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Using Alternative Energy For Business Can Bring Tax Benefits & A Tax Break For Educators Gets An Update
Using Alternative Energy For Business Can Bring Tax Benefits
If you’re a business owner, you might be wondering if using alternative energy technologies in your company can help you manage energy costs and improve your bottom line. If this sounds interesting, you should know there’s also a valuable federal income tax benefit that applies to the acquisition of many types of alternative energy property: the business energy credit.
The credit is intended primarily for business users. But be aware that other energy tax breaks apply if you use alternative energy in your home or if you produce energy for sale.
What property is eligible?
The business energy credit is equal to a portion of the cost of the following types of property (with the caveat that construction must begin before 2024):
- Equipment that uses solar energy to generate electricity for heating and cooling structures, for hot water, or for heat used in industrial or commercial processes (except for swimming pools),
- Equipment that uses solar energy to illuminate a structure inside using fiber-optic-distributed sunlight,
- Specific fuel-cell property,
- Certain small wind energy property,
- Specific waste energy property, and
- Certain offshore wind facilities with construction beginning before 2026.
If construction of equipment that uses solar energy to generate electricity for heating and cooling structures, for hot water, or for heat used in industrial or commercial processes begins this year, the credit rate is 26%. It’s reduced to 22% for construction beginning in calendar year 2023. And if the property isn’t placed in service before 2026, the credit is 10%.
For the other types of property mentioned above, if construction begins this year, the credit is also 26%. It’s also reduced to 22% for construction beginning in 2023. But if the property isn’t placed in service before 2026, the credit is 0%.
The only exception is the final type of property mentioned above, certain offshore wind facilities. This type of property isn’t subject to a phaseout.
The business energy credit is equal to 10% of the following types of property with construction beginning before 2024:
- Specific equipment that is used to produce, distribute, or use energy derived from a geothermal deposit,
- Certain cogeneration property,
- Some microturbine property, and
- Certain equipment that uses the ground, or ground water, to heat or cool a structure.
The downside and the upside
There are several restrictions related to the credit. For example, it isn't available for property acquired with certain nonrecourse financing. Additionally, if the credit is allowable for property, the “basis” of that property is reduced by 50% of the allowable credit.
On the other hand, a favorable aspect is that, for the same property, the credit can sometimes be used in combination with other benefits. Examples include federal income tax expensing, state tax credits and utility rebates.
There are business considerations unrelated to the tax and nontax benefits that may influence your decision to use alternative energy. And even if you choose to use it, you might do so without owning the equipment, which would mean forgoing the business energy credit.
As you can see, there are many issues to consider and you may have questions. We can help you work through the tax and other financial aspects of these alternative energy tax considerations.
A Tax Break For Educators Gets An Update
Teachers who are setting up their classrooms for a new school year often pay for some of their classroom supplies out-of-pocket. They can recoup some of that cost by taking advantage of a special tax break for educators. This deduction gained new importance after the 2017 passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). For 2022, the deduction amount has increased for the first time since it was enacted.
The old-school way
Before 2018, employees who had unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses could potentially deduct them if they were ordinary and necessary to the “business” of being an employee. A teacher’s out-of-pocket classroom expenses could qualify. Those expenses were claimed as a miscellaneous deduction, subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. That meant that only taxpayers who itemized deductions could enjoy a tax benefit, and then only to the extent that their deductions exceeded the 2% floor.
For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA has suspended miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI floor. Fortunately, qualifying educators can still deduct some unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom costs using the educator expense deduction.
The new-school way
Back in 2002, Congress created the above-the-line educator expense deduction. An above-the-line deduction is one that’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your AGI. It can be claimed even by taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions. This is especially significant because, under the TCJA, the standard deduction has nearly doubled, which means that fewer taxpayers now itemize deductions.
For 2022, qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct up to $300 of qualified expenses. This is up from $250 for 2021. Two married educators who file a joint tax return can deduct up to $600 of unreimbursed expenses, limited to $300 each.
Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment, related software, services, and other equipment and materials used in classrooms. The cost of certain professional development courses may be deductible. Also, protective items to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as hand sanitizers, disinfectant and other items recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for this purpose are also deductible. However, homeschooling supplies and nonathletic supplies for health or physical education courses aren’t deductible.
Some additional rules apply to the educator expense deduction. If you’re an educator or you know one who might be interested in this tax break, please contact us for more details.
Archive of Past Monthly Newsletters
Deducting The Costs Of A Self-managed Portfolio & How Start-up Costs Of A New Business Affect Your Tax Return
Deducting The Costs Of A Self-managed Portfolio
Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including payment for financial service subscriptions, home office maintenance and clerical support? Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), these expenses aren’t deductible if they’re considered investment expenses to produce income. But they are deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses.
For years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. But the TCJA generally suspended such miscellaneous deductions through 2025.
As a result, only the trade or business expense deduction is currently available for investment-related expenses. If you do a significant amount of trading, you should know which category your investment expenses fall into, because qualifying for trade or business expense treatment is more advantageous now.
A trader vs. an investor
To be able to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that individual taxpayers aren’t engaged in a trade or business merely because they manage their own securities investments, regardless of the amount or the extent of the work required.
However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader, who is engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor, who isn’t. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses.
A trader is also entitled to deduct home office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home office deductions because the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.
A two-part test
Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test, both parts of which must be satisfied for a taxpayer to be considered a trader:
1. The taxpayer’s trading is substantial (in other words, sporadic trading isn’t considered a trade or business), and
2. The taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments.
A taxpayer’s investment activities may be regular, extensive and continuous. But that itself isn’t sufficient for determining that the taxpayer is a trader. To be considered a trader (and therefore entitled to deduct investment-related business expenses) you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency with the goal of making a profit on a short-term basis.
In one U.S. Tax Court case, a taxpayer made more than 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually. Even so, the individual was deemed to be an investor rather than a trader, because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.
Passing the test
Again, to pass the trader test, both parts one and two must be satisfied. Contact us if you have questions or would like to figure out whether you’re an investor or a trader for tax purposes.
How Start-up Costs Of A New Business Affect Your Tax Return
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a large increase in the number of new businesses being launched. The latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that, for the period of June 2020 through June 2021, business applications were up 18.6%. The Bureau measures this by the number of businesses applying for an employer identification number.
Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many of the expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your federal tax bill.
How to treat expenses for tax purposes
If you’re starting or planning to launch a new business, keep these three rules in mind:
1. Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business. The costs of investigating the creation of a new business or the acquisition of one are also considered start-up costs.
2. Under the tax code, taxpayers can make a special election to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. As you know, $5,000 doesn’t go very far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
3. No deductions or amortization deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to start earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity commence?
Be sure to keep detailed records and receipts for these costs, so that nothing falls through the cracks.
In general, “start-up” expenses that qualify for the special election are those you make to:
- Investigate the creation or acquisition of a business,
- Create a business, or
- Engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business.
An expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To be eligible as an “organization expense” under the special election, an expense must be related to establishing a corporation or partnership. Examples of organization expenses include legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.
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Hiring Your Minor Children For Summer Jobs & After Filing Your Taxes, What Records Can You Toss?
Hiring Your Minor Children For Summer Jobs
If you’re a business owner and you hire your children this summer, you can obtain tax breaks and other nontax benefits. The kids can gain on-the-job experience, save for college and learn how to manage money. And you may be able to:
- Shift some of your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income, and
- Realize payroll tax savings (depending on the child’s age and how your business is organized).
Plus, you can spend more time with your kids.
A legitimate job
If you hire your child, you get a business tax deduction for employee wage expenses. In turn, the deduction reduces your federal income tax bill, your self-employment tax bill (if applicable) and your state income tax bill (if applicable). However, for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work performed by the child must be legitimate and the child’s pay must be reasonable.
Let’s say you operate as a sole proprietor and you’re in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old daughter to help with office work on a full-time basis during the summer and part-time into the fall. Your daughter earns $10,000 during 2022 and doesn’t have any other earnings.
You save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no income tax cost to your daughter. She can use her standard deduction of $12,950 for 2022 to completely shelter her earnings.
Your family’s taxes are cut even if your daughter’s earnings exceed her standard deduction. Why? The unsheltered earnings will be taxed to your daughter beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at your higher rate.
How payroll taxes might be saved
If your business isn’t incorporated and certain other conditions are met, your child’s wages are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and FUTA taxes. Your child must be under age 18 for this to apply (or under age 21 for the FUTA tax exemption). Contact us for how this works.
Be aware that there’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners. And payments for the services of your child are subject to income tax withholding, regardless of age, no matter what type of entity you operate.
Keep accurate records
Hiring your child can be a tax-smart idea. Be sure to keep the same records as you would for other employees to substantiate the hours worked and duties performed (such as timesheets and job descriptions). Issue your child a Form W-2. Contact us with questions about how these rules apply to your situation.
After Filing Your Taxes, What Records Can You Toss?
If you’ve filed your 2021 tax return, you may want to do some spring cleaning, starting with tax-related paper clutter. Paring down is good. Just be careful to hold on to essential records that may be needed in the event of an IRS audit. Some documents may be needed to help you collect a future refund or assist with filing your return next year. Before you start tossing or shredding documents, read the rules to learn what must be kept (and for how long) and what can be safely discarded.
The general rules
At a minimum, you should keep tax records for as long as the IRS can audit your tax return or assess additional taxes. That’s usually three years after you file your return. This means you potentially can get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2018 and earlier years.
However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their adjusted gross income by more than 25%. What constitutes an understatement may go beyond simply not reporting items of income. So, to be safe, a general rule of thumb is to save tax records for six years from filing.
Keep some records longer
You need to hang on to some tax-related records beyond the statute of limitations. For example:
- Keep the tax returns themselves indefinitely, so you can prove to the IRS that you did file a legitimate return. (If you didn’t file a return or if you filed a fraudulent return, there’s no statute of limitations.)
- Retain W-2 forms until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. That may seem long, but if questions arise regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year, you’ll need your W-2 forms to help provide the documentation needed.
- Keep records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the assets, plus at least three years after you sell them and report the sales on your tax return (or six years if you want extra protection).
- Hang on to records associated with retirement accounts until you’ve depleted the accounts and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years.
If you’re still not sure about a specific document, feel free to ask us.
Other reasons to retain records
Keep in mind that these are the federal tax record retention guidelines. Your state and local tax record requirements may differ. In addition, lenders, co-op boards and other private parties may require you to produce copies of your tax returns as a condition of lending money, approving a purchase or otherwise doing business with you. Contact us with questions or concerns about recordkeeping.
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Could You Be Hit With The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty? & Taking Casualty Loss Tax Deductions Is Now Harder
Could You Be Hit With The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty?
There’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be personally responsible to pay if you own or manage a business with employees. It’s called the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty. It applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from the wages of its employees.
Because taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes can be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts the IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and the IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.
A wide-reaching penalty
The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies both to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.
Here are some questions and answers to help you avoid incurring the penalty:
What actions are penalized? The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to willful failures to collect or truthfully account for and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.
Who is at risk? The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include corporate officers, directors and shareholders who are under a duty to collect and pay the tax, and a partnership’s partners or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, may be subject to this penalty under certain circumstances. In some cases, responsibility has even been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.
According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and you have the power to pay them but instead you make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.
Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken after the penalty is paid. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.
What is considered “willful?” For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due to the federal government is willful behavior. The IRS specifically defines “willfully” in this instance as “voluntarily, consciously and intentionally” paying other expenses instead of the withholding taxes.
Just because you delegate these responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to deal with the task yourself can be treated as the willful element.
Never borrow from taxes
Under no circumstances should you ever fail to withhold taxes or “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds that have been withheld from employee paychecks should be paid over to the government in full and on time. Contact us with any questions about making tax payments.
Taking Casualty Loss Tax Deductions Is Now Harder
Unexpected disasters can happen anywhere, causing damage to your home and personal property. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), eligible casualty loss victims could claim a deduction on their tax returns. But restrictions make it tougher to qualify for these deductions.
What’s considered a casualty for tax purposes? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, fire, act of vandalism or terrorist attack.
Higher hurdles to qualify
The TCJA generally eliminates deductions for personal casualty losses through 2025, unless the losses are due to a federally declared disaster.
There is an exception to the general rule, however: If you receive insurance proceeds that result in a personal casualty gain, you can deduct personal casualty losses up to the amount of the gain, even without a federal disaster declaration.
If your casualty loss is due to a federally declared disaster, a special election allows you to deduct the loss on your tax return for the preceding year and claim a refund. If you’ve already filed your tax return for that year, you may file an amended return and elect to claim the deduction for the earlier year. This may help you get extra cash when you need it.
The election must be made no later than six months after the due date (without extensions) for filing your tax return for the year in which the disaster occurs. However, the election itself must be made on an original or amended return for the preceding year.
Calculating the deduction
These three steps must be taken to calculate the casualty loss deduction for personal-use property in an area declared a federal disaster:
1. Subtract any insurance proceeds,
2. Subtract $100 per casualty event, and
3. Combine the results from steps 1 and 2, then subtract 10% of your adjusted gross income for the year you claim the loss deduction.
Be aware that another factor that complicates your ability to claim a casualty loss is that you must itemize deductions to do so. The TCJA significantly raised the standard deduction through 2025. For 2022, it is $12,950 for single filers, $19,400 for heads of household and $25,900 for married couples filing jointly. A higher standard deduction means fewer individuals will itemize deductions. So, even if you qualify for a casualty loss deduction, you might not see a tax benefit if you don’t have enough itemized deductions.
The rules described here are for personal property. Keep in mind, the rules for business or income-producing property are different. It’s easier to secure a business property casualty loss deduction. If you’re a victim of a disaster (business or personal), we can help you navigate the complex rules.
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Slim Your 2021 Tax Bill By Fattening Your IRA & Hiring? You May Be Eligible For A Valuable Credit
Slim Your 2021 Tax Bill By Fattening Your IRA
If you didn’t get around to contributing to an IRA in 2021 and you’re looking for ways to lower your tax bill, you may still have an option. Qualified taxpayers can make deductible contributions to traditional IRAs until the tax filing date of April 18, 2022, and claim the benefit on their 2021 returns.
Who is eligible?
You can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA if:
- You (and your spouse) aren’t active participants in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or
- You (or your spouse) are active participants in an employer plan, but your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) doesn’t exceed certain levels that vary from year to year by filing status.
For 2021, joint tax return filers who are covered by an employer plan have a deductible IRA contribution phaseout range of $105,000 to $125,000 of MAGI. For taxpayers who are single or a head of household, the phaseout range is $66,000 to $76,000. For married filing separately, the phaseout range is $0 to $10,000. For 2021, if you’re not an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but your spouse is, the deductible IRA contribution phaseout range is $198,000 to $208,000 of MAGI.
Deductible IRA contributions reduce your current tax bill, and earnings within the IRA are tax deferred. However, every dollar you take out is taxed in full (and subject to a 10% penalty before age 59½, unless an exception applies).
IRAs are often referred to as “traditional” IRAs to distinguish them from “Roth” IRAs. You also have until April 18 to make a Roth IRA contribution, though, unlike traditional IRA contributions, Roth IRA contributions aren’t deductible. Withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax-free if the account has been open at least five years and you’re age 59½ or older. (Contributions to a Roth IRA are subject to income limits.)
What’s the contribution limit?
For 2021, if you’re eligible, you can make deductible traditional IRA contributions of up to $6,000. If you were age 50 or older on Dec. 31, 2021, you also may be eligible to make a “catch-up” contribution of up to $1,000.
Alternatively, small business owners can set up and contribute to a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA up until the due date for their returns, including extensions. For 2021, the maximum SEP contribution is $58,000.
2 alternate IRA strategies
Here are a couple of other ways you may be able to save tax with an IRA:
1. Turn a nondeductible Roth IRA contribution into a deductible IRA contribution. Did you make a Roth IRA contribution in 2021? That’s helpful in the future when you take tax-free payouts from the account, but the contribution isn’t deductible. If a deduction is important now, you can convert a Roth IRA contribution into a traditional IRA contribution using a “recharacterization” mechanism. Assuming you meet the requirements, you may then take a traditional IRA deduction.
2. Make a deductible IRA contribution, even if you don’t work. Generally, you must have wages or other earned income to make a deductible traditional IRA contribution. An exception applies if your spouse is the breadwinner and you’re a homemaker. If so, you may be able to take advantage of a spousal IRA.
For more information about how IRAs or SEPs can help you save the maximum tax-advantaged amount for retirement, contact us.
Hiring? You May Be Eligible For A Valuable Credit
If you’re a business owner who needs to hire, be aware that a law enacted at the end of 2020 extended through 2025 a tax credit for employers that hire individuals from one or more targeted groups. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is generally worth $2,400 for each eligible employee but can be worth more, in some cases much more.
Generally, an employer is eligible for the credit only for qualified wages paid to members of a targeted group. These groups are:
1. Qualified members of families that receive assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program,
2. Qualified veterans,
3. Qualified ex-felons,
4. Designated community residents,
5. Vocational rehabilitation referrals,
6. Qualified summer youth employees,
7. Qualified members of families in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP),
8. Qualified Supplemental Security Income recipients,
9. Long-term family assistance recipients, and
10. Long-term unemployed individuals.
Employer eligibility and requirements
Employers of all sizes are eligible to claim the WOTC. This includes both taxable and certain tax-exempt employers located in the United States and in some U.S. territories. Taxable employers can claim the WOTC against income taxes. However, eligible tax-exempt employers can only claim the WOTC against payroll taxes and only for wages paid to members of the qualified veteran targeted group.
