Small Business Tax Strategies

In many U.S. cities, houses bought just a few years ago have more than doubled in value. But unless you plan to move soon, such a "paper windfall" means nothing other than a soaring property tax bill.

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It’s rare when you can have your tax cake and eat it too. But a new private letter ruling issued by the IRS gives certain older business owners a generous slice. It allows them to preserve the tax benefits of a "grand-father election" made over 20 years ago.

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If you hire 16- or 17-year-olds this summer, don’t overlook a tax credit worth up to $1,200 per eligible employee. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) allows you to secure the credit if those new employees live in an "empowerment zone, enterprise community or renewal community," as designated by the federal government.

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Despite the chummy-sounding acronym, PALs (short for passive-activity losses) are anything but friendly to taxpayers, particularly those who invest in real estate. Fortunately, you can gain more tax saving value from your PALs with some astute tax planning.

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Eureka! Your company has created a new gizmo that’s a vast improvement on the competition’s product. Once you work out the bugs, you expect to patent the invention to protect your interests. Then, you hope it will start selling faster than hot cakes.

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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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