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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Happy New Year!

As the days rush by and 2016 draws swiftly to a close, all of us at Gardner & Billing CPAs want to take a moment to wish you all a safe, prosperous and happy new year.  

In the words of C.S. Lewis, "you are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream" so, may 2017 be a year to achieve your goals and live your dreams! 

Our office will be open regular hours on Friday, December 30th and Monday, January 2nd. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

From Our Families, to Yours...

Wishing you a warm and wonderful holiday season, 
from all of us at Gardner & Billing CPAs!

Our office will be closed on Monday, December 26th 
in observance of Christmas Day.  
We will reopen with regular hours on Tuesday, December 27th. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Save the Date for the Family Business Workshop!!


Gardner & Billing CPAs are proud to help sponsor the 
Family Business Workshop
hosted by the Powder River Extension Office 

Family Business Workshop
January 24th, 2017 - 1:00 – 5:00 pm
Powder River High School Auditorium


“The Top Ten Mistakes That Break Up a Family Business!”
“We can prevent many daily aggravations and family business catastrophes if we learn from the mistakes of others. This eye-opening, fun filled presentation will highlight the top ten things families do that break up their business. We will discuss in-laws and out-laws, off-site family and estates, daily communications and important meetings. In this value packed workshop, you’ll receive take home tools to assist in the transition and succession of a family business. From conversations to contracts, from assumptions to clarification, from complaints to celebrations, we will open eyes and save fighting on the way to the funeral home.”

Presented by: Jolene Brown, CSP 
Family Business Consultant

$25 Registration per family business due January 17th, 2017
($30 at the door)

Register by calling the Powder River Extension Office at 436-2424
Payable to “Powder River Extension”, P.O. Box 200, Broadus, MT 59317
“Family business” includes spouses, partners, sons & daughters, in-laws – all involved in the family operation – you define!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Year-End Tax Tips

The end of 2016 is in sight, so you might want to consider dropping by the office of Gardner & Billing CPAs to see if there's any last minute steps to take that could improve the numbers on your 2016 return!  The following is an article by Daniel Hood from www.accountingtoday.com  that might give you some food for thought....

With Dec. 31 just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about next season – and to make any last-minute moves that might improve a client’s tax position.

With that in mind, here’s a list of tax tips for you and your clients to think about before the end of 2016, from the National Society of Accountants and others in the field.

1. First – what’s not changing: While President-elect Trump is in a strong position to enact his promise of lower tax brackets next year, it’s important to remember that the current income tax rates of 10, 15, 25, 33, 35 and 39.6 percent are still in effect for the tax returns being filed in April. The standard deduction amounts remain $6,300 single/married filing separately, and $12,600 for married filing jointly. The standard deduction for heads of households, however, rises to $9,300.

2. Deferring income:
If the president-elect does manage to lower and simplify the individual tax brackets per his plan, that means rates next year will be lower, so it might be worth it for individuals to consider deferring some income into 2017. That may mean getting a bonus in January, instead of December, or waiting to redeem a savings bond, or putting off debt forgiveness income.

3. Keep an eye on AGI: Since some tax benefits -- including itemized deductions, personal exemptions, and education and adoption credits -- get phased out depending on a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income, deferring income may also make sense depending on their current AGI.

4. New permanent incentives for individuals: The PATH Act of 2015 made a number of tax incentives permanent. For individuals, these include:
  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit;
  • The teachers’ $250 classroom expense deduction;
  • The ability to deduct state and local sales tax instead of state income taxes;
  • The exclusion for direct charitable donation of up to $100,000 from an IRA; and,
  • The 100 percent gain exclusion on qualified small-business stock.
5. New permanent incentives for businesses: The PATH Act of 2015 made a number of tax incentives permanent. For businesses, these include:
  • The reduced five year recognition period for S-Corp built-in gains tax;
  • 15-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, restaurant property and retail improvements; and,
  • Charitable deductions for the contribution of food inventory. 
6. Max out retirement accounts: If a taxpayer’s employer offers matching, then maxing out contributions to a 401(k) is as close to a no-brainer as you can get – but even without matching, sequestering income in 401(ks), IRAs, Keoghs and the like is still a great deal.