Many additional conditions must be fulfilled before employers can qualify for the credit. Each employee must have completed a minimum of 120 hours of service for the employer. Also, the credit isn’t available for employees who are related to the employer or who previously worked for the employer.
The credit amounts differ for specific employees. The maximum credit available for the first year’s wages is $2,400 for each employee, or $4,000 for a recipient of long-term family assistance. In addition, for those receiving long-term family assistance, there’s a 50% credit for up to $10,000 of second-year wages. The maximum credit available over two years for these employees is $9,000 ($4,000 for Year 1 and $5,000 for Year 2).
For some veterans, the limits are $4,800, $5,600 or $9,600. For summer youth employees, the wages must be paid for services performed during any 90-day period between May 1 and September 15. The maximum WOTC credit available for summer youth workers is $1,200 per employee.
Additional rules and requirements apply. And in limited circumstances, the rules may prohibit the credit or require an allocation of it. However, for most employers that hire from targeted groups, the credit can be valuable. Contact us with questions or for more information about your situation.
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Get More Worms By Filing Your Tax Return Early & Businesses Can Still Deduct 100% of Restaurant Meals
Get more worms by filing your tax return early
They say the early bird gets the worm. Early federal income tax filers may get a couple worms, which is a good thing in this metaphor.
Although it may seem like a quaint tradition to wait until the deadline (usually April 15, but actually April 18 in 2022), there’s more than one valid reason for getting your return completed and submitted well before this date. But you have to have the necessary documents to do so.
Prevent identity theft
In one tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund. The real taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is told by the IRS that the return is being rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year.
While the taxpayer should ultimately be able to prove that his or her return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can be a hassle to straighten out and significantly delay a refund. Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected, not yours.
Get a potentially earlier refund
Another reason to file early is you may put yourself closer to the front of the line to receive your tax refund (if you’re owed one). The IRS website still indicates that it expects to issue most refunds for the 2021 tax year within the usual 21 days, despite the massive pandemic-related delays that affected millions of 2020 tax returns.
The time is typically shorter if you file electronically and receive a refund by direct deposit into a bank account. Direct deposit also avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen, returned to the IRS as undeliverable or caught in mail delays.
Look for your documents
To file your tax return, you need your Form W-2s (if you’re an employee) and Form 1099s (if you’ve worked as an independent contractor or “gig worker”). January 31 is the deadline for employers to issue 2021 Form W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099s to recipients of any 2021 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors).
If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099 by February 1, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for assistance.
As of this writing, some taxpayers may still be waiting to receive their 2020 federal income tax refunds. A few people (mostly on social media) have floated the idea of refusing to file their 2021 income tax returns until they receive their refund. Is this a good idea?
No, it’s not. Failing to file your return will only lead to bigger headaches later, possibly even penalties and criminal prosecution. Plus, if you’re owed a 2021 refund, you may receive that money before your 2020 refund. But the only way to get it is to file!
If you have questions or would like an appointment to prepare your return, please contact us. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all the breaks available to you.
Businesses can still deduct 100% of restaurant meals
Business owners, 2022 is well underway. So, don’t forget that a provision tucked inside 2020’s Consolidated Appropriations Act suspended the 50% deduction limit for certain business meals for calendar years 2021 and 2022. That means your business can deduct 100% of the cost of business-related meals provided by a restaurant.
A closer look
As you may recall, previously you could generally deduct only 50% of the “ordinary and necessary” food and beverage costs you incurred while operating your business. Now you can deduct your full eligible costs.
What’s more, the legislation refers to food and beverages provided “by” a restaurant rather than “in” a restaurant. So, takeout and delivery restaurant meals also are fully deductible.
Remember the rules
Some familiar IRS requirements still apply:
- The food and beverages can’t be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances.
- The meal must involve a current or prospective customer, client, supplier, employee, agent, partner or professional advisor with whom you could reasonably expect to engage in the due course of business.
- You or one of your employees must be present when the food or beverages are served.
Entertainment expenses still aren’t deductible, but meals served during entertainment events can be deductible if charged separately. If food or beverages are provided at an entertainment activity, further rules apply.
Also be aware that, in November of last year, the IRS issued guidance on per diems related to the temporary 100% deduction for restaurant food and beverages. Contact us for further details about when you can deduct meal expenses.
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Could Your Company Reap Tax Benefits From a Heavy SUV Purchase? & Tracking Down Donation Substantiation
Could your company reap tax benefits from a heavy SUV purchase?
Many businesses need to invest in heavy sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to transport equipment and provide timely services. Fortunately, they may be able to claim valuable tax deductions for the purchases. If you’re thinking about buying one (or if your bought one in 2021), be sure to brush up on the tax rules.
Under current law, first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service during the tax year. New and pre-owned heavy SUVs, pickups and vans acquired and put to business use in 2021 or 2022 are potentially eligible for 100% first-year bonus depreciation.
Be aware that this generous tax break is scheduled to begin to be reduced for vehicles that are acquired and placed in service after December 31, 2022. That’s added incentive to invest in a heavy SUV this year.
The 100% first-year bonus depreciation write-off will reduce your federal income tax bill and self-employment tax bill, if applicable. You might get a state income tax deduction, too.
Weight and use requirements
100% bonus depreciation is available only if the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s GVWR by looking at the manufacturer’s label, usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door where the door hinges meet the frame.
Another requirement is that you must use the vehicle more than 50% for business. If your business use is between 51% and 99%, you can deduct that percentage of the cost in the first year the vehicle is placed in service.
Detailed, contemporaneous expense records are essential in case the IRS challenges your business-use percentage. So, keep track of the miles you’re driving for business purposes, compared to the vehicle’s total mileage for the year. Recordkeeping is easier today because of the many mobile apps designed for this purpose.
You could also simply keep a handwritten calendar or mileage log in your vehicle and record details as business trips occur. Maintaining contemporaneous records is critical; calendars or logs compiled after the fact may not withstand IRS scrutiny.
The right moves
Did you purchase an eligible vehicle and place it in service in 2021? Or are you considering doing so in 2022? Consult with us to help evaluate the right business tax moves.
Tracking down donation substantiation
If you’re like many Americans, letters from your favorite charities may be appearing in your mailbox acknowledging your 2021 donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter? Can you still claim a deduction for the gift on your 2021 income tax return? It depends.
To support a charitable deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. This generally includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation if it’s cash. If the donation is property, the acknowledgment must describe the property, but the charity isn’t required to provide a value. The donor must determine the property’s value.
“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of the date you file your tax return or the extended due date of your return. So, if you donated in 2021 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late (as long as you haven’t filed your 2021 return). Contact the charity and request a written acknowledgment.
Keep in mind that, if you made a cash gift of under $250 with a check or credit card, generally a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement is sufficient. However, if you received something in return for the donation, you generally must reduce your deduction by its value and the charity is required to provide you a written acknowledgment as described earlier.
Deduction for nonitemizers
Generally, taxpayers who don’t itemize their deductions (and instead claim the standard deduction) can’t claim a charitable deduction. But, under the CARES Act, individuals who didn’t itemize deductions could claim a federal income tax write-off for up to $300 of cash contributions to IRS-approved charities for the 2020 tax year.
Fortunately, the Consolidated Appropriations Act extended this tax break to cover $300 of cash contributions made in 2021. The law also doubled the deduction limit to $600 for married, joint-filing couples for cash contributions made in 2021.
Let us assist you
Additional substantiation requirements apply to some types of donations. We can help you determine whether you have sufficient substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2021 income tax return. We also can guide you on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2022 return.
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Gig Workers: Here Comes an Estimated Tax Deadline & Budgeting for Baby
Gig workers: Here comes an estimated tax deadline
If you’re a gig worker or otherwise self-employed, and you don’t have taxes withheld from a paycheck, you likely have to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. Be advised that the fourth quarter 2021 estimated tax payment deadline for individuals is coming up on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.
A pay-as-you-go system
If you do have some withholding from paychecks or payments you receive but you receive other types of income such as Social Security, prizes, rent, interest and dividends, you may still have to make estimated payments. And if you fail to make the required payments, you may be subject to a penalty as well as interest.
Generally, you need to make estimated tax payments for 2021 if you expect withholding to be less than the smaller of 90% of your tax for 2021 or 100% of your 2020 tax. (The applicable amount is 110% of your 2020 tax if your 2020 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000, or $75,000 if married filing separately.)
Sole proprietors, partners and S corporation shareholders generally must make estimated tax payments if they expect to owe $1,000 or more in tax when filing a tax return.
Quarterly due dates
If you’re new to estimated tax payments, be prepared to submit them throughout the year. The due dates are typically April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year. However, if the date falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is the next business day.
Estimated tax is calculated by factoring in expected gross income, taxable income, deductions and credits for the year. The easiest way to pay estimated tax is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can also pay estimated tax by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher, or by credit or debit card.
Most individuals make estimated tax payments in the four installments. You simply determine the required annual payment, divide the number by four and make four equal payments by the due dates.
However, you may be able to make smaller payments during some quarters under an “annualized income method.” This can be useful to people whose income isn’t uniform over the year, perhaps because of a seasonal business. You may also want to use the annualized income method if a large portion of your income comes from capital gains on the sale of securities that you sell at various times during the year.
The correct amount
Estimated tax payments are just like paying a traditional tax bill in that you want to fulfill your obligation without overpaying the federal government. Contact our firm with any questions you may have about setting up estimated tax payments or using the annualized income method.
Budgeting for baby
Babies bring joy and excitement. They also bring substantial adjustments to the family budget! According to U.S. News and World Report, after adjusting for inflation, it costs about $267,233 in 2021 dollars to raise a baby to age 18 (based on previously published Bureau of Labor Statistics data). That’s a daunting number, to be sure. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to, shall we say, pacify the challenge.
Check your insurance
Life and disability insurance are critical. Life insurance provides financial protection if an income-earner in your family dies. Term insurance can be a cost-effective option. It offers protection for a specific period, such as 20 years (at which point many children will be relatively self-sufficient, and the loss of income less harmful). Of course, you’ll also need to ensure that your will names a guardian to look after your children in case of your death while they’re still minors.
Disability insurance provides financial protection if a breadwinner becomes disabled and no longer can earn a living. While some employers offer disability insurance, the policies often don’t provide enough income to cover all expenses. And Social Security disability benefits might not offer the protection you expect. For instance, to obtain the benefits, the breadwinner typically must be unable to work at any job. So, consider purchasing your own policy that will pay if you can’t continue in your current job. The distinction might make a difference.
Review tax breaks
Eligible parents can receive a valuable Child Tax Credit. And if you pay a caregiver to watch your baby so you can work, you may be able to claim the dependent care credit. For 2021, depending on your income, this can be up to 50% of eligible childcare expenses, up to $8,000 for one child, or $16,000 for two or more. The caregiver typically can’t be a dependent, your spouse or a parent of the child.
Another option is a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA). This is an employer-sponsored program that allows parents to set aside up to $10,500 (for 2021) pretax annually (up to $5,250 if you’re married and file separately) to cover qualified childcare expenses. It’s important to note that you can’t use both the credit and the FSA for the same expenses.
Start saving for college early
The sooner you start saving for your baby’s education, the more you can leverage the value of compounding. If you save $200 per month starting at your baby’s birth and earn a 6% return, you’ll have nearly $78,000 in 18 years!
One of the best options, potentially, is a Section 529 education savings plan. It allows you to save for college expenses, as well as K-12 tuition expenses. Contributions aren’t tax-deductible for federal purposes, but many states offer tax benefits. Withdrawals used for qualified education expenses (limited to $10,000 per year for K-12 tuition) aren’t subject to federal income tax, and typically not subject to state income tax.
Get expert advice
Whether you have a baby on the way or your family expanded earlier in the year, it’s important to make sure you’re taking the right steps to ensure your child’s financial security. We can offer advice to help you evaluate various options and maximize your tax savings.
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Is Disability Income Taxable? & 4 Ways to Withdraw Cash From a Corporation
Is disability income taxable?
Many Americans receive disability income. If you’re one of them or know someone who is, you may wonder whether it’s taxable. As is often the case with tax questions, the answer is “it depends.”
The key factor is who paid the disability income (or who paid for the disability insurance funding the income). If the income is paid directly to you by your employer, it’s taxable to you as ordinary salary or wages would be. Taxable disability benefits are also subject to federal income tax withholding, though, depending on the disability plan, they sometimes aren’t subject to Social Security tax.
Frequently, disability payments aren’t made by the employer but by an insurer under a policy providing disability coverage or under an arrangement having the effect of accident or health insurance. In such cases, the tax treatment depends on who paid for the coverage. If your employer paid for it, then the income is taxable to you just as if paid directly to you by the employer. On the other hand, if it’s a policy you paid for, the payments you receive under it aren’t taxable.
Even if your employer arranges for the coverage (in other words, it’s a policy made available to you at work), the benefits aren’t taxed to you if you pay the premiums. For these purposes, if the premiums are paid by the employer but the amount paid is included as part of your taxable income from work, the premiums are treated as paid by you.
Let’s say your salary is $1,000 a week ($52,000 a year). Under a disability insurance arrangement made available to you by your employer, $10 a week ($520 for the year) is paid on your behalf by your employer to an insurance company. A total of $52,520 is included in income as your wages for the year on your W-2 form: the $52,000 paid to you plus the $520 in disability insurance premiums. In this case, the insurance is treated as paid for by you. If you become disabled and receive benefits, they aren’t taxable income to you.
Now, let’s look at an example with the same facts as above but with one exception: Only $52,000 is included in income as your wages for the year on your W-2 because the amount paid for the insurance coverage qualifies as excludable under the rules for employer-provided health and accident plans. In this case, the insurance is treated as paid for by your employer. If you become disabled and receive benefits, they are taxable income to you.
Note: There are special rules in the case of a permanent loss (or loss of the use) of a part or function of the body, or a permanent disfigurement.
This discussion doesn’t cover the tax treatment of Social Security disability benefits, which may be taxed under different rules. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this further or have questions about regular disability income.
4 ways to withdraw cash from a corporation
Owners of closely held corporations often want or need to withdraw cash from the business. The simplest way, of course, is to distribute the money as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient because it’s taxable to the owner to the extent of the corporation’s earnings and profits. It also isn’t deductible by the corporation. Here are four alternative strategies to consider:
1. Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation.
This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If there isn’t proper documentation or the debt-to-equity ratio is too high, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make future cash contributions to the corporation, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.
2. Compensation. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient(s). This same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property.
In both cases, the compensation amount must be reasonable in terms of the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s considered excessive, the excess will be a nondeductible corporate distribution (and taxable to the recipient as a dividend).
3. Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50%-owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain.
A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.
4. Loans. You can withdraw cash tax-free from the corporation by borrowing money from it. However, to prevent having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or note. It should also be made on terms that are comparable to those in which an unrelated third party would lend money to you, including a provision for interest (at least equal to the applicable federal rate) and principal. Also, consider what the corporation’s receipt of interest income will mean.
These are just a few ideas. If you’re interested in discussing these or other possible ways to withdraw cash from a closely held corporation, contact us. We can help you identify the optimal approach at the lowest tax cost.
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Being Prepared For An IRS Audit & The Deductibility of Medical Expenses
Being Prepared For An IRS Audit
The IRS recently announced it intends to hire thousands of new employees as part of a tax-enforcement push. This could mean an uptick in audits sometime soon, likely focused on wealthier individuals and business owners. (Some tax returns are chosen randomly as well.)
The best way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare for one in advance. On an ongoing basis, you should systematically maintain documentation (invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts and other proof) for the items that you report on your tax return. Maintain and back up these records safely. With that said, it also helps to know what might catch the tax agency’s attention.
Audit hot spots
Certain types of tax-return entries are known to the IRS to involve inaccuracies, so they may lead to an audit. One example is significant inconsistencies between tax returns filed in the past and your most current tax return. If you miscalculate deductions or try to claim unusually high ones, your return could be flagged. And if you’re a business owner, gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of similar companies could subject you to an audit.
Certain types of deductions, such as auto and travel expense write-offs, may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements involved. In addition, an owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those of similar and similarly located companies can catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is a corporation.
The IRS normally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often an audit doesn’t begin until a year or more after you file a return. If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS doesn’t make initial contact by phone. If there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call. Ignore unsolicited email messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner; these are scams.
Many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions that you’ve claimed. Others may ask you to provide receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the harshest version, the field audit, requires you to meet personally with one or more IRS auditors.
Keep in mind that the tax agency won’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. You’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
How we can help
If the IRS chooses you for an audit, our firm can help you understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always clear) and then gather the documents and information needed. We can also help you respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.
Above all, don’t panic! Many audits are routine. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your tax-related information, whether for an individual or business return, you’ll make an audit easier and even decrease the chances that one will happen in the first place.
The Deductibility of Medical Expenses
Individual taxpayers may be able to claim medical expense deductions on their tax returns. However, the rules can be challenging, and it can be difficult to qualify. Here are six points to keep in mind:
1. You must itemize to claim this deduction. To benefit from itemizing, your total itemized deductions must exceed your standard deduction. Besides medical expenses, itemized deductions may include property taxes, state and local income tax, mortgage interest, charitable donations, etc., subject to various rules and limits.
With the increased standard deduction that’s been available in recent years, far fewer taxpayers are benefitting from itemizing. For 2021, the standard deduction is $25,100 for married couples filing jointly, $18,800 for heads of households and $12,550 for singles.
