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2 More Ways Parents Are Benefitting From the American Rescue Plan Act & Revisiting Worker Classification Rules

2 More Ways Parents Are Benefitting From the American Rescue Plan Act

When you think back on this spring, you may fondly recall a substantial deposit made to your bank account by the federal government (if you were eligible). Economic Impact Payments were a focal point of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March, and the payments were even larger for parents with dependent children. But ARPA contains two other provisions that benefit parents:

1. Child credit expansion and advance payments. For 2021, this refundable tax credit has been increased from $2,000 to $3,000 per child — $3,600 for children under six years of age. In addition, qualifying children now include 17-year-olds.

The child credit is subject to modified adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout rules and begins to phase out when MAGI exceeds:

  • $400,000 for married couples who file a joint return, and
  • $200,000 for other taxpayers.

The increased credit amount ($1,000 or $1,600) is subject to lower income phaseouts than the ones that apply to the first $2,000 of the credit. The increased amount begins to phase out when MAGI exceeds:

  • $150,000 for joint filers,
  • $112,500 for heads of household, and
  • $75,000 for other taxpayers.

ARPA also calls for the IRS to make periodic advance payments of the child credit totaling 50% of the estimated 2021 credit amount. The IRS has announced the payments will begin on July 15, 2021. They’ll then be made on the 15th of each month (unless the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday).

Recipients will receive the monthly payments through direct deposit, paper check or debit cards. The IRS says that it is committed to maximizing the use of direct deposit.

2. Child and dependent care break increases. For 2021, the amount of qualifying expenses for the refundable child and dependent care credit has been increased to:

    1. $8,000 (from $3,000) if there’s one qualifying care individual, and

    2. $16,000 (from $6,000) if there are two or more such individuals.

The maximum percentage of qualifying expenses for which credit is allowed has been increased from 35% to 50%. So the credit ultimately is worth up to $4,000 or $8,000. But the credit is subject to an income-based phaseout beginning at household income levels exceeding $125,000.

The amount you can contribute to a child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA, also sometimes referred to as a “dependent care assistance program”) also has been increased. For 2021, it’s $10,500 (up from $5,000 for 2020). The FSA pays or reimburses you for these expenses. But you can’t claim a tax credit for expenses paid by or reimbursed through an FSA.


Revisiting Worker Classification Rules

Over the last year, many companies have experienced workforce fluctuations and have engaged independent contractors to address staffing needs. In May, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it had withdrawn the previous administration’s independent contractor rule that had been scheduled to go into effect earlier this year. That rule generally would have made it easier to classify certain workers as independent contractors for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and thus make them ineligible for minimum wage and other FLSA protections.

While worker classification for DOL purposes isn’t necessarily the same for IRS purposes, now is a good time to revisit the federal tax implications of worker classification.

Tax obligations

The question of whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee for federal income and employment tax purposes is a complex one. If a worker is an employee, the company must withhold federal income and payroll taxes, and pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes on the wages, plus FUTA tax. And there may be state tax obligations as well.

These obligations don’t apply if a worker is an independent contractor. In that case, the business simply sends the contractor a Form 1099-NEC for the year showing the amount paid (if the amount is $600 or more).

No uniform definition

The IRS and courts have generally ruled that individuals are employees if the organization they work for has the right to control and direct them in the jobs they’re performing. Otherwise, the individuals are generally independent contractors, though other factors are considered.

Some employers that have misclassified workers as independent contractors may get some relief from employment tax liabilities under Internal Revenue Code Section 530. In general, this protection applies only if an employer filed all federal returns consistent with its treatment of a worker as a contractor and treated all similarly situated workers as contractors.

The employer must also have a “reasonable basis” for not treating the worker as an employee. For example, a “reasonable basis” exists if a significant segment of the employer’s industry traditionally treats similar workers as contractors. (Note: Sec. 530 doesn't apply to certain types of technical services workers. And some categories of individuals are subject to special rules because of their occupations or identities.)

Asking for a determination

Under certain circumstances, you may want to ask the IRS (on Form SS-8) to rule on whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. However, be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Consult a CPA before filing Form SS-8 because doing so may alert the IRS that your company has worker classification issues — and inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit. It may be better to ensure you are properly treating a worker as an independent contractor so that the relationship complies with the tax rules.

Latest developments

With growth in the “gig” economy and other changes to the ways Americans are working, the question of who is an independent contractor and who is an employee will likely continue to evolve. Stay tuned for the latest developments and contact us for any help you may need with worker classification.


Archive of Past Monthly Newsletters

May 2021 3 Things to Know After Filing Your Tax Return & The Tax Treatment of Start-up Expenses

3 Things to Know After Filing Your Tax Return

Given that it’s after April 15, normally most people would have filed their income tax return by now. But with the deadline for filing 2020 individual returns pushed out to May 17, you might not have filed yours quite yet. Or you might be taking advantage of extending your return to Oct. 15. Whenever you file, here are three important things to keep in mind afterwards:

1. You can check on your refund. The IRS has an online tool that can tell you the status of your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status.” You’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.

2. You can file an amended return if you forgot to report something. In general, you can file an amended tax return and claim a refund within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. But if you filed before the deadline (without regard to extensions), you typically have until three years from the deadline to file an amended return.

There are a few opportunities when you have longer to file an amended return. For example, the statute of limitations for bad debts is longer than the usual three-year time limit for most items on your tax return. In general, you can amend your tax return to claim a bad debt for seven years from the due date of the tax return for the year that the debt became worthless.

3. You can throw out some old tax records. You should keep tax records related to your return for as long as the IRS can audit your return or assess additional taxes. The statute of limitations is generally three years after you file your return.

That means you can probably dispose of most tax-related records for the 2017 tax year and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2017 return, hold on to your records until at least three years from when you filed the extended return.) However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%.

You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records longer. For example, keep actual tax returns indefinitely so you can prove to the IRS that you filed legitimately. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.)

Keep records associated with retirement accounts until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years. And retain records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return. (Keep these records for six years if you want to be extra safe.)

Always available

Contact us if you have further questions about your refund, filing an amended return or record retention. We’re here all year!


The Tax Treatment of Start-up Expenses

With the economy improving, many business owners and entrepreneurs may decide to launch new enterprises. If you’re among them, be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your tax liability.

General rules

Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one. Under the Internal Revenue Code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins.

As you know, $5,000 doesn’t get you very far today! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.

In addition, no start-up deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to begin earning revenue. To determine whether a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?

Applicable expenses

In general, start-up expenses include all amounts you spend to investigate creating or acquiring a business, launching the enterprise, or engaging in a for-profit activity while anticipating the activity will become an active business.

To be eligible for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To qualify as an “organization expense,” the expenditure must be related to creating a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

Thinking ahead

If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.

