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DETHLOFF & ASOOCIATES BLOG - MOSTLY (BUT NOT ALL) TAX
Which entity is most suitable for your new or existing business?
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has changed the landscape for business taxpayers. That’s because the law introduced a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, profitable C corporations paid up to 35%.
The TCJA also cut individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and LLCs (treated as partnerships for tax purposes). However, the top rate dropped from 39.6% to only 37%.
These changes have caused many business owners to ask: What’s the optimal entity choice for me?
Entity tax basics
Entity tax basics Before the TCJA, conventional wisdom was that most small businesses should be set up as sole proprietorships or pass-through entities to avoid the double taxation of C corporations. A C corporation pays entity-level income tax and then shareholders pay tax on dividends — and on capital gains when they sell the stock. For pass-through entities, there’s no federal income tax at the entity level.
Although C corporations are still potentially subject to double taxation, their current 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another tax provision that allows noncorporate owners of pass-through entities to take a deduction equal to as much as 20% of qualified business income (QBI), subject to various limits. But, unless Congress extends it, that deduction is available only through 2025.
Many factors to consider
The best entity choice for your business depends on many factors. Keep in mind that one form of doing business might be more appropriate at one time (say, when you’re launching), while another form might be better after you’ve been operating for a few years.
Here are a few examples:
Suppose a business consistently generates losses. There’s no tax advantage to operating as a C corporation. C corporation losses can’t be deducted by their owners. A pass-through entity would generally make more sense in this scenario because losses would pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns.
What about a profitable business that pays out all income to the owners? In this case, operating as a pass-through entity would generally be better if significant QBI deductions are available. If not, there’s probably not a clear entity-choice answer in terms of tax liability.
Finally, what about a business that’s profitable but holds on to its profits to fund future projects? In this case, operating as a C corporation generally would be beneficial if the corporation is a qualified small business (QSB). Reason: A 100% gain exclusion may be available for QSB stock sale gains. Even if QSB status isn’t available, C corporation status is still probably preferred — unless significant QBI deductions would be available at the owner level.
As you can see, there are many issues involved and taxes are only one factor.
For example, one often-cited advantage of certain entities is that they allow a business to be treated as an entity separate from the owner. A properly structured corporation can protect you from business debts. But to ensure that the corporation is treated as a separate entity, it’s important to observe various formalities required by the state. These include filing articles of incorporation, adopting by-laws, electing a board of directors, holding organizational meetings and keeping minutes.
The best long-term choice
The TCJA has far-reaching effects on businesses. Contact us to discuss how your business should be set up to lower its tax bill over the long run. But remember that entity choice is easier when starting up a business. Converting from one type of entity to another adds complexity. We can help you examine the ins and outs of making a change.
A divorce necessitates an estate plan review
If you’re divorcing, it’s important to review your estate plan as early as possible, for two reasons: First, you may wish to revise your plan immediately to prevent your spouse from inheriting or gaining control over your assets if you die or become incapacitated before the divorce is final. Second, although a divorce judgment or settlement automatically extinguishes certain of your former spouse’s rights, some documents must be modified to ensure that he or she doesn’t receive unintended benefits.
Consider revising your will and any revocable trusts to exclude your spouse. Note that, in many states, your spouse will retain elective share or community property rights to a portion of your estate until the marriage ends.
But revising your will or trust will limit your spouse to the legal minimum if you die before the divorce is final. If you have irrevocable trusts, determine whether they provide for your spouse’s interest to terminate automatically upon divorce.
Other actions to consider include:
Changing beneficiary designations in IRAs, life insurance policies, annuities or retirement plans (note that federal law prevents you from removing your spouse as beneficiary of a retirement plan, without his or her consent, until the divorce is final),
Revising payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) designations in bank or brokerage accounts,
Revoking powers of attorney or health care directives naming your spouse as agent, and
Establishing trusts for your minor children. (If they inherit assets from you outright, a court will likely appoint your former spouse as conservator.)
Finally, bear in mind that, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, any alimony paid is no longer deductible by the payer or taxable to the payee.
In light of this major life event, don’t hesitate to turn to us. We can review your estate plan and recommend any revisions necessary because of the divorce.
Employee vs. independent contractor: How should you handle worker classification?
Many employers prefer to classify workers as independent contractors to lower costs, even if it means having less control over a worker’s day-to-day activities. But the government is on the lookout for businesses that classify workers as independent contractors simply to reduce taxes or avoid their employee benefit obligations.
Why it matters
When your business classifies a worker as an employee, you generally must withhold federal income tax and the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes from his or her wages. Your business must then pay the employer’s share of these taxes, pay federal unemployment tax, file federal payroll tax returns and follow other burdensome IRS and U.S. Department of Labor rules.
You may also have to pay state and local unemployment and workers’ compensation taxes and comply with more rules. Dealing with all this can cost a bundle each year.
On the other hand, with independent contractor status, you don’t have to worry about employment tax issues. You also don’t have to provide fringe benefits like health insurance, retirement plans and paid vacations. If you pay $600 or more to an independent contractor during the year, you must file a Form 1099-MISC with the IRS and send a copy to the worker to report what you paid. That’s basically the extent of your bureaucratic responsibilities.
But if you incorrectly treat a worker as an independent contractor — and the IRS decides the worker is actually an employee — your business could be assessed unpaid payroll taxes plus interest and penalties. You also could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t, including penalties under federal laws.
Filing an IRS form
To find out if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, you can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” Then, the IRS will let you know how to classify a worker. However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.
Businesses should consult with us before filing Form SS-8 because it may alert the IRS that your business has worker classification issues — and inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.
It can be better to simply treat independent contractors so the relationships comply with the tax rules. This generally includes not controlling how the workers perform their duties, ensuring that you’re not the workers’ only customer, providing annual Forms 1099 and, basically, not treating the workers like employees.
Workers can also ask for a determination
Workers who want an official determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.
If a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS will send a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return the form to the IRS, which will render a classification decision.
Defending your position
If your business properly handles independent contractors, don’t panic if a worker files a Form SS-8. Contact us before replying to the IRS. With a proper response, you may be able to continue to classify the worker as a contractor. We also can assist you in setting up independent contractor relationships that stand up to IRS scrutiny.
Casualty loss deductions: You can claim one only for a federally declared disaster
Unforeseen disasters happen all the time and they may cause damage to your home or personal property. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, eligible casualty loss victims could claim a deduction on their tax returns. But there are new restrictions that make these deductions much more difficult to take.
What’s considered a casualty for tax purposes? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, or fire; an accident or act of vandalism; or even a terrorist attack.
Unfavorable change for 2018
For losses incurred in 2018 through 2025, the TCJA generally eliminates deductions for personal casualty losses, except for losses due to federally declared disasters. For example, during 2019, there were presidential declarations of major disasters in parts of Iowa and Nebraska after severe storms and flooding. So victims there would be eligible for casualty loss deductions.
Note: There’s an exception to the general rule of allowing casualty loss deductions only in federally declared disaster areas. If you have personal casualty gains because your insurance proceeds exceed the tax basis of the damaged or destroyed property, you can deduct personal casualty losses that aren’t due to a federally declared disaster up to the amount of your personal casualty gains.
Special timing election
If your casualty loss is due to a federally declared disaster, a special election allows you to deduct the loss on your tax return for the preceding year. If you’ve already filed your return for the preceding year, you can file an amended return to make the election and claim the deduction in the earlier year. This can help you get extra cash when you need it.
This election must be made by no later than six months after the due date (without considering extensions) for filing your tax return for the year in which the disaster occurs. However, the election itself must be made on an original or amended return for the preceding year.
Calculating personal losses
To calculate the casualty loss deduction for personal-use property in an area declared a federal disaster, you must take the following three steps: Subtract any insurance proceeds.
Subtract $100 per casualty event.
Combine the results from the first two steps and then subtract 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year you claim the loss deduction.
Important: Another factor that now makes it harder to claim a casualty loss is that you must itemize deductions to claim one. For 2018 through 2025, fewer people will itemize, because the TCJA significantly increased the standard deduction amounts. For 2019, they are $12,200 for single filers, $18,350 for heads of households, and $24,400 for married joint-filing couples.
So even if you qualify for a casualty deduction, you might not get any tax benefit, because you don’t have enough itemized deductions.
We can help
These are the rules for personal property. Keep in mind that the rules for business or income-producing property are different. If you have disaster-related losses, we can help you navigate the complex rules.
Estate planning for single parents requires special considerations
Here’s a fast fact: The percentage of U.S. children who live with an unmarried parent has jumped from 13% in 1968 to 32% in 2017, according to Pew Research Center’s most recent poll.
While estate planning for single parents is similar to estate planning for families with two parents, when only one parent is involved, certain aspects demand your special attention.
5 questions to ask Of course, parents want to provide for their children’s care and financial needs after they’re gone. If you’re a single parent, here are five questions you should ask:
1. Have I selected an appropriate guardian? If the other parent is unavailable to take custody of your children should you become incapacitated or unexpectedly die, your estate plan must designate a suitable, willing guardian to care for them.
2. What happens if I remarry? Will you need to provide for your new spouse as well as your children? Where will you get the resources to provide for your new spouse? What if you placed your life insurance policy in an irrevocable trust for your kids to avoid estate taxes on the proceeds? Further complications can arise if you and your new spouse have children together or if your spouse has children from a previous marriage.
3. What if I become incapacitated? As a single parent, it’s particularly important to include in your estate plan a living will, advance directive or health care power of attorney to specify your health care preferences in the event you become incapacitated and to designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. You should also have a revocable living trust or durable power of attorney that provides for the management of your finances in the event you’re unable to do so.
4. Should I establish a trust for my children? Trust planning is one of the most effective ways to provide for your children. Trust assets are managed by one or more qualified, trusted individuals or corporate trustees. You specify when and under what circumstances funds should be distributed to your kids. A trust is particularly important if you have minor children. Without one, your assets may come under the control of your former spouse or a court-appointed administrator.
5. Am I adequately insured? With only one income to depend on, plan carefully to ensure that you can provide for your retirement as well as your children’s financial security. Life insurance can be an effective way to augment your estate. You should also consider disability insurance. Unlike many married couples, single parents don’t have a “backup” income in the event they can no longer work.
Review your estate plan
If you’ve recently become a single parent, it’s critical to review your estate plan. We’d be pleased to work with your estate attorney to help you make any necessary revisions.
Careful tax planning required for incentive stock options
Incentive stock options (ISOs) are a popular form of compensation for executives and other employees of corporations. They allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the ISO grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. But careful tax planning is required because of the complex rules that apply.
Tax advantages abound
Although ISOs must comply with many rules, they receive tax-favored treatment. You owe no tax when ISOs are granted. You also owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs. There could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences, but the AMT is less of a risk now because of the high AMT exemption under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
There are regular income tax consequences when you sell the stock. If you sell the stock after holding it at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and any gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.
Impact on your 2018 return
If you were granted ISOs in 2018, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2018 income tax return. But if in 2018 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2018 tax liability.
It’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your 2018 return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.
Planning for the future
If you receive ISOs in 2019 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.
Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.
The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT. If you need help tax planning for your ISOs, please contact us.
Fundamental tax truths for C corporations
The flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has been great news for these entities and their owners. But some fundamental tax truths for C corporations largely remain the same:
C corporations are subject to double taxation. Double taxation occurs when corporate income is taxed once at the corporate level and again at the shareholder level as dividends are paid out. The cost of double taxation, however, is now generally less because of the 21% corporate rate. And double taxation isn’t a problem when a C corporation needs to retain all its earnings to finance growth and capital investments. Because all the earnings stay “inside” the corporation, no dividends are paid to shareholders, and, therefore, there’s no double taxation.
Double taxation also isn’t an issue when a C corporation’s taxable income levels are low. This can often be achieved by paying reasonable salaries and bonuses to shareholder-employees and providing them with tax-favored fringe benefits (deductible by the corporation and tax-free to the recipient shareholder-employees).
C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures with appreciating assets or certain depreciable assets. If assets such as real estate are eventually sold for substantial gains, it may be impossible to extract the profits from the corporation without being subject to double taxation. In contrast, if appreciating assets are held by a pass-through entity (such as an S corporation, partnership or limited liability company treated as a partnership for tax purposes), gains on such sales will be taxed only once, at the owner level. But assets held by a C corporation don’t necessarily have to appreciate in value for double taxation to occur. Depreciation lowers the tax basis of the property, so a taxable gain results whenever the sale price exceeds the depreciated basis. In effect, appreciation can be caused by depreciation when depreciable assets hold their value. To avoid this double-taxation issue, you might consider using a pass-through entity to lease to your C corporation appreciating assets or depreciable assets that will hold their value.
C corporation status isn’t generally advisable for ventures that will incur ongoing tax losses. When a venture is set up as a C corporation, losses aren’t passed through to the owners (the shareholders) like they would be in a pass-through entity. Instead, they create corporate net operating losses (NOLs) that can be carried over to future tax years and then used to offset any corporate taxable income. This was already a potential downside of C corporations, because it can take many years for a start-up to be profitable. Now, under the TCJA, NOLs that arise in tax years beginning after 2017 can’t offset more than 80% of taxable income in the NOL carryover year. So it may take even longer to fully absorb tax losses.
Do you have questions about C corporation tax issues post-TCJA? Contact us.
Sudden impact: When a spouse unexpectedly dies
What if the unthinkable happens and your spouse dies unexpectedly? Would you be prepared to cope emotionally and financially? As the surviving spouse, you’ll face several tasks and challenges.
First steps first By no means complete, the following are areas that will need to be addressed:
Death certificates. One of the first things to do is obtain death certificates, which you’ll need to provide for various dealings with financial institutions and others. While it may be difficult to estimate how many death certificates will ultimately be requested of you, you’ll probably want to start with at least a dozen.
Notifications. You must get the word out to other interested parties, including your spouse’s employer, if applicable; credit card companies; life insurance companies; retirement plan and IRA administrators; the state motor vehicle agency; the state office for inheritance tax, if applicable; and your attorney.
Social Security benefits. If your spouse was receiving benefits, consult with the Social Security Administration as to the benefits available to a surviving spouse. Frequently, modifications are required if the survivor was the lower-earning spouse. Even if your spouse wasn’t receiving benefits yet, you may be eligible for survivor benefits, depending on your age and other factors.
Insurance. Don’t assume that everything about your insurance will stay the same. Review your various policies to ensure that you’ll have the optimal coverage going forward. Make whatever beneficiary changes are required.
Retirement plans and IRAs. You may face important decisions regarding employer retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, as well as traditional and Roth IRAs. For example, if your spouse had a traditional IRA, you can complete a timely rollover to an IRA of your own without owing any tax. Conversely, you might opt for a lump-sum payout from a 401(k) or IRA should you need the funds.
Investments. Review the investments that were owned solely by your spouse, as well as those you owned jointly. When you have time, sit down with your financial advisor to chart out a path for the future, focusing on changes in personal objectives, time horizon and risk tolerance.
Estate tax filing. Although federal estate tax returns generally are required for only the wealthiest individuals, you may choose to file a return to establish the value of inherited assets. Also state filing requirments can be much lower. ($1,000,000 for Oregon, $2,193,000 for Washington) Generally, the return is due within nine months of the date of the death.
