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June 19, 2018

2018 Q3 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

July 31

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2018 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See the exception below, under “August 10.”)
  • File a 2017 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.

August 10

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for second quarter 2018 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.

September 17

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.
  • If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.

Make contributions for 2017 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

June 12, 2018

The tax impact of the TCJA on estate planning

The massive changes the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made to income taxes have garnered the most attention. But the new law also made major changes to gift and estate taxes. While the TCJA didn’t repeal these taxes, it did significantly reduce the number of taxpayers who’ll be subject to them, at least for the next several years. Nevertheless, factoring taxes into your estate planning is still important.

Exemption increases

The TCJA more than doubles the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption, from $5.49 million for 2017 to $11.18 million for 2018.

This amount will continue to be annually adjusted for inflation through 2025. Absent further congressional action, however, the exemptions will revert to their 2017 levels (adjusted for inflation) for 2026 and beyond.

The rate for all three taxes remains at 40% — only three percentage points higher than the top income tax rate.

The impact

Even before the TCJA, the vast majority of taxpayers didn’t have to worry about federal gift and estate taxes. While the TCJA protects even more taxpayers from these taxes, those with estates in the roughly $6 million to $11 million range (twice that for married couples) still need to keep potential post-2025 estate tax liability in mind in their estate planning. Although their estates would escape estate taxes if they were to die while the doubled exemption is in effect, they could face such taxes if they live beyond 2025.

Any taxpayer who could be subject to gift and estate taxes after 2025 may want to consider making gifts now to take advantage of the higher exemptions while they’re available.

Factoring taxes into your estate planning is also still important if you live in a state with an estate tax. Even before the TCJA, many states imposed estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government did. Now the differences in some states will be even greater.

Finally, income tax planning, which became more important in estate planning back when exemptions rose to $5 million more than 15 years ago, is now an even more important part of estate planning.

For example, holding assets until death may be advantageous if estate taxes aren’t a concern. When you give away an appreciated asset, the recipient takes over your tax basis in the asset, triggering capital gains tax should he or she turn around and sell it. When an appreciated asset is inherited, on the other hand, the recipient’s basis is “stepped up” to the asset’s fair market value on the date of death, erasing the built-in capital gain. So retaining appreciating assets until death can save significant income tax.

Review your estate plan

Whether or not you need to be concerned about federal gift and estate taxes, having an estate plan in place and reviewing it regularly is important. Contact us to discuss the potential tax impact of the TCJA on your estate plan.

June 5, 2018

Factor in state and local taxes when deciding where to live in retirement

Many Americans relocate to another state when they retire. If you’re thinking about such a move, state and local taxes should factor into your decision.

Income, property and sales tax

Choosing a state that has no personal income tax may appear to be the best option. But that might not be the case once you consider property taxes and sales taxes.

For example, suppose you’ve narrowed your decision down to two states: State 1 has no individual income tax, and State 2 has a flat 5% individual income tax rate. At first glance, State 1 might appear to be much less expensive from a tax perspective. What happens when you factor in other state and local taxes?

Let’s say the property tax rate in your preferred locality in State 1 is 5%, while it’s only 1% in your preferred locality in State 2. That difference could potentially cancel out any savings in state income taxes in State 1, depending on your annual income and the assessed value of the home.

Also keep in mind that home values can vary dramatically from location to location. So if home values are higher in State 1, there’s an even greater chance that State 1’s overall tax cost could be higher than State 2’s, despite State 1’s lack of income tax.

The potential impact of sales tax can be harder to estimate, but it’s a good idea at minimum to look at the applicable rates in the various retirement locations you’re considering.

More to think about

If states you’re considering have an income tax, also look at what types of income they tax. Some states, for example, don’t tax wages but do tax interest and dividends. Others offer tax breaks for retirement plan and Social Security income.

In the past, the federal income tax deduction for state and local property and income or sales tax could help make up some of the difference between higher- and lower-tax states. But with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) limiting that deduction to $10,000 ($5,000 for married couples filing separately), this will be less help — at least through 2025, after which the limit is scheduled to expire.

There’s also estate tax to consider. Not all states have estate tax, but it can be expensive in states that do. While under the TJCA the federal estate tax exemption has more than doubled from the 2017 level to $11.18 million for 2018, states aren’t necessarily keeping pace with the federal exemption. So state estate tax could be levied after a much lower exemption.

Choose wisely

As you can see, it’s important to factor in state and local taxes as you decide where to live in retirement. You might ultimately decide on a state with higher taxes if other factors are more important to you. But at least you will have made an informed decision and avoid unpleasant tax surprises. Contact us to learn more.

May 22, 2018

The TCJA changes some rules for deducting pass-through business losses

It’s not uncommon for businesses to sometimes generate tax losses. But the losses that can be deducted are limited by tax law in some situations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) further restricts the amount of losses that sole proprietors, partners, S corporation shareholders and, typically, limited liability company (LLC) members can currently deduct — beginning in 2018. This could negatively impact owners of start-ups and businesses facing adverse conditions.

Before the TCJA

Under pre-TCJA law, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose unless:

  • The passive activity loss (PAL) rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome, or
  • The business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a net operating loss (NOL).

After the TCJA

The TCJA temporarily changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. If your pass-through business generates a tax loss for a tax year beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct an “excess business loss” in the current year. An excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of:

  • Your aggregate business income and gains for the tax year, and
  • $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re a married taxpayer filing jointly).

The excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOLs.

For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new excess business loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner’s allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner’s personal federal income tax return for the owner’s tax year that includes the end of the entity’s tax year.

Keep in mind that the new loss limitation rules apply after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, you don’t get to the new loss limitation rules.

Expecting a business loss?

The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.

The practical impact is that your allowable current-year business losses can’t offset more than $250,000 of income from such other sources (or more than $500,000 for joint filers). The requirement that excess business losses be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.

If you’re expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2018, contact us to determine whether you’ll be affected by the new loss limitation rules. We can also provide more information about the PAL and NOL rules.

May 15, 2018

Be aware of the tax consequences before selling your home

In many parts of the country, summer is peak season for selling a home. If you’re planning to put your home on the market soon, you’re probably thinking about things like how quickly it will sell and how much you’ll get for it. But don’t neglect to consider the tax consequences.

Home sale gain exclusion

The U.S. House of Representatives’ original version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act included a provision tightening the rules for the home sale gain exclusion. Fortunately, that provision didn’t make it into the final version that was signed into law.

As a result, if you’re selling your principal residence, there’s still a good chance you’ll be able to exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain. Gain that qualifies for exclusion also is excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.

To qualify for the exclusion, you must meet certain tests. For example, you generally must own and use the home as your principal residence for at least two years during the five-year period preceding the sale. (Gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.) In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.

More tax considerations

Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, as long as you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short-term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.

Here are some additional tax considerations when selling a home:

Tax basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain thorough records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use.

Losses. A loss on the sale of your principal residence generally isn’t deductible. But if part of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that portion may be deductible.

Second homes. If you’re selling a second home, be aware that it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 exchange. Or you may be able to deduct a loss.

 

A big investment

Your home is likely one of your biggest investments, so it’s important to consider the tax consequences before selling it. If you’re planning to put your home on the market, we can help you assess the potential tax impact. Contact us to learn more.

May 8, 2018

Do you need to adjust your withholding?

If you received a large refund after filing your 2017 income tax return, you’re probably enjoying the influx of cash. But a large refund isn’t all positive. It also means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan.

That’s why a large refund for the previous tax year would usually indicate that you should consider reducing the amounts you’re having withheld (and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making) for the current year. But 2018 is a little different.

The TCJA and withholding

To reflect changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — such as the increase in the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions and changes in tax rates and brackets — the IRS updated the withholding tables that indicate how much employers should hold back from their employees’ paychecks, generally reducing the amount withheld.

The new tables may provide the correct amount of tax withholding for individuals with simple tax situations, but they might cause other taxpayers to not have enough withheld to pay their ultimate tax liabilities under the TCJA. So even if you received a large refund this year, you could end up owing a significant amount of tax when you file your 2018 return next year.

Perils of the new tables

The IRS itself cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld. If, for example, you itemize deductions, have dependents age 17 or older, are in a two-income household or have more than one job, you should review your tax situation and adjust your withholding if appropriate.

The IRS has updated its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to assist taxpayers in reviewing their situations. The calculator reflects changes in available itemized deductions, the increased child tax credit, the new dependent credit and repeal of dependent exemptions.

More considerations

Tax law changes aren’t the only reason to check your withholding. Additional reviews during the year are a good idea if:

  • You get married or divorced,
  • You add or lose a dependent,
  • You purchase a home,
  • You start or lose a job, or
  • Your investment income changes significantly.

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even multiple times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. (For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.)

The TCJA and your tax situation

If you rely solely on the new withholding tables, you could run the risk of significantly underwithholding your federal income taxes. As a result, you might face an unexpectedly high tax bill when you file your 2018 tax return next year. Contact us for help determining whether you should adjust your withholding. We can also answer any questions you have about how the TCJA may affect your particular situation.