2. Your expenses must be fairly significant. The medical expense deduction can be claimed only to the extent your eligible costs exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Remember, expenses paid via tax-advantaged accounts (such as Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts) or reimbursable by insurance aren’t deductible.
If you’ll benefit from itemizing deductions this year and your year-to-date medical expenses are close to exceeding the 7.5% of AGI “floor,” moving or “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into this year may allow you to exceed the 7.5% floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. If your expenses already exceed the floor, bunching can increase your deduction.
3. Health insurance premiums may help. This can total thousands of dollars a year. Even if your employer provides health coverage, you can deduct the portion of the premiums that you pay, unless you paid them pre-tax. (Check with your employer if you’re not sure).
Long-term care insurance premiums are also included as medical expenses, subject to limits based on age.
4. Transportation counts. The cost of getting to and from medical treatments counts as a medical expense. This includes taxi fares, public transportation or using your own car.
Car costs can be calculated at 16 cents a mile for miles driven in 2021, plus tolls and parking. Alternatively, you can deduct certain actual costs (such as for gas and oil) that directly relate to your medical transportation.
5. Controllable costs are key. These include the costs of glasses, hearing aids, dental work, mental health counseling and other ongoing expenses in connection with medical needs. Purely cosmetic expenses generally don’t qualify.
Prescription drugs (including insulin) qualify, but over-the-counter medications and vitamins don’t. Neither do amounts paid for treatments that are illegal under federal law (such as medical marijuana), even if state law permits them. The services of therapists and nurses can qualify if they relate to medical conditions and aren’t for general health.
6. Don’t overlook smoking-cessation and weight-loss programs. Amounts paid for participating in smoking-cessation programs and for prescribed drugs designed to alleviate nicotine withdrawal are deductible. However, nonprescription nicotine gum and patches aren’t.
A weight-loss program is deductible if undertaken as treatment for a disease diagnosed by a physician. Deductible expenses include fees paid to join a program and attend periodic meetings. The cost of diet food isn’t deductible.
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Which Business Website Costs Are Deductible? & Energize Tax Savings With An EV Credit
Which business website costs are deductible?
Every business needs a website, but it’s not always easy to determine which costs of running one are deductible. Fortunately, established rules that generally apply to the deductibility of more long-standing business costs provide business owners with a basic idea of how to anticipate and handle the tax impact of a website. And the IRS has issued guidance that applies to software costs.
Hardware costs generally fall under the standard rules for depreciable equipment. Specifically, once website-related assets are up and running, you can deduct 100% of the cost in the first year they’re placed in service (before 2023). This favorable treatment is allowed under the 100% first-year bonus depreciation break.
In later years, you can probably deduct 100% of these costs in the year the assets are placed in service under the Section 179 first-year depreciation expensing privilege. However, Sec. 179 deductions are subject to several limitations.
For the 2021 tax year, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $1.05 million, subject to a phaseout rule. Under the rule, the deduction is phased out if more than a specified amount of qualified property is placed in service during the year. The threshold amount for 2021 is $2.62 million.
There’s also a taxable income limit. Under it, your Sec. 179 deduction can’t exceed your business taxable income. In other words, Sec. 179 deductions can’t create or increase an overall tax loss. However, any Sec. 179 deduction amount that you can’t immediately deduct is carried forward and can be deducted in later years (to the extent permitted by the applicable limits).
Similar rules apply to off-the-shelf software that you buy for your business. However, software license fees are treated differently from purchased software costs for tax purposes. Payments for leased or licensed software used for your website are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
An alternative position is that your software development costs are currently deductible research and development costs under the tax code. To qualify for this treatment, the costs must be paid or incurred by December 31, 2022. A more conservative approach would be to capitalize the costs of internally developed software. Then you would depreciate them over 36 months.
If your website is primarily for advertising, you can also currently deduct internal website software development costs as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
Are you paying a third party for software to run your website? This is commonly referred to as “software as a service.” In general, payments to third parties are currently deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.
So much of business today seems to happen in virtual places other than your website — such as social media, apps and teleconferencing calls. Nonetheless, a central website where you can provide a solid overview of your company is still important. We can help you determine the appropriate tax treatment of website costs.
Energize tax savings with an EV credit
Electric vehicles (EVs) are increasing in popularity all the time — and more of them are qualifying for a federal tax credit. In fact, the IRS added several more eligible models over the summer.
The tax code provides a credit to buyers of qualifying plug-in electric drive motor vehicles, including passenger vehicles and light trucks. The credit is equal to $2,500 plus an additional amount, based on battery capacity, that can’t exceed $5,000. Therefore, the maximum credit allowed for a qualifying EV is $7,500.
For purposes of the tax credit, a qualifying vehicle is defined as one with four wheels that’s propelled to a significant extent by an electric motor, which draws electricity from a battery. The battery must have a capacity of not less than four kilowatt hours and be capable of being recharged from an external source of electricity.
However, depending on the EV you purchase, the credit may not be available because of a per-manufacturer cumulative sales limitation. Specifically, it phases out over six quarters beginning when a manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles for use in the United States (determined on a cumulative basis for sales after December 31, 2009). For example, Tesla and General Motors vehicles are no longer eligible for the tax credit.
The IRS provides a list of qualifying vehicles on its website and, as mentioned, recently added more eligible models. You can access the list here: https://bit.ly/2Yrhg5Z.
There are some additional points about the plug-in EV tax credit to keep in mind. It’s allowed only in the year you place the vehicle in service, and the vehicle must be new. Also, an eligible vehicle must be used predominantly in the United States and have a gross weight of less than 14,000 pounds.
There’s a separate 10% federal income tax credit for the purchase of qualifying electric two-wheeled vehicles manufactured primarily for use on public thoroughfares and capable of at least 45 miles per hour (in other words, electric-powered motorcycles). It can be worth up to $2,500. This electric motorcycle credit was recently extended to cover qualifying 2021 purchases.
These are only the basic rules. There may be additional incentives provided by your state. Contact us if you’d like to receive more information about the federal plug-in EV tax break.
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Know the Nuances of the Nanny Tax & 5 Key Points About Bonus Depreciation
Know the Nuances of the Nanny Tax
Many families hire household workers to care for their children, their home or their outdoor spaces. If you’re among them, be sure you know the nuances of the “nanny tax.”
For federal tax purposes, a household worker is anyone who does household work for you and isn’t an independent contractor. Common examples include child care providers, housekeepers and gardeners.
If you employ such a person, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from the individual’s pay unless the worker asks you to and you agree. In that case, the worker would need to complete a Form W-4. However, you may have other withholding and payment obligations.
You must withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, otherwise known as “FICA” taxes, if your worker earns cash wages of $2,300 or more (excluding food and lodging) during 2021. If you reach the threshold, all wages (not just the excess) are subject to FICA taxes.
Employers are responsible for withholding the worker’s share and must pay a matching employer amount. The Social Security tax portion of FICA taxes is 6.2% for both the employer and the worker (12.4% total). Medicare tax is 1.45% each for the employer and the worker (2.9% total). If you prefer, you can pay your worker’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, instead of withholding it from pay.
However, if your worker is under 18 and child care isn’t his or her principal occupation, you don’t have to withhold FICA taxes. Therefore, if your worker is really a student/part-time babysitter, there’s no FICA tax liability.
Reporting and paying
You pay nanny tax by increasing your quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from your wages rather than by making an annual lump-sum payment. You don’t have to file any employment tax returns — even if you’re required to withhold or pay tax — unless you own a business. Instead, your tax professional will report employment taxes on Schedule H of your individual Form 1040 tax return.
On your return, your employer identification number (EIN) will be included when reporting employment taxes. The EIN isn’t the same as your Social Security number. If you need an EIN, you must file Form SS-4.
A keen awareness
Retaining a household worker calls for careful recordkeeping and a keen awareness of the applicable rules. Keep in mind that you may also have federal unemployment tax (FUTA) liability, as well as state and local tax obligations. Contact us for assistance complying.
5 Key Points About Bonus Depreciation
Like most business owners, you’ve probably heard about 100% bonus depreciation — and hopefully you’ve been claiming it when appropriate. It’s available for a wide range of qualifying asset purchases and allows you to deduct the entire expense of an eligible asset in the year it’s placed in service.
But there are many important details to keep in mind as you plan your asset purchases for 2021 and beyond. Here are five key points about this powerful tax-saving tool:
1. It’s scheduled to be reduced and eliminated. Under current law, 100% bonus depreciation will be gradually reduced and eliminated for property placed in service in 2023 through 2026. Thus, an 80% rate will apply to property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, and 20% in 2026. Bonus depreciation will be eliminated for 2027 and later years.
For some aircraft (generally, company planes) and for costs of certain property with a long production period, the reduction is scheduled to take place beginning a year later, from 2024 through 2027. Then it will be eliminated beginning in 2028.
Of course, Congress could pass legislation to extend bonus depreciation.
2. It’s available for new and most used property. Before a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provision went into effect in late 2017, used property didn’t qualify for bonus depreciation. It currently qualifies unless the taxpayer is the party that previously used the property or unless the property was acquired in ineligible transactions. (These are, generally, acquisitions that are tax-free or from a related person or entity.)
3. In some situations you should elect to turn it down. Taxpayers can elect out of bonus depreciation for one or more classes of property. The election out may be useful for certain businesses. These include sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, such as partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies, that want to prevent the “wasting” of depreciation deductions from applying them against lower-bracket income in the year property was placed in service — instead of applying them against anticipated higher-bracket income in future years.
C corporations are currently taxed at a flat rate. But because an increase to the corporate rate has been proposed, it could also make sense for C corporations to elect out of bonus depreciation this year.
4. Certain building improvements are eligible. Before the TCJA, bonus depreciation was available for two types of real property: 1) land improvements other than buildings, such as fencing and parking lots, and 2) qualified improvement property (QIP), a broad category of internal improvements made to nonresidential buildings after the buildings have been placed in service.
The TCJA inadvertently eliminated bonus depreciation for QIP. However, 2020’s CARES Act made a retroactive technical correction to the TCJA that makes QIP placed in service after December 31, 2017, eligible for bonus depreciation.
5. 100% bonus depreciation has — temporarily — reduced the importance of Section 179 expensing. If you own a smaller business, you’ve likely benefited from Sec. 179 expensing. This is an elective benefit that, subject to dollar limits, allows an immediate deduction of the cost of equipment, machinery, off-the-shelf computer software and certain building improvements.
Sec. 179 has been enhanced by the TCJA, but the availability of 100% bonus depreciation is economically equivalent and has greatly reduced the cases in which Sec. 179 expensing is useful. If bonus depreciation is reduced and eliminated as scheduled, then the importance of Sec. 179 will return for many taxpayers.
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Curtailing Cryptocurrency Tax Surprises & A Tax Quirk of Being a Business Partner
Curtailing Cryptocurrency Tax Surprises
As investing in Bitcoin, Dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies becomes increasingly popular, investors need to understand the potential tax ramifications. Unlike traditional currency, the IRS views cryptocurrency as property for federal income tax purposes and even asks about it on Form 1040.
Many transactions involving cryptocurrency — such as purchases of goods or services — become taxable events where the purchase is also considered a sale. In addition, certain changes to the blockchain (the distributed digital “ledger” on which cryptocurrency transactions are typically recorded) can trigger taxable income.
Gains and losses
Because cryptocurrency is property, investors recognize a capital gain or loss when they sell it in exchange for traditional currency. As with other capital assets, the amount of gain or loss is the difference between the adjusted basis in the cryptocurrency (usually, the amount paid to acquire it) and the amount for which it’s sold. And, as with other capital assets, gain or loss may be short term or long term, depending on whether an investor held the cryptocurrency for more than one year. If cryptocurrency is sold at a loss, there may be limitations on the deductibility of the capital losses.
Cryptocurrency owners often are surprised to discover that using cryptocurrency to pay for goods or services can also trigger a capital gain or loss. Let’s say you purchased 10 units of cryptocurrency 10 years ago for $1,000 each, or a total of $10,000. This year, when the cryptocurrency’s price has climbed to $5,000 per unit, you use it to purchase a $50,000 car. Assuming your adjusted basis in the cryptocurrency is $10,000, you’ll recognize a $40,000 long-term capital gain. Generally, your gain or loss is the difference between your adjusted basis in the cryptocurrency and the fair market value of the goods or services you receive in exchange for it.
Forks and drops
In some cases, a cryptocurrency owner may recognize taxable income because of certain blockchain events. Taxable income may be triggered even if you don’t conduct transactions or take any other actions with the cryptocurrency.
IRS guidance in 2019 addressed the tax implications of two types of blockchain events: “hard forks” and “airdrops.” A hard fork occurs “when a cryptocurrency on a distributed ledger undergoes a protocol change resulting in a permanent diversion from the legacy or existing distributed ledger.” Put much more simply, it’s when a single cryptocurrency is split in two.
A hard fork may or may not be followed by an airdrop, which the IRS describes as “a means of distributing units of a cryptocurrency to the distributed ledger addresses of multiple taxpayers.” According to the guidance, when an airdrop follows a hard fork, it “results in the distribution of units of the new cryptocurrency to addresses containing the legacy cryptocurrency.” In simpler terms, it’s when “free coins” representing the new cryptocurrency are dropped into the existing cryptocurrency wallets of the owners of the legacy cryptocurrency.
If the new cryptocurrency isn’t airdropped or otherwise transferred to an account of the legacy cryptocurrency’s owner, a hard fork doesn’t trigger taxable income. On the other hand, if a hard fork is followed by an airdrop (which enables owners to immediately dispose of the new cryptocurrency), the owner recognizes ordinary income in the year the new cryptocurrency is received.
Buying and selling cryptocurrency involves significant risk, including the possibility you could lose part or all of the money you’ve invested. Tax treatment of cryptocurrency is also subject to change. The IRS will likely continue to provide guidance on the distinctive tax issues presented by cryptocurrency. We can help you stay current on these developments and work with you to avoid unpleasant tax surprises.
A Tax Quirk of Being a Business Partner
If you’re a partner in a business, you may have encountered a situation that gave you pause: In any given year, you may have been taxed on more partnership income than was distributed to you. The cause of this quirk of taxation lies in the way partnerships and partners are taxed.
Unlike regular corporations, partnerships aren’t subject to income tax. Instead, each partner is taxed on the partnership’s earnings — whether or not they’re distributed to the partners. Similarly, if a partnership has a loss, the loss is passed through to the partners. (Be aware that various rules may prevent partners from currently using their share of a partnership’s loss to offset other income.)
While a partnership isn’t subject to income tax, it’s treated as a separate entity for purposes of determining its income, gains, losses, deductions and credits. This makes it possible to pass through to partners their share of these items.
A partnership must file an information return, which is IRS Form 1065, “U.S. Return of Partnership Income.” On this form, the partnership separately identifies income, deductions, credits and other items. This is so partners can properly treat items that are subject to limits or other rules that could affect their treatment at the partner level.
Examples of such items include capital gains and losses, interest expense on investment debts, and charitable contributions. Each partner gets a Schedule K-1 showing his or her share of partnership items.
Basis and distribution rules
Basis and distribution rules ensure that partners aren’t taxed twice. A partner’s initial basis in his or her partnership interest (which varies depending on how the interest was acquired) is increased by his or her share of partnership taxable income.
When that income is paid out to partners in cash, they aren’t taxed on the cash if they have sufficient basis. Instead, partners reduce their basis by the distribution amount. If a cash distribution exceeds a partner’s basis, then the excess is taxed to the partner as a gain (often, capital gain).
The tax ins and outs
Partnership structure offers owners many benefits, but it’s important to understand the tax ins and outs. Contact us to discuss further.
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2 More Ways Parents Are Benefitting From the American Rescue Plan Act & Revisiting Worker Classification Rules
2 More Ways Parents Are Benefitting From the American Rescue Plan Act
When you think back on this spring, you may fondly recall a substantial deposit made to your bank account by the federal government (if you were eligible). Economic Impact Payments were a focal point of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March, and the payments were even larger for parents with dependent children. But ARPA contains two other provisions that benefit parents:
1. Child credit expansion and advance payments. For 2021, this refundable tax credit has been increased from $2,000 to $3,000 per child — $3,600 for children under six years of age. In addition, qualifying children now include 17-year-olds.
The child credit is subject to modified adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout rules and begins to phase out when MAGI exceeds:
- $400,000 for married couples who file a joint return, and
- $200,000 for other taxpayers.
The increased credit amount ($1,000 or $1,600) is subject to lower income phaseouts than the ones that apply to the first $2,000 of the credit. The increased amount begins to phase out when MAGI exceeds:
- $150,000 for joint filers,
- $112,500 for heads of household, and
- $75,000 for other taxpayers.
ARPA also calls for the IRS to make periodic advance payments of the child credit totaling 50% of the estimated 2021 credit amount. The IRS has announced the payments will begin on July 15, 2021. They’ll then be made on the 15th of each month (unless the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday).
Recipients will receive the monthly payments through direct deposit, paper check or debit cards. The IRS says that it is committed to maximizing the use of direct deposit.
2. Child and dependent care break increases. For 2021, the amount of qualifying expenses for the refundable child and dependent care credit has been increased to:
1. $8,000 (from $3,000) if there’s one qualifying care individual, and
2. $16,000 (from $6,000) if there are two or more such individuals.
The maximum percentage of qualifying expenses for which credit is allowed has been increased from 35% to 50%. So the credit ultimately is worth up to $4,000 or $8,000. But the credit is subject to an income-based phaseout beginning at household income levels exceeding $125,000.