Finally, review your estate plan Once you’re over the initial shock of the death, sit down with your attorney and review your estate plan. You’ll likely need to make several revisions in areas where you named your spouse as beneficiary. If you need help during this difficult time, please turn to us.
Higher mileage rate may mean larger tax deductions for business miles in 2019
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business increased by 3.5 cents, to the highest level since 2008. As a result, you might be able to claim a larger deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2019 than you can for 2018.
Actual costs vs. mileage rate Businesses can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.
The mileage rate comes into play when taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.
The mileage rate approach also is popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal automobiles. Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who’re expected to drive their personal vehicle extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their individual income tax returns. But be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t, you risk having the reimbursements considered taxable wages to the employees.
The 2019 rate Beginning on January 1, 2019, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 58 cents per mile. For 2018, the rate was 54.5 cents per mile. The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It is based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there is a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.
More considerations There are certain situations where you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends in part on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past or, if the vehicle is new to your business this year, whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation breaks on it.
As you can see, there are many variables to consider in determining whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. Contact us if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2019 — or claiming them on your 2018 income tax return.
2 major tax law changes for individuals in 2019
While most provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) went into effect in 2018 and either apply through 2025 or are permanent, there are two major changes under the act for 2019. Here’s a closer look:
1. 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 was already difficult for many taxpayers to meet, and it may be even harder to meet this year. The TCJA temporarily reduced the threshold from 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5% of AGI. Unfortunately, the reduction applies only to 2017 and 2018. So for 2019, the threshold returns to 10% — unless legislation is signed into law extending the 7.5% threshold. Only qualified, unreimbursed expenses exceeding the threshold can be deducted. Also, 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 through 2025, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.
2. Tax treatment of alimony Alimony has generally been deductible by the ex-spouse paying it and included in the taxable income of the ex-spouse receiving it. Child support, on the other hand, hasn’t been deductible by the payer or taxable income to the recipient. Under the TCJA, for divorce agreements executed (or, in some cases, modified) after December 31, 2018, alimony payments won’t be deductible — and will be excluded from the recipient’s taxable income. So, essentially, alimony will be treated the same way as child support. Because the recipient ex-spouse would typically pay income taxes at a rate lower than that of the paying ex-spouse, the overall tax bite will likely be larger under this new tax treatment. This change is permanent.
Contact us if you have questions about the medical expense deduction or the tax treatment of alimony — or any other changes that might affect you in 2019. We can also help you assess the impact of the TCJA when you file your 2018 tax return.
A review of significant TCJA provisions impacting individual taxpayers
Now that 2019 has begun, there isn’t too much you can do to reduce your 2018 income tax liability. But it’s smart to begin preparing for filing your 2018 return. Because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which was signed into law at the end of 2017, likely will have a major impact on your 2018 taxes, it’s a good time to review the most significant provisions impacting individual taxpayers.
Rates and exemptions Generally, taxpayers will be subject to lower tax rates for 2018. But a couple of rates stay the same, and changes to some of the brackets for certain types of filers (individuals and heads of households) could cause them to be subject to higher rates. Some exemptions are eliminated, while others increase. Here are some of the specific changes: Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37% Elimination of personal and dependent exemptions AMT exemption increase, to $109,400 for joint filers, $70,300 for singles and heads of households, and $54,700 for separate filers for 2018 Approximate doubling of the gift and estate tax exemption, to $11.18 million for 2018
Credits and deductions Generally, tax breaks are reduced for 2018. However, a few are enhanced. Here’s a closer look: Doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 and other modifications intended to help more taxpayers benefit from the credit Near doubling of the standard deduction, to $24,000 (married couples filing jointly), $18,000 (heads of households) and $12,000 (singles and married couples filing separately) for 2018 Reduction of the adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold for the medical expense deduction to 7.5% for regular and AMT purposes New $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes (on a combined basis for property and income or sales taxes; $5,000 for separate filers) Reduction of the mortgage debt limit for the home mortgage interest deduction to $750,000 ($375,000 for separate filers), with certain exceptions Elimination of the deduction for interest on home equity debt Elimination of the personal casualty and theft loss deduction (with an exception for federally declared disasters) Elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor (such as certain investment expenses, professional fees and unreimbursed employee business expenses) Elimination of the AGI-based reduction of certain itemized deductions Elimination of the moving expense deduction (with an exception for members of the military in certain circumstances) Expansion of tax-free Section 529 plan distributions to include those used to pay qualifying elementary and secondary school expenses, up to $10,000 per student per tax year
How are you affected? As you can see, the TCJA changes for individuals are dramatic. Many rules and limits apply, so contact us to find out exactly how you’re affected. We can also tell you if any other provisions affect you, and help you begin preparing for your 2018 tax return filing and 2019 tax planning.
6 last-minute tax moves for your business
Tax planning is a year-round activity, but there are still some year-end strategies you can use to lower your 2018 tax bill. Here are six last-minute tax moves business owners should consider:
Postpone invoices. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, and it would benefit from deferring income to next year, wait until early 2019 to send invoices. Accrual-basis businesses can defer recognition of certain advance payments for products to be delivered or services to be provided next year.
Prepay expenses. A cash-basis business may be able to reduce its 2018 taxes by prepaying certain expenses — such as lease payments, insurance premiums, utility bills, office supplies and taxes — before the end of the year. Many expenses can be deducted up to 12 months in advance.
Buy equipment. Take advantage of 100% bonus depreciation and Section 179 expensing to deduct the full cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, bonus depreciation, like Sec. 179 expensing, is now available for both new and used assets. Keep in mind that, to deduct the expense on your 2018 return, the assets must be placed in service — not just purchased — by the end of the year.
Use credit cards. What if you’d like to prepay expenses or buy equipment before the end of the year, but you don’t have the cash? Consider using your business credit card. Generally, expenses paid by credit card are deductible when charged, even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until next year.
Contribute to retirement plans. If you’re self-employed or own a pass-through business — such as a partnership, limited liability company or S corporation — one of the best ways to reduce your 2018 tax bill is to increase deductible contributions to retirement plans. Usually, these contributions must be made by year-end. But certain plans — such as SEP IRAs — allow your business to make 2018 contributions up until its tax return due date (including extensions).
Qualify for the pass-through deduction. If your business is a sole proprietorship or pass-through entity, you may qualify for the new pass-through deduction of up to 20% of qualified business income. But if your taxable income exceeds $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), certain limitations kick in that can reduce or even eliminate the deduction. One way to avoid these limitations is to reduce your income below the threshold — for example, by having your business increase its retirement plan contributions.
Most of these strategies are subject to various limitations and restrictions beyond what we’ve covered here, so please consult us before you implement them. We can also offer more ideas for reducing your taxes this year and next.
Year-end tax and financial to-do list for individuals
With the dawn of 2019 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2018 ends:
Check your FSA balance. If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2-1/2-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.
Max out tax-advantaged savings. Reduce your 2018 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2018 return if they’re made by April 15, 2019.)
Take RMDs. If you’ve reached age 70-1/2, you generally must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2019, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year. Consider a QCD. If you’re 70-1/2 or older and charitably inclined, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).
Use it or lose it. Make the most of annual limits that don’t carry over from year to year, even if doing so won’t provide an income tax deduction. For example, if gift and estate taxes are a concern, make annual exclusion gifts up to $15,000 per recipient. If you have a Coverdell Education Savings Account, contribute the maximum amount you’re allowed.
Contribute to a Sec. 529 plan. Sec. 529 prepaid tuition or college savings plans aren’t subject to federal annual contribution limits and don’t provide a federal income tax deduction. But contributions may entitle you to a state income tax deduction (depending on your state and plan).
Review withholding. The IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to review your situation. If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholdings from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholdings, unlike estimated tax payments, are treated as if they were paid evenly over the year.)
For assistance with these and other year-end planning ideas, please contact us.
Catch-up retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous post-TCJA
Will you be age 50 or older on December 31? Are you still working? Are you already contributing to your 401(k) plan or Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) up to the regular annual limit? Then you may want to make “catch-up” contributions by the end of the year. Increasing your retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous if your itemized deductions for 2018 will be smaller than in the past because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Catching up Catch-up contributions are additional contributions beyond the regular annual limits that can be made to certain retirement accounts. They were designed to help taxpayers who didn’t save much for retirement earlier in their careers to “catch up.” But there’s no rule that limits catch-up contributions to such taxpayers. So catch-up contributions can be a great option for anyone who is old enough to be eligible, has been maxing out their regular contribution limit and has sufficient earned income to contribute more. The contributions are generally pretax (except in the case of Roth accounts), so they can reduce your taxable income for the year.
More benefits now? This additional reduction to taxable income might be especially beneficial in 2018 if in the past you had significant itemized deductions that now will be reduced or eliminated by the TCJA. For example, the TCJA eliminates miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor — such as unreimbursed employee expenses (including home-off expenses) and certain professional and investment fees. If, say, in 2018 you have $5,000 of expenses that in the past would have qualified as miscellaneous itemized deductions, an additional $5,000 catch-up contribution can make up for the loss of those deductions. Plus, you benefit from adding to your retirement nest egg and potential tax-deferred growth.
Other deductions that are reduced or eliminated include state and local taxes, mortgage and home equity interest expenses, casualty and theft losses, and moving expenses. If these changes affect you, catch-up contributions can help make up for your reduced deductions.
2018 contribution limits Under 2018 401(k) limits, if you’re age 50 or older and you have reached the $18,500 maximum limit for all employees, you can contribute an extra $6,000, for a total of $24,500. If your employer offers a SIMPLE instead, your regular contribution maxes out at $12,500 in 2018. If you’re 50 or older, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $3,000 — or $15,500 in total for the year. But, check with your employer because, while most 401(k) plans and SIMPLEs offer catch-up contributions, not all do. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply.
Additional options Catch-up contributions are also available for IRAs, but the deadline for 2018 contributions is later: April 15, 2019. And whether your traditional IRA contributions will be deductible depends on your income and whether you or your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Please contact us for more information about catch-up contributions and other year-end tax planning strategies.
Review and revise your estate plan to reflect life changes during the past year
Your estate plan shouldn’t be a static document. It needs to change as your life changes. Year end is the perfect time to check whether any life events have taken place in the past 12 months or so that affect your estate plan. And the plan should be reviewed periodically anyway to ensure that it still meets your main objectives and is up to date.
When revisions might be needed What life events might require you to update or modify estate planning documents? The following list isn’t all-inclusive by any means, but it can give you a good idea of when revisions may be needed: Your marriage, divorce or remarriage, The birth or adoption of a child, grandchild or great-grandchild, The death of a spouse or another family member, The illness or disability of you, your spouse or another family member, A child or grandchild reaching the age of majority, Sizable changes in the value of assets you own, The sale or purchase of a principal residence or second home, Your retirement or retirement of your spouse, Receipt of a large gift or inheritance, and Sizable changes in the value of assets you own.
It’s also important to review your estate plan when there’ve been changes in federal or state income tax or estate tax laws, such as under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was signed into law last December.
Will and powers of attorney As part of your estate plan review, closely examine your will, powers of attorney and health care directives. If you have minor children, your will should designate a guardian to care for them should you die prematurely, as well as make certain other provisions, such as creating trusts to benefit your children until they reach the age of majority, or perhaps even longer.
Your durable power of attorney authorizes someone to handle your financial affairs if you’re disabled or otherwise unable to act. Likewise, a medical durable power of attorney authorizes someone to handle your medical decision making if you’re disabled or unable to act. The powers of attorney expire upon your death. Typically, these powers of attorney are coordinated with a living will and other health care directives.
A living will spells out your wishes concerning life-sustaining measures in the event of a terminal illness. It says what means should be used, withheld or withdrawn. Changes in your family or your personal circumstances might cause you to want to change beneficiaries, guardians or power of attorney agents you’ve previously named.
Revise as needed The end of the year is a natural time to reflect on the past year and to review and revise your estate plan — especially if you’ve experienced major life changes. Contact your estate planning attorney on a regular basis to discuss possible changes to your estate plan.
Buy business assets before year end to reduce your 2018 tax liability
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has enhanced two depreciation-related breaks that are popular year-end tax planning tools for businesses. To take advantage of these breaks, you must purchase qualifying assets and place them in service by the end of the tax year. That means there’s still time to reduce your 2018 tax liability with these breaks, but you need to act soon.
Section 179 expensing Sec. 179 expensing is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 expensing can be used for assets such as equipment, furniture and software. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA expanded the list of qualifying assets to include qualified improvement property, certain property used primarily to furnish lodging and the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems. The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2018 is $1 million, up from $510,000 for 2017. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2018 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.5 million, up from $2.03 million for 2017.
100% bonus depreciation For qualified assets that your business places in service in 2018, the TCJA allows you to claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation -- compared to 50% in 2017. This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment and office furniture. The TCJA has expanded eligible assets to include used assets; previously, only new assets were eligible. However, due to a TCJA drafting error, qualified improvement property will be eligible only if a technical correction is issued. Also be aware that, under the TCJA, certain businesses aren’t eligible for bonus depreciation in 2018, such as real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest and auto dealerships with floor plan financing (if the dealership has average annual gross receipts of more than $25 million for the three previous tax years).
Traditional, powerful strategy Keep in mind that Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation can also be used for business vehicles. So purchasing vehicles before year end could reduce your 2018 tax liability. But, depending on the type of vehicle, additional limits may apply. Investing in business assets is a traditional and powerful year-end tax planning strategy, and it might make even more sense in 2018 because of the TCJA enhancements to Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation. If you have questions about these breaks or other ways to maximize your depreciation deductions, please contact us
Donate appreciated stock for twice the tax benefits
A tried-and-true year end tax strategy is to make charitable donations. As long as you itemize and your gift qualifies, you can claim a charitable deduction. But did you know that you can enjoy an additional tax benefit if you donate long-term appreciated stock instead of cash?
2 benefits from 1 gift Appreciated publicly traded stock you’ve held more than one year is long-term capital gains property. If you donate it to a qualified charity, you may be able to enjoy two tax benefits: If you itemize deductions, you can claim a charitable deduction equal to the stock’s fair market value, and you can avoid the capital gains tax you’d pay if you sold the stock. Donating appreciated stock can be especially beneficial to taxpayers facing the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the top 20% long-term capital gains rate this year.
Stock vs. cash Let’s say you donate $10,000 of stock that you paid $3,000 for, your ordinary-income tax rate is 37% and your long-term capital gains rate is 20%. Let’s also say you itemize deductions. If you sold the stock, you’d pay $1,400 in tax on the $7,000 gain. If you were also subject to the 3.8% NIIT, you’d pay another $266 in NIIT. By instead donating the stock to charity, you save $5,366 in federal tax ($1,666 in capital gains tax and NIIT plus $3,700 from the $10,000 income tax deduction). If you donated $10,000 in cash, your federal tax savings would be only $3,700.
Watch your step First, remember that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction, to $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. The charitable deduction will provide a tax benefit only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. Because the standard deduction is so much higher, even if you’ve itemized deductions in the past, you might not benefit from doing so for 2018.