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Apr 2021 ARPA Provides More Than Just Direct Payments to Taxpayers & Can Your Business Benefit From the Enhanced Employee Retention Credit?

ARPA Provides More Than Just Direct Payments to Taxpayers

On March 11, another round of COVID-19 relief legislation was signed into law. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) includes funding for individuals, businesses, and state and local governments, but also some significant tax-related provisions.

ARPA extends and expands some tax provisions in the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and also includes some new tax-related provisions.

A quick look

Here’s a quick look at some of the tax provisions that may affect you:

Individuals

  • Recovery rebates of up to $1,400 for singles and heads of households and $2,800 for married couples filing jointly — plus $1,400 per qualifying dependent (including adult dependents) — subject to adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseouts starting at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of households and $150,000 for joint filers and ending at $80,000, $120,000 and $160,000, respectively
  • Increased Child credit, including advance payments of part of the credit later this year
  • Expanded child and dependent care tax credit
  • Tax-free treatment of forgiven student loan debt
  • Exclusion from gross income of the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits received

Businesses and other employers

  • Extended and expanded tax credits for retaining employees, through Dec. 31, 2021
  • Extended and modified payroll tax credits for paid sick and family leave, through Sept. 30, 2021
  • Extended excess business loss limitation, through Dec. 31, 2026
  • Expansion of the Section 162(m) limits on the tax deduction public companies can take for executive compensation to cover the CEO, the CFO and the five next highest paid employees, beginning in 2027

How will you benefit?

This is just a brief overview of the tax-related provisions of ARPA. Additional rules and limits apply. Contact your tax advisor for more details on these provisions and how you might benefit.


Can Your Business Benefit From the Enhanced Employee Retention Credit?

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have had to shut down or reduce operations, causing widespread furloughs and layoffs. Fortunately, employers that have kept workers on their payrolls may be eligible for a refundable employee retention credit. Three laws have created, extended and enhanced the credit.

The original law

The CARES Act created the employee retention credit in March of 2020. The credit originally:

  • Equaled 50% of qualified employee wages paid by an eligible employer in an applicable 2020 calendar quarter,
  • Was subject to an overall wage cap of $10,000 per eligible employee, and
  • Was available to eligible large and small employers.

The credit covered wages paid from March 13, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020.

What’s changed

The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law in December of 2020, extended the covered wage period to include the first two calendar quarters of 2021, ending on June 30, 2021. And now the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law on March 11, has extended it again through Dec. 31, 2021.

In addition, for the first two quarters of 2021, the CAA increased the overall covered wage ceiling to 70% of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter. And it increased the per-employee covered wage ceiling to $10,000 of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus a $10,000 annual ceiling under the original rules). Because of the ARPA extension, these higher wage ceilings now apply to all four quarters of 2021.

Substantial tax savings

Additional rules and limits apply to the employee retention credit, and these are just some of the changes made to it. But the potential tax savings can be substantial. Contact your tax advisor for more information about this tax saving opportunity.

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Mar 2021 Claiming the Home Office Deduction & How the CAA Affects Education Funding

Claiming the Home Office Deduction

Many people have found themselves working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re one of them, you might wonder, “Can I claim the home office deduction on my 2020 tax return?”

The short answer is: Only if you’re self-employed. Employees can no longer claim home office expenses, and even self-employed taxpayers must follow strict rules to claim a deduction.

Copious write-offs

If you qualify, you can deduct the “direct expenses” of the home office. This includes the costs of painting or repairing the home office and depreciation deductions for furniture and fixtures used there. You can also deduct the “indirect” expenses of maintaining the office. This includes the allocable share of utility costs, depreciation and insurance for your home, as well as the allocable share of mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses.

Alternatively, you can use the simplified method for claiming the deduction — $5 per square foot for up to 300 square feet. Although you won’t be able to depreciate the portion of your home that’s used as an office, you can claim mortgage interest, property taxes and casualty losses as an itemized deduction to the extent otherwise allowable, without needing to apportion them between personal and business use of the home.

Deduction tests

You can deduct your expenses if you meet any of these three tests:

1. Principal place of business. You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and regularly, as your principal place of business. Your home office is your principal place of business if it satisfies one of two tests. You satisfy the “management or administrative activities test” if you use your home office for administrative or management activities of your business, and you meet certain other requirements. You meet the “relative importance test” if your home office is the most important place where you conduct business, compared with all the other locations where you conduct that business.

2. Meeting place. You’re entitled to home office deductions if you use your home office, exclusively and regularly, to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers. The patients, clients or customers must physically come to the office.

3. Separate structure. You’re entitled to home office deductions for a home office, used exclusively and regularly for business, that’s located in a separate unattached structure on the same property as your home. For example, this could be in an unattached garage, artist’s studio or workshop.

You may also be able to deduct the expenses of certain storage space for storing inventory or product samples. If you’re in the business of selling products at retail or wholesale, and if your home is your sole fixed business location, you can deduct home expenses allocable to space that you use to store inventory or product samples.

Limitations apply

The amount of home office deductions for self-employed taxpayers is subject to various limitations. Proper planning is key to claiming the maximum deduction for your home office expenses. Contact us if you’d like to discuss your situation.


How the CAA Affects Education Funding

The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law late last year, contains a multitude of provisions that may affect individuals. For example, if you’re planning to fund a college education or in the midst of paying for one, the CAA covers two important areas:

1. Student loans. The CARES Act temporarily halted collections on defaulted loans, suspended loan payments and reduced the interest rate to zero through September 30, 2020. Subsequent executive branch actions extended this relief through January 31, 2021. The CAA leaves in place that expiration date.

Also under the CARES Act, employers can provide up to $5,250 annually toward employee student loan payments on a tax-free basis before January 1, 2021. The payment can be made to the employee or the lender. The CAA extends the exclusion through 2025. The longer term may make employers more willing to offer this benefit.

2. Tax credits. Qualified taxpayers generally can claim an education tax break with the American Opportunity credit and the Lifetime Learning credit. Previously, though, the two credits were subject to different income phaseout rules, with the American Opportunity credit available at a greater modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) than the Lifetime Learning credit. In addition, before the new law, there was a higher education expense deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses that taxpayers could opt to claim instead of the credits.

The CAA applies the higher American Opportunity credit phaseouts to the Lifetime Learning credit, effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020. The credits will phase out beginning at MAGIs of $80,000 for single filers and ending at $90,000. For joint filers, they will begin to phase out at MAGIs of $160,000 and disappear at $180,000. The new law also eliminates the higher education expense deduction for 2021 and beyond.

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Feb 2021 PPP Loans: What 2020 Borrowers Need to Know in 2021 & Why the Child Tax Credit is so Valuable

PPP Loans: What 2020 Borrowers Need to Know in 2021

Almost a year ago, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis. If your company took out such a loan, you’re likely curious about the tax consequences — particularly for loans that have been forgiven — and also about the launch of “second-draw” PPP loans.