May 1, 2018

Get started on 2018 tax planning now!

With the April 17 individual income tax filing deadline behind you (or with your 2017 tax return on the back burner if you filed for an extension), you may be hoping to not think about taxes for the next several months. But for maximum tax savings, now is the time to start tax planning for 2018. It’s especially critical to get an early start this year because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has substantially changed the tax environment.

Many variables

A tremendous number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. Looking at these variables early in the year can give you more opportunities to reduce your 2018 tax bill.

For example, the timing of income and deductible expenses can affect both the rate you pay and when you pay. By regularly reviewing your year-to-date income, expenses and potential tax, you may be able to time income and expenses in a way that reduces, or at least defers, your tax liability.

In other words, tax planning shouldn’t be just a year-end activity.

Certainty vs. uncertainty

Last year, planning early was a challenge because it was uncertain whether tax reform legislation would be signed into law, when it would go into effect and what it would include. This year, the TCJA tax reform legislation is in place, with most of the provisions affecting individuals in effect for 2018–2025. And additional major tax law changes aren’t expected in 2018. So there’s no need to hold off on tax planning.

But while there’s more certainty about the tax law that will be in effect this year and next, there’s still much uncertainty on exactly what the impact of the TCJA changes will be on each taxpayer. The new law generally reduces individual tax rates, and it expands some tax breaks. However, it reduces or eliminates many other breaks.

The total impact of these changes is what will ultimately determine which tax strategies will make sense for you this year, such as the best way to time income and expenses. You may need to deviate from strategies that worked for you in previous years and implement some new strategies.

Getting started sooner will help ensure you don’t take actions that you think will save taxes but that actually will be costly under the new tax regime. It will also allow you to take full advantage of new tax-saving opportunities.

Now and throughout the year

To get started on your 2018 tax planning, contact us. We can help you determine how the TCJA affects you and what strategies you should implement now and throughout the year to minimize your tax liability.

April 24, 2018

Tax document retention guidelines for small businesses

You may have breathed a sigh of relief after filing your 2017 income tax return (or requesting an extension). But if your office is strewn with reams of paper consisting of years’ worth of tax returns, receipts, canceled checks and other financial records (or your computer desktop is filled with a multitude of digital tax-related files), you probably want to get rid of what you can. Follow these retention guidelines as you clean up.

General rules

Retain records that support items shown on your tax return at least until the statute of limitations runs out — generally three years from the due date of the return or the date you filed, whichever is later. That means you can now potentially throw out records for the 2014 tax year if you filed the return for that year by the regular filing deadline. But some records should be kept longer.

For example, there’s no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one. So you’ll generally want to keep copies of your returns themselves permanently, so you can show that you did file a legitimate return.

Also bear in mind that, if you understate your gross income by more than 25%, the statute of limitations period is six years.

Some specifics for businesses

Records substantiating costs and deductions associated with business property are necessary to determine the basis and any gain or loss when the property is sold. According to IRS guidelines, you should keep these for as long as you own the property, plus seven years.

The IRS recommends keeping employee records for three years after an employee has been terminated. In addition, you should maintain records that support employee earnings for at least four years. (This timeframe generally will cover varying state and federal requirements.) Also keep employment tax records for four years from the date the tax was due or the date it was paid, whichever is longer.

For travel and transportation expenses supported by mileage logs and other receipts, keep supporting documents for the three-year statute of limitations period.

Regulations for sales tax returns vary by state. Check the rules for the states where you file sales tax returns. Retention periods typically range from three to six years.

When in doubt, don’t throw it out

It’s easy to accumulate a mountain of paperwork (physical or digital) from years of filing tax returns. If you’re unsure whether you should retain a document, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to it for at least six years or, for property-related records, at least seven years after you dispose of the property. But, again, you should keep tax returns themselves permanently, and other rules or guidelines might apply in certain situations. Please contact us with any questions.

April 17, 2018

Individual tax calendar: Important deadlines for the remainder of 2018

While April 15 (April 17 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that you also need to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2018 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.

Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.

June 15

  • File a 2017 individual income tax return (Form 1040) or file for a four-month extension (Form 4868), and pay any tax and interest due, if you live outside the United States.
  • Pay the second installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

September 17

  • Pay the third installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

October 1

  • If you’re the trustee of a trust or the executor of an estate, file an income tax return for the 2017 calendar year (Form 1041) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic five-and-a-half month extension was filed.

October 15

  • File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed (or if an automatic four-month extension was filed by a taxpayer living outside the United States).
  • Make contributions for 2017 to certain retirement plans or establish a SEP for 2017, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
  • File a 2017 gift tax return (Form 709) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.

December 31

  • Make 2018 contributions to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Make 2018 annual exclusion gifts (up to $15,000 per recipient).
  • Incur various expenses that potentially can be claimed as itemized deductions on your 2018 tax return. Examples include charitable donations, medical expenses and property tax payments.

But remember that some types of expenses that were deductible on 2017 returns won’t be deductible on 2018 returns under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, such as unreimbursed work-related expenses, certain professional fees, and investment expenses. In addition, some deductions will be subject to new limits. Finally, with the nearly doubled standard deduction, you may no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

April 10, 2018

Haven’t filed your 2017 income tax return yet? Beware of these pitfalls

The federal income tax filing deadline is slightly later than usual this year — April 17 — but it’s now nearly upon us. So, if you haven’t filed your individual return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Or you may just be concerned about meeting the deadline in the eyes of the IRS. Whatever you do, don’t get tripped up by one of these potential pitfalls.

Filing for an extension

Filing for an extension allows you to delay filing your return until the applicable extension deadline, which for 2017 individual tax returns is October 15, 2018.

While filing for an extension can provide relief from April 17 deadline stress and avoid failure-to-file penalties, there are some possible pitfalls:

  • If you expect to owe tax, to avoid potential interest and penalties you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by April 17.
  • If you expect a refund, remember that you’re simply extending the amount of time your money is in the government’s pockets rather than your own. (If you’re owed a refund and file late, you won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty. However, filing for an extension may still be a good idea.)

Meeting the April 17 deadline

The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 17 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. Sounds straightforward, but here’s a potential pitfall: Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 17, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared. You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you can still be hit with both failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties.

To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:

  • DHL Express 9:00, Express 10:30, Express 12:00 or Express Envelope,
  • FedEx First Overnight, Priority Overnight, Standard Overnight or 2Day, or
  • UPS Next Day Air Early A.M., Next Day Air, Next Day Air Saver, 2nd Day Air A.M. or 2nd Day Air.

Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.

Avoiding interest and penalties

Despite the potential pitfalls, filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. We can help you estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 17. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about avoiding interest and penalties.

April 3, 2018

You still have time to make 2017 IRA contributions

Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. The deadline for 2017 contributions is April 17, 2018. Deductible contributions will lower your 2017 tax bill, but even nondeductible contributions can be beneficial.

Don’t lose the opportunity

The 2017 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2017). But any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.

This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So to maximize your potential for tax-deferred or tax-free savings, it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.

3 types of contributions

If you haven’t already maxed out your 2017 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 17:

  1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2017 tax return. If you or your spouse does participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) phaseout:
  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phaseout range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:
    • For a spouse who participates: $99,000–$119,000.
    • For a spouse who doesn’t participate: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan: $62,000–$72,000.

Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution; those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.

  1. Roth. With Roth IRAs, contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:
  • For married taxpayers filing jointly: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers: $118,000–$133,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

  1. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth.

Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.

Maximize your tax-advantaged savings

Traditional and Roth IRAs provide a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more about making 2017 contributions and making the most of IRAs in 2018 and beyond.

March 27, 2018

2018 Q2 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

April 2

  • Electronically file 2017 Form 1096, Form 1098, Form 1099 (except if an earlier deadline applies) and Form W-2G.

April 17

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, file a 2017 income tax return (Form 1120) or file for an automatic six-month extension (Form 7004), and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the first installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.

April 30

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2018 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below under “May 10.”)

May 10

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2018 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.

June 15

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the second installment of 2018 estimated income taxes

March 20, 2018

Home-related tax breaks are valuable on 2017 returns, will be less so for 2018

Home ownership is a key element of the American dream for many, and the U.S. tax code includes many tax breaks that help support this dream. If you own a home, you may be eligible for several valuable breaks when you file your 2017 return. But under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, your home-related breaks may not be as valuable when you file your 2018 return next year.

2017 vs. 2018

Here’s a look at various home-related tax breaks for 2017 vs. 2018:

Property tax deduction. For 2017, property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). For 2018, your total deduction for all state and local taxes, including both property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes, is capped at $10,000.

Mortgage interest deduction. For 2017, you generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. However, for 2018, if the mortgage debt was incurred on or after December 15, 2017, the debt limit generally is $750,000.