The amount you can contribute to a child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA, also sometimes referred to as a “dependent care assistance program”) also has been increased. For 2021, it’s $10,500 (up from $5,000 for 2020). The FSA pays or reimburses you for these expenses. But you can’t claim a tax credit for expenses paid by or reimbursed through an FSA.
Revisiting Worker Classification Rules
Over the last year, many companies have experienced workforce fluctuations and have engaged independent contractors to address staffing needs. In May, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it had withdrawn the previous administration’s independent contractor rule that had been scheduled to go into effect earlier this year. That rule generally would have made it easier to classify certain workers as independent contractors for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and thus make them ineligible for minimum wage and other FLSA protections.
While worker classification for DOL purposes isn’t necessarily the same for IRS purposes, now is a good time to revisit the federal tax implications of worker classification.
The question of whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee for federal income and employment tax purposes is a complex one. If a worker is an employee, the company must withhold federal income and payroll taxes, and pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes on the wages, plus FUTA tax. And there may be state tax obligations as well.
These obligations don’t apply if a worker is an independent contractor. In that case, the business simply sends the contractor a Form 1099-NEC for the year showing the amount paid (if the amount is $600 or more).
No uniform definition
The IRS and courts have generally ruled that individuals are employees if the organization they work for has the right to control and direct them in the jobs they’re performing. Otherwise, the individuals are generally independent contractors, though other factors are considered.
Some employers that have misclassified workers as independent contractors may get some relief from employment tax liabilities under Internal Revenue Code Section 530. In general, this protection applies only if an employer filed all federal returns consistent with its treatment of a worker as a contractor and treated all similarly situated workers as contractors.
The employer must also have a “reasonable basis” for not treating the worker as an employee. For example, a “reasonable basis” exists if a significant segment of the employer’s industry traditionally treats similar workers as contractors. (Note: Sec. 530 doesn't apply to certain types of technical services workers. And some categories of individuals are subject to special rules because of their occupations or identities.)
Asking for a determination
Under certain circumstances, you may want to ask the IRS (on Form SS-8) to rule on whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.
Consult a CPA before filing Form SS-8 because doing so may alert the IRS that your company has worker classification issues — and inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit. It may be better to ensure you are properly treating a worker as an independent contractor so that the relationship complies with the tax rules.
With growth in the “gig” economy and other changes to the ways Americans are working, the question of who is an independent contractor and who is an employee will likely continue to evolve. Stay tuned for the latest developments and contact us for any help you may need with worker classification.
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3 Things to Know After Filing Your Tax Return & The Tax Treatment of Start-up Expenses
3 Things to Know After Filing Your Tax Return
Given that it’s after April 15, normally most people would have filed their income tax return by now. But with the deadline for filing 2020 individual returns pushed out to May 17, you might not have filed yours quite yet. Or you might be taking advantage of extending your return to Oct. 15. Whenever you file, here are three important things to keep in mind afterwards:
1. You can check on your refund. The IRS has an online tool that can tell you the status of your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status.” You’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.
2. You can file an amended return if you forgot to report something. In general, you can file an amended tax return and claim a refund within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. But if you filed before the deadline (without regard to extensions), you typically have until three years from the deadline to file an amended return.
There are a few opportunities when you have longer to file an amended return. For example, the statute of limitations for bad debts is longer than the usual three-year time limit for most items on your tax return. In general, you can amend your tax return to claim a bad debt for seven years from the due date of the tax return for the year that the debt became worthless.
3. You can throw out some old tax records. You should keep tax records related to your return for as long as the IRS can audit your return or assess additional taxes. The statute of limitations is generally three years after you file your return.
That means you can probably dispose of most tax-related records for the 2017 tax year and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2017 return, hold on to your records until at least three years from when you filed the extended return.) However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%.
You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records longer. For example, keep actual tax returns indefinitely so you can prove to the IRS that you filed legitimately. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.)
Keep records associated with retirement accounts until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years. And retain records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return. (Keep these records for six years if you want to be extra safe.)
Contact us if you have further questions about your refund, filing an amended return or record retention. We’re here all year!
The Tax Treatment of Start-up Expenses
With the economy improving, many business owners and entrepreneurs may decide to launch new enterprises. If you’re among them, be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax liability.
Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one. Under the Internal Revenue Code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins.
As you know, $5,000 doesn’t get you very far today! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
In addition, no start-up deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to begin earning revenue. To determine whether a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?
In general, start-up expenses include all amounts you spend to investigate creating or acquiring a business, launching the enterprise, or engaging in a for-profit activity while anticipating the activity will become an active business.
To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.
To qualify as an “organization expense,” the expenditure must be related to creating a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.
If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.
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ARPA Provides More Than Just Direct Payments to Taxpayers & Can Your Business Benefit From the Enhanced Employee Retention Credit?
ARPA Provides More Than Just Direct Payments to Taxpayers
On March 11, another round of COVID-19 relief legislation was signed into law. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) includes funding for individuals, businesses, and state and local governments, but also some significant tax-related provisions.
ARPA extends and expands some tax provisions in the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and also includes some new tax-related provisions.
A quick look
Here’s a quick look at some of the tax provisions that may affect you:
- Recovery rebates of up to $1,400 for singles and heads of households and $2,800 for married couples filing jointly — plus $1,400 per qualifying dependent (including adult dependents) — subject to adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseouts starting at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of households and $150,000 for joint filers and ending at $80,000, $120,000 and $160,000, respectively
- Increased Child credit, including advance payments of part of the credit later this year
- Expanded child and dependent care tax credit
- Tax-free treatment of forgiven student loan debt
- Exclusion from gross income of the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits received
Businesses and other employers
- Extended and expanded tax credits for retaining employees, through Dec. 31, 2021
- Extended and modified payroll tax credits for paid sick and family leave, through Sept. 30, 2021
- Extended excess business loss limitation, through Dec. 31, 2026
- Expansion of the Section 162(m) limits on the tax deduction public companies can take for executive compensation to cover the CEO, the CFO and the five next highest paid employees, beginning in 2027
How will you benefit?
This is just a brief overview of the tax-related provisions of ARPA. Additional rules and limits apply. Contact your tax advisor for more details on these provisions and how you might benefit.
Can Your Business Benefit From the Enhanced Employee Retention Credit?
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have had to shut down or reduce operations, causing widespread furloughs and layoffs. Fortunately, employers that have kept workers on their payrolls may be eligible for a refundable employee retention credit. Three laws have created, extended and enhanced the credit.
The original law
The CARES Act created the employee retention credit in March of 2020. The credit originally:
- Equaled 50% of qualified employee wages paid by an eligible employer in an applicable 2020 calendar quarter,
- Was subject to an overall wage cap of $10,000 per eligible employee, and
- Was available to eligible large and small employers.
The credit covered wages paid from March 13, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law in December of 2020, extended the covered wage period to include the first two calendar quarters of 2021, ending on June 30, 2021. And now the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law on March 11, has extended it again through Dec. 31, 2021.
In addition, for the first two quarters of 2021, the CAA increased the overall covered wage ceiling to 70% of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter. And it increased the per-employee covered wage ceiling to $10,000 of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus a $10,000 annual ceiling under the original rules). Because of the ARPA extension, these higher wage ceilings now apply to all four quarters of 2021.
Substantial tax savings
Additional rules and limits apply to the employee retention credit, and these are just some of the changes made to it. But the potential tax savings can be substantial. Contact your tax advisor for more information about this tax saving opportunity.
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Claiming the Home Office Deduction & How the CAA Affects Education Funding
Claiming the Home Office Deduction
Many people have found themselves working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re one of them, you might wonder, “Can I claim the home office deduction on my 2020 tax return?”
The short answer is: Only if you’re self-employed. Employees can no longer claim home office expenses, and even self-employed taxpayers must follow strict rules to claim a deduction.
If you qualify, you can deduct the “direct expenses” of the home office. This includes the costs of painting or repairing the home office and depreciation deductions for furniture and fixtures used there. You can also deduct the “indirect” expenses of maintaining the office. This includes the allocable share of utility costs, depreciation and insurance for your home, as well as the allocable share of mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses.
Alternatively, you can use the simplified method for claiming the deduction — $5 per square foot for up to 300 square feet. Although you won’t be able to depreciate the portion of your home that’s used as an office, you can claim mortgage interest, property taxes and casualty losses as an itemized deduction to the extent otherwise allowable, without needing to apportion them between personal and business use of the home.
You can deduct your expenses if you meet any of these three tests:
1. Principal place of business. You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and regularly, as your principal place of business. Your home office is your principal place of business if it satisfies one of two tests. You satisfy the “management or administrative activities test” if you use your home office for administrative or management activities of your business, and you meet certain other requirements. You meet the “relative importance test” if your home office is the most important place where you conduct business, compared with all the other locations where you conduct that business.
2. Meeting place. You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and regularly, to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers. The patients, clients or customers must physically come to the office.
3. Separate structure. You’re entitled to home office deductions for a home office, used exclusively and regularly for business, that’s located in a separate unattached structure on the same property as your home. For example, this could be in an unattached garage, artist’s studio or workshop.
You may also be able to deduct the expenses of certain storage space for storing inventory or product samples. If you’re in the business of selling products at retail or wholesale, and if your home is your sole fixed business location, you can deduct home expenses allocable to space that you use to store inventory or product samples.
The amount of home office deductions for self-employed taxpayers is subject to various limitations. Proper planning is key to claiming the maximum deduction for your home office expenses. Contact us if you’d like to discuss your situation.
How the CAA Affects Education Funding
The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law late last year, contains a multitude of provisions that may affect individuals. For example, if you’re planning to fund a college education or in the midst of paying for one, the CAA covers two important areas:
1. Student loans. The CARES Act temporarily halted collections on defaulted loans, suspended loan payments and reduced the interest rate to zero through September 30, 2020. Subsequent executive branch actions extended this relief through January 31, 2021. The CAA leaves in place that expiration date.
Also under the CARES Act, employers can provide up to $5,250 annually toward employee student loan payments on a tax-free basis before January 1, 2021. The payment can be made to the employee or the lender. The CAA extends the exclusion through 2025. The longer term may make employers more willing to offer this benefit.
2. Tax credits. Qualified taxpayers generally can claim an education tax break with the American Opportunity credit and the Lifetime Learning credit. Previously, though, the two credits were subject to different income phaseout rules, with the American Opportunity credit available at a greater modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) than the Lifetime Learning credit. In addition, before the new law, there was a higher education expense deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses that taxpayers could opt to claim instead of the credits.
The CAA applies the higher American Opportunity credit phaseouts to the Lifetime Learning credit, effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020. The credits will phase out beginning at MAGIs of $80,000 for single filers and ending at $90,000. For joint filers, they will begin to phase out at MAGIs of $160,000 and disappear at $180,000. The new law also eliminates the higher education expense deduction for 2021 and beyond.
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PPP Loans: What 2020 Borrowers Need to Know in 2021 & Why the Child Tax Credit is so Valuable
PPP Loans: What 2020 Borrowers Need to Know in 2021
Almost a year ago, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis. If your company took out such a loan, you’re likely curious about the tax consequences — particularly for loans that have been forgiven — and also about the launch of “second-draw” PPP loans.
An eligible recipient may have a PPP loan forgiven in an amount equal to the sum of various costs incurred and payments made during the covered period. These include payroll costs, interest (but not principal) payments on any covered mortgage obligation (for mortgages in place before February 15, 2020), payments for any covered rent obligation (for leases that began before February 15, 2020), and covered utility payments (for utilities that were turned on before February 15, 2020). Also eligible are covered operations expenditures, property damage costs, supplier costs and worker protection expenses.
Your covered period would normally have been the 24-week period beginning on the date you took out the loan (ending no later than December 31, 2020, if that was before the expiration of the 24-week period). If you received a PPP loan before June 5, 2020, you could elect a shorter 8-week covered period. If you didn’t elect the 8-week period and instead used the longer 24-week period, you had to maintain payroll levels for the full 24 weeks to be eligible for loan forgiveness. If you didn't make an election, the 24-week period applies.
An eligible recipient seeking forgiveness of indebtedness on a covered loan must verify that the amount for which forgiveness is requested was used to retain employees, make interest payments on a covered mortgage obligation, make payments on a covered lease obligation or make covered utility payments.
Cancellation and deductibility
The reduction or cancellation of indebtedness generally results in cancellation of debt income to the debtor. However, the forgiveness of PPP debt is excluded from gross income. Your tax attributes (net operating losses, credits, capital and passive activity loss carryovers, and basis) won’t generally be reduced on account of this exclusion.
The CARES Act was silent on whether expenses paid with the proceeds of PPP loans could be deducted. The IRS took the position that these expenses were not deductible. However, under the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), enacted at the end of 2020, expenses paid from the proceeds of PPP loans are deductible.
“Second-draw” PPP loans
Under the CAA, eligible businesses may be able take out so-called “second-draw” PPP loans. These loans are primarily intended for beleaguered small businesses with 300 or fewer employees that have used up, or will soon use up, the proceeds from initial PPP loans. The maximum second-draw loan amount is $2 million, and only one such loan can be taken out.
To qualify for a second-draw loan, a business must demonstrate at least a 25% decline in gross receipts in any quarter of 2020 as compared to the corresponding quarter in 2019. Qualifying businesses can generally borrow up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs for either the one-year period before the date on which the loan is made or calendar year 2019. The application deadline is March 31, 2021.
A PPP loan may complicate your company’s 2020 income tax filing, but a second draw could provide a much-needed influx of cash. Please contact us with any questions you might have.
Why the Child Tax Credit is so Valuable
If you’re a parent, or soon will be, you’re no doubt aware of how expensive it is to pay for food, clothes, activities and education. Fortunately, the federal child tax credit is available to help many taxpayers with children under the age of 17, and there’s a dependent credit for those who are eligible with older children.
An expanded break
Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) kicked in, the child tax credit was $1,000 per qualifying child. But it was reduced for eligible married couples filing jointly by $50 for every $1,000 (or part of $1,000) by which their adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeded $110,000 ($75,000 for unmarried taxpayers).
Starting with the 2018 tax year, and applying through the 2025 tax year, the TCJA doubled the child tax credit to $2,000 per qualifying child under 17. It also created a $500 credit per dependent who isn’t a qualifying child under 17. There’s no age limit for the $500 credit, but IRS tests for dependency must be met.
The TCJA also substantially increased the thresholds at which the credit begins to phase out. Starting with the 2018 tax year, the total credit amount allowed to a married couple filing jointly is reduced by $50 for every $1,000 (or part of a $1,000) by which their AGI exceeds $400,000. The threshold is $200,000 for other taxpayers. So, many taxpayers who were once ineligible for the credit because their AGI was too high are now eligible to claim it.
In order to claim the child tax credit for a qualifying child, you must include the child’s Social Security number (SSN) on your tax return. Under previous law, you could instead use an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) or adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN).
If a qualifying child doesn’t have an SSN, you won’t be able to claim the $2,000 credit. However, you can claim the $500 dependent credit for that child using an ITIN or an ATIN. The SSN requirement doesn’t apply for non-qualifying-child dependents but, if there’s no SSN, you must provide an ITIN or ATIN for each dependent for whom you’re claiming a $500 credit.
Don’t miss out
The changes made by the TCJA generally increase the value of these credits and widen their availability to more taxpayers. Please contact us for further information or ask about it when we prepare your tax return.
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How COVID-19 Legislation May Affect Your Taxes & 6 Key Tax Q&As for 2021
How COVID-19 Legislation May Affect Your Taxes
The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law Dec. 27, 2020, provides extensive relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as another round of “recovery rebate” payments to individuals and an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for businesses and other employers. The legislation includes some tax relief as well.
A brief overview
Here’s a brief overview of some of the tax-related provisions that may affect you or your business:
- Permanent reduction of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor to 7.5% for medical expense deductions
- Extended nonitemizer deduction for up to $300 of cash donations ($600 for married couples filing jointly) to qualified charities through 2021
- Extended 100% of AGI deduction limit for cash donations to qualified charities through 2021
- Extended exclusion for certain employer payments of student loans through 2025
Businesses and other employers
- Clarification of tax treatment for PPP loans, certain loan forgiveness and other financial assistance under COVID-19 legislation
- Extended payroll tax credits for paid leave required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) through March 2021
- Extended and expanded tax credits for retaining employees under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act through June 2021
- 100% business meals deduction for food and beverages provided by restaurants in 2021 and 2022
- Extended Work Opportunity credit through 2025
- Extended New Markets credit through 2025
- Extended family medical leave credit through 2025
This is just a brief look at some of the most significant tax-related provisions in this 5,500+ page legislation. Contact us for more details on how the CAA may affect you.
6 Key Tax Q&As for 2021
Right now, you may be more concerned about your 2020 tax bill than you are about how to handle your personal finances in the new year. However, as you deal with your annual tax filing, it’s a good idea to also familiarize yourself with pertinent amounts that may have changed for 2021.
Not all tax figures are adjusted for inflation and, even if they are, they may be unchanged or change only slightly each year because of low inflation. In addition, some tax amounts can only change with new tax legislation. Here are six commonly asked (and answered) Q&As about 2021 tax-related figures:
1. How much can I contribute to an IRA for 2021? If you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,000 a year into a traditional or Roth IRA, up to 100% of your earned income. If you’re age 50 or older, you can make another $1,000 “catch up” contribution. (These amounts are the same as they were for 2020.)
2. I have a 401(k) plan through my job. How much can I contribute to it? For 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. You can make an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution if you’re age 50 or older. (These amounts are also the same as they were for 2020.)