7. Tax-loss harvesting: Even in the current bull market, a portfolio can contain some duds – but they can still be useful! Taxpayers with large amounts of taxable gains in 2016 may want to offset some of those by realizing losses on those duds to lower their overall capital gains exposure.

8. Be careful with mutual funds: Many mutual funds make capital gains distributions in December, so taxpayers will want to bear that in mind when buying or selling. That a fund is or isn’t planning a major distribution needn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker – but it may add to the eventual tax bill.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Please Join Us at Gardner & Billing CPAs for the Broadus Christmas Stroll!


Gardner & Billing CPAs are excited to announce our plans for the 2016 Broadus Christmas Stroll!

Please come join us at our office Friday, Dec 2nd for the Christmas Stroll from 3-6pm for warm drinks, homemade treats and our FREE family-fun craft and activity!

And don't forget, our Christmas Wreath Silent Auction is already underway! Our three beautiful 20” handmade Christmas wreaths (The Past, The Present & The Future) are on display at our office. Please drop by this week and put in your bid! We are also accepting bids via our Facebook page through Dec 1st. Final bids will be taken Dec 2nd on the night of the Christmas Stroll. Get your bids in and DON’T BE A SCROOGE, because all proceeds go to local causes (the Library Storytime, the Angel Tree and the Senior Center)! Plus, the firm of Gardner & Billing will match the bid on each wreath, up to $50!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving from Gardner & Billing CPAs


Wishing you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving Day filled with the warmth and blessings of the holidays!

In observance of Thanksgiving, the office of Gardner & Billing CPAs will be closed Thursday and Friday, November 24th & 25th.  We will reopen with regular hours on 
Monday, November 28th. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How Life Insurance Works (Part 3)


Our previous installment of this article by David Roos from HowStuffWorks.com discussed who might need life insurance and what types of life insurance are available. In our third and final installment, we look at how much life insurance you might need and some tips on getting the right policy.

How much life insurance do I need?

Life insurance is just one part of a larger financial plan. How much life insurance you buy depends on the specific financial needs and circumstances of your family. The trick is to strike a balance between being over-insured and under-insured. Paying too much in premiums can be just as damaging to your overall financial plan as paying too little.

The easiest way to think about life insurance is as income replacement. The first step is to figure out exactly how much income you provide to your family. The next step is to figure out how long you're going to need to replace your income. As a general rule, you only need life insurance until your dependent children are out of the house or until your retirement savings kick in. The amount of coverage you need is also called the face value or death benefit of a life insurance policy.

But remember that the amount of life insurance you buy needs to fit within your budget. There's no point in buying a policy with a high face value if you can't afford the premium payments. If you can afford to pay a higher premium, though, you should think about purchasing a plan that will cover major life expenses, like covering the mortgage. Then there are other possible expenses, like taking care of aging parents, college expenses for children, or childcare costs if you're the primary caregiver.

If you start adding it all up, it may seem like a lot of money. But once again, you need to strike a balance. For most people, the idea of life insurance isn't to set up your family for life, but to help them get through the first 5 to 10 years after your tragic loss. That's why some experts fall back on the old life insurance rule of thumb: buy enough to replace your salary for five to seven years.

Life Insurance Shopping Tips
The first life insurance shopping tip is to buy when you're young and healthy. Young, healthy people pay much lower premiums, so look for a policy that has a fixed premium for the length of the policy.

A good insurance salesperson can help tailor a policy that's exactly right for your needs, but it certainly pays to be an educated consumer. Think hard before you buy a permanent life insurance policy. Insurance salespeople push whole life and other cash-value policies because they're big moneymakers for the insurance company and for the salesperson. The truth is that most people don't need permanent life insurance policies. They only need to replace their income until they've reached retirement age or their dependents are old enough to take care of themselves.

Insurance agents try to sell permanent life policies as investment vehicles and important cash reserves for low-interest loans. The problem with this argument is that there are many other tax-deferred investment instruments out there that have lower commissions and greater flexibility than permanent life insurance.