Home equity debt interest deduction. For 2017, interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. (If home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes). For 2018, the TCJA suspends the home equity interest deduction. But the IRS has clarified that such interest generally still will be deductible if used for home improvements.

Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.

Home office deduction. For 2017, if your home office use meets certain tests, you may be able to deduct associated expenses or use a simplified method for claiming the deduction. Employees claim this as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which means there will be tax savings only to the extent that the home office deduction plus other miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeds 2% of adjusted gross income. The self-employed can deduct home office expenses from self-employment income. For 2018, miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor are suspended, so only the self-employed can deduct home office expenses.

Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Changes to this break had been proposed, but they weren’t included in the final TCJA that was signed into law.

Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.

Additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. To learn more, contact us. We can help you determine which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim on your 2017 return and how your 2018 tax situation may be affected by the TCJA.

March 13, 2017

Casualty losses can provide a 2017 deduction, but rules tighten for 2018

If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2017 federal income tax return. For 2018 through 2025, however, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends this deduction except for losses due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.

What is a casualty? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses on your 2017 return:

When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.

Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)

$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.

Note that special relief has been provided to certain victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and California wildfires that affects some of these rules. For details on this relief or other questions about casualty losses, please contact us.

March 6, 2018

Size of charitable deductions depends on many factors

Whether you’re claiming charitable deductions on your 2017 return or planning your donations for 2018, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.

Type of gift

One of the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give:

Cash. You may deduct 100% gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction.

Ordinary-income property. For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.

Long-term capital gains property. You may deduct the current fair market value of appreciated stocks and bonds held for more than one year.

Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation:

  • If the property isn’t related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated for a charity auction), your deduction is limited to your basis.
  • If the property is related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated to a museum for its collection), you can deduct the fair market value.

Vehicle. Unless the vehicle is being used by the charity, you generally may deduct only the amount the charity receives when it sells the vehicle.

Use of property. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift.

Services. You may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.

Other factors

First, you’ll benefit from the charitable deduction only if you itemize deductions rather than claim the standard deduction. Also, your annual charitable donation deductions may be reduced if they exceed certain income-based limits.

In addition, your deduction generally must be reduced by the value of any benefit received from the charity. Finally, various substantiation requirements apply, and the charity must be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

2018 planning

While December’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) preserves the charitable deduction, it temporarily makes itemizing less attractive for many taxpayers, reducing the tax benefits of charitable giving for them.

Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction — plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions. As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax.

You might be able to preserve your charitable deduction by “bunching” donations into alternating years, so that you’ll exceed the standard deduction and can claim a charitable deduction (and other itemized deductions) every other year.

Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2017 return or what your charitable giving strategy should be going forward, in light of the TCJA.

February 27, 2018

Sec. 179 expensing provides small businesses tax savings on 2017 returns — and more savings in the future

If you purchased qualifying property by December 31, 2017, you may be able to take advantage of Section 179 expensing on your 2017 tax return. You’ll also want to keep this tax break in mind in your property purchase planning, because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, significantly enhances it beginning in 2018.

2017 Sec. 179 benefits

Sec. 179 expensing allows eligible taxpayers to deduct the entire cost of qualifying new or used depreciable property and most software in Year 1, subject to various limitations. For tax years that began in 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000. The maximum deduction is phased out dollar for dollar to the extent the cost of eligible property placed in service during the tax year exceeds the phaseout threshold of $2.03 million.

Qualified real property improvement costs are also eligible for Sec. 179 expensing. This real estate break applies to:

  • Certain improvements to interiors of leased nonresidential buildings,
  • Certain restaurant buildings or improvements to such buildings, and
  • Certain improvements to the interiors of retail buildings.

Deductions claimed for qualified real property costs count against the overall maximum for Sec. 179 expensing.

Permanent enhancements

The TCJA permanently enhances Sec. 179 expensing. Under the new law, for qualifying property placed in service in tax years beginning in 2018, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is increased to $1 million, and the phaseout threshold is increased to $2.5 million. For later tax years, these amounts will be indexed for inflation. For purposes of determining eligibility for these higher limits, property is treated as acquired on the date on which a written binding contract for the acquisition is signed.

The new law also expands the definition of eligible property to include certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging. The definition of qualified real property eligible for Sec. 179 expensing is also expanded to include the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

Save now and save later

Many rules apply, so please contact us to learn if you qualify for this break on your 2017 return. We’d also be happy to discuss your future purchasing plans so you can reap the maximum benefits from enhanced Sec. 179 expensing and other tax law changes under the TCJA.

February 20, 2018

Tax deduction for moving costs: 2017 vs. 2018

If you moved for work-related reasons in 2017, you might be able to deduct some of the costs on your 2017 return — even if you don’t itemize deductions. (Or, if your employer reimbursed you for moving expenses, that reimbursement might be excludable from your income.) The bad news is that, if you move in 2018, the costs likely won’t be deductible, and any employer reimbursements will probably be included in your taxable income.

Suspension for 2018–2025

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, suspends the moving expense deduction for the same period as when lower individual income tax rates generally apply: 2018 through 2025. For this period it also suspends the exclusion from income of qualified employer reimbursements of moving expenses.

The TCJA does provide an exception to both suspensions for active-duty members of the Armed Forces (and their spouses and dependents) who move because of a military order that calls for a permanent change of station.

Tests for 2017

If you moved in 2017 and would like to claim a deduction on your 2017 return, the first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.

The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would have increased your commute significantly.

Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)

Deductible expenses

The moving expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means it’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your adjusted gross income. It’s not an itemized deduction, so you don’t have to itemize to benefit.

Generally, you can deduct:

  • Transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving,
  • The cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property,
  • The expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit, and
  • Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities.

But don’t expect to deduct everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible • nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.

Please contact us if you have questions about whether you can deduct moving expenses on your 2017 return or about what other tax breaks won’t be available for 2018 under the TCJA.

February 13, 2018

Families with college students may save tax on their 2017 returns with one of these breaks

Whether you had a child in college (or graduate school) last year or were a student yourself, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2017 return. One such break that had expired December 31, 2016, was just extended under the recently passed Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018: the tuition and fees deduction.

But a couple of tax credits are also available. Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed.

Higher education breaks 101

While multiple higher-education breaks are available, a taxpayer isn’t allowed to claim all of them. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return. So first you need to see which breaks you’re eligible for. Then you need to determine which one will provide the greatest benefit.

Also keep in mind that you generally can’t claim deductions or credits for expenses that were paid for with distributions from tax-advantaged accounts, such as 529 plans or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.

Credits

Two credits are available for higher education expenses:

  1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
  2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.

But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.

If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, consider claiming the Lifetime Learning credit. But first determine if the tuition and fees deduction might provide more tax savings.

Deductions

Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.

Be aware that the tuition and fees deduction was extended only through December 31, 2017. So it won’t be available on your 2018 return unless Congress extends it again or makes it permanent.

Maximizing your savings

If you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2017 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.

February 6, 2018

TCJA temporarily lowers medical expense deduction threshold

With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that may be hard to meet. Fortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has temporarily reduced the threshold.

What expenses are eligible?

Medical expenses may be deductible if they’re “qualified.” Qualified medical expenses involve the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. Examples include payments to physicians, dentists and other medical practitioners, as well as equipment, supplies, diagnostic devices and prescription drugs.

Mileage driven for health-care-related purposes is also deductible at a rate of 17 cents per mile for 2017 and 18 cents per mile for 2018. Health insurance and long-term care insurance premiums can also qualify, with certain limits.

Expenses reimbursed by insurance or paid with funds from a tax-advantaged account such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account can’t be deducted. Likewise, health insurance premiums aren’t deductible if they’re taken out of your paycheck pretax.

The AGI threshold

Before 2013, you could claim an itemized deduction for qualified unreimbursed medical expenses paid for you, your spouse and your dependents, to the extent those expenses exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). AGI includes all of your taxable income items reduced by certain “above-the-line” deductions, such as those for deductible IRA contributions and student loan interest.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, a higher deduction threshold of 10% of AGI went into effect in 2014 for most taxpayers and was scheduled to go into effect in 2017 for taxpayers age 65 or older. But under the TCJA, the 7.5%-of-AGI deduction threshold now applies to all taxpayers for 2017 and 2018.

However, this lower threshold is temporary. Beginning January 1, 2019, the 10% threshold will apply to all taxpayers, including those over age 65, unless Congress takes additional action.

Consider “bunching” expenses into 2018

Because the threshold is scheduled to increase to 10% in 2019, you might benefit from accelerating deductible medical expenses into 2018, to the extent they’re within your control.

However, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.

Contact us if you have questions about what expenses are eligible and whether you can qualify for a deduction on your 2017 tax return. We can also help you determine whether bunching medical expenses into 2018 will likely save you tax.