Forgiveness criteria

An eligible recipient may have a PPP loan forgiven in an amount equal to the sum of various costs incurred and payments made during the covered period. These include payroll costs, interest (but not principal) payments on any covered mortgage obligation (for mortgages in place before February 15, 2020), payments for any covered rent obligation (for leases that began before February 15, 2020), and covered utility payments (for utilities that were turned on before February 15, 2020). Also eligible are covered operations expenditures, property damage costs, supplier costs and worker protection expenses.

Your covered period would normally have been the 24-week period beginning on the date you took out the loan (ending no later than December 31, 2020, if that was before the expiration of the 24-week period). If you received a PPP loan before June 5, 2020, you could elect a shorter 8-week covered period. If you didn’t elect the 8-week period and instead used the longer 24-week period, you had to maintain payroll levels for the full 24 weeks to be eligible for loan forgiveness. If you didn't make an election, the 24-week period applies.

An eligible recipient seeking forgiveness of indebtedness on a covered loan must verify that the amount for which forgiveness is requested was used to retain employees, make interest payments on a covered mortgage obligation, make payments on a covered lease obligation or make covered utility payments.

Cancellation and deductibility

The reduction or cancellation of indebtedness generally results in cancellation of debt income to the debtor. However, the forgiveness of PPP debt is excluded from gross income. Your tax attributes (net operating losses, credits, capital and passive activity loss carryovers, and basis) won’t generally be reduced on account of this exclusion.

The CARES Act was silent on whether expenses paid with the proceeds of PPP loans could be deducted. The IRS took the position that these expenses were not deductible. However, under the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), enacted at the end of 2020, expenses paid from the proceeds of PPP loans are deductible.

“Second-draw” PPP loans

Under the CAA, eligible businesses may be able take out so-called “second-draw” PPP loans. These loans are primarily intended for beleaguered small businesses with 300 or fewer employees that have used up, or will soon use up, the proceeds from initial PPP loans. The maximum second-draw loan amount is $2 million, and only one such loan can be taken out.

To qualify for a second-draw loan, a business must demonstrate at least a 25% decline in gross receipts in any quarter of 2020 as compared to the corresponding quarter in 2019. Qualifying businesses can generally borrow up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs for either the one-year period before the date on which the loan is made or calendar year 2019. The application deadline is March 31, 2021.

Any questions?

A PPP loan may complicate your company’s 2020 income tax filing, but a second draw could provide a much-needed influx of cash. Please contact us with any questions you might have.


Why the Child Tax Credit is so Valuable

If you’re a parent, or soon will be, you’re no doubt aware of how expensive it is to pay for food, clothes, activities and education. Fortunately, the federal child tax credit is available to help many taxpayers with children under the age of 17, and there’s a dependent credit for those who are eligible with older children.

An expanded break

Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) kicked in, the child tax credit was $1,000 per qualifying child. But it was reduced for eligible married couples filing jointly by $50 for every $1,000 (or part of $1,000) by which their adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeded $110,000 ($75,000 for unmarried taxpayers).

Starting with the 2018 tax year, and applying through the 2025 tax year, the TCJA doubled the child tax credit to $2,000 per qualifying child under 17. It also created a $500 credit per dependent who isn’t a qualifying child under 17. There’s no age limit for the $500 credit, but IRS tests for dependency must be met.

The TCJA also substantially increased the thresholds at which the credit begins to phase out. Starting with the 2018 tax year, the total credit amount allowed to a married couple filing jointly is reduced by $50 for every $1,000 (or part of a $1,000) by which their AGI exceeds $400,000. The threshold is $200,000 for other taxpayers. So, many taxpayers who were once ineligible for the credit because their AGI was too high are now eligible to claim it.

SSN requirement

In order to claim the child tax credit for a qualifying child, you must include the child’s Social Security number (SSN) on your tax return. Under previous law, you could instead use an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) or adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN).

If a qualifying child doesn’t have an SSN, you won’t be able to claim the $2,000 credit. However, you can claim the $500 dependent credit for that child using an ITIN or an ATIN. The SSN requirement doesn’t apply for non-qualifying-child dependents but, if there’s no SSN, you must provide an ITIN or ATIN for each dependent for whom you’re claiming a $500 credit.

Don’t miss out

The changes made by the TCJA generally increase the value of these credits and widen their availability to more taxpayers. Please contact us for further information or ask about it when we prepare your tax return.

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Jan 2021 How COVID-19 Legislation May Affect Your Taxes & 6 Key Tax Q&As for 2021

How COVID-19 Legislation May Affect Your Taxes

The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law Dec. 27, 2020, provides extensive relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as another round of “recovery rebate” payments to individuals and an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for businesses and other employers. The legislation includes some tax relief as well.

A brief overview

Here’s a brief overview of some of the tax-related provisions that may affect you or your business:

Individuals

  • Permanent reduction of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor to 7.5% for medical expense deductions
  • Extended nonitemizer deduction for up to $300 of cash donations ($600 for married couples filing jointly) to qualified charities through 2021
  • Extended 100% of AGI deduction limit for cash donations to qualified charities through 2021
  • Extended exclusion for certain employer payments of student loans through 2025

Businesses and other employers

  • Clarification of tax treatment for PPP loans, certain loan forgiveness and other financial assistance under COVID-19 legislation
  • Extended payroll tax credits for paid leave required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) through March 2021
  • Extended and expanded tax credits for retaining employees under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act through June 2021
  • 100% business meals deduction for food and beverages provided by restaurants in 2021 and 2022
  • Extended Work Opportunity credit through 2025
  • Extended New Markets credit through 2025
  • Extended family medical leave credit through 2025

More details

This is just a brief look at some of the most significant tax-related provisions in this 5,500+ page legislation. Contact us for more details on how the CAA may affect you.


6 Key Tax Q&As for 2021

Right now, you may be more concerned about your 2020 tax bill than you are about how to handle your personal finances in the new year. However, as you deal with your annual tax filing, it’s a good idea to also familiarize yourself with pertinent amounts that may have changed for 2021.

Not all tax figures are adjusted for inflation and, even if they are, they may be unchanged or change only slightly each year because of low inflation. In addition, some tax amounts can only change with new tax legislation. Here are six commonly asked (and answered) Q&As about 2021 tax-related figures:

1. How much can I contribute to an IRA for 2021? If you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,000 a year into a traditional or Roth IRA, up to 100% of your earned income. If you’re age 50 or older, you can make another $1,000 “catch up” contribution. (These amounts are the same as they were for 2020.)

2. I have a 401(k) plan through my job. How much can I contribute to it? For 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. You can make an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution if you’re age 50 or older. (These amounts are also the same as they were for 2020.)