3. I sometimes hire a babysitter and a cleaning person. Do I have to withhold and pay FICA tax on the amounts I pay them? In 2021, the threshold for when a domestic employer must withhold and pay FICA for babysitters, house cleaners and other domestic employees is increasing to $2,300 from $2,200 for 2020.
4. How much do I have to earn in 2021 before I can stop paying Social Security tax on my salary? The Social Security tax wage base is $142,800 for 2021, up from $137,700 for 2020. That means that you don’t owe Social Security tax on amounts earned above that. (You must pay Medicare tax on all amounts that you earn.)
5. What’s the standard deduction for 2021? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax benefit of itemizing deductions for many people by significantly increasing the standard deduction and reducing or eliminating various itemized deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amount is $25,100 for married couples filing jointly (up from $24,800 for 2020). For single filers, the amount is $12,550 (up from $12,400) and, for heads of households, it’s $18,800 (up from $18,650).
So, if the amount of your itemized deductions (such as charitable gifts and mortgage interest) are less than the applicable standard deduction amount, you won’t benefit from itemizing for 2021.
6. How much can I give to one person without triggering a gift tax return in 2021? The gift tax annual exclusion for 2021 is $15,000, unchanged from last year. This amount is only adjusted in $1,000 increments, so it typically increases only every few years.
These are only some of the tax figures that may apply to you. For more information about your tax picture, or if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
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Handle Mutual Funds Carefully at Year End & Intrafamily Loans and a Family Bank
Handle Mutual Funds Carefully at Year End
As we approach the end of 2020, now is a good time to review any mutual fund holdings in your taxable accounts and take steps to avoid potential tax traps. Here are some tips.
Unlike with stocks, you can’t avoid capital gains on mutual funds simply by holding on to the shares. Near the end of the year, funds typically distribute all or most of their net realized capital gains to investors. If you hold mutual funds in taxable accounts, these gains will be taxable to you regardless of whether you receive them in cash or reinvest them in the fund.
For each fund, determine how large these distributions will be and get a breakdown of long-term vs. short-term gains. If the tax impact will be significant, consider strategies to offset the gain. For example, you could sell other investments at a loss.
Avoid buying into a mutual fund shortly before it distributes capital gains and dividends for the year. There’s a common misconception that investing in a mutual fund just before the ex-dividend date (the date by which you must own shares to qualify for a distribution) is like getting free money.
In reality, the value of your shares is immediately reduced by the amount of the distribution, so you’ll owe taxes on the gain without actually achieving an economic benefit.
Seller beware, too
If you plan to sell mutual fund shares that have appreciated in value, consider waiting until just after year end so you can defer the gain until 2021 — unless you think you’ll be subject to a higher rate next year. In that scenario, you’d likely be better off recognizing the gain and paying the tax this year.
When you do sell shares, keep in mind that, if you bought them over time, each block will have a different holding period and cost basis. To reduce your tax liability, it’s possible to select shares for sale that have higher cost bases and longer holding periods (known as the specific identification method), thereby minimizing your gain (or maximizing your loss) and avoiding higher-taxed short-term gains.
Think beyond taxes
Investment decisions shouldn’t be driven by tax considerations alone. You also need to know your risk tolerance and keep an eye on your overall financial goals. Nonetheless, taxes are still an important factor. Contact us to discuss these and other year-end strategies for minimizing the tax impact of your mutual fund holdings.
Intrafamily Loans and a Family Bank
Among the primary goals of estate planning is to put in writing how you want your wealth distributed to loved ones after your death. But what if you want to use that wealth to help a family member in need while you’re still alive? This has become an increasingly common and pressing issue this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to the U.S. economy.
One way to help family members hit hard by job loss or increased debt is through an intrafamily loan or even by establishing a full-fledged family bank.
Structure loans carefully
Lending can be a way to provide your family financial assistance without triggering unwanted gift taxes. As long as a loan is structured in a manner similar to an arm’s-length loan between unrelated parties, it won’t be treated as a taxable gift.
This means, among other steps, documenting the loan with a promissory note and charging interest at or above the applicable federal rate (which is now historically low). You’ll also need to establish a fixed repayment schedule and ensure that the borrower has a reasonable prospect of repaying the loan.
Even if taxes aren’t a concern, intrafamily loans offer important benefits. For example, they allow you to help your family financially without depleting your wealth or creating a sense of entitlement. Done right, these loans can promote accountability and help cultivate the younger generation’s entrepreneurial capabilities by providing financing to start a business.
Maybe open a bank
Too often, however, people lend money to family members with little planning or regard for potential unintended consequences. Rash lending decisions may lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, conflicts among family members and false expectations. That’s where a family bank comes into play.
A family bank is a family-owned and funded entity — such as a dynasty trust, a family limited partnership or a combination of the two — designed for the sole purpose of making intrafamily loans. Often, family banks can offer financing to family members who might have difficulty obtaining a loan from a bank or other traditional funding sources, or lend at more favorable terms.
By “professionalizing” family lending activities, a family bank can preserve the tax-saving power of intrafamily loans while minimizing negative consequences. The key to avoiding family conflicts and resentment is to build a strong governance structure that promotes communication, decision making and transparency.
Establishing guidelines regarding the types of loans the family bank is authorized to make — and allowing all family members to participate in the decision-making process — ensures that family members are treated fairly and avoids false expectations.
More than likely, someone in your extended family has faced difficult financial circumstances this year. Contact us to learn more about intrafamily loans.
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Catching Up On Catch-up Contributions & The Tax Impact of Business Property Remediation
Catching Up On Catch-up Contributions
When it comes to retirement planning, many people tend to focus on two things: opening a retirement savings account and then eventually drawing funds from it. However, there are other important aspects to truly doing everything you can to grow your nest egg.
One of them is celebrating your 50th birthday. This is because those age 50 or older on December 31 of any given year can start making “catch-up” contributions to their employer-sponsored retirement plans that year (assuming the plan allows them). These are additional contributions to certain accounts beyond the regular annual limits.
Maybe you haven’t yet saved as much for retirement as you’d like to. Or perhaps you’d just like to make the most of tax-advantaged savings opportunities. Whatever the case may be, now is a good time to get caught up on the 2020 catch-up contribution amounts because you might be able to increase your contributions for the year.
401(k)s and SIMPLEs
Under 401(k) limits for 2020, if you’re age 50 or older, you can contribute an extra $6,500 after you’ve reached the $19,500 maximum limit for all employees. That’s a total of $26,000.
If your employer offers a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) instead, your regular contribution maxes out at $13,500 in 2020. If you’re 50 or older, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $3,000 — or $16,500 in total for the year.
But be sure to check with your employer because, while most 401(k) plans and SIMPLEs offer catch-up contributions, not all do.
If you’re self-employed, retirement plans such as an individual 401(k) — or solo 401(k) — also allow catch-up contributions. A solo 401(k) is a plan for those with no other employees. You can defer 100% of your self-employment income or compensation, up to the regular 2020 aggregate deferral limit of $19,500, plus a $6,500 catch-up contribution in 2020. But that’s just the employee salary deferral portion of the contribution.
You can also make an “employer” contribution of up to 20% of self-employment income or 25% of compensation. The total combined employee-employer contribution is limited to $57,000, plus the $6,500 catch-up contribution.
Catch-up contributions to non-Roth accounts not only can enlarge your retirement nest egg, but also can reduce your 2020 tax liability, generally if made by Dec. 31, 2020.
Keep in mind that catch-up contributions are available for IRAs, too. The deadline for 2020 IRA contributions isn’t until April 15, 2021, but deductible contributions may be limited or unavailable based on your income and whether you (or your spouse) is covered by a retirement plan at work. Please contact us for more information.
The Tax Impact of Business Property Remediation
If your company faces the need to “remediate” or clean up environmental contamination, the money you spend can be tax-deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses. Unfortunately, every type of environmental cleanup expense cannot be currently deducted — some cleanup costs must be capitalized (spread over multiple years for tax purposes).
To lower your current year tax bill as much as possible, you’ll want to claim as many immediate income tax benefits as allowed for the expenses you incur. So, it’s a good idea to explore the tax impact of business property remediation before you embark on the project. If you’ve already done cleanup during 2020, review the costs closely before filing your 2020 tax return.
Deduct vs. capitalize
Generally, cleanup costs are currently deductible to the extent they cover “incidental repairs” — for example, encapsulating exposed asbestos insulation. Other deductible expenses may include the actual cleanup costs, as well as expenses for environmental studies, surveys and investigations, fees for consulting and environmental engineering, legal and professional fees, and environmental “audit” and monitoring costs.
You may also be able to currently claim tax deductions for cleaning up contamination that your business caused on your own property (for example, removing soil contaminated by dumping wastes from your own manufacturing processes and replacing it with clean soil) — if you acquired that property in an uncontaminated state.
On the other hand, remediation costs generally must be capitalized if the remediation:
- Adds significantly to the value of the cleaned-up property,
- Prolongs the useful life of the property, or
- Adapts the property to a new or different use.
In addition, you’ll likely need to capitalize the costs if the remediation makes up for depreciation, amortization or depletion that’s been claimed for tax purposes, or if it creates a separate capital asset that’s useful beyond the current tax year.
However, parts of these types of remediation costs may qualify for a current deduction. It depends on the facts and circumstances of your situation. For instance, in one case, the IRS required a taxpayer to capitalize the costs of surveying for contamination various sites that proved to be contaminated, but the agency allowed a current deduction for the costs of surveying the sites that proved to be uncontaminated.
Along with federal tax deductions, state or local tax incentives may be available for cleaning up contaminated property. The tax treatment for the expenses can be complex. If you have environmental cleanup expenses, we can help plan your efforts to maximize the deductions available.
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Is It Time for a Cost Segregation Study? & Beware of “Wash Sales” When Selling Securities
Is it time for a cost segregation study?
Because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, many companies may want to conserve cash and not buy much equipment this year. As a result, you may not be able to claim as many depreciation tax deductions as in the past. However, if your company owns real property, there’s another approach to depreciation to consider: a cost segregation study.
Business buildings generally have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Typically, companies depreciate a building’s structural components — including walls, windows, HVAC systems, plumbing and wiring — along with the building. Personal property (such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures) is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.
Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property. Examples include removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.
A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study will depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.
It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago because of enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.
Worth a look
Cost segregation studies have costs all their own, but the potential long-term tax benefits may make it worth your while to undertake the process. Contact our firm for further details.
Beware of “wash sales” when selling securities
If you’re planning to sell capital assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year, it’s important to beware of the “wash sale” rule. Under this tax rule, if you sell stock or securities for a loss and buy substantially identical stock shares or securities back within the 30-day period before or after the sale date, the loss can’t be claimed for tax purposes.
The wash sale rule is designed to prevent taxpayers from benefiting from a loss without parting with ownership in any significant way. Note that the rule applies to a 30-day period before or after the sale date to prevent “buying the stock back” before it’s even sold. (If you participate in any dividend reinvestment plans, the wash sale rule may be inadvertently triggered when dividends are reinvested under the plan, if you’ve separately sold some of the same stock at a loss within the 30-day period.)
Although the loss can’t be claimed on a wash sale, the disallowed amount is added to the cost of the new stock. So, the disallowed amount can be claimed when the new stock is finally disposed of (other than in a wash sale).
Assume you buy 500 shares of XYZ Inc. for $10,000 and sell them on November 5 for $3,000. On November 30, you buy 500 shares of XYZ again for $3,200. Since the shares were “bought back” within 30 days of the sale, the wash sale rule applies. Therefore, you can’t claim a $7,000 loss. Your basis in the new 500 shares is $10,200: the actual cost plus the $7,000 disallowed loss.
If only a portion of the stock sold is bought back, only that portion of the loss is disallowed. So, in the above example, if you’d only bought back 300 of the 500 shares (60%), you would be able to claim 40% of the loss on the sale ($2,800). The remaining $4,200 loss that is disallowed under the wash sale rule would be added to your cost of the 300 shares.
The wash sale rule can come as a nasty surprise at tax time. Contact us for assistance.
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AMT Less “Toothy” But May Still Take A Bite & College Savings Showdown: 529s vs. Roth IRAs
AMT less “toothy” but may still take a bite
For many years, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) posed a risk to many taxpayers in the middle- to upper-income brackets. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) took much of the “teeth” out of the AMT by raising the inflation-adjusted exemption. As a result, middle-income earners have had less to worry about, but those whose income has substantially increased (or remains high) should still watch out for its bite.
The AMT was established to ensure that higher-income individuals pay at least a minimum tax, even if they have many large deductions that significantly reduce their “regular” income tax. If your AMT liability is greater than your regular income tax liability, you must pay the difference as AMT — in addition to the regular tax.
As mentioned, the TCJA substantially increased the AMT exemption for 2018 through 2025. The exemption reduces the amount of AMT income that’s subject to the AMT. The 2020 exemption amounts are $72,900 (for single filers), $113,400 (for married joint filers) and $56,700 (for married separate filers).
AMT rates begin at 26% and rise to 28% at higher income levels. That top rate is lower than the maximum regular income tax rate of 37%, but fewer deductions are allowed for the AMT. For example, you can’t deduct state and local income or sales taxes, property taxes and certain other expenses.
The AMT exemption phases out when your AMT income surpasses the applicable threshold, so high-income earners remain susceptible. However, even some taxpayers who consider themselves middle-income earners may trigger the AMT by exercising incentive stock options or incurring large capital gains.
For example, because the exemption phases out based on income, realizing substantial capital gains could cause you to lose part or all of that exemption and, thus, subject you to AMT liability. If it looks like you could get hit by the AMT this year, you might want to delay sales of highly appreciated assets until next year (if you don’t expect to be subject to the AMT then) or use an installment sale to spread the gains (and potential AMT liability) over multiple years.
Also, be aware that claiming substantial itemized deductions for expenses that aren’t deductible for AMT purposes used to be a major risk factor for falling into the AMT net. However, because the TCJA limited or eliminated some of these deductions for regular income tax purposes (such as the deduction for state and local taxes and miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income floor, respectively), this is now much less of a risk.
Since passage of the TCJA, the AMT may have become an afterthought for many people. However, it’s still worth a look to see whether it could create undesirable tax consequences for you. Please contact us for help assessing your exposure to the AMT and, if necessary, implementing appropriate strategies for your tax situation.
College savings showdown: 529s vs. Roth IRAs
Many people assume that a 529 plan is the ideal college savings tool, but other vehicles can help parents save for college expenses, too. Take the Roth IRA, for example. Whether you should use one or the other (or both) depends on several factors, including how much you intend to contribute and how you’ll use the earnings.
A 529 plan allows participants to make substantial nondeductible contributions — up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the plan and state limits. The funds grow tax-free, and there’s no tax on withdrawals, provided they’re used for “qualified higher education expenses” such as tuition, fees, books, computers, and room and board. Other qualified expenses include up to $10,000 of primary or secondary school tuition per student per year and, new under last year’s SECURE Act, up to $10,000 of student loans per beneficiary. If you use the funds for other purposes, you’ll generally be subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty on the earnings portion. Some 529 plans are also eligible for state tax breaks.
Roth IRA contributions also are nondeductible and grow tax-free. And you can withdraw those contributions anytime, tax- and penalty-free, for any purpose. Qualified distributions of earnings — generally, after age 59½ and more than five years after your first contribution — are also tax- and penalty-free.
Advantages and drawbacks
The main advantages of 529 plans are generous contribution limits and the ability to accept contributions from relatives or friends. Roth IRAs, on the other hand, are subject to annual contribution limits of currently $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or older). So, even if you and your spouse each set up Roth IRAs when your child is born, the most you’ll be able to contribute over 18 years is $216,000 (not taking into account any future inflation increases to the contribution limit). Additional drawbacks are that you must have earned income at least equal to the contribution, and you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain limits.
Funds in a 529 plan that aren’t used for qualified education expenses will eventually trigger taxes and penalties when they’re withdrawn. However, with a Roth IRA, you can use contributions, as well as qualified distributions of earnings, for any purpose without triggering taxes or penalties. This includes items that wouldn’t be qualified expenses under a 529 plan, such as a car or off-campus housing expenses that exceed the college’s room and board allowance. Plus, if you don’t need all your Roth IRA funds for college expenses, you can leave them in the account indefinitely.
Before selecting a plan, consider your overall financial, retirement and estate planning goals. Our firm can help.
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Risks vs. Benefits of Life Insurance Loans & With Glitch Fixed, Consider Business Property Upgrades
Risks vs. Benefits of Life Insurance Loans
Because of the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 crisis, many people have found themselves in need of cash to pay unexpected medical bills, mortgage payments and other expenses. One option is to borrow against the cash value of a permanent life insurance policy, but such loans aren’t risk-free.
Recognizing potential pitfalls
Before you borrow against a life insurance policy, consider risks such as:
Reduced benefits for heirs. If you die before repaying the loan or choose not to repay it, the loan balance plus any accrued interest will reduce the benefits payable to your heirs. This can be a hardship for family members if they’re counting on the insurance proceeds to replace your income or to pay estate taxes or other expenses.
Possible financial and tax consequences. Depending on your repayment schedule, there’s a risk that the loan balance plus accrued interest will grow beyond your policy’s cash value. This may cause your policy to lapse, which can trigger unfavorable tax consequences and deprive your family of the policy’s death benefit.
Eligibility. You can borrow against a life insurance policy only if you’ve built up enough cash value. This can take many years, so don’t count on a relatively new policy as a funding source.