January 30, 2018

2 tax credits just for small businesses may reduce your 2017 and 2018 tax bills

Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, potentially making them more valuable than deductions, which reduce only the amount of income subject to tax. Maximizing available credits is especially important now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has reduced or eliminated some tax breaks for businesses. Two still-available tax credits are especially for small businesses that provide certain employee benefits.

  1. Credit for paying health care coverage premiums

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a credit to certain small employers that provide employees with health coverage. Despite various congressional attempts to repeal the ACA in 2017, nearly all of its provisions remain intact, including this potentially valuable tax credit.

The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, if it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2017, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $26,200 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,400.

The credit can be claimed for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits claimed before 2014 don’t count, however.) If you meet the eligibility requirements but have been waiting to claim the credit until a future year when you think it might provide more savings, claiming the credit for 2017 may be a good idea. Why? It’s possible the credit will go away in the future if lawmakers in Washington continue to try to repeal or replace the ACA.

At this point, most likely any ACA repeal or replacement wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 (or possibly later). So if you claim the credit for 2017, you may also be able to claim it on your 2018 return next year (provided you again meet the eligibility requirements). That way, you could take full advantage of the credit while it’s available.

  1. Credit for starting a retirement plan

Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified start-up costs.

Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.

If you didn’t create a retirement plan in 2017, you might still have time to do so. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) can be set up as late as the due date of your tax return, including extensions. If you’d like to set up a different type of plan, consider doing so for 2018 so you can potentially take advantage of the retirement plan credit (and other tax benefits) when you file your 2018 return next year.

Determining eligibility

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these tax credits. We’d be happy to help you determine whether you’re eligible for these or other credits on your 2017 return and also plan for credits you might be able to claim on your 2018 return if you take appropriate actions this year.

January 23, 2018

Can you deduct home office expenses?

Working from home has become commonplace. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it. And for 2018, even fewer taxpayers will be eligible for a home office deduction.

Changes under the TCJA

For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. For 2017, this means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses (such as unreimbursed work-related travel, certain professional fees and investment expenses) exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

For 2018 through 2025, this means that, if you’re an employee, you won’t be able to deduct any home office expenses. Why? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for this period.

If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income. Therefore, the deduction will still be available to you for 2018 through 2025.

Other eligibility requirements

If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.

Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.

2 deduction options

If you’re eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You have two options for the deduction:

  1. Deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.
  2. Take the “safe harbor” deduction. Only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 × the number of square feet of the office space. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.

More rules and limits

Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction on your 2017 return or would like to know if there’s anything additional you need to do to be eligible on your 2018 return, contact us.

January 16, 2018

Personal exemptions and standard deductions and tax credits, oh my!

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), individual income tax rates generally go down for 2018 through 2025. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your income tax liability will go down. The TCJA also makes a lot of changes to tax breaks for individuals, reducing or eliminating some while expanding others. The total impact of all of these changes is what will ultimately determine whether you see reduced taxes. One interrelated group of changes affecting many taxpayers are those to personal exemptions, standard deductions and the child credit.

Personal exemptions

For 2017, taxpayers can claim a personal exemption of $4,050 each for themselves, their spouses and any dependents. For families with children and/or other dependents, such as elderly parents, these exemptions can really add up.

For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA suspends personal exemptions. This will substantially increase taxable income for large families. However, enhancements to the standard deduction and child credit, combined with lower tax rates, might mitigate this increase.

Standard deduction

Taxpayers can choose to itemize certain deductions on Schedule A or take the standard deduction based on their filing status instead. Itemizing deductions when the total will be larger than the standard deduction saves tax, but it makes filing more complicated.

For 2017, the standard deductions are $6,350 for singles and separate filers, $9,350 for head of household filers, and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly.

The TCJA nearly doubles the standard deductions for 2018 to $12,000 for singles and separate filers, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for joint filers. (These amounts will be adjusted for inflation for 2019 through 2025.)

For some taxpayers, the increased standard deduction could compensate for the elimination of the exemptions, and perhaps even provide some additional tax savings. But for those with many dependents or who itemize deductions, these changes might result in a higher tax bill — depending in part on the extent to which they can benefit from enhancements to the child credit.

Child credit

Credits can be more powerful than exemptions and deductions because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar, rather than just reducing the amount of income subject to tax. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA doubles the child credit to $2,000 per child under age 17.

The new law also makes the child credit available to more families than in the past. For 2018 through 2025, the credit doesn’t begin to phase out until adjusted gross income exceeds $400,000 for joint filers or $200,000 for all other filers, compared with the 2017 phaseout thresholds of $110,000 and $75,000, respectively.

The TCJA also includes, for 2018 through 2025, a $500 credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children.

Tip of the iceberg

Many factors will influence the impact of the TCJA on your tax liability for 2018 and beyond. And what’s discussed here is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, the TCJA also makes many changes to itemized deductions. For help assessing the impact on your tax situation, please contact us.

January 9, 2018

Don’t be a victim of tax identity theft: File your 2017 return early

The IRS has just announced that it will begin accepting 2017 income tax returns on January 29. You may be more concerned about the April 17 filing deadline, or even the extended deadline of October 15 (if you file for an extension by April 17). After all, why go through the hassle of filing your return earlier than you have to?

But it can be a good idea to file as close to January 29 as possible: Doing so helps protect you from tax identity theft.

All-too-common scam

Here’s why early filing helps: In an all-too-common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.

A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.

Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

The IRS is working with the tax industry and states to improve safeguards to protect taxpayers from tax identity theft. But filing early may be your best defense.

W-2s and 1099s

Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2017 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2017 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.

If you don’t receive a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If by mid-February you still haven’t received it, you can contact the IRS for help.

Earlier refunds

Of course, if you’ll be getting a refund, another good thing about filing early is that you’ll get your refund sooner. The IRS expects over 90% of refunds to be issued within 21 days.

E-filing and requesting a direct deposit refund generally will result in a quicker refund and also can be more secure. If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2017 return early, please contact us.

January 2, 2018

The TCJA temporarily expands bonus depreciation

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances some tax breaks for businesses while reducing or eliminating others. One break it enhances — temporarily — is bonus depreciation. While most TCJA provisions go into effect for the 2018 tax year, you might be able to benefit from the bonus depreciation enhancements when you file your 2017 tax return.

Pre-TCJA bonus depreciation

Under pre-TCJA law, for qualified new assets that your business placed in service in 2017, you can claim a 50% first-year bonus depreciation deduction. Used assets don’t qualify. This tax break is available for the cost of new computer systems, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment, office furniture, etc.

In addition, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any qualified improvement to the interior portion of a nonresidential building if the improvement is placed in service after the date the building is placed in service. But qualified improvement costs don’t include expenditures for the enlargement of a building, an elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework of a building.

TCJA expansion

The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation: For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property.

The new law also allows 100% bonus depreciation for qualified film, television and live theatrical productions placed in service on or after September 28, 2017. Productions are considered placed in service at the time of the initial release, broadcast or live commercial performance.

Beginning in 2023, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced 20 percentage points each year. So, for example, it would be 80% for property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, etc., until it would be fully eliminated in 2027.

For certain property with longer production periods, the reductions are delayed by one year. For example, 80% bonus depreciation would apply to long-production-period property placed in service in 2024.

Bonus depreciation is only one of the business tax breaks that have changed under the TCJA. Contact us for more information on this and other changes that will impact your business.

December 19, 2017

401(k) retirement plan contribution limit increases for 2018; most other limits are stagnant

Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, most of the limits remain unchanged for 2018. But one piece of good news for taxpayers who’re already maxing out their contributions is that the 401(k) limit has gone up by $500. The only other limit that has increased from the 2017 level is for contributions to defined contribution plans, which has gone up by $1,000.

Type of limit2018 limit
Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2)
and 457(c)(1) plans
$18,500
Contributions to defined contribution plans$55,000
Contributions to SIMPLEs$12,500
Contributions to IRAs$5,500
Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2)
and 457(c)(1) plans
$6,000
Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs$3,000
Catch-up contributions to IRAs$1,000

If you’re not already maxing out your contributions to other plans, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2018. And if you turn age 50 in 2018, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.

Higher-income taxpayers should also be pleased that some limits on their retirement plan contributions that had been discussed as part of tax reform didn’t make it into the final legislation.

However, keep in mind that there are still additional factors that may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.

If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2018, check with us.

December 12, 2017

What you need to know about year-end charitable giving in 2017

Charitable giving can be a powerful tax-saving strategy: Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and you have complete control over when and how much you give. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind this year to ensure you receive the tax benefits you desire.

Delivery date

To be deductible on your 2017 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2017. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it.

Credit card. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Qualified charity status

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Potential impact of tax reform

The charitable donation deduction isn’t among the deductions that have been proposed for elimination or reduction under tax reform. In fact, income-based limits on how much can be deducted in a particular year might be expanded, which will benefit higher-income taxpayers who make substantial charitable gifts.