Second, beware that donations of long-term capital gains property are subject to tighter deduction limits — 30% of your adjusted gross income for gifts to public charities, 20% for gifts to nonoperating private foundations (compared to 60% and 30%, respectively, for cash donations).
Finally, don’t donate stock that’s worth less than your basis. Instead, sell the stock so you can deduct the loss and then donate the cash proceeds to charity. Minimizing tax and maximizing deductions
If you're charitably inclined taxpayers, own appreciated stock, and will have enough itemized deductions to benefit from itemizing on your 2018 tax returns, donating the stock to charity can be an excellent year-end tax planning strategy. This is especially true if the stock is highly appreciated and you’d like to sell it but are worried about the tax liability. Please contact us with any questions you have about minimizing capital gains tax or maximizing charitable deductions.
Use caution when including employees in your estate plan
If you’re the owner of a small business, you may think of your tight-knit group of employees as a family. If you wish to include them as beneficiaries in your estate plan, it’s critical to be aware of possible unintended tax consequences.
Unraveling the (tax) code Generally, money or other property received by gift or inheritance is excluded from the recipient’s income for federal tax purposes. But there’s an exception for gifts or bequests to employees: Under Internal Revenue Code Section 102(c), the exclusion doesn’t apply to “any amount transferred by or for an employer to, or for the benefit of, an employee.”
Certain gifts to employees aren’t taxable, including “de minimis” fringe benefits, employee achievement awards and qualified disaster relief payments. Otherwise, the IRS generally views transfers to employees as “supplemental wages” subject to income and payroll taxes.
U.S. Supreme Court weighs in Despite Sec. 102(c), it may be possible to make a gift to an employee that avoids income taxes. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, such a gift must be made under “detached and disinterested generosity” or “out of affection, respect, admiration, charity or like impulses.”
In contrast, if a gift is intended to reward an employee for past performance or serve as an incentive for future performance, it’s considered compensation and is subject to income and payroll taxes. Unfortunately, the intent behind a gift can be difficult to prove.
Keep in mind that treating a gift or bequest as compensation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some cases, the income and payroll taxes may be less severe than the gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes that otherwise would apply. And you can always “gross up” the transferred amount to ensure that the recipient has enough cash to pay the taxes.
You need to work with an experienced estate planning attorney if you’re considering including employees in your estate plan.
Could “bunching” medical expenses into 2018 save you tax?
Some of your medical expenses may be tax deductible, but only if you itemize deductions and have enough expenses to exceed the applicable floor for deductibility. With proper planning, you may be able to time controllable medical expenses to your tax advantage. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) could make bunching such expenses into 2018 beneficial for some taxpayers. At the same time, certain taxpayers who’ve benefited from the deduction in previous years might no longer benefit because of the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction.
The changes Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example 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. The TCJA reduced the floor for the medical expense deduction for 2017 and 2018 from 10% to 7.5%. So, it might be beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2018. 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.
However, if your total itemized deductions won’t exceed your standard deduction, bunching medical expenses into 2018 won’t save tax. The TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction. For 2018, it’s $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. If your total itemized deductions for 2018 will exceed your standard deduction, bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2018 may allow you to exceed the applicable floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.
Planning for uncertainty Keep in mind that legislation could be signed into law that extends the 7.5% threshold for 2019 and even beyond. For help determining whether you could benefit from bunching medical expenses into 2018, please contact us.
Tenancy-in-common: A versatile estate planning tool
If you hold significant real estate investments, tenancy-in-common (TIC) ownership can be a powerful, versatile estate planning tool. A TIC interest is an undivided fractional interest in property. The property isn’t split into separate parcels. Rather, each TIC owner has the right to use and enjoy the entire property.
TIC in action An individual TIC can’t sell or lease the underlying property, or take other actions with respect to the property as a whole, without the other owners’ consent. But each owner has the right to sell, mortgage or transfer his or her TIC interest. This includes the right to transfer the interest, either directly or in trust, to his or her heirs or other beneficiaries. Someone who buys or inherits a TIC interest takes over the original owner’s undivided fractional interest in the property, sharing ownership with the other tenants in common.
Each TIC interest holder has a right of “partition.” That is, in the event of a dispute among the co-owners over management of the property, an owner can petition a court to divide the property into separate parcels or to force a sale and divide the proceeds among the co-owners.
TIC and estate planning Here are a couple of the ways TIC interests can be used to accomplish your estate planning goals.
Distributing your wealth. Dividing real estate among your heirs — your children, for example — can be a challenge. If you transfer real estate to them as joint tenants, their options for dealing with the property individually will be limited. What if one child wants to hold on to the real estate, but the other two want to cash out? Transferring TIC interests can avoid disputes by giving each heir the power to dispose of his or her interest without forcing a sale of the underlying property.
Reducing gift and estate taxes. Fractional interests generally are less marketable than whole interests. Plus, because an owner must share management with several co-owners, fractional interests provide less control. As a result, TIC interests may enjoy valuation discounts for gift and estate tax purposes.
Get an appraisal If you’re considering using TIC interests in your estate plan, it’s critical to obtain an appraisal to support your valuation of these interests. Keep in mind that appraising a TIC interest is a two-step process. It begins with an appraisal of the real estate as a whole. Then an appraisal of the fractional interests follows. In some cases, it may be desirable to use two appraisers: a real estate appraiser for the underlying property and a business valuation expert to quantify and support any valuation discounts you claim. Contact us with questions.
Consider all the tax consequences before making gifts to loved ones
Many people choose to pass assets to the next generation during life, whether to reduce the size of their taxable estate, to help out family members or simply to see their loved ones enjoy the gifts. If you’re considering lifetime gifts, be aware that which assets you give can produce substantially different tax consequences.
Multiple types of taxes Federal gift and estate taxes generally apply at a rate of 40% to transfers in excess of your available gift and estate tax exemption. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the exemption has approximately doubled through 2025. For 2018, it’s $11.18 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place). You do need to keep in mind that some states have much lower estate tax exemptions. Oregon's is only $1,000,000 and Washington's is only $2,193,00. Washington's exemption amount is inflation adjusted, but Oregon's is not.
Even if your estate isn’t large enough for gift and estate taxes to currently be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus, the gift and estate tax exemption is scheduled to drop back to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026.
Minimizing estate tax If your estate is large enough that estate tax is a concern, consider gifting property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.
If estate tax isn’t a concern, your family may be better off tax-wise if you hold on to the property and let it appreciate in your hands. At your death, the property’s value for income tax purposes will be “stepped up” to fair market value. This means that, if your heirs sell the property, they won’t have to pay any income tax on the appreciation that occurred during your life. Even if estate tax is a concern, you should compare the potential estate tax savings from gifting the property now to the potential income tax savings for your heirs if you hold on to the property.
Minimizing your beneficiary’s income tax You can save income tax for your heirs by gifting property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.
On the other hand, hold on to property that has already appreciated significantly so that your heirs can enjoy the step-up in basis at your death. If they sell the property shortly after your death, before it’s had time to appreciate much more, they’ll owe no or minimal income tax on the sale. Minimizing your own income tax
Don’t gift property that’s declined in value. A better option is generally to sell the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds. Capital losses can offset capital gains, and up to $3,000 of losses can offset other types of income, such as from salary, bonuses or retirement plan distributions. Excess losses can be carried forward until death. Choose gifts wisely
No matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Please contact us to discuss the gift, estate and income tax consequences of any gifts you’d like to make.
Now’s the time to review your business expense
As we approach the end of the year, it’s a good idea to review your business’s expenses for deductibility. At the same time, consider whether your business would benefit from accelerating certain expenses into this year. Be sure to evaluate the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which reduces or eliminates many deductions. In some cases, it may be necessary or desirable to change your expense and reimbursement policies.
What’s deductible, anyway? There’s no master list of deductible business expenses in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Although some deductions are expressly authorized or excluded, most are governed by the general rule of IRC Sec. 162, which permits businesses to deduct their “ordinary and necessary” expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business. (It need not be indispensable.) Even if an expense is ordinary and necessary, it may not be deductible if the IRS considers it lavish or extravagant.
What did the TCJA change? The TCJA contains many provisions that affect the deductibility of business expenses. Significant changes include these deductions:
Meals and entertainment. The act eliminates most deductions for entertainment expenses, but retains the 50% deduction for business meals. What about business meals provided in connection with nondeductible entertainment? In a recent notice, the IRS clarified that such meals continue to be 50% deductible, provided they’re purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost is separately stated on invoices or receipts.
Transportation. The act eliminates most deductions for qualified transportation fringe benefits, such as parking, vanpooling and transit passes. This change may lead some employers to discontinue these benefits, although others will continue to provide them because 1) they’re a valuable employee benefit (they’re still tax-free to employees) or 2) they’re required by local law.
Employee expenses. The act suspends employee deductions for unreimbursed job expenses — previously treated as miscellaneous itemized deductions — through 2025. Some businesses may want to implement a reimbursement plan for these expenses. So long as the plan meets IRS requirements, reimbursements are deductible by the business and tax-free to employees.
Need help? The deductibility of certain expenses, such as employee wages or office supplies, is obvious. In other cases, it may be necessary to consult IRS rulings or court cases for guidance. For assistance, please contact us.
Tax-free fringe benefits help small businesses and their employees
In today’s tightening job market, to attract and retain the best employees, small businesses need to offer not only competitive pay, but also appealing fringe benefits. Benefits that are tax-free are especially attractive to employees. Let’s take a quick look at some popular options.
Insurance Businesses can provide their employees with various types of insurance on a tax-free basis. Here are some of the most common:
Health insurance. If you maintain a health care plan for employees, coverage under the plan isn’t taxable to them. Employee contributions are excluded from income if pretax coverage is elected under a cafeteria plan. Otherwise, such amounts are included in their wages, but may be deductible on a limited basis as an itemized deduction.
Disability insurance. Your premium payments aren’t included in employees’ income, nor are your contributions to a trust providing disability benefits. Employees’ premium payments (or other contributions to the plan) generally aren’t deductible by them or excludable from their income. However, they can make pretax contributions to a cafeteria plan for disability benefits, which are excludable from their income.
Long-term care insurance. Your premium payments aren’t taxable to employees. However, long-term care insurance can’t be provided through a cafeteria plan.
Life insurance. Your employees generally can exclude from gross income premiums you pay on up to $50,000 of qualified group term life insurance coverage. Premiums you pay for qualified coverage exceeding $50,000 are taxable to the extent they exceed the employee’s coverage contributions.
Other types of tax-advantaged benefits Insurance isn’t the only type of tax-free benefit you can provide ¬― but the tax treatment of certain benefits has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:
Dependent care assistance. You can provide employees with tax-free dependent care assistance up to $5,000 for 2018 though a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also known as a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP).
Adoption assistance. For employees who’re adopting children, you can offer an employee adoption assistance program. Employees can exclude from their taxable income up to $13,810 of adoption benefits in 2018.
Educational assistance. You can help employees on a tax-free basis through educational assistance plans (up to $5,250 per year), job-related educational assistance and qualified scholarships.
Moving expense reimbursement. Before the TCJA, if you reimbursed employees for qualifying job-related moving expenses, the reimbursement could be excluded from the employee’s income. The TCJA suspends this break for 2018 through 2025. However, such reimbursements may still be deductible by your business.
Transportation benefits. Qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling, are tax-free to recipient employees. However, the TCJA suspends through 2025 the business deduction for providing such benefits. It also suspends the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.
As you can see, the tax treatment of fringe benefits varies. Contact us for more information.
529 plans offer two tax-advantaged education funding options
Section 529 plans are a popular education-funding tool because of tax and other benefits. Two types are available: 1) prepaid tuition plans, and 2) savings plans. And one of these plans got even better under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Enjoy valuable benefits 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for qualifying education expenses. First and foremost, although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing in the form of deductions or credits. But that’s not all. 529 plans also usually offer high contribution limits. And there are no income limits for contributing.
Lock in current tuition rates With a 529 prepaid tuition plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young. One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.
Fund more than just college tuition A 529 savings plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
In addition, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expands the definition of qualified expenses to generally include elementary and secondary school tuition. However, tax-free distributions used for such tuition are limited to $10,000 per year. The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers.
Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries. But each time you make a contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.
Picking your plan Both prepaid tuition plans and savings plans offer attractive benefits. We can help you determine which one is a better fit for you or explore other tax-advantaged education-funding options.
Educate your children on wealth management
If you’ve worked a lifetime to build a large estate, you undoubtedly would like to leave a lasting legacy to your children and future generations. Educating your children about saving, investing and other money management skills can help keep your legacy alive.
Teaching techniques There’s no one right way to teach your children about money. The best way depends on your circumstances, their personalities and your comfort level. If your kids are old enough, consider sending them to a money management class. For younger children, you might start by simply giving them an allowance in exchange for doing household chores. This helps teach them the value of work. Opening a savings account or a CD, or buying bonds, can help teach kids about investing and the power of compounding. For families that are charitably inclined, a private foundation may be a great vehicle for teaching children about the joys of giving and the impact that wealth can make beyond one’s family. For this strategy to be effective, older children should have some input into the foundation’s activities. When the time comes, this can also be a great way to get your grandchildren involved at a young age.
Timing and amount of distributions Many parents take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to the timing and amounts of distributions to their children — either transferring substantial amounts of wealth all at once or making gifts that are too small to provide meaningful lessons. Consider making distributions large enough so that your kids have something significant to lose, but not so large that their entire inheritance is at risk. Introduce incentives, but remain flexible
An incentive trust is a trust that rewards children for doing things that they might not otherwise do. Such a trust can be an effective estate planning tool, but there’s a fine line between encouraging positive behavior and controlling your children’s life choices. A trust that’s too restrictive may incite rebellion or invite lawsuits. Incentives can be valuable, however, if the trust is flexible enough to allow a child to chart his or her own course.
A so-called “principle trust,” for example, gives the trustee discretion to make distributions based on certain guiding principles or values without limiting beneficiaries to narrowly defined goals. But no matter how carefully designed, an incentive trust won’t teach your children critical money skills.
Communication is key To maintain family harmony when leaving a large portion of your estate to your children, clearly communicate the reason for your decisions. Working closely with your estate planning attorney and tax advisor is key.
Charitable IRA contribution may be especially beneficial in 2018
If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions. This break may be especially beneficial now because of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes that affect who can benefit from the itemized deduction for charitable donations.
Counts toward your RMD A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (Deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.) So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid to you.
Doesn’t require itemizing You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation. And, with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction, fewer taxpayers will benefit from itemizing. Itemizing saves tax only when itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.
Doesn’t have other deduction downsides Even if you have enough other itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction, taking your RMD and contributing that amount to charity has two more possible downsides.
First, the reported RMD income might increase your income to the point that you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket, certain additional taxes are triggered and/or the benefits of certain tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. It could even cause Social Security payments to become taxable or increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges.
Second, if your donation would equal a large portion of your income for the year, your deduction might be reduced due to the percentage-of-income limit. You generally can’t deduct cash donations that exceed 60% of your adjusted gross income for the year. (The TCJA raised this limit from 50%, but if the cash donation is to a private nonoperating foundation, the limit is only 30%.) You can carry forward the excess up to five years, but if you make large donations every year, that won’t help you. A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.