3. I sometimes hire a babysitter and a cleaning person. Do I have to withhold and pay FICA tax on the amounts I pay them? In 2021, the threshold for when a domestic employer must withhold and pay FICA for babysitters, house cleaners and other domestic employees is increasing to $2,300 from $2,200 for 2020.

4. How much do I have to earn in 2021 before I can stop paying Social Security tax on my salary? The Social Security tax wage base is $142,800 for 2021, up from $137,700 for 2020. That means that you don’t owe Social Security tax on amounts earned above that. (You must pay Medicare tax on all amounts that you earn.)

5. What’s the standard deduction for 2021? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax benefit of itemizing deductions for many people by significantly increasing the standard deduction and reducing or eliminating various itemized deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amount is $25,100 for married couples filing jointly (up from $24,800 for 2020). For single filers, the amount is $12,550 (up from $12,400) and, for heads of households, it’s $18,800 (up from $18,650).

So, if the amount of your itemized deductions (such as charitable gifts and mortgage interest) are less than the applicable standard deduction amount, you won’t benefit from itemizing for 2021.

6. How much can I give to one person without triggering a gift tax return in 2021? The gift tax annual exclusion for 2021 is $15,000, unchanged from last year. This amount is only adjusted in $1,000 increments, so it typically increases only every few years.

These are only some of the tax figures that may apply to you. For more information about your tax picture, or if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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Dec 2020 Handle Mutual Funds Carefully at Year End & Intrafamily Loans and a Family Bank

Handle Mutual Funds Carefully at Year End

As we approach the end of 2020, now is a good time to review any mutual fund holdings in your taxable accounts and take steps to avoid potential tax traps. Here are some tips.

Avoid surprises

Unlike with stocks, you can’t avoid capital gains on mutual funds simply by holding on to the shares. Near the end of the year, funds typically distribute all or most of their net realized capital gains to investors. If you hold mutual funds in taxable accounts, these gains will be taxable to you regardless of whether you receive them in cash or reinvest them in the fund.

For each fund, determine how large these distributions will be and get a breakdown of long-term vs. short-term gains. If the tax impact will be significant, consider strategies to offset the gain. For example, you could sell other investments at a loss.

Buyer beware

Avoid buying into a mutual fund shortly before it distributes capital gains and dividends for the year. There’s a common misconception that investing in a mutual fund just before the ex-dividend date (the date by which you must own shares to qualify for a distribution) is like getting free money.

In reality, the value of your shares is immediately reduced by the amount of the distribution, so you’ll owe taxes on the gain without actually achieving an economic benefit.

Seller beware, too

If you plan to sell mutual fund shares that have appreciated in value, consider waiting until just after year end so you can defer the gain until 2021 — unless you think you’ll be subject to a higher rate next year. In that scenario, you’d likely be better off recognizing the gain and paying the tax this year.

When you do sell shares, keep in mind that, if you bought them over time, each block will have a different holding period and cost basis. To reduce your tax liability, it’s possible to select shares for sale that have higher cost bases and longer holding periods (known as the specific identification method), thereby minimizing your gain (or maximizing your loss) and avoiding higher-taxed short-term gains.

Think beyond taxes

Investment decisions shouldn’t be driven by tax considerations alone. You also need to know your risk tolerance and keep an eye on your overall financial goals. Nonetheless, taxes are still an important factor. Contact us to discuss these and other year-end strategies for minimizing the tax impact of your mutual fund holdings.


Intrafamily Loans and a Family Bank

Among the primary goals of estate planning is to put in writing how you want your wealth distributed to loved ones after your death. But what if you want to use that wealth to help a family member in need while you’re still alive? This has become an increasingly common and pressing issue this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to the U.S. economy.

One way to help family members hit hard by job loss or increased debt is through an intrafamily loan or even by establishing a full-fledged family bank.

Structure loans carefully

Lending can be a way to provide your family financial assistance without triggering unwanted gift taxes. As long as a loan is structured in a manner similar to an arm’s-length loan between unrelated parties, it won’t be treated as a taxable gift.

This means, among other steps, documenting the loan with a promissory note and charging interest at or above the applicable federal rate (which is now historically low). You’ll also need to establish a fixed repayment schedule and ensure that the borrower has a reasonable prospect of repaying the loan.

Even if taxes aren’t a concern, intrafamily loans offer important benefits. For example, they allow you to help your family financially without depleting your wealth or creating a sense of entitlement. Done right, these loans can promote accountability and help cultivate the younger generation’s entrepreneurial capabilities by providing financing to start a business.

Maybe open a bank

Too often, however, people lend money to family members with little planning or regard for potential unintended consequences. Rash lending decisions may lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, conflicts among family members and false expectations. That’s where a family bank comes into play.

A family bank is a family-owned and funded entity — such as a dynasty trust, a family limited partnership or a combination of the two — designed for the sole purpose of making intrafamily loans. Often, family banks can offer financing to family members who might have difficulty obtaining a loan from a bank or other traditional funding sources, or lend at more favorable terms.

By “professionalizing” family lending activities, a family bank can preserve the tax-saving power of intrafamily loans while minimizing negative consequences. The key to avoiding family conflicts and resentment is to build a strong governance structure that promotes communication, decision making and transparency.

Establishing guidelines regarding the types of loans the family bank is authorized to make — and allowing all family members to participate in the decision-making process — ensures that family members are treated fairly and avoids false expectations.

Learn more

More than likely, someone in your extended family has faced difficult financial circumstances this year. Contact us to learn more about intrafamily loans.

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Nov 2020 Catching Up On Catch-up Contributions & The Tax Impact of Business Property Remediation

Catching Up On Catch-up Contributions

When it comes to retirement planning, many people tend to focus on two things: opening a retirement savings account and then eventually drawing funds from it. However, there are other important aspects to truly doing everything you can to grow your nest egg.

One of them is celebrating your 50th birthday. This is because those age 50 or older on December 31 of any given year can start making “catch-up” contributions to their employer-sponsored retirement plans that year (assuming the plan allows them). These are additional contributions to certain accounts beyond the regular annual limits.

Maybe you haven’t yet saved as much for retirement as you’d like to. Or perhaps you’d just like to make the most of tax-advantaged savings opportunities. Whatever the case may be, now is a good time to get caught up on the 2020 catch-up contribution amounts because you might be able to increase your contributions for the year.

401(k)s and SIMPLEs

Under 401(k) limits for 2020, if you’re age 50 or older, you can contribute an extra $6,500 after you’ve reached the $19,500 maximum limit for all employees. That’s a total of $26,000.

If your employer offers a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) instead, your regular contribution maxes out at $13,500 in 2020. If you’re 50 or older, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $3,000 — or $16,500 in total for the year.

But be sure to check with your employer because, while most 401(k) plans and SIMPLEs offer catch-up contributions, not all do.