However, for many taxpayers, accelerating into this year donations that they might normally give next year may make sense for a couple of tax-reform-related reasons:

  1. If your tax rate goes down for 2018, then 2017 donations will save you more tax because deductions are more powerful when rates are higher.
  2. If the standard deduction is raised significantly and many itemized deductions are eliminated or reduced, then it may not make sense for you to itemize deductions in 2018, in which case you wouldn’t benefit from charitable donation deduction next year.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making — or the potential impact of tax reform on your charitable giving plans.

December 5, 2017

2018 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

January 31

  • File 2017 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2017 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2017. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2017. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2017 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.

February 28

  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 2.)

March 15

If a calendar-year partnership or S-corporation, file or extend your 2017 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

November 28, 2017

Even if your income is high, your family may be able to benefit from the 0% long-term capital gains rate

We’re entering the giving season, and if making financial gifts to your loved ones is part of your plans — or if you’d simply like to reduce your capital gains tax — consider giving appreciated stock instead of cash this year. Doing so might allow you to eliminate all federal tax liability on the appreciation, or at least significantly reduce it.

Leveraging lower rates

Investors generally are subject to a 15% tax rate on their long-term capital gains (20% if they’re in the top ordinary income tax bracket of 39.6%). But the long-term capital gains rate is 0% for gain that would be taxed at 10% or 15% based on the taxpayer’s ordinary-income rate.

In addition, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately) may owe the net investment income tax (NIIT). The NIIT equals 3.8% of the lesser of your net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold.

If you have loved ones in the 0% bracket, you may be able to take advantage of it by transferring appreciated assets to them. The recipients can then sell the assets at no or a low federal tax cost.

The strategy in action

Faced with a long-term capital gains tax rate of 23.8% (20% for the top tax bracket, plus the 3.8% NIIT), Rick and Sara decide to transfer some appreciated stock to their adult daughter, Maia. Just out of college and making only enough from her entry-level job to leave her with $25,000 in taxable income, Maia falls into the 15% income tax bracket. Therefore, she qualifies for the 0% long-term capital gains rate.

However, the 0% rate applies only to the extent that capital gains “fill up” the gap between Maia’s taxable income and the top end of the 15% bracket. In 2017, the 15% bracket for singles tops out at $37,950.

When Maia sells the stock her parents transferred to her, her capital gains are $20,000. Of that amount $12,950 qualifies for the 0% rate and the remaining $7,050 is taxed at 15%. Maia pays only $1,057.50 of federal tax on the sale vs. the $4,760 her parents would have owed had they sold the stock themselves.

Additional considerations

Before acting, make sure the recipients won’t be subject to the “kiddie tax.” Also consider any gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax consequences.

For more information on transfer taxes, the kiddie tax or capital gains planning, please contact us. We can help you find the strategies that will best achieve your goals.

November 21, 2017

You may need to add RMDs to your year-end to-do list

As the end of the year approaches, most of us have a lot of things on our to-do lists, from gift shopping to donating to our favorite charities to making New Year’s Eve plans. For taxpayers “of a certain age” with a tax-advantaged retirement account, as well as younger taxpayers who’ve inherited such an account, there may be one more thing that’s critical to check off the to-do list before year end: Take required minimum distributions (RMDs).

A huge penalty

After you reach age 70½, you generally must take annual RMDs from your:

  • IRAs (except Roth IRAs), and
  • Defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans (unless you’re still an employee and not a 5%-or-greater shareholder of the employer sponsoring the plan).

An RMD deferral is available in the initial year, but then you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year. The RMD rule can be avoided for Roth 401(k) accounts by rolling the balance into a Roth IRA.

For taxpayers who inherit a retirement plan, the RMD rules generally apply to defined-contribution plans and both traditional and Roth IRAs. (Special rules apply when the account is inherited from a spouse.)

RMDs usually must be taken by December 31. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t.

Should you withdraw more than the RMD?

Taking only RMDs generally is advantageous because of tax-deferred compounding. But a larger distribution in a year your tax bracket is low may save tax.

Be sure, however, to consider the lost future tax-deferred growth and, if applicable, whether the distribution could: 1) cause Social Security payments to become taxable, 2) increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges, or 3) affect other tax breaks with income-based limits.

Also keep in mind that, while retirement plan distributions aren’t subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), they are included in your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That means they could trigger or increase the NIIT, because the thresholds for that tax are based on MAGI.

For more information on RMDs or tax-savings strategies for your retirement plan distributions, please contact us.

November 14, 2017

Why you may want to accelerate your property tax payment into 2017

Accelerating deductible expenses, such as property tax on your home, into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? It will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. Prepaying property tax may be especially beneficial this year, because proposed tax legislation might reduce or eliminate the benefit of the property tax deduction beginning in 2018.

Proposed changes

The initial version of the House tax bill would cap the property tax deduction for individuals at $10,000. The initial version of the Senate tax bill would eliminate the property tax deduction for individuals altogether.

In addition, tax rates under both bills would go down for many taxpayers, making deductions less valuable. And because the standard deduction would increase significantly under both bills, some taxpayers might no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

2017 year-end planning

You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2017 but that are due in 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return. But you generally can’t prepay property tax that relates to 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return.

Prepaying property tax will in most cases be beneficial if the property tax deduction is eliminated beginning in 2018. But even if the property tax deduction is retained, prepaying could still be beneficial. Here’s why:

  • If your property tax bill is very large, prepaying is likely a good idea in case the property tax deduction is capped beginning in 2018.
  • If you could be subject to a lower tax rate in 2018 or won’t have enough itemized deductions overall in 2018 to exceed a higher standard deduction, prepaying is also likely tax-smart because a property tax deduction next year would have less or no benefit.

However, there are a few caveats:

  • If you’re subject to the AMT in 2017, you won’t get any benefit from prepaying your property tax. And if the property tax deduction is retained for 2018, the prepayment could cost you a tax-saving opportunity next year.
  • If your income is high enough that the income-based itemized deduction reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment may be reduced.
  • While the initial versions of both the House and Senate bills generally lower tax rates, some taxpayers might still end up being subject to higher tax rates in 2018, either because of tax law changes or simply because their income goes up next year. If you’re among them and the property tax deduction is retained, you may save more tax by holding off on paying property tax until it’s due next year.

It’s still uncertain what the final legislation will contain and whether it will be passed and signed into law this year. We can help you make the best decision based on tax law change developments and your specific situation.

November 7, 2017

2017 might be your last chance to hire veterans and claim a tax credit

With Veterans Day on November 11, it’s an especially good time to think about the sacrifices veterans have made for us and how we can support them. One way businesses can support veterans is to hire them. The Work Opportunity tax credit (WOTC) can help businesses do just that, but it may not be available for hires made after this year.

As released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would eliminate the WOTC for hires after December 31, 2017. So you may want to consider hiring qualifying veterans before year end.

The WOTC up close

You can claim the WOTC for a portion of wages paid to a new hire from a qualifying target group. Among the target groups are eligible veterans who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as “food stamps”), who have a service-related disability or who have been unemployed for at least four weeks. The maximum credit depends in part on which of these factors apply:

  • Food stamp recipient or short-term unemployed (at least 4 weeks but less than 6 months): $2,400
  • Disabled: $4,800
  • Long-term unemployed (at least 6 months): $5,600
  • Disabled and long-term unemployed: $9,600

The amount of the credit also depends on the wages paid to the veteran and the number of hours the veteran worked during the first year of employment.

You aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible veterans you can hire. For example, if you hire 10 disabled long-term-unemployed veterans, the credit can be as much as $96,000.

Other considerations

Before claiming the WOTC, you generally must obtain certification from a “designated local agency” (DLA) that the hired individual is indeed a target group member. You must submit IRS Form 8850, “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit,” to the DLA no later than the 28th day after the individual begins work for you.

Also be aware that veterans aren’t the only target groups from which you can hire and claim the WOTC. But in many cases hiring a veteran will provided the biggest credit. Plus, research assembled by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University suggests that the skills and traits of people with a successful military employment track record make for particularly good civilian employees.

Looking ahead

It’s still uncertain whether the WOTC will be repealed. The House bill likely will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and it’s also possible Congress will be unable to pass tax legislation this year. Under current law, the WOTC is scheduled to be available through 2019.

But if you’re looking to hire this year, hiring veterans is worth considering for both tax and nontax reasons. Contact us for more information on the WOTC or on other year-end tax planning strategies in light of possible tax law changes

October 17, 2017

2 ACA taxes that may apply to your exec comp

If you’re an executive or other key employee, you might be rewarded for your contributions to your company’s success with compensation such as restricted stock, stock options or nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC). Tax planning for these forms of “exec comp,” however, is generally more complicated than for salaries, bonuses and traditional employee benefits.

And planning gets even more complicated if you could potentially be subject to two taxes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): 1) the additional 0.9% Medicare tax, and 2) the net investment income tax (NIIT). These taxes apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

Additional Medicare tax

The following types of exec comp could be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Fair market value (FMV) of restricted stock once the stock is no longer subject to risk of forfeiture or it’s sold,
  • FMV of restricted stock when it’s awarded if you make a Section 83(b) election,
  • Bargain element of nonqualified stock options when exercised, and
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation once the services have been performed and there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture.