Tapping cash value
There can be advantages to borrowing from a life insurance policy over a traditional loan. These include:
Lower costs. Interest rates are usually lower than those available from banks and credit card companies, and there are little or no fees or closing costs.
Simplicity and speed. So long as your insurer offers loans, there’s no approval process, lengthy application, credit check or income verification. Generally, you can obtain the funds within five to 10 business days.
Flexibility. Most insurers don’t impose restrictions on use of the funds. And you have the flexibility to design your own repayment schedule. You can even choose not to repay the loan, though that has negative tax consequences.
Generally no tax impact (as long as policy doesn’t lapse). Funds acquired by borrowing from a policy aren’t considered income, so they’re typically not reported to the IRS. This differs significantly from surrendering a policy in exchange for its cash value, which triggers taxable gains to the extent the cash value exceeds your investment in the policy (generally, premiums paid less any dividends or withdrawals). Note that interest paid on the loan typically isn’t deductible.
Reviewing your options
Be sure you really need to borrow from a life insurance policy before doing so. Consider alternatives, such as selling an asset or reducing expenses. We can help you make the right choice.
Sidebar: Dispelling a myth
There’s a common misconception that, when you borrow against a life insurance policy, you’re “borrowing from yourself.” In other words, when you pay interest on the loan, you’re essentially paying yourself.
This may be true when you borrow money from a retirement plan, but it’s not accurate when it comes to life insurance policy loans. In fact, you’re borrowing from your insurer, pledging the cash value of your policy as collateral and paying interest to the company. Policy loans may be cheaper than traditional loans, but they’re not free.
With Glitch Fixed, Consider Business Property Upgrades
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March, has provided more than just relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also contains a beneficial change in the tax rules for many improvements to interior parts of nonresidential buildings, referred to as qualified improvement property (QIP).
When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed in 2017, it contained an inadvertent drafting error by Congress. The error made it so that any QIP placed in service after December 31, 2017, wasn’t classified as 15-year property and therefor wasn’t eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. So, the cost of QIP had to be deducted over a 39-year period rather than over a 15-year period or entirely in the year the QIP was placed in service.
Investments qualifying as QIP generally include upgrades to retail, restaurant and leasehold property. Hence, the problem became commonly known as the “retail glitch.”
Fortunately, when drafting the CARES Act, Congress fixed the retail glitch. Most businesses can now claim 100% bonus depreciation for QIP — or depreciate it over 15 years — assuming all applicable rules are followed. (Note that improvements related to a building’s enlargement, elevator or escalator, or internal structural framework don’t qualify.)
Because of the slowdown in the U.S. economy, your business (like so many others) may not be in a financial position to undertake a QIP project right away. But when investing in your business is looking feasible, factor this tax break into your considerations for making future property improvements.
Even if you can’t afford to invest in QIP this year, you might be able to enjoy some QIP tax benefits now. The correction is retroactive to any QIP placed in service after December 31, 2017. So if you made eligible improvements in 2018 or 2019, you may be able claim a tax refund.
While claiming 100% bonus depreciation may sound like a no-brainer, keep in mind that in some circumstances it might be more beneficial to depreciate QIP over 15 years. Either option can produce a tax refund for prior years; it’s just the size of the refund that will differ. We can help you determine if your property improvement investments qualify as QIP and, if so, assess whether 100% bonus depreciation or 15-year depreciation is better for you.
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Keeping Up With the Net Operating Loss Rules & Charitable Giving in a Time of Crisis
Keeping Up With the Net Operating Loss Rules
When a trade or business’s deductible expenses exceed its income, a net operating loss (NOL) generally occurs. When filing your 2019 income tax return, you might find that your business has an NOL — and you may be able to turn it to your tax advantage. But the rules applying to NOLs have changed and changed again. Let’s review.
Before 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), when a business incurred an NOL, the loss could be carried back up to two years. Any remaining amount could then be carried forward up to 20 years.
A carryback generates an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow. A carryforward allows the company to apply the NOL to future years when its tax rate may be higher.
The changes made under the TCJA to the tax treatment of NOLs generally weren’t favorable to taxpayers. According to those rules, for NOLs arising in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, most businesses couldn’t carry back a qualifying NOL.
This was especially detrimental to trades or businesses that had been operating for only a few years. They tend to generate NOLs in those early years and greatly benefit from the cash-flow boost of a carryback. On the plus side, the TCJA allowed NOLs to be carried forward indefinitely, as opposed to the previous 20-year limit.
For NOLs arising in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, the TCJA also stipulated that an NOL carryforward generally can’t be used to shelter more than 80% of taxable income in the carryforward year. (Under previous law, generally up to 100% could be sheltered.)
The NOL rules were changed yet again under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. For NOLs arising in tax years beginning in 2018 through 2020, taxpayers are now eligible to carry back the NOLs to the previous five tax years. You may be able to file amended returns for carryback years to receive a tax refund now.
The CARES Act also modifies the treatment of NOL carryforwards. For tax years beginning before 2021, taxpayers can now potentially claim an NOL deduction equal to 100% of taxable income (rather than the 80% limitation under the TCJA) for prior-year NOLs carried forward into those years. For tax years beginning after 2020, taxpayers may be eligible for a 100% deduction for carryforwards of NOLs arising in tax years before 2018 plus a deduction equal to the lesser of 1) 100% of NOL carryforwards from post-2017 tax years, or 2) 80% of remaining taxable income (if any) after deducting NOL carryforwards from pre-2018 tax years.
The NOL rules have always been complicated and multiple law changes have complicated them further. It’s also possible there could be more tax law changes this year affecting NOLs. Please contact us for further clarification and more information.
Charitable Giving in a Time of Crisis
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created much financial stress, but the crisis has also generated an intense need for charitable action. If you’re able to continue donating during this difficult period, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act may make it a little easier for you to do so, whether you’re a small or large donor.
From an income tax perspective, the CARES Act has expanded charitable contribution deductions. Individual taxpayers who don’t itemize can take advantage of a new above-the-line $300 deduction for cash contributions to qualified charities in 2020. “Above-the-line” means the deduction reduces adjusted gross income (AGI). You can take this in addition to your standard deduction.
For larger donors, the CARES Act has eased the limitation on charitable deductions for cash contributions made to public charities in 2020, boosting it from 60% to 100% of AGI. There’s no requirement that your contributions be related to COVID-19.
To be able to claim a donation deduction, whatever the size, you need to ensure you’re giving to a qualified charity. You can check a charity’s eligibility to receive tax-deductible contributions by visiting the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Organization Search.
If you’re making a large gift, it’s a good idea to do additional research on the charities you’re considering so you can make sure they use their funds efficiently and effectively. The IRS tool provides access to detailed financial information about charitable organizations, such as Form 990 information returns and IRS determination letters.
Even if a charity is financially sound when you make a gift, there’s no guarantee it won’t suffer financial distress, file for bankruptcy protection or even cease operations down the road. The last thing you likely want is for a charity to use your gifts to pay off its creditors or for a purpose unrelated to the mission that inspired you to give in the first place.
One way to manage these risks is to restrict the use of your gift. For example, you might limit the use to assisting a specific constituency or funding medical research. These restrictions can be documented in a written gift or endowment fund agreement.
Indeed, charitable giving is more important than ever. Contact our firm for help allocating funds for a donation and understanding the tax impact of your generosity.
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Protecting Yourself from Opportunistic Fraud & Can You Qualify for the Payroll Tax Credit?
Protecting Yourself from Opportunistic Fraud
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has spurred much confusion and unprecedented economic challenges. It has also created ample opportunities for dishonest individuals and criminal organizations to prey on the anxieties of many Americans.
As the year rolls along, fraud schemes related to the crisis will continue as well, potentially becoming even more sophisticated. Here are some protective actions you can take.
Watch out for phony charities
When a catastrophe like COVID-19 strikes, the charitably minded want to donate cash and other assets to help relieve the suffering. Before donating anything, beware that opportunistic scammers may set up fake charitable organizations to exploit your generosity.
Fake charities often use names that are similar to legitimate organizations. So, before contributing, do your homework and verify the validity of any recipient. Remember, if you’re scammed, not only will you lose your money or assets, but those who would benefit from your charitable action will also lose out.
Don’t get hooked by phishers
In a “phishing” scheme, victims are enticed to respond to a deceptive email or other online communication. In COVID-19-related phishing scams, the perpetrator may impersonate a representative from a health agency, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They may ask for personal information, such as your Social Security or bank account number, or instruct you to click on a link to a survey or website.
If you receive a suspicious email, don’t respond or click on any links. The scammer might use ill-gotten data to gain access to your financial accounts or open new accounts in your name. In some cases, clicking a link might download malware to your computer. For updates on the COVID-19 crisis, go directly to the official websites of the WHO or CDC.
The IRS reports that its Criminal Investigation Division has seen a wave of new and evolving phishing schemes against taxpayers — and among the primary targets are retirees.
In many parts of the United States, and indeed around the world, certain consumer goods have become scarce. Examples have included hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, masks and toilet paper. Scammers are exploiting these shortages by posing as retailers or direct-to-consumer suppliers to obtain buyers’ personal information.
Con artists may, for instance, claim to have the goods that you need and ask for your credit card number to complete a transaction. Then they use the card number to run up charges while you never receive anything in return.
Buy from only known legitimate businesses. If a supplier offers a deal out of the blue that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Also watch out for price gouging on limited items. If an item is selling online for many times more than the usual price, you probably want to avoid buying it.
Hang up on robocalls
You may have noticed an increase in “robocalls” — automated phone calls offering phony services or demanding sensitive information — since the COVID-19 crisis began. For instance, callers may offer COVID-19-related items at reduced rates. Then they’ll ask for your credit card number to “secure” your purchase.
Reputable companies, charities and government agencies (such as the IRS) won’t try to contact you this way. If you receive an unsolicited call from a phone number that’s blocked or that you don’t recognize, hang up or ignore it.
In addition, don’t buy into special offers for items such as COVID-19 treatments, vaccinations or home test kits. You’ll likely end up paying for something that at best doesn’t exist and at worst could harm you.
Tarnish their gold
For fraudsters, this year’s worldwide crisis is a golden opportunity. Don’t let them take advantage of you or your loved ones.
Can You Qualify for the Payroll Tax Credit?
For many businesses, retaining employees has been difficult, if not impossible. If your company has been able to keep all or some of its workers, you may qualify for the payroll tax credit created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, known as the Employee Retention Credit.
Assessing your qualifications
The Employee Retention Credit provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees. The credit is available to employers whose operations have been fully or partially suspended as a result of a government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
The credit is also available to employers that have experienced a greater than 50% reduction in quarterly receipts, measured on a year-over-year basis. When such an employer’s gross receipts exceed 80% of the comparable quarter in 2019, the employer no longer qualifies for the credit beginning with the next quarter.
The credit is unavailable to employers benefitting from certain Small Business Administration loan programs or to self-employed individuals.
Examining wages paid
For employers that had an average number of full-time employees in 2019 of 100 or fewer, all employee wages are eligible, regardless of whether an employee is furloughed or has experienced a reduction in hours.
For employers with more than 100 employees in 2019, only wages paid to employees who are furloughed or face reduced hours because of the employer’s closure or reduced gross receipts are eligible for the credit. No credit is available for wages paid to an employee for any period for which the employer is allowed a Work Opportunity Tax Credit with respect to the employee.
In the context of the credit, the term “wages” includes health benefits and is capped at the first $10,000 in wages paid by the employer to an eligible employee. Wages don’t include amounts considered for required paid sick leave or required paid family leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In addition, wages applicable to this credit aren’t taken into account for the employer credit toward paid family and medical leave.
Claiming advance payments and refunds
The IRS can advance payments to eligible employers. If the amount of the credit for any calendar quarter exceeds applicable payroll taxes, the employer may be able to claim a refund of the excess on its federal employment tax return.
In anticipation of receiving the credits, employers can fund qualified wages by 1) accessing federal employment taxes, including withheld taxes, that are required to be deposited with the IRS or 2) requesting an advance of the credit from the IRS on Form 7200, “Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.” The IRS may waive applicable penalties for employers who don’t deposit applicable payroll taxes in anticipation of receiving the credit.
The credit applies to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before Jan. 1, 2021. Contact our firm for help determining whether you qualify and, if so, how to claim this tax break.
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New Break Temporarily Makes Retirement Plan Withdrawals Less Taxing & How Employers Can Get Some Financial Relief with the Retention Tax Credit
New Break Temporarily Makes Retirement Plan Withdrawals Less Taxing
A key provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is intended to help alleviate some of the economic hardship many Americans are experiencing as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It allows tax-favored treatment for distributions from retirement accounts in certain situations.
Penalty waiver and more
Under the CARES Act, IRA owners who are adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible to take tax-favored “coronavirus-related” distributions (CVDs) of up to $100,000 from their IRAs. If you’re under age 59½, the early withdrawal penalty that normally would apply is waived. Any eligible IRA owner can recontribute (repay) a CVD back into their IRA within three years of the withdrawal date and treat the withdrawal and later recontribution as a tax-free rollover. There are no limitations on what you can use CVD funds for during that three-year period.
The CARES Act also may allow you to take tax-favored CVDs from your employer's qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or profit-sharing plan, if the plan allows it. If allowed, the tax rules for CVDs taken from qualified plans are similar to those for CVDs taken from IRAs. As of this writing, a lot of details still need to be figured out about how CVDs taken from qualified plans will work. Contact the appropriate person with your employer for more information.
7 basic rules
There are seven basic rules for taking CVDs from IRAs:
1. You can take one or more CVDs up to the $100,000 limit.
2. CVDs can come from different IRAs.
3. The three-year recontribution period for each CVD begins on the day after you receive it.
4. You can make your recontributions in a lump sum or through multiple recontributions.
5. You can recontribute to one or several IRAs, and they don't have to be the same accounts you took the CVDs from.
6. As long as you recontribute the entire CVD amount within the three-year window, the whole transaction or series of transactions are treated as tax-free IRA rollovers.
7. If you're under 59½, the 10% penalty tax that usually applies to early IRA withdrawals is waived for CVDs, even if you don’t recontribute.
If your spouse owns one or more IRAs in his or her own name, he or she may be eligible for the same distribution privilege.
CVDs can be taken from January 1, 2020, through December 30, 2020, by an eligible individual. That means an individual:
- Who's diagnosed with COVID-19 by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
- Whose spouse or dependent (generally a qualifying child or relative who receives more than half of his or her support from you) is diagnosed with COVID-19 by such a test,
- Who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off or having work hours reduced due to COVID-19,
- Who's unable to work because of lack of childcare due to COVID-19 and experiences adverse financial consequences as a result,
- Who owns or operates a business that has closed or has had operating hours reduced due to COVID-19 and has experienced adverse financial consequences as a result, or
- Who has experienced adverse financial consequences due to other COVID-19-related factors.
As of this writing, IRS guidance on how to interpret the last two factors is needed. Check in with us for the latest developments.
When taxes are due
You'll be taxed on any CVD amount that you don't recontribute within the three-year window. But you won't have to worry about owing the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under 59½.
You can choose to spread the taxable amount equally over three years, apparently starting with 2020. But here it gets tricky, because the three-year window won't close until sometime in 2023. Until then, it won't be clear that you failed to take advantage of the tax-free CVD rollover deal. So, you may have to amend a prior-year return to report some additional taxable income from the CVD. As of this writing, the IRS is expected to issue guidance to clarify this issue. Again, check in with us for the latest information.
You also have the option of simply reporting the taxable income from the CVD on your 2020 individual income tax return Form 1040. Again, you won't owe the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under 59½.
Getting through the crisis
CVDs can be a helpful, flexible tax-favored financial tool for eligible taxpayers during the pandemic. But it's just one of several financial relief measures available under the CARES Act that include tax relief, and other relief legislation may be forthcoming. We can help you take advantage of relief measures that will help you get through the COVID-19 crisis.
How Employers Can Get Some Financial Relief with the Retention Tax Credit
To help reduce layoffs during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act created a new federal income tax credit for employers that keep workers on their payrolls. The credit equals 50% of eligible employee wages paid by an eligible employer in a 2020 calendar quarter. It's subject to an overall wage cap of $10,000 per eligible employee. Here are answers to some FAQs about the retention credit.
What employers are eligible?
Eligible employer status for the retention credit is determined on a 2020 calendar quarter basis. The credit is available to employers, including nonprofits, whose operations have been fully or partially suspended during a 2020 calendar quarter as a result of an order from an appropriate governmental authority that limits commerce, travel or group meetings due to COVID-19.
The retention credit can also be claimed by employers that have experienced a greater-than-50% decline in gross receipts for a 2020 calendar quarter compared to the corresponding 2019 calendar quarter. However, the credit is disallowed for quarters following the first calendar 2020 quarter during which gross receipts exceed 80% of gross receipts for the corresponding 2019 calendar quarter.
To illustrate: Suppose a company’s 2020 gross receipts are as follows compared to 2019:
- First quarter: 86%
- Second quarter: 43%
- Third quarter: 92%
The company had a greater-than-50% decline in gross receipts for the second quarter of 2020. So, it’s an eligible employer for purposes of the retention credit for the second and third quarters of 2020. For the fourth quarter of 2020, it’s ineligible because its gross receipts for the third quarter of 2020 exceeded 80% of gross receipts for the third quarter of 2019.
What wages are eligible?
The retention credit is available to cover eligible wages paid from March 13, 2020, through December 31, 2020. For an eligible employer that had an average of 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, all employee wages are eligible for the credit (subject to the overall $10,000 per-employee wage cap), regardless of whether employees are furloughed due to COVID-19.