Have questions? The considerations involved in deciding whether to make a direct IRA rollover have changed in light of the TCJA. So contact us to go over your particular situation and determine what’s right for you.
Tax planning for investments gets more complicated
For investors, fall is a good time to review year-to-date gains and losses. Not only can it help you assess your financial health, but it also can help you determine whether to buy or sell investments before year end to save taxes.
This year, you also need to keep in mind the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). While the TCJA didn’t change long-term capital gains rates, it did change the tax brackets for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. For 2018 through 2025, these brackets are no longer linked to the ordinary-income tax brackets for individuals. So, for example, you could be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate even if you aren’t subject to the top ordinary-income tax rate.
Old rules For the last several years, individual taxpayers faced three federal income tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends: 0%, 15% and 20%. The rate brackets were tied to the ordinary-income rate brackets. Specifically, if the long-term capital gains and/or dividends fell within the 10% or 15% ordinary-income brackets, no federal income tax was owed. If they fell within the 25%, 28%, 33% or 35% ordinary-income brackets, they were taxed at 15%. And, if they fell within the maximum 39.6% ordinary-income bracket, they were taxed at the maximum 20% rate. In addition, higher-income individuals with long-term capital gains and dividends were also hit with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). It kicked in when modified adjusted gross income exceeded $200,000 for singles and heads of households and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. So, many people actually paid 18.8% (15% + 3.8%) or 23.8% (20% + 3.8%) on their long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.
New rules The TCJA retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends for individual taxpayers. However, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets. Here are the 2018 brackets: Singles: 0%: $0 – $38,600 15%: $38,601 – $425,800 20%: $425,801 and up Heads of households: 0%: $0 – $51,700 15%: $51,701 – $452,400 20%: $452,401 and up Married couples filing jointly: 0%: $0 – $77,200 15%: $77,201 – $479,000 20%: $479,001 and up For 2018, the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains and nonqualified dividends, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. (Both the long-term capital gains brackets and the ordinary-income brackets will be indexed for inflation for 2019 through 2025.) The new tax law also retains the 3.8% NIIT and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.
More thresholds, more complexity With more tax rate thresholds to keep in mind, year-end tax planning for investments is especially complicated in 2018. If you have questions, please contact us.
Businesses aren’t immune to tax identity theft
Tax identity theft may seem like a problem only for individual taxpayers. But, according to the IRS, increasingly businesses are also becoming victims. And identity thieves have become more sophisticated, knowing filing practices, the tax code and the best ways to get valuable data.
How it works
In tax identity theft, a taxpayer’s identifying information (such as Social Security number) is used to fraudulently obtain a refund or commit other crimes. Business tax identity theft occurs when a criminal uses the identifying information of a business to obtain tax benefits or to enable individual tax identity theft schemes.
For example, a thief could use an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file a fraudulent business tax return and claim a refund. Or a fraudster may report income and withholding for fake employees on false W-2 forms. Then, he or she can file fraudulent individual tax returns for these “employees” to claim refunds.
The consequences can include significant dollar amounts, lost time sorting out the mess and damage to your reputation.
There are some red flags that indicate possible tax identity theft. For example, your business’s identity may have been compromised if:
Your business doesn’t receive expected or routine mailings from the IRS.
You receive an IRS notice that doesn’t relate to anything your business submitted, that’s about fictitious employees or that’s related to a defunct, closed or dormant business after all account balances have been paid.
The IRS rejects an e-filed return or an extension-to-file request, saying it already has a return with that identification number — or the IRS accepts it as an amended return.
You receive an IRS letter stating that more than one tax return has been filed in your business’s name, or you receive a notice from the IRS that you have a balance due when you haven’t yet filed a return.
Keep in mind, though, that some of these could be the result of a simple error, such as an inadvertent transposition of numbers. Nevertheless, you should contact the IRS immediately if you receive any notices or letters from the agency that you believe might indicate that someone has fraudulently used your Employer Identification Number.
Businesses should take steps such as the following to protect their own information as well as that of their employees: Provide training to accounting, human resources and other employees to educate them on the latest tax fraud schemes and how to spot phishing emails. Use secure methods to send W-2 forms to employees. Implement risk management strategies designed to flag suspicious communications.
Of course identity theft can go beyond tax identity theft, so be sure to have a comprehensive plan in place to protect the data of your business, your employees and your customers. If you’re concerned your business has become a victim, or you have questions about prevention, please contact us.
The tax deduction ins and outs of donating artwork to charity
If you’re charitably inclined and you collect art, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts from a tax perspective. In general, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property.
The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.
The first thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a donation of artwork is that you must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has nearly doubled the standard deduction and put tighter limits on many itemized deductions (but not the charitable deduction), many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing. For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.
Something else to be aware of is that most artwork donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal. IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $20,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation. Finally, note that, if you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.
Maximizing your deduction
The charity you choose and how the charity will use the artwork can have a significant impact on your tax deduction. Donations of artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status, can entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, however, your deduction will be limited to your cost.
For your donation to a public charity to qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the donated artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. If, for example, you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university’s art history department for use in its research, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule. But if you donate it to, say, a children’s hospital to auction off at its annual fundraising gala, you won’t satisfy the rule.
You need to plan carefully. Donating artwork is a great way to share enjoyment of the work with others. But to reap the maximum tax benefit, too, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all of the applicable rules. Contact us to learn more.
2 ways to transfer a family business
For many people, a family-owned business is their primary source of wealth, so it’s critical to plan carefully for the transition of ownership from one generation to the next. The best approach depends on your particular circumstances. If your net worth is well within the estate tax exemption ($11.18 million for 2018), for example, you might focus on reducing income taxes. But if you expect your estate to be significantly larger than the exemption amount, estate tax reduction may be a bigger concern.
Here are two techniques to transfer a family business — one if gift and estate taxes are a concern, and one if they aren’t:
1. IDGT. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is an income defective trust. As such, it can be a highly effective tool for transferring business interests to the younger generation at a minimal gift and estate tax cost if your estate exceeds the gift and estate tax exemption. An IDGT is designed so that contributions are completed gifts, removing the trust assets and all future appreciation in their value from your taxable estate. At the same time, it’s “defective” for income tax purposes; that is, it’s treated as a “grantor trust” whose income is taxable to you. This allows trust assets to grow without being eroded by income taxes, thus leaving a greater amount of wealth for your children or other beneficiaries. The downside of an IDGT is that, when your beneficiaries inherit the business, they’ll also inherit your tax basis, which may trigger a substantial capital gains tax liability if they sell the business. This result may be acceptable if the estate tax savings outweigh the income tax cost.
2. Estate defective trust. If the value of your business and other assets is less than the current estate tax exemption amount, so that estate taxes aren’t an issue, you might consider an estate defective trust. Essentially the opposite of an IDGT, an estate defective trust is designed so that beneficiaries are the owners for income tax purposes, while the assets remain in the estate for estate tax purposes.
This technique provides two significant income tax benefits. First, assuming your beneficiaries are in a lower tax bracket, this strategy will result in lower “familywide” taxes. Second, because the trust assets remain in your estate, the beneficiaries’ basis in the assets is “stepped up” to fair market value at your death, reducing or eliminating their potential capital gains tax liability.
Determining the right strategy to implement when transferring ownership of the business to heirs depends on the value of your business and other assets and the relative impact of estate and income taxes. Also keep in mind that the gift and estate tax exemption is scheduled to drop to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026. Contact us with any questions.
You might save tax if your vacation home qualifies as a rental property
Do you own a vacation home? If you both rent it out and use it personally, you might save tax by taking steps to ensure it qualifies as a rental property this year. Vacation home expenses that qualify as rental property expenses aren’t subject to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s (TCJA’s) new limit on the itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) or the lower debt limit for the itemized mortgage interest deduction.
Rental or personal property? If you rent out your vacation home for 15 days or more, 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. Your deduction for property tax attributable to the rental use of the home isn’t subject to the TCJA’s new SALT deduction limit. And your deduction for mortgage interest on the home isn’t subject to the debt limit that applies to the itemized deduction for mortgage interest.
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 (subject to the new SALT limit).
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. 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. If you itemize deductions, you also can deduct the personal portion of both property tax and mortgage interest, subject to the TCJA’s new limits on those deductions.
The SALT deduction limit is $10,000 for the combined total of state and local property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). For mortgage interest debt incurred after December 15, 2017, the debt limit (with some limited exceptions) has been reduced to $750,000.
Be aware that many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing because of the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction. Itemizing saves tax only if total itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction for the taxpayer’s filing status.
Year-to-date review Keep in mind that, if you rent out your vacation home 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.
Now is a good time to review your vacation home use year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. By increasing the number of days you rent it out and/or reducing the number of days you use it personally between now and year end, you might be able to ensure it’s classified as a rental property and save some tax. But there also could be circumstances where personal property treatment would be beneficial. Please contact us to discuss your particular situation.
For unmarried couples, estate planning is indispensable
When married couples neglect to prepare an estate plan, state intestacy laws step in to help provide financial security for the surviving spouse. It may not be the plan they would have designed, but at least it offers some measure of financial security. Unmarried couples, however, have no such backup plan. Unless they carefully spell out how they wish to distribute their wealth, a surviving life partner may end up with nothing.
Marriage has its advantages
Because intestacy laws offer no protection to an unmarried person who wishes to provide for his or her partner, it’s essential for unmarried couples at minimum to employ a will or living trust. But marriage offers several additional estate planning advantages that unmarried couples must plan around, such as:
The marital deduction. Estate planning for wealthy married couples often centers around taxes and the marital deduction, which allows one spouse to make unlimited gifts to the other spouse free of gift or estate taxes. Unmarried couples don’t enjoy this advantage. Thus, lifetime gift planning is critical so they can make the most of the lifetime gift tax exemption and the $15,000 per recipient annual gift tax exclusion. Tenancy by the entirety. Married and unmarried couples alike often hold real estate or other assets as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. When one owner dies, title automatically passes to the survivor. In many states, a special form of joint ownership — tenancy by the entirety — is available only to married couples.
Will contests. Married or not, anyone’s will is subject to challenge as improperly executed, or on grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence or fraud. For some unmarried couples, however, family members may be more likely to challenge a will simply because they disapprove of the relationship.
Here are steps unmarried couples should consider to reduce the risk of such challenges: Be sure that a will is carefully worded and properly executed. Use separate attorneys, which can help refute charges of undue influence or fraud. Include a “no contest” clause, which disinherits anyone who challenges the will and loses.
Health care decisions. A married person generally can make health care decisions on behalf of a spouse who becomes incapacitated by illness or injury. Unmarried partners cannot do so without written authorization, such as a medical directive or health care power of attorney. A durable power of attorney for property may also be desirable, allowing a partner to manage the other’s assets during a period of incapacity.
Careful planning required If you’re unmarried and wish to provide for a life partner, you should contact an attorney specializing in estate planning to discuss potential strategies. You can achieve many of the same estate planning objectives as married couples, but only with careful planning and thorough documentation.
How to reduce the tax risk of using independent contractors
Classifying a worker as an independent contractor frees a business from payroll tax liability and allows it to forgo providing overtime pay, unemployment compensation and other employee benefits. It also frees the business from responsibility for withholding income taxes and the worker’s share of payroll taxes. For these reasons, the federal government views misclassifying a bona fide employee as an independent contractor unfavorably. If the IRS reclassifies a worker as an employee, your business could be hit with back taxes, interest and penalties.
When assessing worker classification, the IRS typically looks at the:
Level of behavioral control. This means the extent to which the company instructs a worker on when and where to do the work, what tools or equipment to use, whom to hire, where to purchase supplies and so on. Also, control typically involves providing training and evaluating the worker’s performance. The more control the company exercises, the more likely the worker is an employee.
Level of financial control. Independent contractors are more likely to invest in their own equipment or facilities, incur unreimbursed business expenses, and market their services to other customers. Employees are more likely to be paid by the hour or week or some other time period; independent contractors are more likely to receive a flat fee.
Relationship of the parties. Independent contractors are often engaged for a discrete project, while employees are typically hired permanently (or at least for an indefinite period). Also, workers who serve a key business function are more likely to be classified as employees. The IRS examines a variety of factors within each category. You need to consider all of the facts and circumstances surrounding each worker relationship.
Protective measures Once you’ve completed your review, there are several strategies you can use to minimize your exposure. When in doubt, reclassify questionable independent contractors as employees. This may increase your tax and benefit costs, but it will eliminate reclassification risk. From there, modify your relationships with independent contractors to better ensure compliance. For example, you might exercise less behavioral control by reducing your level of supervision or allowing workers to set their own hours or work from home.
Also, consider using an employee-leasing company. Workers leased from these firms are employees of the leasing company, which is responsible for taxes, benefits and other employer obligations.
Handle with care Keep in mind that taxes, interest and penalties aren’t the only possible negative consequences of a worker being reclassified as an employee. In addition, your business could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t. Fortunately, careful handling of contractors can help ensure that independent contractor status will pass IRS scrutiny. Contact us if you have questions about worker classification.
Is a significant portion of your wealth concentrated in a single stock or other investment?
Estate planning and investment risk management go hand in hand. After all, an estate plan is effective only if you have some wealth to transfer to the next generation. One of the best ways to reduce your investment risk is to diversify your holdings. But it’s not unusual for affluent people to end up with a significant portion of their wealth concentrated in one or two stocks or other investments such as real estate.
There are many ways this can happen, including the exercise of stock options, participation in equity-based compensation programs, or receipt of stock in a merger or acquisition.
Sell the stock
To reduce your investment risk, the simplest option is to sell some or most of the stock and reinvest in a more diversified portfolio. This may not be an option, however, if you’re not willing to pay the resulting capital gains taxes, if there are legal restrictions on the amount you can sell and the timing of a sale, or if you simply wish to hold on to the stock. To soften the tax hit, consider selling the stock gradually over time to spread out the capital gains.
Or, if you’re charitably inclined, contribute the stock to a charitable remainder trust (CRT). The trust can sell the stock tax-free, reinvest the proceeds in more diversified investments, and provide you with a current tax deduction and a regular income stream. (Be aware that CRT payouts are taxable — usually a combination of ordinary income, capital gains and tax-free amounts.)
Keep the stock
To reduce your risk without selling the stock: Use a hedging technique. For example, purchase put options to sell your shares at a set price. Buy other securities to rebalance your portfolio. Consider borrowing the funds you need, using the concentrated stock as collateral.
Invest in a stock protection fund. These funds allow investors who own concentrated stock positions in different industries to pool their risks, essentially insuring their holdings against catastrophic loss.
If you have questions about specific assets in your estate, contact us. We can help you preserve as much of your estate as possible so that you have more to pass on to your loved ones.
3 reasons you should continue making lifetime gifts
Now that the gift and estate tax exemption has reached a record high of $11.18 million (for 2018), it may seem that gifting assets to loved ones is less important than it was in previous years. However, lifetime gifts continue to provide significant benefits, whether your estate is taxable or not.