NIIT

The following types of gains from stock acquired through exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Gain on the sale of restricted stock if you’ve made the Sec. 83(b) election, and
  • Gain on the sale of stock from an incentive stock option exercise if you meet the holding requirements.

Keep in mind that the additional Medicare tax and the NIIT could possibly be eliminated under tax reform or ACA-related legislation. If you’re concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed, please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.

October 3, 2017

“Bunching” medical expenses will be a tax-smart strategy for many in 2017

Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only if they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example is the medical expense deduction.

Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible medical expenses into a particular year where possible. If tax reform legislation is signed into law, it might be especially beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017.

The deduction

Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. The 10% floor applies for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.

Beginning in 2017, even taxpayers age 65 and older are subject to the 10% floor. Previously, they generally enjoyed a 7.5% floor, except for AMT purposes, where they were also subject to the 10% floor.

Benefits of bunching

By bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.

Normally, if it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in the current year, it’s tax-smart to consider accelerating controllable expenses into the current year. But if you’re far from exceeding the floor, the traditional strategy is, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), to put off medical expenses until the next year, in case you have enough expenses in that year to exceed the floor.

However, in 2017, sticking to these traditional strategies might not make sense.

Possible elimination?

The nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27 proposes a variety of tax law changes. Among other things, the framework calls for increasing the standard deduction and eliminating “most” itemized deductions. While the framework doesn’t specifically mention the medical expense deduction, the only itemized deductions that it specifically states would be retained are those for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

If an elimination of the medical expense deduction were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for individuals to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017. Even if you’re not close to exceeding the floor now, it could be beneficial to see if you can accelerate enough qualifying expense into 2017 to do so.

Keep in mind that tax reform legislation must be drafted, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President. It’s still uncertain exactly what will be included in any legislation, whether it will be passed and signed into law this year, and, if it is, when its provisions would go into effect. For more information on how to bunch deductions, exactly what expenses are deductible, or other ways tax reform legislation could affect your 2017 year-end tax planning, please contact us.

September 26, 2017

Investors: Beware of the wash sale rule

A tried-and-true tax-saving strategy for investors is to sell assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year. So if you’ve cashed in some big gains this year, consider looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio and selling those investments before year end to offset your gains. This can reduce your 2017 tax liability.

But what if you expect an investment that would produce a loss if sold now to not only recover but thrive in the future? Or perhaps you simply want to minimize the impact on your asset allocation. You might think you can simply sell the investment at a loss and then immediately buy it back. Not so fast: You need to beware of the wash sale rule.

The rule up close

The wash sale rule prevents you from taking a loss on a security if you buy a substantially identical security (or an option to buy such a security) within 30 days before or after you sell the security that created the loss. You can recognize the loss only when you sell the replacement security.

Keep in mind that the rule applies even if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA.

Achieving your goals

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the wash sale rule and still achieve your goals:

  • Sell the security and immediately buy shares of a security of a different company in the same industry or shares in a mutual fund that holds securities much like the ones you sold.
  • Sell the security and wait 31 days to repurchase the same security.
  • Before selling the security, purchase additional shares of that security equal to the number you want to sell at a loss. Then wait 31 days to sell the original portion.

If you have a bond that would generate a loss if sold, you can do a bond swap, where you sell a bond, take a loss and then immediately buy another bond of similar quality and duration from a different issuer. Generally, the wash sale rule doesn’t apply because the bonds aren’t considered substantially identical. Thus, you can achieve a tax loss with virtually no change in economic position.

For more ideas on saving taxes on your investments, please contact us.

September 12, 2017

2017 Q4 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

October 16

  • If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

October 31

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)

November 13

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.

December 15

If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.

September 5, 2017

Watch out for potential tax pitfalls of donating real estate to charity

Charitable giving allows you to help an organization you care about and, in most cases, enjoy a valuable income tax deduction. If you’re considering a large gift, a noncash donation such as appreciated real estate can provide additional benefits. For example, if you’ve held the property for more than one year, you generally will be able to deduct its full fair market value and avoid any capital gains tax you’d owe if you sold the property. There are, however, potential tax pitfalls you must watch out for:

Donation to a private foundation. While real estate donations to a public charity generally can be deducted at the property’s fair market value, your deduction for such a donation to a private foundation is limited to the lower of fair market value or your cost basis in the property.

Property subject to a mortgage. In this case, you may recognize taxable income for all or a portion of the loan’s value. And charities might not accept mortgaged property because it may trigger unrelated business income tax. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to pay off the mortgage before you donate the property or ask the lender to accept another property as collateral for the loan.

Failure to properly substantiate your donation. This can result in loss of the deduction and overvaluation penalties. Generally, real estate donations require a qualified appraisal. You’ll also need to complete Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions,” have your appraiser sign it and file it with your federal tax return. If the property is valued at more than $500,000, you’ll generally need to include the appraisal report as well.

Sale of the property within three years. The charity must report the sale to the IRS, and if the price is substantially less than the amount you claimed as a tax deduction, the IRS may challenge your deduction. To avoid this result, be sure your initial appraisal is accurate and well documented.

Sale of the property to someone related to you. If the charity sells the property you donated to your relative (or to someone with whom you negotiated a potential sale), the IRS may argue that the sale was prearranged and tax you on any capital gain.

If you’re considering a real estate donation, plan carefully and contact us for help ensuring that you avoid these pitfalls.

August 29, 2017

The ABCs of the tax deduction for educator expenses

At back-to-school time, much of the focus is on the students returning to the classroom — and on their parents buying them school supplies, backpacks, clothes, etc., for the new school year. But let’s not forget about the teachers. It’s common for teachers to pay for some classroom supplies out of pocket, and the tax code provides a special break that makes it a little easier for these educators to deduct some of their expenses.

The miscellaneous itemized deduction

Generally, your employee expenses are deductible if they’re unreimbursed by your employer and ordinary and necessary to your business of being an employee. An expense is ordinary if it is common and accepted in your business. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to your business.

These expenses must be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and are subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if all your deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceed 2% of your AGI. For many taxpayers, including teachers, this can be a difficult threshold to meet.

The educator expense deduction

Congress created the educator expense deduction to allow more teachers and other educators to receive a tax benefit from some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The break was made permanent under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Since 2016, the deduction has been annually indexed for inflation (though because of low inflation it hasn’t increased yet) and has included professional development expenses.

Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct 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 for supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.

An added benefit

The educator expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means you don’t have to itemize and it reduces your AGI, which has an added benefit: Because AGI-based limits affect a variety of tax breaks (such as the previously mentioned miscellaneous itemized deductions), lowering your AGI might help you maximize your tax breaks overall.

Contact us for more details about the educator expense deduction or tax breaks available for other work-related expenses.

August 22, 2017

Yes, you can undo a Roth IRA conversion

Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and the ability to withdraw funds tax-free in retirement. But what if you convert a traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover that you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it? Fortunately, it’s possible to undo a Roth IRA conversion, using a “recharacterization.”

Reasons to recharacterize

There are several possible reasons to undo a Roth IRA conversion. For example:

  • You lack sufficient liquid funds to pay the tax liability.
  • The conversion combined with your other income has pushed you into a higher tax bracket.
  • You expect your tax rate to go down either in the near future or in retirement.
  • The value of your account has declined since the conversion, which means you would owe taxes partially on money you no longer have.

Generally, when you convert to a Roth IRA, if you extend your tax return, you have until October 15 of the following year to undo it. (For 2016 returns, the extended deadline is October 16 because the 15th falls on a weekend in 2017.)

In some cases it can make sense to undo a Roth IRA conversion and then redo it. If you want to redo the conversion, you must wait until the later of 1) the first day of the year following the year of the original conversion, or 2) the 31st day after the recharacterization.

Keep in mind that, if you reversed a conversion because yours IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period. This could cause you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.

Recharacterization in action

Nick had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000. In 2016, he converted it to a Roth IRA, which, combined with his other income for the year, put him in the 33% tax bracket. So normally he’d have owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion in April 2017. However, Nick extended his return and, by September 2017, the value of his account drops to $80,000.

On October 1, Nick recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and files his return to exclude the $100,000 in income. On November 1, he reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. He’ll report that amount on his 2017 tax return. This time, he’ll owe $26,400 — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $6,600. If the $20,000 difference in income keeps him in the 28% tax bracket or tax reform legislation is signed into law that reduces rates retroactively to January 1, 2017, he could save even more.

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, monitor your financial situation. If the advantages of the conversion diminish, we can help you assess your options.

August 15, 2017

Put your audit in reverse to save sales and use tax

It’s a safe bet that state tax authorities will let you know if you haven’t paid enough sales and use taxes, but what are the odds that you’ll be notified if you’ve paid too much? The chances are slim — so slim that many businesses use reverse audits to find overpayments so they can seek refunds.