Self-employed plans

If you’re self-employed, retirement plans such as an individual 401(k) — or solo 401(k) — also allow catch-up contributions. A solo 401(k) is a plan for those with no other employees. You can defer 100% of your self-employment income or compensation, up to the regular 2020 aggregate deferral limit of $19,500, plus a $6,500 catch-up contribution in 2020. But that’s just the employee salary deferral portion of the contribution.

You can also make an “employer” contribution of up to 20% of self-employment income or 25% of compensation. The total combined employee-employer contribution is limited to $57,000, plus the $6,500 catch-up contribution.

IRAs, too

Catch-up contributions to non-Roth accounts not only can enlarge your retirement nest egg, but also can reduce your 2020 tax liability, generally if made by Dec. 31, 2020.

Keep in mind that catch-up contributions are available for IRAs, too. The deadline for 2020 IRA contributions isn’t until April 15, 2021, but deductible contributions may be limited or unavailable based on your income and whether you (or your spouse) is covered by a retirement plan at work. Please contact us for more information.


The Tax Impact of Business Property Remediation

If your company faces the need to “remediate” or clean up environmental contamination, the money you spend can be tax-deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses. Unfortunately, every type of environmental cleanup expense cannot be currently deducted — some cleanup costs must be capitalized (spread over multiple years for tax purposes).

To lower your current year tax bill as much as possible, you’ll want to claim as many immediate income tax benefits as allowed for the expenses you incur. So, it’s a good idea to explore the tax impact of business property remediation before you embark on the project. If you’ve already done cleanup during 2020, review the costs closely before filing your 2020 tax return.

Deduct vs. capitalize

Generally, cleanup costs are currently deductible to the extent they cover “incidental repairs” — for example, encapsulating exposed asbestos insulation. Other deductible expenses may include the actual cleanup costs, as well as expenses for environmental studies, surveys and investigations, fees for consulting and environmental engineering, legal and professional fees, and environmental “audit” and monitoring costs.

You may also be able to currently claim tax deductions for cleaning up contamination that your business caused on your own property (for example, removing soil contaminated by dumping wastes from your own manufacturing processes and replacing it with clean soil) — if you acquired that property in an uncontaminated state.

On the other hand, remediation costs generally must be capitalized if the remediation:

  • Adds significantly to the value of the cleaned-up property,
  • Prolongs the useful life of the property, or
  • Adapts the property to a new or different use.

In addition, you’ll likely need to capitalize the costs if the remediation makes up for depreciation, amortization or depletion that’s been claimed for tax purposes, or if it creates a separate capital asset that’s useful beyond the current tax year.

However, parts of these types of remediation costs may qualify for a current deduction. It depends on the facts and circumstances of your situation. For instance, in one case, the IRS required a taxpayer to capitalize the costs of surveying for contamination various sites that proved to be contaminated, but the agency allowed a current deduction for the costs of surveying the sites that proved to be uncontaminated.

Complex treatment

Along with federal tax deductions, state or local tax incentives may be available for cleaning up contaminated property. The tax treatment for the expenses can be complex. If you have environmental cleanup expenses, we can help plan your efforts to maximize the deductions available.

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Oct 2020 Is It Time for a Cost Segregation Study? & Beware of “Wash Sales” When Selling Securities

Is it time for a cost segregation study?

Because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, many companies may want to conserve cash and not buy much equipment this year. As a result, you may not be able to claim as many depreciation tax deductions as in the past. However, if your company owns real property, there’s another approach to depreciation to consider: a cost segregation study.

Depreciation basics

Business buildings generally have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Typically, companies depreciate a building’s structural components — including walls, windows, HVAC systems, plumbing and wiring — along with the building. Personal property (such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures) is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property. Examples include removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

Pinpointing costs

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study will depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago because of enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Worth a look

Cost segregation studies have costs all their own, but the potential long-term tax benefits may make it worth your while to undertake the process. Contact our firm for further details.


Beware of “wash sales” when selling securities

If you’re planning to sell capital assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year, it’s important to beware of the “wash sale” rule. Under this tax rule, if you sell stock or securities for a loss and buy substantially identical stock shares or securities back within the 30-day period before or after the sale date, the loss can’t be claimed for tax purposes.

The rule

The wash sale rule is designed to prevent taxpayers from benefiting from a loss without parting with ownership in any significant way. Note that the rule applies to a 30-day period before or after the sale date to prevent “buying the stock back” before it’s even sold. (If you participate in any dividend reinvestment plans, the wash sale rule may be inadvertently triggered when dividends are reinvested under the plan, if you’ve separately sold some of the same stock at a loss within the 30-day period.)

Although the loss can’t be claimed on a wash sale, the disallowed amount is added to the cost of the new stock. So, the disallowed amount can be claimed when the new stock is finally disposed of (other than in a wash sale).

An example

Assume you buy 500 shares of XYZ Inc. for $10,000 and sell them on November 5 for $3,000. On November 30, you buy 500 shares of XYZ again for $3,200. Since the shares were “bought back” within 30 days of the sale, the wash sale rule applies. Therefore, you can’t claim a $7,000 loss. Your basis in the new 500 shares is $10,200: the actual cost plus the $7,000 disallowed loss.

If only a portion of the stock sold is bought back, only that portion of the loss is disallowed. So, in the above example, if you’d only bought back 300 of the 500 shares (60%), you would be able to claim 40% of the loss on the sale ($2,800). The remaining $4,200 loss that is disallowed under the wash sale rule would be added to your cost of the 300 shares.

No surprises

The wash sale rule can come as a nasty surprise at tax time. Contact us for assistance.

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Sep 2020 AMT Less “Toothy” But May Still Take A Bite & College Savings Showdown: 529s vs. Roth IRAs

AMT less “toothy” but may still take a bite

For many years, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) posed a risk to many taxpayers in the middle- to upper-income brackets. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) took much of the “teeth” out of the AMT by raising the inflation-adjusted exemption. As a result, middle-income earners have had less to worry about, but those whose income has substantially increased (or remains high) should still watch out for its bite.

Basic rules

The AMT was established to ensure that higher-income individuals pay at least a minimum tax, even if they have many large deductions that significantly reduce their “regular” income tax. If your AMT liability is greater than your regular income tax liability, you must pay the difference as AMT — in addition to the regular tax.

As mentioned, the TCJA substantially increased the AMT exemption for 2018 through 2025. The exemption reduces the amount of AMT income that’s subject to the AMT. The 2020 exemption amounts are $72,900 (for single filers), $113,400 (for married joint filers) and $56,700 (for married separate filers).

AMT rates begin at 26% and rise to 28% at higher income levels. That top rate is lower than the maximum regular income tax rate of 37%, but fewer deductions are allowed for the AMT. For example, you can’t deduct state and local income or sales taxes, property taxes and certain other expenses.