Let’s examine three reasons why making gifts remains an important part of estate planning:
1. Lifetime gifts reduce estate taxes. If your estate exceeds the exemption amount — or you believe it will in the future — regular lifetime gifts can substantially reduce your estate tax bill. The annual gift tax exclusion allows you to give up to $15,000 per recipient ($30,000 if you “split” gifts with your spouse) tax-free without using up any of your gift and estate tax exemption.
In addition, direct payments of tuition or medical expenses on behalf of your loved ones are excluded from gift tax. Taxable gifts — that is, gifts beyond the annual exclusion amount and not eligible for the tuition and medical expense exclusion — can also reduce estate tax liability by removing future appreciation from your taxable estate. You may be better off paying gift tax on an asset’s current value rather than estate tax on its appreciated value down the road.
When gifting appreciable assets, however, be sure to consider the potential income tax implications. Property transferred at death receives a “stepped-up basis” equal to its date-of-death fair market value, which means the recipient can turn around and sell the property free of capital gains taxes. Property transferred during life retains your tax basis, so it’s important to weigh the estate tax savings against the potential income tax costs.
2. Tax laws aren’t permanent. Even if your estate is within the exemption amount now, it pays to make regular gifts. Why? Because even though the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the exemption amount, and that amount will be adjusted annually for inflation, the doubling expires after 2025. Without further legislation, the exemption will return to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026. Thus, taxpayers with estates in roughly the $6 million to $11 million range (twice that for married couples), whose estates would escape estate taxes if they were to die while the doubled exemption is in effect, still need to keep potential post-2025 estate tax liability in mind in their estate planning.
3. Gifts provide nontax benefits. Tax planning aside, there are other reasons to make lifetime gifts. For example, perhaps you wish to use gifting to shape your family members’ behavior — for example, by providing gifts to those who attend college. And if you own a business, gifts of interests in the business may be a key component of your ownership and management succession plan. Or you might simply wish to see your loved ones enjoy the gifts. Regardless of the amount of your wealth, consider a program of regular lifetime giving. We can help you devise and incorporate a gifting program as part of your estate plan.
Play your tax cards right with gambling wins and losses
If you gamble, be sure you understand the tax consequences. Both wins and losses can affect your income tax bill. And changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) could also have an impact.
Wins and taxable income
You must report 100% of your gambling winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income as winnings. Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate. You might pay a lower rate on gambling winnings this year because of rate reductions under the TCJA.
Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, remember that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.
Losses and tax deductions
You can write off gambling losses as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. While miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor are not allowed for 2018 through 2025 under the TCJA, the deduction for gambling losses isn’t subject to that floor. So gambling losses are still deductible.
But the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018 (to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of households and $12,000 for singles and separate filers) means that, even if you typically itemized deductions in the past, you may no longer benefit from itemizing. Itemizing saves tax only when total itemized deductions exceed the applicable standard deduction. Also be aware that the deduction for gambling losses is limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried forward to future years.
Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth can’t be deducted unless you qualify as a gambling professional. And, for 2018 through 2025, the TCJA modifies the limit on gambling losses for professional gamblers so that all deductions for expenses incurred in carrying out gambling activities, not just losses, are limited to the extent of gambling winnings.
Tracking your activities
To claim a deduction for gambling losses, you must adequately document them, including: 1. The date and type of gambling activity. 2. The name and address or location of the gambling establishment. 3. The names of other persons (if any) present with you at the gambling establishment. (Obviously, this is not possible when the gambling occurs at a public venue such as a casino, race track, or bingo parlor.) 4. The amount won or lost. You can document income and losses from gambling on table games by recording the number of the table you played and keeping statements showing casino credit issued to you. For lotteries, you can use winning statements and unredeemed tickets as documentation.
Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about the tax treatment of gambling wins and losses.
Do you still need to worry about the AMT?
There was talk of repealing the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) as part of last year’s tax reform legislation. A repeal wasn’t included in the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers subject to the AMT.
Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the changes, assess your AMT risk and see if there are any steps you can take during the last several months of the year to avoid the AMT, or at least minimize any negative impact.
AMT vs. regular tax
The top AMT rate is 28%, compared to the top regular ordinary-income tax rate of 37%. But the AMT rate typically applies to a higher taxable income base and will result in a larger tax bill if you’re subject to it. The TCJA reduced the number of taxpayers who’ll likely be subject to the AMT in part by increasing the AMT exemption and the income phaseout ranges for the exemption:
For 2018, the exemption is $70,300 for singles and heads of households (up from $54,300 for 2017), and $109,400 for married couples filing jointly (up from $84,500 for 2017). The 2018 phaseout ranges are $500,000–$781,200 for singles and heads of households (up from $120,700–$337,900 for 2017) and $1,000,000–$1,437,600 for joint filers (up from $160,900–$498,900 for 2017).
You’ll be subject to the AMT if your AMT liability is greater than your regular tax liability.
In the past, common triggers of the AMT were differences between deductions allowed for regular tax purposes and AMT purposes. Some popular deductions aren’t allowed under the AMT. New limits on some of these deductions for regular tax purposes, such as on state and local income and property tax deductions, mean they’re less likely to trigger the AMT. And certain deductions not allowed for AMT purposes are now not allowed for regular tax purposes either, such as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor.
But deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. Some income items might do so, too, such as: Long-term capital gains and dividend income, even though they’re taxed at the same rate for both regular tax and AMT purposes, Accelerated depreciation adjustments and related gain or loss differences when assets are sold, Tax-exempt interest on certain private-activity municipal bonds, and the exercise of incentive stock options.
AMT planning tips
If it looks like you could be subject to the AMT in 2018, consider accelerating income into this year. Doing so may allow you to benefit from the lower maximum AMT rate. And deferring expenses you can’t deduct for AMT purposes may allow you to preserve those deductions. If you also defer expenses you can deduct for AMT purposes, the deductions may become more valuable because of the higher maximum regular tax rate.
Please contact us if you have questions about whether you could be subject to the AMT this year or about minimizing negative consequences from the AMT.
Why the “kiddie tax” is more dangerous than ever
Once upon a time, some parents and grandparents would attempt to save tax by putting investments in the names of their young children or grandchildren in lower income tax brackets. To discourage such strategies, Congress created the “kiddie” tax back in 1986. Since then, this tax has gradually become more far-reaching. Now, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the kiddie tax has become more dangerous than ever.
A short history
Years ago, the kiddie tax applied only to children under age 14 — which still provided families with ample opportunity to enjoy significant tax savings from income shifting. In 2006, the tax was expanded to children under age 18. And since 2008, the kiddie tax has generally applied to children under age 19 and to full-time students under age 24 (unless the students provide more than half of their own support from earned income).
What about the kiddie tax rate?
Before the TCJA, for children subject to the kiddie tax, any unearned income beyond a certain amount ($2,100 for 2017) was taxed at their parents’ marginal rate (assuming it was higher), rather than their own likely low rate.
A fiercer kiddie tax
The TCJA doesn’t further expand who’s subject to the kiddie tax. But it will effectively increase the kiddie tax rate in many cases. For 2018–2025, a child’s unearned income beyond the threshold ($2,100 again for 2018) will be taxed according to the tax brackets used for trusts and estates. For ordinary income (such as interest and short-term capital gains), trusts and estates are taxed at the highest marginal rate of 37% once 2018 taxable income exceeds $12,500. In contrast, for a married couple filing jointly, the highest rate doesn’t kick in until their 2018 taxable income tops $600,000. Similarly, the 15% long-term capital gains rate takes effect at $77,201 for joint filers but at only $2,601 for trusts and estates. And the 20% rate kicks in at $479,001 and $12,701, respectively.
In other words, in many cases, children’s unearned income will be taxed at higher rates than their parents’ income. As a result, income shifting to children subject to the kiddie tax will not only not save tax, but it could actually increase a family’s overall tax liability.
The moral of the story
To avoid inadvertently increasing your family’s taxes, be sure to consider the big, bad kiddie tax before transferring income-producing or highly appreciated assets to a child or grandchild who’s a minor or college student. If you’d like to shift income and you have adult children or grandchildren who’re no longer subject to the kiddie tax but in a lower tax bracket, consider transferring such assets to them. Please contact us for more information about the kiddie tax — or other TCJA changes that may affect your family.
3 traditional midyear tax planning strategies for individuals that hold up post-TCJA
With its many changes to individual tax rates, brackets and breaks, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) means taxpayers need to revisit their tax planning strategies. Certain strategies that were once tried-and-true will no longer save or defer tax. But there are some that will hold up for many taxpayers. And they’ll be more effective if you begin implementing them this summer, rather than waiting until year end.
Take a look at these three ideas, and contact us to discuss what midyear strategies make sense for you.
1. Look at your bracket
Under the TCJA, the top income tax rate is now 37% (down from 39.6%) for taxpayers with taxable income over $500,000 (single and head-of-household filers) or $600,000 (married couples filing jointly). These thresholds are higher than for the top rate in 2017 ($418,400, $444,550 and $470,700, respectively). So the top rate might be less of a concern. However, singles and heads of households in the middle and upper brackets could be pushed into a higher tax bracket much more quickly this year.
For example, for 2017 the threshold for the 33% tax bracket was $191,650 for singles and $212,500 for heads of households. For 2018, the rate for this bracket has been reduced slightly to 32% — but the threshold for the bracket is now only $157,500 for both singles and heads of households. So a lot more of these filers could find themselves in this bracket. (Fortunately for joint filers, their threshold for this bracket has increased from $233,350 to $315,000.)
If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold for a higher bracket, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the next bracket. For example, you could take steps to accelerate deductible expenses. But carefully consider the changes the TCJA has made to deductions.
For example, you may no longer benefit from itemizing because of the nearly doubled standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of certain itemized deductions. For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for joint filers.
2. Incur medical expenses
One itemized deduction the TCJA has retained and — temporarily — enhanced is the medical expense deduction. If you expect to benefit from itemizing on your 2018 return, take a look at whether you can accelerate deductible medical expenses into this year. You can deduct only expenses that exceed a floor based on your adjusted gross income (AGI). Under the TCJA, the floor has dropped from 10% of AGI to 7.5%. But it’s scheduled to return to 10% for 2019 and beyond.
Deductible expenses may include: Health insurance premiums, Long-term care insurance premiums, Medical and dental services and prescription drugs, and Mileage driven for health care purposes. You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into 2018 and exceed the floor while it’s only 7.5%.
3. Review your investments
The TCJA didn’t make changes to the long-term capital gains rate, so the top rate remains at 20%. However, that rate now kicks in before the top ordinary-income tax rate.
For 2018, the 20% rate applies to taxpayers with taxable income exceeding $425,800 (singles), $452,400 (heads of households), or $479,000 (joint filers). 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.
You also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). It can affect taxpayers with modified AGI (MAGI) over $200,000 for singles and heads of households, $250,000 for joint filers. You may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.
Close-up on the new QBI deduction’s wage limit
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides a valuable new tax break to noncorporate owners of pass-through entities: a deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI). The deduction generally applies to income from sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). It can equal as much as 20% of QBI. But once taxable income exceeds $315,000 for married couples filing jointly or $157,500 for other filers, a wage limit begins to phase in.
Full vs. partial phase-in
When the wage limit is fully phased in, at $415,000 for joint filers and $207,500 for other filers, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of: 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees during the tax year, or The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified business property (QBP).
When the wage limit applies but isn’t yet fully phased in, the amount of the limit is reduced and the final deduction is calculated as follows:
1. The difference between taxable income and the applicable threshold is divided by $100,000 for joint filers or $50,000 for other filers.
2. The resulting percentage is multiplied by the difference between the gross deduction and the fully wage-limited deduction.
3. The result is subtracted from the gross deduction to determine the final deduction.
Let’s say Chris and Leslie have taxable income of $600,000. This includes $300,000 of QBI from Chris’s pass-through business, which pays $100,000 in wages and has $200,000 of QBP. The gross deduction would be $60,000 (20% of $300,000), but the wage limit applies in full because the married couple’s taxable income exceeds the $415,000 top of the phase-in range for joint filers.
Computing the deduction is fairly straightforward in this situation. The first option for the wage limit calculation is $50,000 (50% of $100,000). The second option is $30,000 (25% of $100,000 + 2.5% of $200,000). So the wage limit — and the deduction — is $50,000.
What if Chris and Leslie’s taxable income falls within the phase-in range? The calculation is a bit more complicated. Let’s say their taxable income is $400,000. The full wage limit is still $50,000, but only 85% of the full limit applies: ($400,000 taxable income - $315,000 threshold)/$100,000 = 85%
To calculate the amount of their deduction, the couple must first calculate 85% of the difference between the gross deduction of $60,000 and the fully wage-limited deduction of $50,000: ($60,000 - $50,000) × 85% = $8,500 That amount is subtracted from the $60,000 gross deduction for a final deduction of $51,500.
That’s not all
Be aware that another restriction may apply: For income from “specified service businesses,” the QBI deduction is reduced if an owner’s taxable income falls within the applicable income range and eliminated if income exceeds it.
Please contact us to learn whether your business is a specified service business or if you have other questions about the QBI deduction.
Basis consistency rules may come into play if you’re administering an estate or inheriting property
When it comes to tax law changes and estate planning, the substantial increases to the gift and estate tax exemptions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are getting the most attention these days. But a tax law change enacted in 2015 also warrants your attention. That change generally prohibits the income tax basis of inherited property from exceeding the property’s fair market value (FMV) for estate tax purposes.
Why does this matter? Because it prevents beneficiaries from arguing that the estate undervalued the property and, therefore, they’re entitled to claim a higher basis for income tax purposes. The higher the basis, the lower the taxable gain on any subsequent sale of the property.
Before the 2015 tax law change, estates and their beneficiaries had conflicting incentives when it came to the valuation of a deceased person’s property. Executors had an incentive to value property as low as possible to minimize estate taxes, while beneficiaries had an incentive to value property as high as possible to minimize capital gains, should they sell the property.
The 2015 law requires consistency between a property’s basis reflected on an estate tax return and the basis used to calculate gain when it’s sold by the person who inherits it. It provides that the basis of property in the hands of a beneficiary may not exceed its value as finally determined for estate tax purposes.
Generally, a property’s value is finally determined when
1) its value is reported on a federal estate tax return and the IRS doesn’t challenge it before the limitations period expires, 2) the IRS determines its value and the executor doesn’t challenge it before the limitations period expires, or 3) its value is determined according to a court order or agreement.
But the basis consistency rule isn’t a factor in all situations. The rule doesn’t apply to property unless its inclusion in the deceased’s estate increased the liability for estate taxes. So, for example, the rule doesn’t apply if the value of the deceased’s estate is less than his or her unused exemption amount.
Watch out for penalties
The 2015 law also requires estates to furnish information about the value of inherited property to the IRS and the person who inherits it. Estates that fail to comply with these reporting requirements are subject to failure-to-file penalties. Beneficiaries who claim an excessive basis on their income tax returns are subject to accuracy-related penalties on any resulting understatements of tax.
Contact us if you’re responsible for administering an estate or if you expect to inherit property from someone whose estate will be liable for estate tax. We can help you comply with the basis consistency rules and avoid penalties.