For an employer that had more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, only wages of employees who are furloughed or given reduced hours due to the employer's closure or reduced gross receipts are eligible for the retention credit (subject to the overall $10,000 per-employee wage cap, including qualified health plan expenses allocable to those wages).
The amount of wages eligible for the credit is capped at a cumulative total of $10,000 for each eligible employee. The $10,000 cap includes allocable health plan expenses. For example, a company pays an employee $8,000 in eligible wages in the second quarter of 2020 and another $8,000 in the third quarter of 2020. The credit for wages paid to the employee in the second quarter is $4,000 (50% x $8,000). The credit for wages paid to the employee in the third quarter is limited to $1,000 (50% x $2,000) due to the $10,000 wage cap. Any additional wages paid to the employee are ineligible for the credit due to the $10,000 cap.
What other rules and restrictions apply?
The retention credit is not allowed for:
- Emergency sick leave wages or emergency family leave wages that small employers (generally those with fewer than 500 employees) are required to pay under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), because they’re covered by federal payroll tax credits granted by the FFCRA,
- Wages taken into account for purposes of claiming the pre-existing Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and
- Wages taken into account for purposes of claiming the pre-existing employer credit for paid family and medical leave.
In addition, the retention credit isn't available to small employers that receive a potentially forgivable Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed Small Business Interruption Loan under the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program.
How is the credit claimed?
Technically, an eligible employer's allowable retention credit for a calendar quarter is offset against the employer's liability for the Social Security tax component of federal payroll taxes. That component equals 6.2% of the first $137,700 of an employee's 2020 wages.
But the credit is "refundable." That means an employer can collect the full amount of the credit even if it exceeds its federal payroll tax liability.
The allowable credit can be used to offset all of an employer's federal payroll tax deposit liability, apparently including federal income tax, Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from employee paychecks. If an employer's tax deposit liability isn't enough to absorb the credit, the employer can apply for an advance payment of the credit from the IRS.
Can you benefit?
If your business has suffered financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES Act’s 50% employee retention credit might help you keep workers on the payroll during the crisis. Keep in mind that additional guidance could be released on the credit or more legislation could be signed into law extending or expanding the credit. We can apprise you of any updates, help you determine whether you’re eligible and explore other tax-saving and financial assistance opportunities that may be available to you during this challenging time.
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April 2020 – Special COVID-19 Update
COVID-19 relief: Overview of the CARES Act
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. In addition to funding the health care fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the roughly $2 trillion legislation provides much-needed financial relief to individuals, businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and state and local governments during the pandemic. Here are some of the key provisions for individuals and businesses.
Economic Impact Payments
The CARES Act provides one-time direct Economic Impact Payments of up to $1,200 for single filers or heads of households; married couples filing jointly can receive up to $2,400. An additional payment of up to $500 is available for each qualifying child under age 17.
Economic Impact Payments are subject to phaseout thresholds based on adjusted gross income (AGI). The phaseouts begin at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of household and $150,000 for married couples.
The payments are phased out by $5 for every $100 of AGI above the thresholds. For example, the payment for a married couple with no children is completely phased out when AGI exceeds $198,000. The payment for a head of household with one child is completely phased out when AGI exceeds $146,500. And, for a single filer, it’s completely phased out when AGI exceeds $99,000.
Employee retention credit
The CARES Act creates a new payroll tax credit for employers that pay wages when:
- Their operations are partially or fully suspended because of certain government orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, or
- Their gross receipts have declined by more than 50% compared to the same quarter in the prior year.
Eligible employers may claim a 50% refundable payroll tax credit on wages paid (including health insurance benefits) of up to $10,000 that are paid or incurred from March 13, 2020, through December 31, 2020.
For employers who had an average number of full-time employees in 2019 of 100 or fewer, all employee wages are eligible, regardless of whether the employee is furloughed. For employers who had a larger average number of full-time employees in 2019, only the wages of employees who are furloughed or face reduced hours as a result of their employers’ closure or reduced gross receipts are eligible for the credit.
Be aware that additional rules and restrictions apply.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
This $349 billion loan program — administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) — is intended to help U.S. employers keep workers on their payrolls. To potentially qualify, you must have fewer than 500 full- or part-time employees. PPP loans can be as large as $10 million. But most organizations will receive smaller amounts — generally a maximum of 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs.
If you receive a loan through the program, proceeds may be used only for paying certain expenses, generally:
- Payroll (including benefits),
- Mortgage interest,
- Rent, and
Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of PPP loans is that they can be forgiven — so long as you follow the rules. And many rules and limits apply. Because of the limited funds available, if you could qualify, you should apply as soon as possible.
The CARES Act expands business access to capital in additional ways. Many of the other loan programs are also being administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Modifications of TCJA provisions
The CARES Act rolls back several revenue-generating provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). This will help free up cash for some individuals and businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.
The new law temporarily scales back TCJA deduction limitations on:
- Net operating losses (NOLs),
- Business tax losses sustained by individuals,
- Business interest expense, and
- Certain itemized charitable deductions by individuals and charitable deductions for corporations.
The new law also accelerates the recovery of credits for prior-year corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability.
Significant for the hard-hit restaurant and retail sectors, the CARES Act also fixes a TCJA drafting error for real estate qualified improvement property (QIP). Congress originally intended to permanently install a 15-year depreciation period for QIP, making it eligible for first-year bonus depreciation in tax years after the TCJA took effect. Unfortunately, due to a drafting glitch, QIP wasn’t added to the list of property with a 15-year depreciation period — instead, it was left subject to a 39-year depreciation period. The CARES Act retroactively corrects this mistake and allows you to choose between first-year bonus depreciation and 15-year depreciation for QIP expenditures.
So much more
The financial relief package under the CARES Act also includes provisions to:
- Significantly expand unemployment benefits for workers,
- Allow IRA owners and qualified retirement plan participants under age 59 ½ who suffer certain adverse effects due to the COVID-19 pandemic to withdraw in 2020 up to $100,000 and then recontribute the withdrawn amount within three years with no federal income tax consequences,
- Waive required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs and retirement plans that would otherwise have to be taken in 2020 to avoid an expensive penalty,
- Provide an above-the-line charitable deduction of up to $300, generally for 2020 cash contributions to qualified charities, and
- Exclude from an employee’s taxable income up to $5,250 of employer payments made on the employee’s student loans from the date of the CARES Act’s enactment through December 31, 2020.
The CARES Act also allows employers to defer their portion of payments of Social Security payroll taxes through the end of 2020 (with similar relief provided to self-employed individuals).
Keep in mind that additional guidance could be released, or legislation signed into law, that could affect these CARES Act provisions. And more relief measures could be forthcoming.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every household and business in some way. If you have suffered financial losses, contact us to discuss resources that may be available to help you weather this unprecedented storm.
Federal tax relief to alleviate COVID-19 hardships
The massive Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes numerous tax-related provisions. But before the CARES Act was signed into law March 27, the federal government provided other valuable tax relief in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Here is a closer look.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
On March 18, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In certain situations, it mandates paid leave benefits for small business employees affected by COVID-19. The paid leave provisions generally apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees, though employers with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible for an exception. Here are the benefits:
Paid sick leave. The law requires covered employers to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave for full-time employees in certain situations. (Part-time employees are entitled to this paid sick leave for the average number of hours worked over a two-week period.)
Generally, paid sick leave is required when an employee is subject to a COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation order, has been advised to self-quarantine or is seeking a medical diagnosis for COVID-19 symptoms. It’s also generally required when an employee is caring for someone subject to a COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation order or is caring for a child whose school or place of care has been closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions.
When leave is taken for an employee’s own COVID-19 illness or quarantine, the leave must be paid at the employee’s regular rate, up to $511 per day (up to $5,110 in total). When the leave is related to caring for someone else, the leave must be paid at a minimum of two-thirds of the employee’s usual pay, up to $200 per day (up to $2,000 in total).
Paid family leave. The law gives an employee the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected family leave if the employee’s child’s school or childcare location is closed due to COVID-19. The first two weeks are unpaid (though they might qualify for sick pay). For the remaining 10 weeks, the employer must pay at least two-thirds of the employee’s usual pay, up to a maximum of $200 per day, subject to an overall maximum of $10,000 in total family leave payments.
Tax credit for employers. To help employers cover this paid leave, the law allows a refundable tax credit equal to 100% of qualified sick leave wages and family and medical leave wages paid by the employer.
The credit applies only to eligible leave payments made during the period beginning on the effective date of April 1, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020.
Tax credits may also be available to certain self-employed individuals.
Federal tax deadline deferrals
On March 18, the IRS released guidance that outlined the details of a postponed deadline for paying federal income taxes. Notice 2020-17 clarified that individual taxpayers and corporations can defer until July 15 federal income tax payments that would otherwise be due on April 15.
Notice 2020-18 subsequently provided additional clarifications, including a postponement of the federal income tax filing deadline to July 15 as well.
Some specifics under these relief measures are as follows:
For individuals. Individual taxpayers can defer federal income tax payments (including any self-employment tax) owed for the 2019 tax year from the normal April 15 deadline until July 15. They can also defer initial quarterly estimated federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year (including any self-employment tax) from the normal April 15 deadline until July 15.
For corporations. Corporations that use the calendar year for tax purposes can defer until July 15 federal income tax payments that would otherwise be due on April 15. This relief covers the amount owed for the 2019 tax year and the amount due for the first quarterly estimated tax payment for the 2020 tax year. Both of those amounts would otherwise be due on April 15.
For trusts and estates. Trusts and estates pay federal income taxes, too. Normally, federal income tax payments for the 2019 tax year of trusts and estates that use the calendar year for tax purposes would be due on April 15. The initial quarterly estimated federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year of trusts and estates that use the calendar year for tax purposes would also normally be due on April 15. These deadlines have also been postponed to July 15.
Notice 2020-20 postponed the filing and payment deadlines for 2019 federal gift and generation-skipping transfer taxes from April 15 to July 15.
We’ve covered only some of the COVID-19-related tax law changes that have already been finalized. There are also other types of federal relief under the CARES Act and through federal agencies. And many states have announced their own COVID-19 relief. More federal measures and additional guidance are expected, some of which could affect the relief discussed here. Contact us to discuss which relief measures may apply in your specific situation.
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Seniors: Medicare Premiums Could Lower Your Tax Bill & Protect Your Estate with These Two Essential Documents
Seniors: Medicare Premiums Could Lower Your Tax Bill
Americans who are 65 and older qualify for basic Medicare insurance, but they may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage they desire. The premiums can be expensive — especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. One aspect of paying premiums might be a positive, however: If you’re eligible, they may help lower your tax bill.
Premium tax deductions
Premiums for Medicare health insurance can be combined with other qualifying health care expenses for purposes of possibly claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your individual tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans.
Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, co-insurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.
Qualifying for a medical expense deduction can be difficult for a couple of reasons. For 2019, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of AGI.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. For the 2019 tax year, the standard deduction amounts are $12,200 for single filers, $24,400 for married joint-filing couples and $18,350 for heads of households. So, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions. However, if you have significant medical expenses (including Medicare health insurance premiums), you may be able to itemize and collect some tax savings.
Important note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. That means they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.
Other deductible medical expenses
In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct a variety of medical expenses, including those for ambulance services, dental treatment, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.
Keep in mind that many items that Medicare doesn’t cover can be written off for tax purposes, if you qualify. You can also deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 20-cents-per-mile rate for 2019.
Contact us if you have additional questions about Medicare coverage options or claiming medical expense deductions on your personal tax return. We can help you identify an optimal overall tax-planning strategy based on your personal circumstances.
Protect Your Estate with These Two Essential Documents
Estate planning isn’t just about what happens to your assets after you die. It’s also about protecting yourself and your loved ones. To ensure that your wishes are carried out, and that your family is spared the burden of guessing — or arguing over — what you would decide, put those wishes in writing. Generally, that means executing two documents:
1. A living will. This document expresses your preferences for the use of life-sustaining medical procedures, such as artificial feeding and breathing, surgery, invasive diagnostic tests, and pain medication. It also specifies the situations in which these procedures should be used or withheld. Living wills often contain a “do not resuscitate” order, often referred to as a “DNR,” which instructs medical personnel not to perform CPR in the event of cardiac arrest.
2. A health care power of attorney (HCPA). This document authorizes a surrogate — your spouse, child or another trusted representative — to make medical decisions or consent to medical treatment on your behalf if you’re unable to do so. It’s broader than a living will, which generally is limited to end-of-life situations, though there may be some overlap. An HCPA might authorize your surrogate to make medical decisions that don’t conflict with your living will, including consenting to medical treatment, placing you in a nursing home or other facility, or even implementing or discontinuing life-prolonging measures.
It’s a good idea to have both a living will and an HCPA or, if allowed by state law, a single document that combines the two. Contact us if you have questions regarding either one or about any other aspect of the estate planning process.
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Gig Workers, Know Your Tax Responsibilities & The 2019 Gift Tax Return Deadline is Almost Here, Too
Gig Workers, Know Your Tax Responsibilities
Let’s say you drive for a ride-sharing app, deliver groceries ordered online or perform freelance home repairs booked via a mobile device. If you do one of these jobs or myriad others, you’re a gig worker — part of a growing segment of the economy.
In fact, a 2019 IRS report found that the share of the workforce with income from alternative, nonemployee work arrangements grew by 1.9 percentage points from 2000 to 2016. (That’s a big increase.) And, over 50% of this rise occurred during the period 2013 to 2016, almost entirely because of gigs set up online.
A different way
No matter what the job or app, all gig workers have one thing in common: taxes. But the way you’ll pay taxes differs from the way you would as an employee.
To start, you’re typically considered self-employed. As a result, and because an employer isn’t withholding money from your paycheck to cover your tax obligations, you’re responsible for making federal income tax payments. Depending on where you live, you also may have to pay state income tax.
Quarterly tax payments
The U.S. tax system is considered “pay as you go.” Self-employed individuals typically pay both federal income tax and self-employment taxes four times during the year: generally on April 15, June 15, and September 15 of the current year, and January 15 of the following year.
If you don’t pay enough over these four installments to cover the required amount for the year, you may be subject to penalties. To minimize the risk of penalties, you must generally pay either 90% of the tax you’ll owe for the current year or the same amount you paid the previous year.
You may have encountered the term “the 1099 economy” or been called a “1099 worker.” This is because, as a self-employed person, you won’t get a W-2 from an employer. You may, however, receive a Form 1099-MISC from any client or customer that paid you at least $600 throughout the year. The client sends the same form to the IRS, so it pays to monitor the 1099s you receive and verify that the amounts match your records.
If a client (say, a ride-sharing app) uses a third-party payment system, you might receive a Form 1099-K. Even if you didn’t earn enough from a client to receive a 1099, or you’re not sent a 1099-K, you’re still responsible for reporting the income you were paid. Keep in mind that typically you’re taxed on income when received, not when you send a request for payment.
Good record keeping
As a gig worker, you need to keep accurate, timely records of your revenue and expenses so you pay the taxes you owe — but no more. Our firm can help you set up a good record keeping system, file your taxes and stay updated on new developments in the gig economy.
Sidebar: Expense deductions
By definition, gig workers are self-employed. So, your taxes are based on the profits left after you deduct business-related expenses from your revenue. Expenses can include payment processing fees, your investment in office equipment and specific costs required to provide your service. Remember, if you use a portion of your home as a work space, you may be able to deduct the pro rata share of some home-related expenses.
The 2019 Gift Tax Return Deadline is Almost Here, Too
Most people have April 15 “tattooed on the brain” as the deadline for filing their federal income tax returns. What you may forget is that the gift tax return deadline is on the very same date. So, if you made large gifts to family members or heirs last year, it’s important to determine whether you’re required to file.
Generally, you must file a gift tax return for 2019 if, during the tax year, you made gifts that exceeded the $15,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse) or that you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $30,000 annual exclusion.
You also need to file if you made gifts to a Section 529 college savings plan and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($75,000) into 2019. Other reasons to file include making gifts:
- That exceeded the $155,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse, or
- Of future interests (such as remainder interests in a trust) regardless of the amount, or
- Of jointly held or community property.
Keep in mind that you’ll owe gift tax only to the extent an exclusion doesn’t apply and you’ve used up your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.4 million for 2019). As you can see, some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax.
No return required
No gift tax return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of gifts that are tax-free because they qualify as annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, or political or charitable contributions.
But if you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.
If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is indeed April 15 — regardless of whether you file for an extension (in which case you have until October 15 to file). If you’re unsure whether you must (or should) file a 2019 gift tax return, contact us.
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The TCJA Effect: Qualified Residence Interest & Careful Tax Planning Required for Incentive Stock Options
The TCJA Effect: Qualified Residence Interest
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made a significant impact — both directly and indirectly — on the deductibility of various types of interest expense for individuals. One area affected is qualified residence interest.
Two ways about it
The TCJA affects interest on residential loans in two ways. First, by nearly doubling the standard deduction and placing a $10,000 cap on deductions of state and local taxes, the act substantially reduces the number of taxpayers who itemize. This means that fewer taxpayers will benefit from mortgage and home equity interest deductions. Second, from 2018 through 2025, the act places new limits on the amount of qualified residence interest you can deduct.
Previously, taxpayers could deduct interest on up to $1 million in acquisition indebtedness ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) and up to $100,000 in home equity indebtedness ($50,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).
