Tax News & Updates

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Tax News and Updates

US & State Tax News

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9 Student Loan Tax Tips For 2019

By: Adam Minsky

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It’s that time of year! Tax time is always a stressful time, particularly for student loan borrowers, who already have massive bureaucracies and administrative headaches to contend with on a regular basis. But tax time can also be a useful opportunity for student loan borrowers to take stock of their student debt, their options for managing it, and potential pitfalls to be wary of. Here are some tips for this year as we enter tax season.

Disability Discharges For Federal Student Loans Are Now Tax-Free

Up until 2018, discharges of federal student loans on the basis of the borrower’s total and permanent disability were treated as taxable.  In other words, the discharged student loan could be viewed as “income” that the borrower earned during the year in which the debt was cancelled; the borrower would then have to be income taxes on that canceled debt. However, thanks to recent legislation, any federal student loan disability discharges that were granted as of January 1, 2018 should no longer be taxable under federal law.

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Your 2019 Guide to Tax Deductions

Matthew Frankel, CFP, The Motley Fool
Motley Fool 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the biggest overhaul to the U.S. tax code in decades, and it made some significant changes to the tax deductions that are available. Many tax deductions were kept intact, but others were modified, and some were eliminated entirely.

There are also several different types of tax deductions, and these can get a bit confusing. For example, some tax deductions are only available if you choose to itemize deductions, while others can be taken even if you opt for the standard deduction. With all that in mind, here’s a rundown of what Americans need to know about tax deductions as the 2019 tax filing season opens.

Person filling out a 1040 tax form with calculator and money nearby.
Person filling out a 1040 tax form with calculator and money nearby.

Image source: Getty Images.

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5 Tax Tips for 2019 — and Beyond

Jan 3, 2019 at 11:00AM

It was an unusually active year on the tax front in 2018 because dozens of new tax rules took effect that dramatically changed the way people get taxed on their income. Although investors have seen all year the impact of lower corporate tax rates in the stocks they follow, the beginning of 2019 will be the first chance that many taxpayers get to see just how large of an impact tax reform had on the amounts they have to pay to Uncle Sam.

As the new year begins and tax season approaches, there are several things you should keep in mind. Some of these tried-and-true techniques have been around for years, but some will work particularly well because of all the recent changes. Follow these tips and you’ll be in a better position to make the most of tax reform and save as much as you can on your returns.

Alarm clock, piles of coins, and letter magnets spelling TAX on a wood table.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

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Why the 2019 Tax Season Could Get Off to a Rocky Start

By Dan Caplinger

Nov 18, 2018 at 6:01PM

Taxpayers have a number of deadlines they have to meet every year. Many of them wait until the last minute to complete their tax returns or file for extensions, facing the danger of costly penalties if they don’t get things done in time.

You don’t often hear about the IRS needing an extension to get its part of the tax puzzle completed, but that’s exactly what could happen this year. The magnitude of changes to the tax laws over the past year has made the Internal Revenue Service’s job a lot more complicated this year, and according to a recent report from a government official charged with oversight responsibility for the IRS, the tax agency could have a tough time starting the 2019 tax season on time.

Brick wall with Internal Revenue Service plaque, next to a red traffic light.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

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Data Analytics: Free Tools for Accounting Professionals

By Ryan Wade, Principal Consultant at Diesel Analytics 

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As seasoned accounting professionals, you may have grown used to using tools like Microsoft Excel for your data analysis and reporting needs. You might be an advanced user of Microsoft Excel and have mastered the use of VBA, advanced formulas, and pivot tables to facilitate your analysis. However, you might not be aware of tools that you already own or are freely available to you that could make your data analysis and reporting much more manageable and robust. In this article, I will list several Excel add-ins and some open source software that can add much value to your data analysis. Let’s get started!

Power Query

Power Query is an Excel add-in that comes pre-installed in Excel 2016 but is also available as a separate add-in in Excel 2013. Many believe that it is the best thing to happen to Excel since pivot tables! Power Query enables you to combine data from multiple sources into one dataset, pivot or unpivot data, and perform complex data transformations all from an easy to use interface! It allows you to efficiently complete tasks that used to require complicated VBA code or was not possible to do at all. Here is a link to a book that will get you from zero to hero reasonably quickly. If you are a visual learner, then you can watch this informative video from Oz du Soleil that introduces you to Power Query.

Power Pivot

My new favorite addition to Microsoft Excel, Power Pivot, is also an add-in that has been available in MS Excel since Excel 2010.  Power Pivot enables you to work with much bigger datasets by using the Excel Data Model. The Excel Data Model is based on the same columnar database engine that is used by Power BI and SQL Server Analysis Services. You can use Power Pivot to create calculated measures and KPI’s to develop traditional financial reports, time comparison reports, and dynamic financial reports. Here is a link to a book written by Rob Collie that is geared to helping traditional MS Excel users learn how to use Power Pivot. I also provided a link to a video by Cara Clifford that does an excellent job of introducing Power Pivot.

MRO

Some built-in data science capabilities in MS Excel enable you to create elementary regression models and do basic forecasting. However, if your goal is to create more robust regression and forecasting models, then you need to use software that is specifically designed to do that. There is premium software available to you like SAS that you can use, but the software is relatively expensive. Fortunately, there are free open source software options that are as good in many respects as the premium options. One of the most popular options is the programming language R, and Microsoft offers an enhanced but free distribution of R named MRO (Microsoft R Open). You can go here to download it for free.

There are over 12,000 packages that are freely available, and many of them are specifically for forecasting. One of them is a popular package developed by Facebook called Prophet. You can go to this link that contains the vignette that describes how to use Prophet for forecasting. The preferred IDE for R is RStudio. RStudio is available for download here.

 

Anaconda

Right now the hot topic everywhere is data science. Many are recognizing the value of using advanced analytics to get insights into their data. The R programming language is one option, but another one is Python. Python has been gaining popularity over the last few years, and Continuum Analytics developed a free distribution of Python for the data science community called Anaconda. You can go here to download Anaconda. You can go here to watch the first of a short, 4-part video series that introduces you to data science via the Python programming.

One of the things you get when you install Anaconda is a tool called Jupyter Notebook. The Jupyter Notebook is very popular in the data science community because it makes it easy to share your analysis with others. I believe there are many applications in accounting where this feature could be useful. One example is sharing a forecasting model that is complete with annotations, charts, and graphs that explains your model. Here is a link to a video that introduces you to the Jupyter Notebook.

In closing, the tools listed in this article could be valuable additions to your toolkit. Power Query and Power Pivot makes doing traditional tasks and analysis performed in Excel much easier, and they also enable you to do things that were not possible before. Both of these tools are heavily used in Power BI so if you learn them it will significantly flatten your Power BI learning curve. When you need to do forecasting or other forms of advanced analytics, take advantage of MRO or Anaconda. Even though they are free, they are very powerful and are used by large organizations like Facebook and YouTube to fulfill some of their advanced analytics needs.

 

Ryan wade is a data analytic professional with close to 20 years of experience. You can view his full LinkedIn profile here.