Home green home: Save tax by saving energy
“Going green” at home — whether it’s your principal residence or a second home — can reduce your tax bill in addition to your energy bill, all while helping the environment, too. The catch is that, to reap all three benefits, you need to buy and install certain types of renewable energy equipment in the home.
Invest in green and save green
For 2018 and 2019, you may be eligible for a tax credit of 30% of expenditures (including costs for site preparation, assembly, installation, piping, and wiring) for installing the following types of renewable energy equipment: Qualified solar electricity generating equipment and solar water heating equipment, Qualified wind energy equipment, Qualified geothermal heat pump equipment, and Qualified fuel cell electricity generating equipment (limited to $500 for each half kilowatt of fuel cell capacity).
Because these items can be expensive, the credits can be substantial. To qualify, the equipment must be installed at your U.S. residence, including a vacation home — except for fuel cell equipment, which must be installed at your principal residence. You can’t claim credits for equipment installed at a property that’s used exclusively as a rental.
To qualify for the credit for solar water heating equipment, at least 50% of the energy used to heat water for the property must be generated by the solar equipment. And no credit is allowed for solar water heating equipment unless it’s certified for performance by the nonprofit Solar Rating & Certification Corporation or a comparable entity endorsed by the state in which your residence is located. (Keep this certification with your tax records.) The credit rate for these expenditures is scheduled to drop to 26% in 2020 and then to 22% in 2021. After that, the credits are scheduled to expire.
Document and explore
As with all tax breaks, documentation is key when claiming credits for green investments in your home. Keep proof of how much you spend on qualifying equipment, including any extra amounts for site preparation, assembly and installation. Also keep a record of when the installation is completed, because you can claim the credit only for the year when that occurs.
Be sure to look beyond the federal tax credits and explore other ways to save by going green. Your green home investments might also be eligible for state and local tax benefits, subsidized state and local financing deals, and utility company rebates. To learn more about federal, state and local tax breaks available for green home investments, contact us.
A SLAT offers estate planning benefits and acts as a financial backup plan
The most effective estate planning strategies often involve the use of irrevocable trusts. But what if you’re uncomfortable placing your assets beyond your control? What happens if your financial fortunes take a turn for the worse after you’ve irrevocably transferred a sizable portion of your wealth? If your marriage is strong, a spousal lifetime access trust (SLAT) can be a viable strategy to obtain the benefits of an irrevocable trust while creating a financial backup plan.
A SLAT is an irrevocable trust that authorizes the trustee to make distributions to your spouse if a need arises. Like other irrevocable trusts, a SLAT can be designed to benefit your children, grandchildren or future generations. You can use your lifetime gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions (currently, $11.18 million each) to shield contributions to the trust, as well as future appreciation, from transfer taxes. And the trust assets also receive some protection against claims by your beneficiaries’ creditors, including any former spouses.
The key benefit of a SLAT is that, by naming your spouse as a lifetime beneficiary, you retain indirect access to the trust assets. You can set up the trust to make distributions based on an “ascertainable standard” — such as your spouse’s health, education, maintenance or support — or you can give the trustee full discretion to distribute income or principal to your spouse. To keep the trust assets out of your taxable estate, you must not act as trustee.
You can appoint your spouse as trustee, but only if distributions are limited to an ascertainable standard. If you desire greater flexibility over distributions to your spouse, appoint an independent trustee. Also, the trust document must prohibit distributions in satisfaction of your legal support obligations.
Another critical requirement is to fund the trust with your separate property. If you use marital or community property, there’s a risk that the trust assets will end up in your spouse’s estate.
There’s a significant risk inherent in the SLAT strategy: If your spouse predeceases you, or if you and your spouse divorce, you’ll lose your indirect access to the trust assets. But there may be ways to mitigate this risk. If you’re considering using a SLAT, contact us to learn more about the benefits and risks of this type of trust.
Do you know the ABCs of HSAs, FSAs and HRAs?
There continues to be much uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act and how such uncertainty will impact health care costs. So it’s critical to leverage all tax-advantaged ways to fund these expenses, including HSAs, FSAs and HRAs. Here’s how to make sense of this alphabet soup of health care accounts.
If you’re covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account — or make deductible contributions to an HSA you set up yourself — up to $3,450 for self-only coverage and $6,900 for family coverage for 2018. Plus, if you’re age 55 or older, you may contribute an additional $1,000. You own the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and you can carry over a balance from year to year.
Regardless of whether you have an HDHP, you can redirect pretax income to an employer-sponsored Flexible Spending Account up to an employer-determined limit — not to exceed $2,650 in 2018. The plan pays or reimburses you for qualified medical expenses. What you don’t use by the plan year’s end, you generally lose — though your plan might allow you to roll over up to $500 to the next year. Or it might give you a grace period of two and a half months to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If you have an HSA, your FSA is limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.
A Health Reimbursement Account is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses you for medical expenses. Unlike an HSA, no HDHP is required. Unlike an FSA, any unused portion typically can be carried forward to the next year. There’s no government-set limit on HRA contributions. But only your employer can contribute to an HRA; employees aren’t allowed to contribute.
Maximize the benefit If you have one of these health care accounts, it’s important to understand the applicable rules so you can get the maximum benefit from it. But tax-advantaged accounts aren’t the only way to save taxes in relation to health care. If you have questions about tax planning and health care expenses, please contact us.
Choosing the best business entity structure post-TCJA is not as simple as some suggest.
For tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) created a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, C corporations were taxed at rates as high as 35%. The TCJA also reduced individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The top rate, however, dropped only slightly, from 39.6% to 37%.
On the surface, that may make choosing C corporation structure seem like a no-brainer. But there are many other considerations involved.
Under prior tax law, conventional wisdom was that most small businesses should be set up as sole proprietorships or pass-through entities to avoid the double taxation of C corporations: A C corporation pays entity-level income tax and then shareholders pay tax on dividends — and on capital gains when they sell the stock. For pass-through entities, there’s no federal income tax at the entity level.
Although C corporations are still potentially subject to double taxation under the TCJA, their new 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another provision of the TCJA that allows noncorporate owners of pass-through entities to take a deduction equal to as much as 20% of qualified business income (QBI), subject to various limits. But, unless Congress extends it, the break is available only for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding how to structure a business. The best choice depends on your business’s unique situation and your situation as an owner.
3 common scenarios
Here are three common scenarios and the entity-choice implications: 1. Business generates tax losses. For a business that consistently generates losses, there’s no tax advantage to operating as a C corporation. Losses from C corporations can’t be deducted by their owners. A pass-through entity will generally make more sense because losses pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns.
2. Business distributes all profits to owners. For a profitable business that pays out all income to the owners, operating as a pass-through entity generally will be better if significant QBI deductions are available. If not, it’s probably a toss-up in terms of tax liability.
3. Business retains all profits to finance growth. For a business that’s profitable but holds on to its profits to fund future growth strategies, operating as a C corporation generally will be advantageous if the corporation is a qualified small business (QSB). Why? A 100% gain exclusion may be available for QSB stock sale gains.
If QSB status is unavailable, operating as a C corporation is still probably preferred — unless significant QBI deductions would be available at the owner level.
These are only some of the issues to consider when making the C corporation vs. pass-through entity choice. We can help you evaluate your options
2 tax law changes that may affect your business’s 401(k) plan
When you think about recent tax law changes and your business, you’re probably thinking about the new 20% pass-through deduction for qualified business income or the enhancements to depreciation-related breaks. Or you may be contemplating the reduction or elimination of certain business expense deductions. But there are also a couple of recent tax law changes that you need to be aware of if your business sponsors a 401(k) plan.
1. Plan loan repayment extension
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) gives a break to 401(k) plan participants with outstanding loan balances when they leave their employers. While plan sponsors aren’t required to allow loans, many do. Before 2018, if an employee with an outstanding plan loan left the company sponsoring the plan, he or she would have to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or his or her new employer’s plan) within 60 days to avoid having the loan balance deemed a taxable distribution (and be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if the employee was under age 59-1/2). Under the TCJA, beginning in 2018, former employees in this situation have until their tax return filing due date — including extensions — to repay the loan (or contribute the outstanding balance to an IRA or qualified retirement plan) and avoid taxes and penalties.
2. Hardship withdrawal limit increase
Beginning in 2019, the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) eases restrictions on employee 401(k) hardship withdrawals. Most 401(k) plans permit hardship withdrawals, though plan sponsors aren’t required to allow them. Hardship withdrawals are subject to income tax and the 10% early distribution tax penalty.
Currently, hardship withdrawals are limited to the funds employees contributed to the accounts. (Such withdrawals are allowed only if the employee has first taken a loan from the same account.) Under the BBA, the withdrawal limit will also include accumulated employer matching contributions plus earnings on contributions. If an employee has been participating in your 401(k) for several years, this modification could add substantially to the amount of funds available for withdrawal.
Nest egg harm
These changes might sound beneficial to employees, but in the long run they could actually hurt those who take advantage of them. Most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, and taking longer to pay back a plan loan (and thus missing out on potential tax-deferred growth during that time) or taking larger hardship withdrawals can result in a smaller, perhaps much smaller, nest egg at retirement.
So consider educating your employees on the importance of letting their 401(k) accounts grow undisturbed and the potential negative tax consequences of loans and early withdrawals. Please contact us if you have questions.
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.
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.
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. Working with your estate planning attorney we can help you evaluate the potential tax impact of the TCJA on your estate plan.
What businesses need to know about the tax treatment of bitcoin and other virtual currencies
Over the last several years, virtual currency has become increasingly popular. Bitcoin is the most widely recognized form of virtual currency, also commonly referred to as digital, electronic or crypto currency. While most smaller businesses aren’t yet accepting bitcoin or other virtual currency payments from their customers, more and more larger businesses are. And the trend may trickle down to smaller businesses. Businesses also can pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. But what are the tax consequences of these transactions?
Bitcoin has an equivalent value in real currency and can be digitally traded between users. It also can be purchased with real currencies or exchanged for real currencies. Bitcoin is most commonly obtained through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges. Goods or services can be paid for using “bitcoin wallet” software. When a purchase is made, the software digitally posts the transaction to a global public ledger. This prevents the same unit of virtual currency from being used multiple times.
Questions about the tax impact of virtual currency abound. And the IRS has yet to offer much guidance. The IRS did establish in a 2014 ruling that bitcoin and other convertible virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal income tax purposes. This means that businesses accepting bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received, measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.
When a business uses virtual currency to pay wages, the wages are taxable to the employees to the extent any other wage payment would be. You must, for example, report such wages on your employees’ W-2 forms. And they’re subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received by the employee.
When a business uses virtual currency to pay independent contractors or other service providers, those payments are also taxable to the recipient. The self-employment tax rules generally apply, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received. Payers generally must issue 1099-MISC forms to recipients. Finally, payments made with virtual currency are subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.
Deciding whether to go virtual
Accepting bitcoin can be beneficial because it may avoid transaction fees charged by credit card companies and online payment providers (such as PayPal) and attract customers who want to use virtual currency. But the IRS is targeting virtual currency transactions in an effort to raise tax revenue, and it hasn’t issued much guidance on the tax treatment or reporting requirements. So bitcoin can also be a bit risky from a tax perspective.
Give us a call to learn more about tax considerations when deciding whether your business should accept bitcoin or other virtual currencies — or use them to pay employees, independent contractors or other service providers
Be aware of the tax consequences before selling your home
In many parts of the country, summer is peak season for selling a home, and most areas have seen significant price appreciation in recent years. 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.
IRS Audit Techniques Guides provide clues to what may come up if your business is audited
IRS examiners use Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) to prepare for audits — and so can small business owners. Many ATGs target specific industries, such as construction. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation and fringe benefits. These publications can provide valuable insights into issues that might surface if your business is audited.
What do ATGs cover? The IRS compiles information obtained from past examinations of taxpayers and publishes its findings in ATGs. Typically, these publications explain: • The nature of the industry or issue,• Accounting methods commonly used in an industry,• Relevant audit examination techniques, • Common and industry-specific compliance issues, • Business practices, • Industry terminology, and • Sample interview questions. By using a specific ATG, an examiner may, for example, be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the taxpayer resides.
What do ATGs advise? ATGs cover the types of documentation IRS examiners should request from taxpayers and what relevant information might be uncovered during a tour of the business premises. These guides are intended in part to help examiners identify potential sources of income that could otherwise slip through the cracks. Other issues that ATGs might instruct examiners to inquire about include: • Internal controls (or lack of controls),• The sources of funds used to start the business,• A list of suppliers and vendors,• The availability of business records, • Names of individual(s) responsible for maintaining business records,• Nature of business operations (for example, hours and days open),• Names and responsibilities of employees,• Names of individual(s) with control over inventory, and• Personal expenses paid with business funds.
For example, one ATG focuses specifically on cash-intensive businesses, such as auto repair shops, check-cashing operations, gas stations, liquor stores, restaurants and bars, and salons. It highlights the importance of reviewing cash receipts and cash register tapes for these types of businesses. Cash-intensive businesses may be tempted to underreport their cash receipts, but franchised operations may have internal controls in place to deter such “skimming.” For instance, a franchisee may be required to purchase products or goods from the franchisor, which provides a paper trail that can be used to verify sales records. Likewise, for gas stations, examiners must check the methods of determining income, rebates and other incentives. Restaurants and bars should be asked about net profits compared to the industry average, spillage, pouring averages and tipping. Avoiding red flags Although ATGs were created to enhance IRS examiner proficiency, they also can help small businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise red flags with the IRS.
To access the complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website. And for more information on the IRS red flags that may be relevant to your business, give us a call.
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.
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. 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.
Tax record retention guidelines for individuals
What 2017 tax records can you toss once you’ve filed your 2017 return? The answer is simple: none. You need to hold on to all of your 2017 tax records for now. But it’s the perfect time to go through old tax records and see what you can discard.
The 3-year and 6-year rules
At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you potentially can get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2014 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2014 return, hold on to your records at least until the three-year anniversary of your extended due date.)
However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%. What constitutes an understatement may go beyond simply not reporting items of income. So a common rule of thumb is to save tax records for six years from filing, just to be safe.
What to keep longer
You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records beyond the statute of limitations: Keep tax returns themselves forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed a legitimate return. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one. Hold on to W-2 forms until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Questions might arise regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year, and your W-2 could provide the documentation needed. Retain records related to real estate or investments as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return (or six years if you want to be extra safe). Keep records associated with retirement accounts until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years.
We’ve covered retention guidelines for some of the most common tax-related records. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.
A net operating loss on your 2017 tax return isn’t all bad news
When a company’s deductible expenses exceed its income, generally a net operating loss (NOL) occurs. If when filing your 2017 income tax return you found that your business had an NOL, there is an upside: tax benefits. But beware — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes some significant changes to the tax treatment of NOLs.
Under Pre-TCJA, when a business incurs an NOL, the loss can be carried back up to two years, and then any remaining amount can be carried forward up to 20 years. The carryback can generate an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow. The business can, however, elect instead to carry the entire loss forward. If cash flow is strong, this may be more beneficial, such as if the business’s income increases substantially, pushing it into a higher tax bracket — or if tax rates increase. In both scenarios, the carryforward can save more taxes than the carryback because deductions are more powerful when higher tax rates apply.
