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Small Business Tax Strategies

The word is out on REITs. These investments aren’t as desirable for your taxable brokerage-firm accounts anymore because of the income tax repercussions. (They’re fine for tax-advantaged retirement accounts.) But the word on the street doesn’t give you the whole picture.

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Q: I plan on making charitable donations to several charities in other countries, including Israeli bond funds. Can I deduct those donations on my tax return? I.Z., Bethpage, N.Y.

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Q: My main computer is a laptop that I use mostly for business in my home office. But I also use the laptop personally and let my kids play games on it sometimes. Will this cost me a home-office deduction? M.R., Danville, Ill.

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When selling their home, joint filers can shelter up to $500,000 in home-sale gains from taxes, as long as they have owned and used the home as their principal residence for at least two years during the five-year period ending on the sale date.

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Q: My daughter is switching jobs in a few weeks. She’s accumulated about $20,000 in her 401(k) plan. Does her employer have to automatically roll the money into a Roth IRA? I read something about that issue recently. G.P., Hoboken, N.J.

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Q: In 2002, I bought stock in a company that just recently merged with another company. I bought the shares at $15; now they’re worth only $12 and change. Can I deduct a loss for 2005? L.A.R., San Diego

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Q: I own an auto repair shop in Maryland. We’ve switched our compensation plan to a system in which technicians are paid a base salary, plus a bonus based upon billable hours. Since technicians routinely work a 45-hour workweek, must we pay them any overtime? R.B.S., via e-mail

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Heads up: The IRS plans to ratchet up the audit pressure on small businesses in the coming months.

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Suppose you want to add the new guaranteed minimum withdrawal feature (see above) to an existing variable annuity, but the issuer doesn’t allow that option. Are you out of luck? Not necessarily.

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Can’t get enough of a good thing? To hoard even more money for retirement than the tax law allows for qualified plans (such as 401(k)s or pension plans), arrange things so your company makes contributions on your behalf to a nonqualified deferred compensation plan.

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