Risk factors

The AMT exemption phases out when your AMT income surpasses the applicable threshold, so high-income earners remain susceptible. However, even some taxpayers who consider themselves middle-income earners may trigger the AMT by exercising incentive stock options or incurring large capital gains.

For example, because the exemption phases out based on income, realizing substantial capital gains could cause you to lose part or all of that exemption and, thus, subject you to AMT liability. If it looks like you could get hit by the AMT this year, you might want to delay sales of highly appreciated assets until next year (if you don’t expect to be subject to the AMT then) or use an installment sale to spread the gains (and potential AMT liability) over multiple years.

Also, be aware that claiming substantial itemized deductions for expenses that aren’t deductible for AMT purposes used to be a major risk factor for falling into the AMT net. However, because the TCJA limited or eliminated some of these deductions for regular income tax purposes (such as the deduction for state and local taxes and miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income floor, respectively), this is now much less of a risk.

Appropriate strategies

Since passage of the TCJA, the AMT may have become an afterthought for many people. However, it’s still worth a look to see whether it could create undesirable tax consequences for you. Please contact us for help assessing your exposure to the AMT and, if necessary, implementing appropriate strategies for your tax situation.


College savings showdown: 529s vs. Roth IRAs

Many people assume that a 529 plan is the ideal college savings tool, but other vehicles can help parents save for college expenses, too. Take the Roth IRA, for example. Whether you should use one or the other (or both) depends on several factors, including how much you intend to contribute and how you’ll use the earnings.

Plan snapshots

A 529 plan allows participants to make substantial nondeductible contributions — up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the plan and state limits. The funds grow tax-free, and there’s no tax on withdrawals, provided they’re used for “qualified higher education expenses” such as tuition, fees, books, computers, and room and board. Other qualified expenses include up to $10,000 of primary or secondary school tuition per student per year and, new under last year’s SECURE Act, up to $10,000 of student loans per beneficiary. If you use the funds for other purposes, you’ll generally be subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty on the earnings portion. Some 529 plans are also eligible for state tax breaks.

Roth IRA contributions also are nondeductible and grow tax-free. And you can withdraw those contributions anytime, tax- and penalty-free, for any purpose. Qualified distributions of earnings — generally, after age 59½ and more than five years after your first contribution — are also tax- and penalty-free.

Advantages and drawbacks

The main advantages of 529 plans are generous contribution limits and the ability to accept contributions from relatives or friends. Roth IRAs, on the other hand, are subject to annual contribution limits of currently $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or older). So, even if you and your spouse each set up Roth IRAs when your child is born, the most you’ll be able to contribute over 18 years is $216,000 (not taking into account any future inflation increases to the contribution limit). Additional drawbacks are that you must have earned income at least equal to the contribution, and you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain limits.

Funds in a 529 plan that aren’t used for qualified education expenses will eventually trigger taxes and penalties when they’re withdrawn. However, with a Roth IRA, you can use contributions, as well as qualified distributions of earnings, for any purpose without triggering taxes or penalties. This includes items that wouldn’t be qualified expenses under a 529 plan, such as a car or off-campus housing expenses that exceed the college’s room and board allowance. Plus, if you don’t need all your Roth IRA funds for college expenses, you can leave them in the account indefinitely.

Consider goals

Before selecting a plan, consider your overall financial, retirement and estate planning goals. Our firm can help.

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Aug 2020 Risks vs. Benefits of Life Insurance Loans & With Glitch Fixed, Consider Business Property Upgrades

Risks vs. Benefits of Life Insurance Loans

Because of the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 crisis, many people have found themselves in need of cash to pay unexpected medical bills, mortgage payments and other expenses. One option is to borrow against the cash value of a permanent life insurance policy, but such loans aren’t risk-free.

Recognizing potential pitfalls

Before you borrow against a life insurance policy, consider risks such as:

Reduced benefits for heirs. If you die before repaying the loan or choose not to repay it, the loan balance plus any accrued interest will reduce the benefits payable to your heirs. This can be a hardship for family members if they’re counting on the insurance proceeds to replace your income or to pay estate taxes or other expenses.

Possible financial and tax consequences. Depending on your repayment schedule, there’s a risk that the loan balance plus accrued interest will grow beyond your policy’s cash value. This may cause your policy to lapse, which can trigger unfavorable tax consequences and deprive your family of the policy’s death benefit.

Eligibility. You can borrow against a life insurance policy only if you’ve built up enough cash value. This can take many years, so don’t count on a relatively new policy as a funding source.

Tapping cash value

There can be advantages to borrowing from a life insurance policy over a traditional loan. These include:

Lower costs. Interest rates are usually lower than those available from banks and credit card companies, and there are little or no fees or closing costs.

Simplicity and speed. So long as your insurer offers loans, there’s no approval process, lengthy application, credit check or income verification. Generally, you can obtain the funds within five to 10 business days.

Flexibility. Most insurers don’t impose restrictions on use of the funds. And you have the flexibility to design your own repayment schedule. You can even choose not to repay the loan, though that has negative tax consequences.

Generally no tax impact (as long as policy doesn’t lapse). Funds acquired by borrowing from a policy aren’t considered income, so they’re typically not reported to the IRS. This differs significantly from surrendering a policy in exchange for its cash value, which triggers taxable gains to the extent the cash value exceeds your investment in the policy (generally, premiums paid less any dividends or withdrawals). Note that interest paid on the loan typically isn’t deductible.

Reviewing your options

Be sure you really need to borrow from a life insurance policy before doing so. Consider alternatives, such as selling an asset or reducing expenses. We can help you make the right choice.

Sidebar: Dispelling a myth

There’s a common misconception that, when you borrow against a life insurance policy, you’re “borrowing from yourself.” In other words, when you pay interest on the loan, you’re essentially paying yourself.

This may be true when you borrow money from a retirement plan, but it’s not accurate when it comes to life insurance policy loans. In fact, you’re borrowing from your insurer, pledging the cash value of your policy as collateral and paying interest to the company. Policy loans may be cheaper than traditional loans, but they’re not free.


With Glitch Fixed, Consider Business Property Upgrades

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March, has provided more than just relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also contains a beneficial change in the tax rules for many improvements to interior parts of nonresidential buildings, referred to as qualified improvement property (QIP).

Recent history

When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed in 2017, it contained an inadvertent drafting error by Congress. The error made it so that any QIP placed in service after December 31, 2017, wasn’t classified as 15-year property and therefor wasn’t eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. So, the cost of QIP had to be deducted over a 39-year period rather than over a 15-year period or entirely in the year the QIP was placed in service.

Investments qualifying as QIP generally include upgrades to retail, restaurant and leasehold property. Hence, the problem became commonly known as the “retail glitch.”