The idea of borrowing money from the cash value of your insurance policy also sounds attractive. But first consider your credit history and the likelihood of accruing more debt. If you have a good credit score, you can get low-interest loans from banks and other lenders. And if you default, you won't eat up your life insurance death benefit (the main reason you bought the policy in the first place).

At Gardner & Billing CPAs, we don’t sell insurance, but we can help you understand the tax implications of life insurance and how it fits into your financial goals.  We can also help you look at how life insurance might fit into the larger picture of estate and succession planning.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Happy Veterans Day!

With Respect, Honor & Gratitude ~


~Happy Veterans Day~
from Gardner & Billing CPAs

Monday, October 31, 2016

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!



We're excited to welcome our local Trick-or-Treaters for Halloween sweets!

 Storytime Trick-or-Treat from 10:30 - 12:00 on the Courthouse Square

Preschoolers through 2nd grade: Meet at the library at 3:30pm  
for group Trick-or-Treat with adults

3rd Grade and Up: Meet at the library at 3:30pm 
for a list of participating businesses

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How Life Insurance Works (Part 2)



Our previous installment of this article by David Roos from HowStuffWorks.com discussed the basics of life insurance. This week we look at who might need life insurance and what types of life insurance are available.

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Not everyone needs life insurance. The general rule is that you only need life insurance if you have dependents. Typically, dependents are children who still live at home or have yet to graduate from college. But a dependent could be anyone who is financially dependent on you, like a spouse, sibling or an aging parent.

Life insurance is generally designed for younger, working people with families. Here's why: Life insurance is meant to replace your "value" to your family once you're gone. For a working parent, a big part of that value is your salary. If you die, you'll want your family to receive enough money to replace your salary for at least the next five to seven years.

Even if you're a stay-at-home parent, you still have financial value to your family. Let's say you care for two small children. If you die, then your spouse will need to keep working, which means the kids will need a nanny or day care. You might not need a huge life insurance policy, but you can buy a policy that fits the financial needs of your family.

Some people buy life insurance policies when they get married, particularly if the insured person makes considerably more money that the spouse, or if either the insured or the spouse have other financial dependents, like parents or siblings. Many people buy life insurance when they get pregnant with their first child.

Once you've reached retirement age, there's less of a need for life insurance. Now your children are most likely financially independent and you're ideally already living on retirement savings and investment income. One reason for an older person to keep a life insurance policy is to provide extra money for his or her spouse to cover unexpected medical and long-term care expenses later in life.

Some older people hold onto life insurance policies as a way to pay for "end of life" expenses like the cost of settling an estate. But the most basic reason for retaining a life insurance policy later in life is also the oldest reason: to cover the cost of your funeral and burial.

Another reason to buy life insurance to is to pay for a particular expense. If you buy a home, it's common to sign up for a 30-year mortgage. But what if you die in 10 years? There are special life insurance policies that are tied directly to mortgages, decreasing in value as you continue to pay off the mortgage debt.

A less common reason to buy life insurance has to do with business rather than family. Let's say you're a partner in a small business and the success of the business relies significantly on your ability to bring in clients and money. Some people buy life insurance policies that name their business partner as the beneficiary. This chunk of cash could help the business stay afloat while they learn to get along without you.

So now you have a better idea of who needs life insurance. But what type of life insurance policy should you buy? Are they strictly for emergencies or can they also be reliable investment tools?

Types of Life Insurance
The most basic type of life insurance is term life insurance. Term life insurance policies cover the policyholder for a set number of years, anywhere from 1 to 30. For younger, healthy people, term life insurance is the least expensive option. You pay relatively low rates for a fixed number of years with a high level of coverage.

Something to consider if you choose term life is that the premium is only fixed for the length of the policy. If the policy expires and you want to renew, you'll pay a higher premium because you're older now, and may be less healthy. Term life policies have no cash value of their own. They don't accrue interest and you can't borrow money against them. Basically, they're "pure" insurance products. If you don't die, you can't collect.

All of the other types of life insurance fall under the heading of permanent life insurance. As the name implies, the policy is good from the day you buy it until the day you die, no matter when you die. Permanent life policies can either have a fixed or flexible premium.