Take all of your exemptions

In most states, businesses are exempt from sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing or recycling, and many states don’t require them to pay taxes on the utilities and chemicals used in these processes, either. In some states, custom software, computers and peripherals are exempt if they’re used for research and development projects.

This is just a sampling of sales and use tax exemptions that might be available. Unless you’re diligent about claiming exemptions, you may be missing out on some to which you’re entitled.

Many businesses have sales and use tax compliance systems to guard against paying too much, but if you haven’t reviewed yours recently, it may not be functioning properly. Employee turnover, business expansion or downsizing, and simple mistakes all can take their toll.

Look back and broadly

The audit should extend across your business, going back as far as the statute of limitations on state tax reviews. If your state auditors can review all records for the four years preceding the audit, for example, your reverse audit should encompass the same timeframe.

What types of payments should be reviewed? You may have made overpayments on components of manufactured products as well as on the equipment you use to make the products. Other areas where overpayments may occur, depending on state laws, include:

  • Pollution control equipment and supplies,
  • Safety equipment,
  • Warehouse equipment,
  • Software licenses,
  • Maintenance fees,
  • Protective clothing, and
  • Service transactions.

When considering whether you may have overpaid taxes in these and other areas, a clear understanding of your operations is key. If, for example, you want to ensure you’re receiving maximum benefit from industrial processing exemptions, you must know where your manufacturing process begins and ends.

Save now and later

Reverse audits can be time consuming and complicated, but a little pain can bring significant gain. Use your reverse audit not only to reap tax refund rewards now but also to update your compliance systems to help ensure you don’t overpay taxes in the future.

Rules and regulations surrounding state sales and use tax refunds are complicated. We can help you understand them and ensure your refund claims are properly prepared before you submit them.

August 8, 2017

Will Congress revive expired tax breaks?

Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.

Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.

An education break

One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).

You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.

But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.

Mortgage-related tax breaks

Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.

The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.

Act now

Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.

August 1, 2017

A refresher on the ACA’s tax penalty on individuals without health insurance

Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”

Penalty exemptions

Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:

  • Their household income is below the federal income tax return filing threshold.
  • They lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage.
  • They suffered a hardship in obtaining coverage.
  • They have only a short-term coverage gap.
  • They qualify for an exception on religious grounds or have coverage through a health care sharing ministry.
  • They’re not a U.S. citizen or national.
  • They’re incarcerated.
  • They’re a member of a Native American tribe.

Calculating the tax

So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:

  1. The applicable percentage of your household income above the applicable federal income tax return filing threshold, or
  2. The applicable dollar amount times the number of uninsured individuals in your household, limited to 300% of the applicable dollar amount.

In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.

In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).

The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.

If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.

Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.

July 25, 2017

3 midyear tax planning strategies for individuals

In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:

  1. Consider your bracket

The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)

You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).

  1. Look at investment income

This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.

Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.

  1. Plan for medical expenses

The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)

Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.

These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.

July 18, 2017

3 midyear tax planning strategies for business

Tax reform has been a major topic of discussion in Washington, but it’s still unclear exactly what such legislation will include and whether it will be signed into law this year. However, the last major tax legislation that was signed into law — back in December of 2015 — still has a significant impact on tax planning for businesses. Let’s look at three midyear tax strategies inspired by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act:

  1. Buy equipment. The PATH Act preserved both the generous limits for the Section 179 expensing election and the availability of bonus depreciation. These breaks generally apply to qualified fixed assets, including equipment or machinery, placed in service during the year. For 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000, subject to a $2,030,000 phaseout threshold. Without the PATH Act, the 2017 limits would have been $25,000 and $200,000, respectively. Higher limits are now permanent and subject to inflation indexing.

Additionally, for 2017, your business may be able to claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified costs in excess of what you expense under Sec. 179. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019 before it’s set to expire on December 31, 2019.

  1. Ramp up research. After years of uncertainty, the PATH Act made the research credit permanent. For qualified research expenses, the credit is generally equal to 20% of expenses over a base amount that’s essentially determined using a historical average of research expenses as a percentage of revenues. There’s also an alternative computation for companies that haven’t increased their research expenses substantially over their historical base amounts.

In addition, a small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts may claim the credit against its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And, a start-up company with less than $5 million in gross receipts may claim the credit against up to $250,000 in employer Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes.

  1. Hire workers from “target groups.” Your business may claim the Work Opportunity credit for hiring a worker from one of several “target groups,” such as food stamp recipients and certain veterans. The PATH Act extended the credit through 2019. It also added a new target group: long-term unemployment recipients.

Generally, the maximum Work Opportunity credit is $2,400 per worker. But it’s higher for workers from certain target groups, such as disabled veterans.

One last thing to keep in mind is that, in terms of tax breaks, “permanent” only means that there’s no scheduled expiration date. Congress could still pass legislation that changes or eliminates “permanent” breaks. But it’s unlikely any of the breaks discussed here would be eliminated or reduced for 2017. To keep up to date on tax law changes and get a jump start on your 2017 tax planning, contact us.

July 11, 2017

Own a vacation home? Adjusting rental vs. personal use might save taxes

Now that we’ve hit midsummer, if you own a vacation home that you both rent out and use personally, it’s a good time to review the potential tax consequences:

If you rent it out for less than 15 days: You don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) won’t be deductible.

If you rent it out for 15 days or more: You must report the income. But what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:

  • Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction.
  • Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence, but you will still have to report the rental income. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years. You also can take an itemized deduction for the personal portion of both mortgage interest and property tax.

Look at the use of your vacation home year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. Adjusting the number of days you rent it out and/or use it personally between now and year end might allow the home to be classified in a more beneficial way.

For assistance, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help.

July 5, 2017

Summer is a good time to start your 2017 tax planning and organize your tax records

You may be tempted to forget all about taxes during summertime, when “the livin’ is easy,” as the Gershwin song goes. But if you start your tax planning now, you may avoid an unpleasant tax surprise when you file next year. Summer is also a good time to set up a storage system for your tax records. Here are some tips:

Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you owe. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.

Keep records accessible but safe. Put your 2016 tax return and supporting records together in a place where you can easily find them if you need them, such as if you’re ever audited by the IRS. You also may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid. Although accessibility is important, so is safety.

A good storage medium for hard copies of important personal documents like tax returns is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. You may want to maintain a duplicate set of records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You can also store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to an external storage device (which you can keep in your home safe or bank safety deposit box). If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.

Stay organized. Make tax time easier by putting records you’ll need when you file in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records next February or March. Some examples include substantiation of charitable donations, receipts from work-related travel not reimbursed by your employer, and documentation of medical expenses not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account.

For more information on summertime tax planning or organizing your tax-related information, contact us.

June 27, 2017

Claiming a federal tax deduction for moving costs

Summer is a popular time to move, whether it’s so the kids don’t have to change schools mid-school-year, to avoid having to move in bad weather or simply because it can be an easier time to sell a home. Unfortunately, moving can be expensive. The good news is that you might be eligible for a federal tax deduction for your moving costs.

Pass the tests

The first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.

The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would increase your commute significantly.

Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)

What’s deductible

So which expenses can be written off? Generally, you can deduct transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving.

In addition, you can likely deduct the cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property. And you may be able to deduct the expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit. Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities are usually deductible, too.

But don’t expect to write off everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible. Nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.

Questions about whether your moving expenses are deductible? Or what you can deduct? Contact us.

June 13, 2017

Pay attention to the details when selling investments

The tax consequences of the sale of an investment, as well as your net return, can be affected by a variety of factors. You’re probably focused on factors such as how much you paid for the investment vs. how much you’re selling it for, whether you held the investment long-term (more than one year) and the tax rate that will apply.

But there are additional details you should pay attention to. If you don’t, the tax consequences of a sale may be different from what you expect. Here are a few details to consider when selling an investment:

Which shares you’re selling. If you bought the same security at different times and prices and want to sell high-tax-basis shares to reduce gain or increase a loss to offset other gains, be sure to specifically identify which block of shares is being sold.

Trade date vs. settlement date. When it gets close to year end, keep in mind that the trade date, not the settlement date, of publicly traded securities determines the year in which you recognize the gain or loss.

Transaction costs. While transaction costs, such as broker fees, aren’t taxes, like taxes they can have a significant impact on your net returns, especially over time, because they also reduce the amount of money you have available to invest.

If you have questions about the potential tax impact of an investment sale you’re considering — or all of the details you should keep in mind to minimize it — please contact us.

June 6, 2017

Coverdell ESAs: The tax-advantaged way to fund elementary and secondary school costs

With school letting out you might be focused on summer plans for your children (or grandchildren). But the end of the school year is also a good time to think about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) — especially if the children are in grade school or younger.

One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.

Other benefits

Here are some other key ESA benefits:

  • Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
  • You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.

A sibling or first cousin is a typical example of a qualifying family member, if he or she is eligible to be an ESA beneficiary (that is, under age 18 or has special needs).