However, the TCJA has established a flat 21% tax rate for C corporation taxpayers beginning with the 2018 tax year, and the rate has no expiration date. So C corporations don’t have to worry about being pushed into a higher tax bracket unless Congress changes the corporate rates again.
Also keep in mind that the rules are more complex for pass-through entities, such as partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (if they elected partnership tax treatment). Each owner’s allocable share of the entity’s loss is passed through to the owners and reported on their personal returns. The tax benefit depends on each owner’s particular tax situation.
The TCJA changes The changes the TCJA made to the tax treatment of NOLs generally aren’t favorable to taxpayers: * For NOLs arising in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, a qualifying NOL can’t be carried back at all. This may be especially detrimental to start-up businesses, which tend to generate NOLs in their early years and can greatly benefit from the cash-flow boost of a carried-back NOL. (On the plus side, the TCJA allows NOLs to be carried forward indefinitely, as opposed to the previous 20-year limit.)* For NOLs arising in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, an NOL carryforward generally can’t be used to shelter more than 80% of taxable income in the carryforward year. (Under prior law, generally up to 100% could be sheltered.)
The differences between the effective dates for these changes may have been a mistake, and a technical correction might be made by Congress. Also be aware that, in the case of pass-through entities, owners’ tax benefits from the entity’s net loss might be further limited under the TCJA’s new “excess business loss” rules. Complicated rules get more complicated NOLs can provide valuable tax benefits. The rules, however, have always been complicated, and the TCJA has complicated them further. Please contact us if you’d like more information on the NOL rules and how you can maximize the tax benefit of an NOL. © 2018
Defer tax with a Section 1031 exchange, but new limits apply this year
Normally when appreciated business assets such as real estate are sold, tax is owed on the appreciation. But there’s a way to defer this tax: a Section 1031 “like kind” exchange. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces the types of property eligible for this favorable tax treatment.
What is a like-kind exchange?
Prior to 2018 Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allowed you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property.
This technique is especially flexible for real estate, because virtually any type of real estate will be considered to be of a like kind, as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall. Deferred and reverse exchanges.
Although a like-kind exchange may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance. When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property.
To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer. An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days.
Changes under the TCJA
There had been some concern that tax reform would include the elimination of like-kind exchanges. The good news is that the TCJA still generally allows tax-deferred like-kind exchanges of business and investment real estate. But there’s also some bad news: For 2018 and beyond, the TCJA eliminates tax-deferred like-kind exchange treatment for exchanges of personal property. However, prior-law rules that allow like-kind exchanges of personal property still apply if one leg of an exchange was completed by December 31, 2017, but one leg remained open on that date. Keep in mind that exchanged personal property must be of the same asset or product class.
The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. If you’re exploring a like-kind exchange, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re in compliance with the rules.
5 estate planning tips for the sandwich generation
The “sandwich generation” accounts for a large segment of the population. These are people who find themselves caring for both their children and their parents at the same time. In some cases, this includes providing parents with financial support. As a result, estate planning — which traditionally focuses on providing for one’s children — has expanded in many cases to include aging parents as well.
Including your parents as beneficiaries of your estate plan raises a number of complex issues. Here are five tips to consider:
1. Plan for long-term care (LTC). The annual cost of LTC can reach well into six figures. These expenses aren’t covered by traditional health insurance policies or Medicare. To prevent LTC expenses from devouring your parents’ resources, work with them to develop a plan for funding their health care needs through LTC insurance or other investments.
2. Make gifts. One of the simplest ways to help your parents financially is to make cash gifts to them. If gift and estate taxes are a concern, you can take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion, which allows you to give each parent up to $15,000 per year without triggering taxes.
3. Pay medical expenses. You can pay an unlimited amount of medical expenses on your parents’ behalf, without tax consequences, so long as you make the payments directly to medical providers.
4. Set up trusts. There are many trust-based strategies you can use to financially assist your parents. For example, in the event you predecease your parents, your estate plan might establish a trust for their benefit, with any remaining assets passing to your children when your parents die.
5. Buy your parents’ home. If your parents have built up significant equity in their home, consider buying it and leasing it back to them. This arrangement allows your parents to tap their home equity without moving out while providing you with valuable tax deductions for mortgage interest, depreciation, maintenance and other expenses. To avoid negative tax consequences, be sure to pay a fair price for the home (supported by a qualified appraisal) and charge your parents fair-market rent.
As you review these and other options for providing financial assistance to your aging parents, try not to overdo it. If you give your parents too much, these assets could end up back in your estate and potentially exposed to gift or estate taxes. Also, keep in mind that some gifts could disqualify your parents from certain federal or state government benefits. Contact your estate planning attorney to review how these ideas would fit within your estate plan.
A joint home purchase can ease estate tax liability
f you’re planning on buying a home that you one day wish to pass on to your adult children, a joint purchase can reduce estate tax liability, provided the children have sufficient funds to finance their portion of the purchase. With the gift and estate tax exemption now set at an inflation-adjusted $10 million thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, federal estate taxes are less of a concern for most families. However, the high exemption amount is only temporary, and there’s state estate tax risk to consider. Oregon's estate tax exemption is $1,000,000 and Washington's estate tax exemption is $2,000,000.
Current and remainder interests The joint purchase technique is based on the concept that property can be divided not only into pieces, but also over time: One person (typically of an older generation) buys a current interest in the property and the other person (typically of a younger generation) buys the remainder interest. A remainder interest is simply the right to enjoy the property after the current interest ends. If the current interest is a life interest, the remainder interest begins when the owner of the current interest dies.
Joint purchases offer several advantages. The older owner enjoys the property for life, and his or her purchase price is reduced by the value of the remainder interest. The younger owner pays only a fraction of the property’s current value and receives the entire property when the older owner dies. Best of all, if both owners pay fair market value for their respective interests, the transfer from one generation to the next should be free of gift and estate taxes. The relative values of the life and remainder interests are determined using IRS tables that take into account the age of the life-interest holder and the applicable federal rate (the Section 7520 rate), which is set monthly by the federal government.
There are some downsides. The younger owner must buy the remainder interest with his or her own funds. Also, while the tax basis of inherited property is “stepped up” to its date-of-death value, a remainder interest holder’s basis is equal to his or her purchase price. This step-up in basis allows the heir to avoid capital gains tax on appreciation that occurred while the deceased held the property. But, in most cases where estate tax is a concern, the estate tax savings will far outweigh any capital gains tax liability. That’s because the highest capital gains rate generally is significantly lower than the highest estate tax rate.
In a world where many estate planning techniques can be complicated, a joint purchase isn’t. Contact us with any questions.
The Latest Tax Scam
Here's a link to the lastest scam. It involves erroneous refunds.
Your 2017 tax return may be your last chance to take the “manufacturers’ deduction”
While many provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will save businesses tax, the new naw also reduces or eliminates some tax breaks for businesses. One break it eliminates is the Section 199 deduction, commonly referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction.” When it’s available, this potentially valuable tax break can be claimed by many types of businesses beyond just manufacturing companies. Under the TCJA, 2017 is the last tax year noncorporate taxpayers can take the deduction (2018 for C corporation taxpayers).
The basics: The Sec. 199 deduction, also called the “domestic production activities deduction,” is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts (DPGR).
Yes, the deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible. The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax.
Calculating DPGR: To determine a company’s Sec. 199 deduction, its qualified production activities income must be calculated. This is the amount of DPGR exceeding the cost of goods sold and other expenses allocable to that DPGR. Most companies will need to allocate receipts between those that qualify as DPGR and those that don’t unless less than 5% of receipts aren’t attributable to DPGR.
DPGR can come from a number of activities, including the construction of real property in the United States, as well as engineering or architectural services performed stateside to construct real property. It also can result from the lease, rental, licensing or sale of qualifying production property, such as tangible personal property (for example, machinery and office equipment), computer software, and master copies of sound recordings.
The property must have been manufactured, produced, grown or extracted in whole or “significantly” within the United States. While each situation is assessed on its merits, the IRS has said that, if the labor and overhead incurred in the United States accounted for at least 20% of the total cost of goods sold, the activity typically qualifies.
Give us a call to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2017 return. We can also help address any questions you may have about other business tax breaks that have been reduced or eliminated by the TCJA.
Home Equity Interest No Longer Deductible
Based on questions we’ve received from clients there is some confusion about the new rules for deducting home equity interest under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Starting in 2018 you can only deduct purchase mortgage interest. As of 1-1-18 you can no longer deduct interest paid on home equity debt. Home equity debt is a debt on your residence that was not used to purchase or improve your residence. For example, using a home equity credit line to purchase a car. Purchase mortgage interest is interest on debt that was used to purchase or improve your residence.
What can be confusing is that home equity debt is determined by what the money was used for, not the type of loan. A home equity credit line used 100% to remodel your home will continue to be deductible in 2018. And if you’ve refinanced your primary mortgage in the past and taken out cash that was not used to improve your residence then some of the interest on your primary mortgage will not be deductible starting in 2018.
There are also new limits on the total amount of purchase mortgage interest you can deduct. For debt incurred before 12-14-17 you can deduct the interest on purchase mortgage debt up to $1,000,000 in loan balance. For debt incurred after 12-14-17 you can only deduct interest on purchase mortgage debt up to $750,000.
This is a very brief overview of the rules. Contact us if you’d like to discuss in more detail.
How Will The US Goverment Shut Down Affect You?
If you haven't yet filed your 2017 Tax Return the US government shut down should have little or no impact on you.
If you have filed your tax return the major impact will be a suspension of processing refunds.
Processing of amended income tax returns and related refunds will also be suspended during the shut down period.
Most taxpayer support services will be suspended during the shut down. So telephone inquiries about tax law and collections will not be answered during the shut down period.
Let's hope our elected officials can come to some sort of agreement quickly to resolve this situation.
Are All Your Employees Legal?
This recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the importance of keeping accurate records regarding your employees' legal status to work in the United States. An I-9 form must be kept on file for all current employees and for 3 years after an employee leaves. We recommend keeping a copy of the supporting documents provided by employees to support the I-9 form.
An extra step you might consider to ensure an employee's legal status is to use the E-Verify system administered by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.
Immigration Officials Swarm 7-Elevens, Issue Warning to U.S. Businesses http://on.wsj.com/2mk7ijd
Tax Reform Business Year End Planning - Things To Do Before 12-30-17
This post covers the changes that will affect business tax returns with suggestions of a few things you can do before year end related to the new tax law.
While most of the provisions won’t go into effect until 2018, you can take a couple of steps now to minimize your total tax bill for 2017.
1) Consider purchasing assets that may qualify for 100% bonus depreciation or the Section 179 expensing election.
2) Deferring income into 2018 is especially relevant this year since many businesses and individuals are expected to have lower marginal tax rates next year under the new bill.
3) Accelerating deductions into 2017 is especially relevant this year since many businesses and individuals are expected to have lower marginal tax rates next year under the new bill.
4) If you think your business will have a net operating loss (NOL) for 2017 try and push as many deductions as possible into the 2017 tax year as starting in 2018, the carryback for NOLs is eliminated and the deduction for NOL carryforwards is limited to 80% of taxable income.
Below are the items in the new tax bill that will affect your business tax return. We’ve not included any of the tax law changes that would only affect larger business taxpayers.
The corporate tax rate changes to a flat 21%. If your corporate taxable income was mostly in the 15% federal tax bracket (under $50,000) this will increase your corporate income tax. If your corporate taxable income was higher than $95,000, you should have a decrease in your federal corporate tax. If your business isn’t taxed as a C Corporation, this doesn’t apply to you.
The corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) has been repealed. The individual AMT was not repealed. If your business isn’t taxed as a C Corporation, this doesn’t apply to you.
The 80% Dividends Received Deduction (DRD) has been reduced to 65% and the 70% DRD has been reduced to 50%. If your business isn’t taxed as a C Corporation, this doesn’t apply to you.
The maximum Section 179 deduction has increased to $1,000,000.
For the next five years businesses can deduct 100% of all fixed asset acquisitions (other than certain motor vehicles and most real estate). This provision applies to all assets acquired after September 27, 2017.
The threshold for businesses being allowed to use the cash basis of accounting has increased to $25,000,000.
The exception for businesses having to use the completed contract method of accounting for long term contracts has also been increased to $25,000,000.
Tax Reform Year End Planning - Things To Do Before 12-30-17.
I’m sure the last thing you want to be doing this Christmas weekend is reading about tax reform. However, Congress has just passed, and the President will soon sign the largest tax reform package since 1986 and there are number of things that you may want to do before December 31, 2017 to deal with the changes that will take affect in 2018.
We’ve listed below a detailed analysis of the individual tax changes, but wanted to give you a few items we feel are time sensitive. Starting with 2018 tax returns the new tax bill limits the deduction for state and local income and property taxes (SALT) to $10,000. This $10,000 SALT limit is the same whether you are single or married. Miscellaneous itemized deductions (investment fees, unions dues, employee business expenses, tax prep fees, etc.) are eliminated. It also increases the standard deduction to $12,000 for a single taxpayer and $24,000 for a married couple. This means that many people who previously itemized will no longer be able to do so.
Here are things you can do in preparation for the new tax situation:
1) If the total of your state income taxes and property taxes are normally more than $10,000 and you will have significant 2017 state income tax due on April 17, 2018 you should pay it before December 31, 2017.
2) If you have an outstanding property tax bill you should pay it before December 31, 2017.
3) If you normally give large amounts to charity you may want to consider paying your 2018 contributions before December 31, 2017 to ensure you get the benefit of the deduction.
4) If possible, you should prepay any 2018 miscellaneous itemized deductions in 2017.
5) Pay your January 1, 2018 mortgage payment early so the payments posts to your account before 12-31-17.
6) Pay business and rental expenses before 12-31-17.
7) If possible, defer income to 2018.
Here is an overview of the items in the new tax bill that will affect your individual tax return. The recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is a sweeping tax package. Unless otherwise noted, the changes are effective for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.
· Tax rates. The new law imposes a new tax rate structure with seven tax brackets: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%. The top rate was reduced from 39.6% to 37% and applies to taxable income above $500,000 for single taxpayers, and $600,000 for married couples filing jointly. The rates applicable to net capital gains and qualified dividends were not changed. The “kiddie tax” rules were simplified. The net unearned income of a child subject to the rules will be taxed at the capital gain and ordinary income rates that apply to trusts and estates. Thus, the child's tax is unaffected by the parent's tax situation or the unearned income of any siblings.
· Standard deduction. The new law increases the standard deduction to $24,000 for joint filers, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for singles and married taxpayers filing separately. Given these increases, many taxpayers will no longer be itemizing deductions. These figures will be indexed for inflation after 2018.
· Exemptions. The new law suspends the deduction for personal exemptions. Thus, starting in 2018, taxpayers can no longer claim personal or dependency exemptions. The rules for withholding income tax on wages will be adjusted to reflect this change, but IRS was given the discretion to leave the withholding unchanged for 2018.