The biggest difference between term and permanent life policies is that permanent policies include a cash value component. This means that the insurance company invests your premium payments to build up cash reserves in your account. The advantage of permanent life is that you aren't taxed on investment earnings until you cash in the policy, and you can borrow from your cash reserves tax-free. The disadvantage is that premiums are much higher than term life policies and investment performance can be volatile.

There are several different types of permanent life policies:

  • Whole Life is the most basic permanent life insurance policy with a fixed premium. It has a savings component that earns cash value, but the policyholder has no control over how or where the money is invested.
  • Universal Life allows the policyholder to shift funds between the insurance and savings components of the policy, even using savings to make premium payments. Premium rates are also flexible.
  • Variable Life gives the policyholder control over where his or her savings are invested (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.). The rate of return on investments not only affects the cash value of the policy, but increases or decreases the amount of the final death benefit. Premiums with this policy are fixed.
  • Universal Variable Life combines the flexibility of universal life with the investment control of variable life. Premiums are flexible and the amount of the final death benefit and cash value depend on the performance of investments.
So how much life insurance do you really need? And for how long do you need it? Find out in the next installment of the article.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

How Life Insurance Works (Part 1)



If you've thought about life insurance but just don't know where to start, this article by Dave Roos from HowStuffWorks.com might help you with the basics. Life insurance can be an important part of succession planning. We don't sell life insurance, but at Gardner & Billing CPAs, we can certainly help you understand the tax implications and how it fits into the bigger picture of estate and financial planning!

 
How Life Insurance Works
Life insurance should really be called "death insurance." Like other types of insurance, life insurance is protection against the unknown. When you buy life insurance, you're paying for the peace of mind that your family will be taken care of in the event of your sudden demise. Life insurance is the life jacket in the fishing boat. You hope to never have to use it, but it's nice to know it's there.

Some people call life insurance gambling. They think that you're throwing away a bunch of money on the off chance that you'll die young. But when life insurance is handled correctly, it isn't gambling at all. It's simply part of a larger economic plan whose goal is the financial security of your family.

So what is the best type of life insurance to buy and how much coverage do you need? If you don't have any kids, do you even need life insurance?

What is Life Insurance?
People buy life insurance to provide money for their families if they die young. When you buy a life insurance policy, you pay a monthly, quarterly or annual premium for the term of the policy. The term can be as short as one year or as long as a lifetime. If you die within the term of your policy, your beneficiary will receive a fixed amount of money.

The earliest records of life insurance come from ancient Rome, where burial clubs pooled money among the poor to pay for members' funerals. Beginning in the Middle Ages, life insurance was dominated by fraternal and religious organizations, labor guilds, and mutual life insurance companies. Similar to credit unions, mutual life insurance companies are owned by the members, who share in any profits. In the late 17th century, astronomer Edmond Halley came up with the first actuarial tables for calculating the risk of insuring an individual based on mortality statistics. The higher the risk, the higher the premium

Risk calculation is still a big part of the life insurance business. When you apply for a life insurance policy, you'll be asked to fill out a full medical history (including your family medical history). You'll also be asked questions about your lifestyle and hobbies, your credit history, your driving record and your travel habits. All of this information is used by insurance actuaries to figure out how much they should charge you for a life insurance policy, or if they should deny you a policy altogether.

The most important factors that affect the price of life insurance premiums are age, sex and pre-existing medical conditions. Older people will generally pay more for a life insurance policy, as will men. Heart conditions, high blood pressure, mental illness, or a strong family history of heart disease or cancer will raise your insurance premiums. Insurance companies also offer higher rates to people who participate in "dangerous" hobbies like skydiving or scuba diving. Smokers can expect to pay rates that are twice as high as non-smokers.

To collect on a life insurance policy, a surviving family member must fill out an official claim. Usually, he or she will also have to provide a certified death certificate that states the date, location and cause of death. In some cases, he or she will also be asked for original copies of the insurance policy. Once approved, the claim is settled with one lump sum payment to the person indicated in the policy as the beneficiary.