Limitations

The ESA annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. The total contributions for a particular ESA beneficiary cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established or how many people are contributing.

However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income. The phaseout range is modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000–$220,000 for married couples filing jointly and $95,000–$110,000 for other filers. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, and no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

If there is a balance in the ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special needs individual), it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. But these taxes can be avoided by rolling over the full balance to another ESA for a qualifying family member.

Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!

May 30, 2017

Donating a vehicle might not provide the tax deduction you expect

All charitable donations aren’t created equal — some provide larger deductions than others. And it isn’t necessarily just how much or even what you donate that matters. How the charity uses your donation might also affect your deduction.

Take vehicle donations, for example. If you donate your vehicle, the value of your deduction can vary greatly depending on what the charity does with it.

Determining your deduction

You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) if the charity:

  • Uses the vehicle for a significant charitable purpose (such as delivering meals-on-wheels to the elderly),
  • Sells the vehicle for substantially less than FMV in furtherance of a charitable purpose (such as a sale to a low-income person needing transportation), or
  • Makes “material improvements” to the vehicle.

But in most other circumstances, if the charity sells the vehicle, your deduction is limited to the amount of the sales proceeds.

Getting proper substantiation

You also must obtain proper substantiation from the charity, including a written acknowledgment that:

  • Certifies whether the charity sold the vehicle or retained it for use for a charitable purpose,
  • Includes your name and tax identification number and the vehicle identification number, and
  • Reports, if applicable, details concerning the sale of the vehicle within 30 days of the sale.

For more information on these and other rules that apply to vehicle donation deductions — or deductions for other charitable gifts — please contact us.

May 23, 2017

Business owners: When it comes to IRS audits, be prepared

If you recently filed your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.

Catching the IRS’s eye

Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:

  • Significant inconsistencies between previous years’ filings and your most current filing,
  • Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and
  • Miscalculated or unusually high deductions.

An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.

Response measures

If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.

The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors.

More good news: In no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, 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.

If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you:

  • Understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always crystal clear),
  • Gather the specific documents and information needed, and
  • Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.

Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place.

May 16, 2017

Real estate investor vs. professional: Why it matters

Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.

Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.

“Professional” requirements

To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:

  • More than 50% of your personal services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate, and
  • More than 750 hours of service in these businesses.

Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)

Tax strategies

If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:

Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.

Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.

Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.

Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.

If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.

May 9, 2017

Operating across state lines presents tax risks — or possibly rewards

It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines.

But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.

Do you have “nexus”?

Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations.

Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:

  • Employing workers in the state,
  • Owning (or, in some cases even leasing) property there,
  • Marketing your products or services in the state,
  • Maintaining a substantial amount of inventory there, and
  • Using a local telephone number.

Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.

Strategic moves

If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you.

Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill.

The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines.

May 2, 2017

Turning next year’s tax refund into cash in your pocket now

Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.

Fortunately, there is a way to begin collecting your 2017 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.

Reasons to modify amounts

It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:

  • You received an especially large 2016 refund,
  • You’ve gotten married or divorced or added a dependent,
  • You’ve purchased a home,
  • You’ve started or lost a job, or
  • Your investment income has changed significantly.

Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.

Making a change

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even several times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.

While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2018 deadline.

If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.

April 25, 2017

Do you know the tax implications of your C corp.’s buy-sell agreement?

Private companies with more than one owner should have a buy-sell agreement to spell out how ownership shares will change hands should an owner depart. For businesses structured as C corporations, the agreements also have significant tax implications that are important to understand.

Buy-sell basics

A buy-sell agreement sets up parameters for the transfer of ownership interests following stated “triggering events,” such as an owner’s death or long-term disability, loss of license or other legal incapacitation, retirement, bankruptcy, or divorce. The agreement typically will also specify how the purchase price for the departing owner’s shares will be determined, such as by stating the valuation method to be used.

Another key issue a buy-sell agreement addresses is funding. In many cases, business owners don’t have the cash readily available to buy out a departing owner. So insurance is commonly used to fund these agreements. And this is where different types of agreements — which can lead to tax issues for C corporations — come into play.

Under a cross-purchase agreement, each owner buys life or disability insurance (or both) that covers the other owners, and the owners use the proceeds to purchase the departing owner’s shares. Under a redemption agreement, the company buys the insurance and, when an owner exits the business, buys his or her shares.

Sometimes a hybrid agreement is used that combines aspects of both approaches. It may stipulate that the company gets the first opportunity to redeem ownership shares and that, if the company is unable to buy the shares, the remaining owners are then responsible for doing so. Alternatively, the owners may have the first opportunity to buy the shares.

C corp. tax consequences

A C corp. with a redemption agreement funded by life insurance can face adverse tax consequences. First, receipt of insurance proceeds could trigger corporate alternative minimum tax.

Second, the value of the remaining owners’ shares will probably rise without increasing their basis. This, in turn, could drive up their tax liability if they later sell their shares.

Heightened liability for the corporate alternative minimum tax is generally unavoidable under these circumstances. But you may be able to manage the second problem by revising your buy-sell as a cross-purchase agreement. Under this approach, owners will buy additional shares themselves — increasing their basis.

Naturally, there are downsides. If owners are required to buy a departing owner’s shares, but the company redeems the shares instead, the IRS may characterize the purchase as a taxable dividend. Your business may be able to mitigate this risk by crafting a hybrid agreement that names the corporation as a party to the transaction and allows the remaining owners to buy back the shares without requiring them to do so.

For more information on the tax ramifications of buy-sell agreements, contact us. And if your business doesn’t have a buy-sell in place yet, we can help you figure out which type of funding method will best meet your needs while minimizing any negative tax consequences.

April 18, 2017

Individual tax calendar: Key deadlines for the remainder of 2017

While April 15 (April 18 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that are important to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2017 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.

Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.

June 15

  • File a 2016 individual income tax return (Form 1040) or file for a four-month extension (Form 4868), and pay any tax and interest due, if you live outside the United States.
  • Pay the second installment of 2017 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

September 15

  • Pay the third installment of 2017 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

October 2

  • If you’re the trustee of a trust or the executor of an estate, file an income tax return for the 2016 calendar year (Form 1041) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic five-and-a-half month extension was filed.

October 16

  • File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed (or if an automatic four-month extension was filed by a taxpayer living outside the United States).
  • Make contributions for 2016 to certain retirement plans or establish a SEP for 2016, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
  • File a 2016 gift tax return (Form 709) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.

December 31

  • Make 2017 contributions to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Make 2017 annual exclusion gifts (up to $14,000 per recipient).

Incur various expenses that potentially can be claimed as itemized deductions on your 2017 tax return. Examples include charitable donations, medical expenses, property tax payments and expenses eligible for the miscellaneous itemized deduction.

April 11, 2017

A timely postmark on your tax return may not be enough to avoid late-filing penalties

Because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday, the 2016 tax return filing deadline for individual taxpayers is Tuesday, April 18. The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 18 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. But dropping your return in a mailbox on the 18th may not be sufficient.

An example

Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 18, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared.

You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you’re hit with failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties totaling $1,500.

Avoiding penalty risk

To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:

  • DHL Express 9:00, Express 10:30, Express 12:00 or Express Envelope,
  • FedEx First Overnight, Priority Overnight, Standard Overnight or 2Day, or
  • UPS Next Day Air Early A.M., Next Day Air, Next Day Air Saver, 2nd Day Air A.M. or 2nd Day Air.

Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.

Another option

If you’re concerned about meeting the April 18 deadline, another option is to file for an extension. If you owe tax, you’ll still need to pay that by April 18 to avoid risk of late-payment penalties as well as interest.

If you’re owed a refund and file late, you won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty. However, filing for an extension may still be a good idea.

April 4, 2017

Saving tax with home-related deductions and exclusions

Currently, home ownership comes with many tax-saving opportunities. Consider both deductions and exclusions when you’re filing your 2016 return and tax planning for 2017:

Property tax deduction. Property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible.

Home equity debt interest deduction. Interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. But keep in mind that, if home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes.

Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.

Home office deduction. If your home office use meets certain tests, you generally can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, and the depreciation allocable to the space. Or you may be able to use a simplified method for claiming the deduction.

Rental income exclusion. If you rent out all or a portion of your principal residence or second home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses directly associated with the rental, such as advertising and cleaning, won’t be deductible.

Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Be aware that gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.

Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.

The debt forgiveness exclusion and mortgage insurance premium deduction aren’t the only home-related breaks that might not be available in the future. There have been proposals to eliminate other breaks, such as the property tax deduction, as part of tax reform.

Whether such changes will be signed into law and, if so, when they’d go into effect is uncertain. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So contact us for information on the latest tax reform developments or which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim.

2016 tax return — but not more. You don’t want to risk back taxes and penalties later.

And if you drove potentially eligible miles in 2016 but can’t deduct them because you didn’t track them, start tracking your miles now so you can potentially take advantage of the deduction when you file your 2017 return next year.