Acquisition indebtedness is debt that’s incurred to acquire, build or substantially improve a qualified residence, and is secured by that residence. Home equity indebtedness is debt that’s incurred for any other purpose (such as buying a boat or paying off credit cards) and is secured by a qualified residence. A single mortgage could be treated as both acquisition and home equity indebtedness, allowing taxpayers to deduct interest on debt up to $1.1 million.
The TCJA reduced the deduction limit for acquisition indebtedness to interest on up to $750,000 in debt and eliminated the deduction for home equity indebtedness altogether, through 2025. The new limit on acquisition indebtedness doesn’t apply to debt incurred on or before December 15, 2017, subject to an exception for mortgages that were incurred on or before April 1, 2018, in certain circumstances. Specifically, it involves debt incurred pursuant to a written binding contract to purchase a qualified residence executed before December 15, 2017, and scheduled to close before January 1, 2018 (so long as the purchase, as it turned out, was completed before April 1, 2018). And it doesn’t apply to existing mortgages that are refinanced after December 15, 2017, provided the resulting debt doesn’t exceed the refinanced debt.
The elimination of interest deductions for home equity indebtedness, however, applies to existing debt. So, if you were previously deducting interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt, that interest is no longer deductible. The same holds true for the $100,000 home equity portion of $1.1 million in mortgage debt. Note, however, that interest on a home equity loan used to substantially improve a qualified residence is deductible as acquisition indebtedness (subject to applicable limits).
Review your expenses
In light of the TCJA’s changes, you may want to make changes such as paying off home equity loans because interest is no longer deductible. Contact us for help.
Sidebar: Investment interest also affected
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) also affects investment interest. This is interest on debt borrowed to buy taxable investments (margin loans, for example). Like qualified residence interest, investment interest is an itemized deduction, which is lost if you no longer itemize.
Deductions of investment interest cannot exceed your net investment income, which generally includes interest income and ordinary dividend income, but not lower-taxed capital gains, qualified dividends or tax-free investment earnings. For many people, net investment income is now higher because the TCJA eliminated miscellaneous itemized deductions for such expenses.
Careful Tax Planning Required for Incentive Stock Options
Incentive stock options (ISOs) are a popular form of compensation for executives and other key employees. They allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the ISO grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. But careful tax planning is required because of the complex rules that apply.
Tax advantages abound
Although ISOs must comply with many rules, they receive tax-favored treatment. You owe no tax when ISOs are granted. You also owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs. There could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences, but the AMT is less of a risk now because of the high AMT exemption under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
There are regular income tax consequences when you sell the stock. If you sell after holding it at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and a portion of the gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.
If you were granted ISOs in 2019, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2019 income tax return. But if in 2019 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2019 tax liability. It’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your 2019 return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.
If you receive ISOs in 2020 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.
Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.
The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.
ISOs are a nice perk to have, but they come with complex rules. For help with both tax planning and filing, please contact us.
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Do You Know Your Tax Bracket? & Every Business Owner Needs an Exit Strategy
Do You Know Your Tax Bracket?
Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduced individual tax rates through 2025, there’s no guarantee you’ll receive a refund or lower tax bill. Some taxpayers have actually seen their taxes go up because of reductions or eliminations of certain tax breaks. For this reason, it’s important to know your bracket.
Some single and head of household filers could be pushed into higher tax brackets more quickly than was the case pre-TCJA. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for singles for 2019 is $160,725, whereas it was $191,651 for 2017 (though the rate was 33% then). For heads of households, the beginning of this bracket has decreased even more significantly, to $160,700 for 2019 from $212,501 for 2017.
Married taxpayers, on the other hand, won’t be pushed into some middle brackets until much higher income levels through 2025. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for joint filers for 2019 is $321,450, whereas it was $233,351 for 2017. (Again, the rate was 33% then.)
As before the TCJA, the tax brackets are adjusted annually for inflation. Because there are so many variables under the law, it’s hard to say exactly how a specific taxpayer’s bracket might change from year to year. Contact us for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2020 — and for help filing your 2019 tax return.
Every Business Owner Needs an Exit Strategy
As a business owner, you have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks. But you also must look out for your own financial future. And that includes creating an exit strategy.
When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business if a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. A well-drafted agreement provides a ready market for the departing owner’s interest in the business and prescribes a method for setting a price for that interest. It also allows business continuity by preventing disagreements caused by new owners.
A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income, provided certain conditions are met.
Succession within the family
You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.
Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can currently gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.
With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.
Get started now
To be successful, your exit strategy will require planning well in advance of retirement or any other reason for ownership transition. Please contact us for help.
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Year-End Tax and Financial To-Do List for Individuals & Pump the Brakes Before Donating That Vehicle to Charity
Year-End Tax and Financial To-Do List for Individuals
With the dawn of 2020 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2019 ends:
Check your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) balance. If you have an FSA for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2½-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.
Max out tax-advantaged savings. Reduce your 2019 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2019 return if they’re made by April 15, 2020.)
Take required minimum distributions (RMDs). If you’ve reached age 70½, you generally must take RMDs from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2020, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year.
Consider a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). If you’re 70½ or older and charitably inclined, a QCD allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).
Use it or lose it. Make the most of annual limits that don’t carry over from year to year, even if doing so won’t provide an income tax deduction. For example, if gift and estate taxes are a concern, make annual exclusion gifts up to $15,000 per recipient. If you have a Coverdell Education Savings Account, contribute the maximum amount you’re allowed.
Contribute to a Section 529 plan. Sec. 529 prepaid tuition or college savings plans aren’t subject to federal annual contribution limits and don’t provide a federal income tax deduction. But contributions may entitle you to a state income tax deduction (depending on your state and plan).
Review withholding. The IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding estimator (available at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator) to review your situation.
If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholding from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholding, unlike estimated tax payments, is treated as if it were paid evenly over the year.)
For assistance with these and other year-end planning ideas, please contact us.
Pump the Brakes Before Donating That Vehicle to Charity
Many people might consider donating their vehicles to charity at year end to start the new year. Why not get a fresh ride and a tax deduction, eh? Pump the brakes — this strategy doesn’t always work out as intended.
Donating an old car to a qualified charity may seem like a hassle-free way to dispose of an unneeded vehicle, satisfy your philanthropic desires and enjoy a tax deduction (provided you itemize). But in most cases, it’s not the most tax-efficient strategy. Generally, your deduction is limited to the actual price the charity receives when it sells the car.
You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) only if the charity 1) uses the vehicle for a significant charitable purpose, such as delivering meals to homebound seniors, 2) makes material improvements to the vehicle that go beyond cleaning and painting, or 3) disposes of the vehicle for less than FMV for a charitable purpose, such as selling it at a below-market price to a needy person.
If you decide to donate a car, be sure to comply with IRS substantiation and acknowledgment requirements. And watch out for disreputable car donation organizations that distribute only a fraction of what they take in to charity and, in some cases, aren’t even eligible to receive charitable gifts. We can help you double-check the idea before going through with it.
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Act Now to Save 2019 Taxes on Your Investments & Living the Dream of Early Retirement
Act Now to Save 2019 Taxes on Your Investments
Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to reduce your 2019 tax bill by selling some investments — you just need to carefully select which investments you sell.
Balance gains and losses
If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.
If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, you’ll essentially lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.
Review tax rates
At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retained the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets. For example, for 2019, the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate are $434,551 for singles, $461,701 for heads of households and $488,851 for married couples.
But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect for 2019 until taxable income exceeds $510,300 for singles and heads of households or $612,350 for joint filers. The TCJA also retained the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.
Check the netting rules
Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.
You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.
Keep in mind that tax considerations alone shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. Also consider factors such as your risk tolerance, investment goals and the long-term potential of the investment. We can help you determine what makes sense for you.
Living the Dream of Early Retirement
Many people dream of retiring early so they can pursue activities other than work, such as volunteering, traveling and pursuing their hobbies full-time. But making this dream a reality requires careful planning and diligent saving during the years leading up to the anticipated retirement date.
It all starts with retirement savings accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Among the best ways to retire early is to build up these accounts as quickly as possible by contributing the maximum amount allowed by law each year.
From there, consider other potential sources of retirement income, such as a company pension plan. If you have one, either under a past or current employer, research whether you can receive benefits if you retire early. Then factor this income into your retirement budget.
Of course, you’re likely planning on Social Security benefits composing a portion of your retirement income. If so, keep in mind that the earliest you can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits is age 62 (though waiting until later may allow you to collect more).
The flip side of saving up enough retirement income is reducing your living expenses during retirement. For example, many people strive to pay off their home mortgages early, which can possibly free up enough monthly cash flow to make early retirement feasible.
By saving as much money as you can in your retirement savings accounts, carefully planning your Social Security strategies and cutting your living expenses in retirement, you just might be able to make this dream a reality. Contact our firm for help.
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Is "Bunching" Medical Expenses Still Feasible in 2019? & Mortgage Matters: To Pay Down or Not To Pay Down
Is "Bunching" Medical Expenses Still Feasible in 2019?
Some medical expenses may be tax deductible, but only if you itemize deductions and you have enough expenses to exceed the applicable floor for deductibility. With proper planning, you may be able to time controllable medical expenses to your tax advantage.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made bunching such expenses beneficial for some taxpayers. At the same time, certain taxpayers who’ve benefited from the medical expense deduction in previous years might no longer benefit because of the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction.
Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example of a tax break with a floor is the medical expense deduction.
Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible expenses into one year where possible. The TCJA reduced the floor for the medical expense deduction for 2017 and 2018 from 10% to 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).
However, beginning January 1, 2019, taxpayers may once again deduct only the amount of the unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses for the year that exceeds 10% of their AGI. Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursed by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible.
If your total itemized deductions won’t exceed your standard deduction, bunching medical expenses into 2019 won’t save you tax. The TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction. For 2019, it’s $12,200 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,350 for heads of households, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.
If your total itemized deductions for 2019 will exceed your standard deduction, then bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2019 may allow you to exceed the floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and some types of elective surgery.
Exploring the concept
As mentioned, bunching doesn’t work for everyone. For help determining whether you could benefit, please contact us.
Mortgage Matters: To Pay Down or Not To Pay Down
If you’re a homeowner and manage your finances well, you might have extra cash after you’ve paid your monthly bills. What should you do with this extra money? Some would say make additional mortgage payments toward your principal to pay off your mortgage early. Others would say: No, invest those dollars in the stock market!
The decision is very much about risk vs. return. There’s little, if any, risk in prepaying a mortgage, because you already know what your rate of return will be: the interest rate on your mortgage. For instance, if your mortgage interest rate is 4.5%, this would be the return earned by every dollar that goes toward prepayment (not factoring in the mortgage interest deduction if you qualify).
However, if you invest the money in the stock market, you’ll assume much more risk. The level of risk depends on the assets you invest in, but there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.
Your mortgage interest rate is indeed an important factor. If your rate is relatively low, so is the return from prepaying your mortgage. The final decision for many people comes down to whether they believe they can earn a higher return investing the money than they would prepaying their mortgage.
Clearly there’s the potential to outperform your mortgage interest rate by investing your money for the long term. Remember, though, that the stock market may be volatile in the short term and offers no guarantees.
There’s no single answer to the “pay down the mortgage or invest in the market?” question. We can provide additional, more specific guidance on making the right decision for you.
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The Tax Cost of Divorce Has Risen for Many & Double Up on Tax Benefits by Donating Appreciated Artwork
The Tax Cost of Divorce Has Risen for Many
Are you divorced or in the process of divorcing? If so, it’s critical to understand how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has changed the tax treatment of alimony. Unfortunately, for many couples, the news isn’t good — the tax cost of divorce has risen.
Under previous rules, a taxpayer who paid alimony was entitled to a deduction for payments made during the year. The deduction was “above-the-line,” which was a big advantage, because there was no need to itemize. The payments were included in the recipient spouse’s gross income.
The TCJA essentially reverses the tax treatment of alimony, effective for divorce or separation instruments executed after 2018. In other words, alimony payments are no longer deductible by the payer and are excluded from the recipient’s gross income.
What’s the impact?
The TCJA will likely cause alimony awards to decrease for post-2018 divorces or separations. Paying spouses will argue that, without the benefit of the alimony deduction, they can’t afford to pay as much as under previous rules. The ability of recipients to exclude alimony from income will at least partially offset the decrease, but many recipients will be worse off under the new rules.
For example, let’s say John and Lori divorced in 2018. John is in the 35% federal income tax bracket and Lori is a stay-at-home mom with no income who cares for John and Lori’s two children. The court ordered John to pay Lori $100,000 per year in alimony. He’s entitled to deduct the payments, so the after-tax cost to him is $65,000. Presuming Lori qualifies to file as head of household, and the children qualify for the full child credit, Lori’s net federal tax on the alimony payments (after the child credit) is approximately $8,600, leaving her with $91,400 in after-tax income.
Suppose, under the same circumstances, that John and Lori divorce in 2019. John argues that, without the alimony deduction, he can afford to pay only $65,000, and the court agrees. The payments are tax-free to Lori, but she’s still left with $26,400 less than she would have received under pre-TCJA rules.
The pre-2019 rules can create a tax benefit by reducing the divorced couple’s overall tax liability (assuming the recipient is in a lower tax bracket). The new rules eliminate this tax advantage. Of course, if the recipient is in a higher tax bracket than the payer, a couple is better off under the new rules.
What to do?
If you’re contemplating a divorce or separation, be sure to familiarize yourself with the post-TCJA divorce-related tax rules. Or, if you’re already divorced or separated, determine whether you would benefit by applying the new rules to your alimony payments through a modification of your divorce or separation instrument. (See “What if you’re already divorced?”) We can help you sort out the details.
Sidebar: What if you’re already divorced?
Existing divorce or separation instruments, including those executed during 2018, aren’t affected by the TCJA changes. The previous rules still apply unless a modification expressly provides that the TCJA rules must be followed. However, spouses who would benefit from the TCJA rules — for example, because their relative income levels have changed — may voluntarily apply them if the modification expressly provides for such treatment.
Double Up on Tax Benefits by Donating Appreciated Artwork
From a tax perspective, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts. Generally, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property.
The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.
The first thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a donation of artwork is that you must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has nearly doubled the standard deduction and put tighter limits on many itemized deductions (but not the charitable deduction), many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing.
For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for singles, $18,350 for heads of households and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.
Something else to be aware of is that most artwork donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal.
IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $50,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.
Finally, note that, if you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.
The charity you choose and how the charity will use the artwork can have a significant impact on your tax deduction. Donations of artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status, can entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, however, your deduction will be limited to your cost.
For your donation to a public charity to qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the donated artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. If, for example, you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university’s art history department for use in its research, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule. But if you donate it to, say, a children’s hospital to auction off at its annual fundraising gala, you won’t satisfy the rule.
To reap the maximum tax benefit of donating appreciated artwork, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all applicable rules. Contact us for assistance.
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Know a Teacher? Tell Them About This Tax Break & Planning for the Net Investment Income Tax
Know a Teacher? Tell Them About This Tax Break
When teachers are setting up their classrooms for the new school year, it’s common for them to pay for a portion of their classroom supplies out of pocket. A special tax break allows these educators to deduct some of their expenses. This educator expense deduction is especially important now due to some changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Before 2018, employee business expenses were potentially deductible if they were unreimbursed by the employer and ordinary and necessary to the “business” of being an employee. A teacher’s out-of-pocket classroom expenses could qualify.
But these expenses had to be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and were subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This meant employees, including teachers, could enjoy a tax benefit only if they itemized deductions (rather than taking the standard deduction) and only to the extent that all their deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceeded 2% of their AGI.
Now, for 2018 through 2025, the TCJA has suspended miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI floor. Fortunately, qualifying educators can still deduct some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom costs under the educator expense deduction.
Back in 2002, Congress created the above-the-line educator expense deduction because, for many teachers, the 2% of AGI threshold for the miscellaneous itemized deduction was difficult to meet. An above-the-line deduction is one that’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your AGI.
You don’t have to itemize to claim an above-the-line deduction. This is especially significant with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction, which means fewer taxpayers will benefit from itemizing.
Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct above the line up to $250 of qualified expenses. If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.
Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs of supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.
Some additional rules apply to the educator expense deduction. If you’re an educator or know one who might be interested in this tax break, please contact us for more details.
Planning for the Net Investment Income Tax
Despite its name, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t cut all types of taxes. It left several taxes unchanged, including the 3.8% tax on net investment income (NII) of high-income taxpayers.
You’re potentially liable for the NII tax if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and qualifying widows or widowers; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). Generally, MAGI is the same as adjusted gross income. However, it may be higher if you have foreign earned income and certain foreign investments.
To calculate the tax, multiply 3.8% by the lesser of 1) your NII, or 2) the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold. For example, if you’re single with $250,000 in MAGI and $75,000 in NII, your tax would be 3.8% × $50,000 ($250,000 - $200,000), or $1,900.
NII generally includes net income from, among others, taxable interest, dividends, capital gains, rents, royalties and passive business activities. Several types of income are excluded from NII, such as wages, most nonpassive business income, retirement plan distributions and Social Security benefits. Also excluded is the nontaxable gain on the sale of a personal residence.
Given the way the NII tax is calculated, you can reduce the tax either by reducing your MAGI or reducing your NII. To accomplish the former, you could maximize contributions to IRAs and qualified retirement plans. To do the latter, you might invest in tax-exempt municipal bonds or in growth stocks that pay little or no dividends.
There are many strategies for reducing the NII tax. Consult with one of our tax advisors before implementing any of them. And remember that, while tax reduction is important, it’s not the only factor in prudent investment decision-making.
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