Unfortunately, life insurance claims can also be denied. Many life insurance policies don't cover suicide. If an insurance company suspects that a claim is fraudulent, it will investigate it fully. If it finds that the claimant lied about the cause of death, or that the policyholder neglected to mention pre-existing medical conditions or dangerous hobbies, it could deny payment.

But does everyone need life insurance? And what are the best times to buy a policy? Check out our next installment of this article to learn more.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Changes in White Collar Overtime Regulations

***UPDATE***  11/28/16
Only days before Obama's "Final Rule" overtime reform was to take effect, federal courts have blocked the labor legislation by putting a nationwide preliminary injunction in place.  None of the provisions outlined below are slated to come into effect until further notice.
 
Key Provisions of the Final Rule
The Final Rule focuses primarily on updating the salary and compensation levels needed for Executive, Administrative and Professional workers to be exempt. Specifically, the Final Rule:

  • Sets the standard salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region, currently the South ($913 per week; $47,476 annually for a full-year worker);
  • Sets the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCE) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004); and
  • Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles and to ensure that they continue to provide useful and effective tests for exemption.
Additionally, the Final Rule amends the salary basis test to allow employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level.

The effective date of the final rule is December 1, 2016.
The initial increases to the standard salary level (from $455 to $913 per week) and HCE total annual compensation requirement (from $100,000 to $134,004 per year) will be effective on that date. Future automatic updates to those thresholds will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020.

Three Tests Must Be Met in Order to Claim a White Collar Exemption
The regulations implementing the white collar exemptions generally require individuals to satisfy three criteria to be exempt from overtime requirements:

• First, they must be paid on a salary basis not subject to reduction based on quality or quantity of work (“salary basis test”) rather than, for example, on an hourly basis;

• Second, their salary must meet a minimum salary level, which after the effective date of the Final Rule will be $913 per week, which is equivalent to $47,476 annually for a full-year worker (“salary level test”); and

• Third, the employee’s primary job duty must involve the kind of work associated with exempt executive, administrative, or professional employees (the “standard duties test”).



Options for Compliance for Employers Who Might be Impacted by the Final Rule
Employers have a wide range of options for responding to the changes to the salary level, and the Department does not dictate or recommend any method. Organizations may ensure compliance for those employees affected by the Final Rule in a number of ways, including providing pay raises that increase workers’ salaries to the new threshold, spreading employment by reducing or eliminating work hours of individual employees working over 40 hours per week for which no overtime is being paid, or paying overtime.



Conclusion

The overtime rule updated the regulations to ensure that the FLSA’s intended overtime protections are fully implemented, and to simplify the identification of overtime-eligible workers, making the exemption easier for employers and workers to understand and apply. This guidance is provided to help employers understand their responsibilities and options for complying with the FLSA’s overtime provisions following publication of the Final Rule.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

NEW FAFSA Deadline

Students and parents can now fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2017-18 year beginning on Oct. 1, 2016!

Things to Remember
  • Your student's FAFSA will need to be completed by the school’s priority deadline for priority consideration for scholarships and financial aid awards. For some schools this is Dec. 1, 2016.
  • You and your student will use completed tax information from two years prior when submitting the FAFSA. So, use 2015 tax information if your student plans on attending college during the 2017-18 school year.
  • If parents and students filed a 2015 federal tax return, they should use the FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool to populate their income on the FAFSA. This will prevent having to submit a copy of the tax return to the financial aid office at a later date.
  • Newly admitted students who meet the Dec. 1 priority deadline will receive award notices before Jan. 1. Current students will begin receiving award notices before March 15.
  • Families who have experienced a significant decrease in their income since filing 2015 federal taxes are encouraged to contact the school’s Financial Aid office directly to discuss options.
  • Although borrowers will be able to accept PLUS loans earlier, the governmental website to complete the application, credit check and promissory note will not be available until the end of March. Financial Aid will notify PLUS loan recipients when the website is available.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Remembering the fallen...


A photographer documents the efforts of Ground Zero workers in the days after September 11th. Part of the Emmy Award winning web series, Remembering 9/11