The fix

Fortunately, when drafting the CARES Act, Congress fixed the retail glitch. Most businesses can now claim 100% bonus depreciation for QIP — or depreciate it over 15 years — assuming all applicable rules are followed. (Note that improvements related to a building’s enlargement, elevator or escalator, or internal structural framework don’t qualify.)

Because of the slowdown in the U.S. economy, your business (like so many others) may not be in a financial position to undertake a QIP project right away. But when investing in your business is looking feasible, factor this tax break into your considerations for making future property improvements.

Even if you can’t afford to invest in QIP this year, you might be able to enjoy some QIP tax benefits now. The correction is retroactive to any QIP placed in service after December 31, 2017. So if you made eligible improvements in 2018 or 2019, you may be able claim a tax refund.

Next steps

While claiming 100% bonus depreciation may sound like a no-brainer, keep in mind that in some circumstances it might be more beneficial to depreciate QIP over 15 years. Either option can produce a tax refund for prior years; it’s just the size of the refund that will differ. We can help you determine if your property improvement investments qualify as QIP and, if so, assess whether 100% bonus depreciation or 15-year depreciation is better for you.

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Jul 2020 Keeping Up With the Net Operating Loss Rules & Charitable Giving in a Time of Crisis

Keeping Up With the Net Operating Loss Rules

When a trade or business’s deductible expenses exceed its income, a net operating loss (NOL) generally occurs. When filing your 2019 income tax return, you might find that your business has an NOL — and you may be able to turn it to your tax advantage. But the rules applying to NOLs have changed and changed again. Let’s review.

Pre-TCJA

Before 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), when a business incurred an NOL, the loss could be carried back up to two years. Any remaining amount could then be carried forward up to 20 years.

A carryback generates an immediate tax refund, boosting cash flow. A carryforward allows the company to apply the NOL to future years when its tax rate may be higher.

Post-TCJA

The changes made under the TCJA to the tax treatment of NOLs generally weren’t favorable to taxpayers. According to those rules, for NOLs arising in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, most businesses couldn’t carry back a qualifying NOL.

This was especially detrimental to trades or businesses that had been operating for only a few years. They tend to generate NOLs in those early years and greatly benefit from the cash-flow boost of a carryback. On the plus side, the TCJA allowed NOLs to be carried forward indefinitely, as opposed to the previous 20-year limit.

For NOLs arising in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, the TCJA also stipulated that an NOL carryforward generally can’t be used to shelter more than 80% of taxable income in the carryforward year. (Under previous law, generally up to 100% could be sheltered.)

COVID-19 response

The NOL rules were changed yet again under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. For NOLs arising in tax years beginning in 2018 through 2020, taxpayers are now eligible to carry back the NOLs to the previous five tax years. You may be able to file amended returns for carryback years to receive a tax refund now.

The CARES Act also modifies the treatment of NOL carryforwards. For tax years beginning before 2021, taxpayers can now potentially claim an NOL deduction equal to 100% of taxable income (rather than the 80% limitation under the TCJA) for prior-year NOLs carried forward into those years. For tax years beginning after 2020, taxpayers may be eligible for a 100% deduction for carryforwards of NOLs arising in tax years before 2018 plus a deduction equal to the lesser of 1) 100% of NOL carryforwards from post-2017 tax years, or 2) 80% of remaining taxable income (if any) after deducting NOL carryforwards from pre-2018 tax years.

Complicated rules

The NOL rules have always been complicated and multiple law changes have complicated them further. It’s also possible there could be more tax law changes this year affecting NOLs. Please contact us for further clarification and more information.


Charitable Giving in a Time of Crisis

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created much financial stress, but the crisis has also generated an intense need for charitable action. If you’re able to continue donating during this difficult period, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act may make it a little easier for you to do so, whether you’re a small or large donor.

Tax benefits

From an income tax perspective, the CARES Act has expanded charitable contribution deductions. Individual taxpayers who don’t itemize can take advantage of a new above-the-line $300 deduction for cash contributions to qualified charities in 2020. “Above-the-line” means the deduction reduces adjusted gross income (AGI). You can take this in addition to your standard deduction.

For larger donors, the CARES Act has eased the limitation on charitable deductions for cash contributions made to public charities in 2020, boosting it from 60% to 100% of AGI. There’s no requirement that your contributions be related to COVID-19.

Careful steps

To be able to claim a donation deduction, whatever the size, you need to ensure you’re giving to a qualified charity. You can check a charity’s eligibility to receive tax-deductible contributions by visiting the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Organization Search.

If you’re making a large gift, it’s a good idea to do additional research on the charities you’re considering so you can make sure they use their funds efficiently and effectively. The IRS tool provides access to detailed financial information about charitable organizations, such as Form 990 information returns and IRS determination letters.

Even if a charity is financially sound when you make a gift, there’s no guarantee it won’t suffer financial distress, file for bankruptcy protection or even cease operations down the road. The last thing you likely want is for a charity to use your gifts to pay off its creditors or for a purpose unrelated to the mission that inspired you to give in the first place.

One way to manage these risks is to restrict the use of your gift. For example, you might limit the use to assisting a specific constituency or funding medical research. These restrictions can be documented in a written gift or endowment fund agreement.

Generous impact

Indeed, charitable giving is more important than ever. Contact our firm for help allocating funds for a donation and understanding the tax impact of your generosity.

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Jun 2020 Protecting Yourself from Opportunistic Fraud & Can You Qualify for the Payroll Tax Credit?

Protecting Yourself from Opportunistic Fraud

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has spurred much confusion and unprecedented economic challenges. It has also created ample opportunities for dishonest individuals and criminal organizations to prey on the anxieties of many Americans.

As the year rolls along, fraud schemes related to the crisis will continue as well, potentially becoming even more sophisticated. Here are some protective actions you can take.

Watch out for phony charities

When a catastrophe like COVID-19 strikes, the charitably minded want to donate cash and other assets to help relieve the suffering. Before donating anything, beware that opportunistic scammers may set up fake charitable organizations to exploit your generosity.

Fake charities often use names that are similar to legitimate organizations. So, before contributing, do your homework and verify the validity of any recipient. Remember, if you’re scammed, not only will you lose your money or assets, but those who would benefit from your charitable action will also lose out.

Don’t get hooked by phishers

In a “phishing” scheme, victims are enticed to respond to a deceptive email or other online communication. In COVID-19-related phishing scams, the perpetrator may impersonate a representative from a health agency, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They may ask for personal information, such as your Social Security or bank account number, or instruct you to click on a link to a survey or website.

If you receive a suspicious email, don’t respond or click on any links. The scammer might use ill-gotten data to gain access to your financial accounts or open new accounts in your name. In some cases, clicking a link might download malware to your computer. For updates on the COVID-19 crisis, go directly to the official websites of the WHO or CDC.

The IRS reports that its Criminal Investigation Division has seen a wave of new and evolving phishing schemes against taxpayers — and among the primary targets are retirees.

