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Thinking Ahead Can Help Farmers Save Taxes

Things without all remedy should be without regard; what's done is done.

Shakespeare may not have been referring to last year's taxes when he wrote that as a part of Macbeth, but the 1995 tax year is done. Only Congress can make changes to it now.

So, while farmers gather financial records and receipts from 1995, it's a good time to begin thinking about the 1996 tax year.

"Taxes aren't pleasant for anyone, but there are some things farmers can do to make the blow a little softer," said Keith Kightlinger, a farm business advisor with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

"Tax management is a part of good business management," he said. "It's something you have to pay attention to occasionally throughout the year."

Because farmers are "cash-basis" taxpayers, Kightlinger said, they have some control over their tax liability. Producers can prepay expenses, delay expenses or even time transactions to adjust their annual farm income.

However, to exert that control, they must keep accurate and detailed records. "Pencil and paper or computer makes no difference," he said, "as long as the accuracy is there."

Computers force accuracy, and available software can make generating reports easier. But computers can be an expensive alternative to a notebook, accountants' ledgers and a good, sharp pencil or fine-point pen.

Farmers can look at their total farm income starting around September and begin making management decisions to control their tax liability for the year.

For instance, if total income will be very high, farmers can buy specific supplies for the next year or defer noncontract sales until the new year.

On the other side of the coin, Kightlinger gave the example of a farmer with a loss who is holding a number of bales of cotton. He could sell part or all of the cotton and still not have a high tax liability.

Like anyone, farmers should consult an income tax preparation specialist for specific information and advice on managing their farm tax liability.

The Farmers' Tax Guide from the Internal Revenue Service also provides helpful information for farmers.

Kightlinger recommends that farmers contract with a tax- preparation specialist to file their farm tax returns.

Tax laws are complex and subject to change, he said. Tax underpayment due to misreading or misunderstanding a law can lead to substantial penalty and interest fees, so clear knowledge of the laws is essential.

"Farmers can't be experts at everything," he said. But knowing a little about tax laws can help farmers make management decisions that will ultimately result in tax savings.

Kightlinger said the cost of contracting a professional, licensed tax preparer can pay off in tax savings.

Farmers should have these records easily available for their tax preparer:

* Receipts or other legal documents for equipment or supplies, sales, purchases or trades.

* Records of livestock kept, sold, bought or lost through death.

* Updated employee records.

* Receipts or documents from legitimate contract work done on the farm.

* Bank statements and 1099 forms documenting interest income.

Farmers having a hard time finding these documents need to take the time to set up a filing system. Establishing a definite place for papers will be a big help for next year.

Filing systems can be as simple or complex as the farmer wants.

Simple files work best for many people, with separate files for sales receipts, bank statements, purchase agreements or labor contracts and employee records. Others choose to cross-index or computerize files for easy retrieval.

No matter how farmers choose to set up files or prepare their tax returns, Kightlinger advises everyone to think about taxes before Dec. 31.

"Taxes must be paid," he said. "It's up to the individual to decide how tough or easy filing a return will be and the size of their tax liability."

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