to your organization’s unique circumstances, but consider including the following:

Covered individuals. Spell out who is covered. In addition to employees, volunteers and board members, you might want to include clients and third parties who conduct business with your organization, such as vendors and independent contractors.

Covered wrongdoing. Financial misdeeds often get the most attention, but whistleblower policies should have a longer reach. For example, you might include violations of organizational client protection policies, conflicts of interest and discrimination.

Reporting procedures. Explain reporting procedures. Must claims be made to a compliance officer or can they be reported anonymously? Is a confidential hotline available?

Investigative procedures. Covered individuals need to know how you’ll handle reports once they’re submitted. State that every report will be promptly and thoroughly investigated and that designated investigators will have adequate independence to conduct an objective query. Also describe what will happen after the investigation is complete. For example, will the reporting individual receive feedback? Will the individual responsible for the illegal or unethical behavior be punished?

Confidentiality. A promise of confidentiality can make whistleblowing more appealing. But confidentiality may not be possible if whistleblowers need to become witnesses in criminal or civil proceedings.

Disciplinary action. Not every whistleblower is motivated by pure intentions. State that your organization will take disciplinary action against individuals who make unfounded allegations that are reckless, malicious or intentionally false.

Be sure to distribute your policy widely by incorporating it into your employee handbook and employee orientation program, and by presenting it to board members and managers. For more information, contact us.

© 2017

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Deduction for state and local sales tax benefits some, but not all, taxpayers

The break allowing taxpayers to take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes was made “permanent” a little over a year ago. This break can be valuable to those residing in states with no or low income taxes or who purchase major items, such as a car or boat.

Your 2016 tax return

How do you determine whether you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2016 return? Compare your potential deduction for state and local income tax to your potential deduction for state and local sales tax.

Don’t worry — you don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases (for which you will need substantiation).

2017 and beyond

If you’re considering making a large purchase in 2017, you shouldn’t necessarily count on the sales tax deduction being available on your 2017 return. When the PATH Act made the break “permanent” in late 2015, that just meant that there’s no scheduled expiration date for it. Congress could pass legislation to eliminate the break (or reduce its benefit) at any time.

Recent Republican proposals have included elimination of many itemized deductions, and the new President has proposed putting a cap on itemized deductions. Which proposals will make it into tax legislation in 2017 and when various provisions will be signed into law and go into effect is still uncertain.

Questions about the sales tax deduction or other breaks that might help you save taxes on your 2016 tax return? Or about the impact of possible tax law changes on your 2017 tax planning? Contact us — we can help you maximize your 2016 savings and effectively plan for 2017.

© 2017

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the tremendous impact he made on our Country.  We reflect on his acts and words that are still inspiring our World today.

“Darkness cannot drive our darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” – Martin Luther King, Jr.