· New deduction for “qualified business income.” Starting in 2018, taxpayers are allowed a deduction equal to 20 percent of “qualified business income,” otherwise known as “pass-through” income, i.e., income from partnerships, S corporations, LLCs, and sole proprietorships. The income must be from a trade or business within the U.S. Investment income does not qualify, nor do amounts received from an S corporation as reasonable compensation or from a partnership as a guaranteed payment for services provided to the trade or business. The deduction is not used in computing adjusted gross income, just taxable income. For taxpayers with taxable income above $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), (1) a limitation based on W-2 wages paid by the business and depreciable tangible property used in the business is phased in, and (2) income from the following trades or businesses is phased out of qualified business income: health, law, consulting, athletics, financial or brokerage services, or where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more employees or owners.
· Child and family tax credit. The new law increases the credit for qualifying children (i.e., children under 17) to $2,000 from $1,000, and increases to $1,400 the refundable portion of the credit. It also introduces a new (nonrefundable) $500 credit for a taxpayer's dependents who are not qualifying children. The adjusted gross income level at which the credits begin to be phased out has been increased to $200,000 ($400,000 for joint filers).
· State and local taxes. The itemized deduction for state and local income and property taxes is limited to a total of $10,000 starting in 2018.
· Mortgage interest. Under the new law, mortgage interest on loans used to acquire a principal residence and a second home is only deductible on debt up to $750,000 (down from $1 million), starting with loans taken out in 2018. And there is no longer any deduction for interest on home equity loans, regardless of when the debt was incurred.
· Miscellaneous itemized deductions. There is no longer a deduction for miscellaneous itemized deductions which were formerly deductible to the extent they exceeded 2 percent of adjusted gross income. This category included items such as tax preparation costs, investment expenses, union dues, and unreimbursed employee expenses.
· Medical expenses. Under the new law, for 2017 and 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income for all taxpayers. Previously, the AGI “floor” was 10% for most taxpayers.
· Casualty and theft losses. The itemized deduction for casualty and theft losses has been suspended except for losses incurred in a federally declared disaster.
· Overall limitation on itemized deductions. The new law suspends the overall limitation on itemized deductions that formerly applied to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income exceeded specified thresholds. The itemized deductions of such taxpayers were reduced by 3% of the amount by which AGI exceeded the applicable threshold, but the reduction could not exceed 80% of the total itemized deductions, and certain items were exempt from the limitation.
· Moving expenses. The deduction for job-related moving expenses has been eliminated, except for certain military personnel. The exclusion from income for moving expense reimbursements has also been suspended.
· Alimony. For post-2018 divorce decrees and separation agreements, alimony will not be deductible by the paying spouse and will not be taxable to the receiving spouse.
· Health care “individual mandate.” Starting in 2019, there is no longer a penalty for individuals who fail to obtain minimum essential health coverage.
· Estate and gift tax exemption. Effective for decedents dying, and gifts made, in 2018, the estate and gift tax exemption has been increased to roughly $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples).
· Alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption. The AMT has been retained for individuals by the new law, but the exemption has been increased to $109,400 for joint filers ($54,700 for married taxpayers filing separately), and $70,300 for unmarried taxpayers. The exemption is phased out for taxpayers with alternative minimum taxable income over $1 million for joint filers, and over $500,000 for all others.
As you can see from this overview, the new law affects many areas of taxation. If you wish to discuss the impact of the law on your situation, please give us a call. Our office will be closed Friday December 22, 2017 for the Christmas holiday.
At this time of year, it’s common for businesses to make thank-you gifts to customers, employees and other business entities. Unfortunately, tax rules limit the deduction for business gifts to only $25 per person per year. But there are exceptions. Here are three: 1) gifts to a company for use in the business, 2) incidental costs of making a gift, such as engraving or shipping, and 3) gifts to employees (though other limits apply and they may be treated as taxable compensation). Be sure to properly track and document qualifying expenses.
Don't Forget Your Fur Baby In Your Estate Plan
To ensure that your pet is cared for after your death, consider creating a pet trust. It allows you to set aside funds for the animal’s care. After the pet dies, any remaining funds are distributed among your heirs as directed by the trust’s terms.
Here’s how it works: You create the trust to take effect either during your lifetime or at death. Typically, a trustee will hold property for the benefit of your pet, and payments to a designated caregiver are made on a regular basis. The trust can also mandate periodic visits to the vet.
Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday the non-profit worlds equivalent to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In preparation for Giving Tuesday and other year end charitable contributions we'll review the IRS documentation requirements for charitable donations.
For cash donations of less than $250 you must have either a bank record or a written receipt from the charity acknowledging the donation.
For cash donations of $250 or more you must have a written receipt from the charity with the following wording or a close equivalent: "No goods or services were received in exchange for this receipt."
If goods or services were received, the charity must give the donor a good faith estimate of the value received. In this case you can only deduct the amount you gave in excess of the fair market value of goods or services received.
For non-cash (Goodwill, Habitat Restore, Salvation Army, etc.) donations the same rules apply. If your total non-cash donations exceed $500 you must also file an additional IRS form.
If you think your total non-cash donations will exceed $5,000 some special rules apply and you should check with us before making the donation.
New E-Mail Scam Targets Employers
Scammers are targeting employers by asking that copies of employee's I-9 forms be emailed to a phony U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) email address.
Employers must have an I-9 form on file for every employee. The I-9 form contains information that would be very valuable to identity theft criminals. There is no requirement to send these forms to USCIS. Any email requests for the forms can safely be ignored. Do not click on any links in these emails.
You can find more information about how long you need to retain I-9 forms and other questions at the USCIS web site.
Proposed Tax Law Chnges Will Affect S-Corporations
It’s not completely clear, but a provision on pages 49-52 of the House bill appears to require active owners of “S” corporations to allocate 70% of their flow-through income to ordinary tax rates, and subjects that amount to self-employment tax. In addition, “S” corporations that are personal service type businesses in the fields of healthcare, engineering, architecture, law, accounting, consulting, performing arts or actuaries would have to pay SE tax on 100% of flow-through income. The House bill also removes the limited partner exemption from self-employment tax.
Shredding Week - December 11 to December 15, 2017
As a service to our clients we offer our Thirteenth annual shredding week. It will be the second full week in December (December 11-15) this year.
If you have old tax returns or other financial documents that you need to shred please bring them by our office between 9:00AM and 5:00PM on Monday December 11th thru Friday December 15th and we will have it shredded for you at no charge. Bring as much as you want, but if you are bringing large quantities please call and let us know so we can make sure our shredders bring a big enough truck.
Tax Reform Summary - Business Proposals
The largest changes to income tax law since 1986 as proposed are listed below. The stated goal is to have the bill passed by Thanksgiving, so it is important to give feedback to your representatives as soon as possible.
The proposed business tax law changes are not as dramatic as those impacting individual tax returns. The drop in corporate income tax rates and pass-through entity income rates is the most significant. The elimination of the domestic production activity deduction would also affect a significant number of our clients.
1. Maximum corporate tax rates would be reduced to 20% from 35%. For a personal service corporation, the maximum rate would be 25%.
2. Dividends received by a domestic corporation from a specified 10%-owned foreign corporation would be allowed as a deduction in an amount equal to the foreign-source portion of such dividend.
3. A portion of net income distributed by a pass-through entity to an owner or shareholder would be treated as “business income” subject to a maximum rate of 25%. Provisions are included to guard against reclassifying wages as business income to utilize the lower rate.
4. The 100% bonus depreciation (§168(k)) would be extended through Dec. 31, 2022.
5. Section 179 expensing would be increased to $5,000,000 for taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2023. A phase-out would apply if the business places in service more than $20,000,000 of §179 property during the taxable year.
6. The gross receipts test on the use of the cash method of accounting by a corporation or partnership with a corporate partner would be increased to $25,000,000.
7. Interest deduction would be limited for large corporations and partnerships. Businesses with gross receipts of less than $25,000,000 would be exempt.
8. The NOL carryback would be eliminated except for a one-year carryback for eligible disaster losses. The NOL carryforward would be indefinite (currently 20 years) but limited to 90% of taxable income (like AMT limitation now.).
9. Section 199 deduction for income attributable to domestic production activities would be repealed.
10. Self-created property (patent, invention, design, formula, or process) would not be treated as a capital asset.
11. Incentive stock options would be treated like non-qualified stock options (taxed at exercise unless subject to forfeiture or §83(b) election).
12. Section 1031 would apply to real property exchanges only.
13. Rehabilitation credit, work opportunity credit, and disabled access credit would be repealed.
14. No tax-exempt bonds could be issued for professional stadiums.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss the proposals in more detail.
Tax Reform Summary - Individual Proposals
The largest changes to income tax law since 1986 as proposed are listed below. The stated goal is to have the bill passed by Thanksgiving, so it is important to give feedback to your representatives as soon as possible
While the changes in tax rates listed below and elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax may reduce your taxes the elimination of deductions and credits could also increase your taxes.
Since most of our clients live in either Oregon or California we think the biggest impact will come from the elimination of the state income tax deduction. The limit on the property tax deduction to $10,000 will also impact many of our clients. The elimination of the gain exclusion on the sale of your residence if your AGI is over $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing seperately) could impact some of our clients.
Summary of proposed changes that would affect individual taxpayers:
1. Individual rates would be compressed from the current 7 brackets to 4 brackets: 12%, 25%, 35%, and 39.6%.
2. Personal exemptions would be eliminated.
3. The child tax credit would be increased from $1,000 to $1,600 for a qualifying child. The refundable portion would remain $1,000. A $300 credit would be added for the taxpayer and spouse and other dependents to 2023. The phase-out for the credits would be increased to $115,000 for single and $230,000 for MFJ (currently $75,000 and $110,000, respectively.)
4. The standard deduction would be increased to $12,2002 single, $18,300 HOH and
$24,400 MFJ. The additional standard deduction for the elderly and the blind would be repealed.
5. The phaseout of itemized deductions would be repealed.
6. AMT would be repealed. AMT credit carryovers would reduce regular tax in 2018, and then become 50% refundable 2019–2021. Any unused AMT credit carryover would be 100% refundable in 2022.
7. For sales and exchanges after Dec. 31, 2017, §121 exclusion of gain on the sale of a personal residence would be modified to require that the home be owned and used for five of the last eight years. Section 121 would be modified to phase-out the exclusion based on AGI above $250,000 ($500,000 MFJ).
8. The credits for adoption and plug-in electric vehicles would be repealed.
9. The exclusions for employee achievement awards, dependent care assistance programs, moving expense reimbursement, and adoption assistance programs would be repealed.
10. Education credits would be consolidated into an enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The AOTC would remain the same at 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000. The AOTC would be available for five years (the fifth year at ½ the rate of the first four years.)
11. The deduction for interest on student loans would be repealed. The exclusion for interest on US savings bonds used for higher education expenses would be repealed. The exclusion for employer provided education assistance programs would be repealed.
12. The special rule permitting a recharacterization of Roth IRA contributions as traditional IRA contributions would be repealed.
13. The moving expense deduction would be repealed.
14. The alimony paid deduction would be repealed for agreements executed after Dec. 31, 2017. There would be a corresponding repeal of the provisions providing inclusion of alimony in gross income.
15. The medical expense deduction and the deduction for state and local taxes would be repealed.
16. The mortgage interest deduction would be reduced from acquisition debt amounts of $1,000,000 to $500,000 for new home purchases on or after Nov. 2, 2017. Interest on home equity borrowing after the effective date of the law would be repealed.
17. Mortgage interest deduction would be limited to one qualified residence.
18. The 50% AGI limitation on cash contributions to public charities and certain private foundations would be increased to 60%.
19. Charity mileage would be indexed for inflation (finally.)
20. Miscellaneous itemized deductions for employee business expenses, personal casualty losses, and tax preparation fees would be repealed.
21. The exclusion for housing provided for the convenience of an employer and for employees of educational institutions would be limited to $50,000 and would phase-out beginning at AGI of $120,000. The exclusion would be limited to one residence.
22. The estate, gift, and generation skipping transfer tax exemption amount would be increased to $10,000,000 for decedents dying after Dec. 31, 2017. Estate taxes would be repealed after Dec. 31, 2023.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss the proposal in more detail.
Tax Reform Proposal Release Delayed Until Tomorrow
It was announced this morning that the release of the GOP tax reform proposal will be delayed until tomorrow. The announced goal is still to pass the bill in both house and senate by Thanksgiving. So now taxpayers and their advisors will have 21 days to evaluate the most massive revision to the income tax code since 1986. For perspective the 1986 revision took 13 months to negotiate.
Tax Reform Timeline Is Tight
The GOP is proposing the most significant changes to the Federal tax code in a generation. They have said they will release their proposal on November 1st with a goal of passing it in both houses and sending it to the president by Thanksgiving. This is not a lot of time for tax professionals and taxpayers to review the proposed changes and evaluate the impact on individual and business returns. We will try and get information to our clients as soon as possible after the proposal is presented, but I would ask the GOP to consider giving interested parties more than 22 days to evaluate this massive overhaul to our tax system.
Who Should Own Your Life Insurance Policy?
If you own life insurance policies at your death, the proceeds will be included in your taxable estate. Ownership is usually determined by several factors, including who has the right to name the beneficiaries of the proceeds.
The way around this problem is to not own the policies when you die. However, don’t automatically rule out your ownership either. And it’s important to keep in mind the current uncertain future of the estate tax. If the estate tax is repealed (or if someone doesn’t have a large enough estate that estate taxes are a concern), then the inclusion of your policy in your estate is a nonissue. However, there may be nontax reasons for not owning the policy yourself.
Plus and minuses of different owners: To choose the best owner, consider why you want the insurance. Do you want to replace income? Provide liquidity? Or transfer wealth to your heirs? And how important are tax implications, flexibility, control, and cost and ease of administration?
Let’s take a closer look at four types of owners:
1. You or your spouse. There are several nontax benefits to your ownership, primarily relating to flexibility and control. The biggest drawback is estate tax risk. Ownership by you or your spouse generally works best when your combined assets, including insurance, won’t place either of your estates into a taxable situation.
2. Your children. Ownership by your children works best when your primary goal is to pass wealth to them. On the plus side, proceeds aren’t subject to estate tax on your or your spouse’s death, and your children receive all of the proceeds tax-free. On the minus side, policy proceeds are paid to your children outright. This may not be in accordance with your estate plan objectives and may be especially problematic if a child has creditor problems.
3. Your business. Company ownership or sponsorship of insurance on your life can work well when you have cash flow concerns related to paying premiums. Company sponsorship can allow premiums to be paid in part or in whole by the business under a split-dollar arrangement. But if you’re the controlling shareholder of the company and the proceeds are payable to a beneficiary other than the business, the proceeds could be included in your estate for estate tax purposes.
4. An ILIT. A properly structured irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) could save you estate taxes on any insurance proceeds. The trust owns the policy and pays the premiums. When you die, the proceeds pass into the trust and aren’t included in your estate. The trust can be structured to provide benefits to your surviving spouse and/or other beneficiaries.
Please contact us if you'd like to discuss your particular situation in more detail
There IS Such A Thing As A Free Lunch. Great Post From One Of Our Favorite Tax Bloggers
From Larry's Tax Blog by Larry Brant: http://www.gsblaw.com/larry-s-tax-law/US-Tax-Court-Rule-Jacobs-v-Commissioner