Shop carefully

In many parts of the United States, and indeed around the world, certain consumer goods have become scarce. Examples have included hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, masks and toilet paper. Scammers are exploiting these shortages by posing as retailers or direct-to-consumer suppliers to obtain buyers’ personal information.

Con artists may, for instance, claim to have the goods that you need and ask for your credit card number to complete a transaction. Then they use the card number to run up charges while you never receive anything in return.

Buy from only known legitimate businesses. If a supplier offers a deal out of the blue that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Also watch out for price gouging on limited items. If an item is selling online for many times more than the usual price, you probably want to avoid buying it.

Hang up on robocalls

You may have noticed an increase in “robocalls” — automated phone calls offering phony services or demanding sensitive information — since the COVID-19 crisis began. For instance, callers may offer COVID-19-related items at reduced rates. Then they’ll ask for your credit card number to “secure” your purchase.

Reputable companies, charities and government agencies (such as the IRS) won’t try to contact you this way. If you receive an unsolicited call from a phone number that’s blocked or that you don’t recognize, hang up or ignore it.

In addition, don’t buy into special offers for items such as COVID-19 treatments, vaccinations or home test kits. You’ll likely end up paying for something that at best doesn’t exist and at worst could harm you.

Tarnish their gold

For fraudsters, this year’s worldwide crisis is a golden opportunity. Don’t let them take advantage of you or your loved ones.


Can You Qualify for the Payroll Tax Credit?

For many businesses, retaining employees has been difficult, if not impossible. If your company has been able to keep all or some of its workers, you may qualify for the payroll tax credit created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, known as the Employee Retention Credit.

Assessing your qualifications

The Employee Retention Credit provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees. The credit is available to employers whose operations have been fully or partially suspended as a result of a government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

The credit is also available to employers that have experienced a greater than 50% reduction in quarterly receipts, measured on a year-over-year basis. When such an employer’s gross receipts exceed 80% of the comparable quarter in 2019, the employer no longer qualifies for the credit beginning with the next quarter.

The credit is unavailable to employers benefitting from certain Small Business Administration loan programs or to self-employed individuals.

Examining wages paid

For employers that had an average number of full-time employees in 2019 of 100 or fewer, all employee wages are eligible, regardless of whether an employee is furloughed or has experienced a reduction in hours.

For employers with more than 100 employees in 2019, only wages paid to employees who are furloughed or face reduced hours because of the employer’s closure or reduced gross receipts are eligible for the credit. No credit is available for wages paid to an employee for any period for which the employer is allowed a Work Opportunity Tax Credit with respect to the employee.

In the context of the credit, the term “wages” includes health benefits and is capped at the first $10,000 in wages paid by the employer to an eligible employee. Wages don’t include amounts considered for required paid sick leave or required paid family leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In addition, wages applicable to this credit aren’t taken into account for the employer credit toward paid family and medical leave.

Claiming advance payments and refunds

The IRS can advance payments to eligible employers. If the amount of the credit for any calendar quarter exceeds applicable payroll taxes, the employer may be able to claim a refund of the excess on its federal employment tax return.

In anticipation of receiving the credits, employers can fund qualified wages by 1) accessing federal employment taxes, including withheld taxes, that are required to be deposited with the IRS or 2) requesting an advance of the credit from the IRS on Form 7200, “Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.” The IRS may waive applicable penalties for employers who don’t deposit applicable payroll taxes in anticipation of receiving the credit.

Obtaining relief

The credit applies to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before Jan. 1, 2021. Contact our firm for help determining whether you qualify and, if so, how to claim this tax break.

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May 2020 New Break Temporarily Makes Retirement Plan Withdrawals Less Taxing & How Employers Can Get Some Financial Relief with the Retention Tax Credit

New Break Temporarily Makes Retirement Plan Withdrawals Less Taxing

A key provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is intended to help alleviate some of the economic hardship many Americans are experiencing as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It allows tax-favored treatment for distributions from retirement accounts in certain situations.

Penalty waiver and more

Under the CARES Act, IRA owners who are adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible to take tax-favored “coronavirus-related” distributions (CVDs) of up to $100,000 from their IRAs. If you’re under age 59½, the early withdrawal penalty that normally would apply is waived. Any eligible IRA owner can recontribute (repay) a CVD back into their IRA within three years of the withdrawal date and treat the withdrawal and later recontribution as a tax-free rollover. There are no limitations on what you can use CVD funds for during that three-year period.

The CARES Act also may allow you to take tax-favored CVDs from your employer's qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or profit-sharing plan, if the plan allows it. If allowed, the tax rules for CVDs taken from qualified plans are similar to those for CVDs taken from IRAs. As of this writing, a lot of details still need to be figured out about how CVDs taken from qualified plans will work. Contact the appropriate person with your employer for more information.

7 basic rules

There are seven basic rules for taking CVDs from IRAs:

1. You can take one or more CVDs up to the $100,000 limit.

2. CVDs can come from different IRAs.

3. The three-year recontribution period for each CVD begins on the day after you receive it.

4. You can make your recontributions in a lump sum or through multiple recontributions.

5. You can recontribute to one or several IRAs, and they don't have to be the same accounts you took the CVDs from.

6. As long as you recontribute the entire CVD amount within the three-year window, the whole transaction or series of transactions are treated as tax-free IRA rollovers.

7. If you're under 59½, the 10% penalty tax that usually applies to early IRA withdrawals is waived for CVDs, even if you don’t recontribute.

If your spouse owns one or more IRAs in his or her own name, he or she may be eligible for the same distribution privilege.

Who’s eligible

CVDs can be taken from January 1, 2020, through December 30, 2020, by an eligible individual. That means an individual:

  • Who's diagnosed with COVID-19 by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
  • Whose spouse or dependent (generally a qualifying child or relative who receives more than half of his or her support from you) is diagnosed with COVID-19 by such a test,
  • Who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off or having work hours reduced due to COVID-19,
  • Who's unable to work because of lack of childcare due to COVID-19 and experiences adverse financial consequences as a result,
  • Who owns or operates a business that has closed or has had operating hours reduced due to COVID-19 and has experienced adverse financial consequences as a result, or
  • Who has experienced adverse financial consequences due to other COVID-19-related factors.

As of this writing, IRS guidance on how to interpret the last two factors is needed. Check in with us for the latest developments.

When taxes are due

You'll be taxed on any CVD amount that you don't recontribute within the three-year window. But you won't have to worry about owing the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under 59½.

You can choose to spread the taxable amount equally over three years, apparently starting with 2020. But here it gets tricky, because the three-year window won't close until sometime in 2023. Until then, it won't be clear that you failed to take advantage of the tax-free CVD rollover deal. So, you may have to amend a prior-year return to report some additional taxable income from the CVD. As of this writing, the IRS is expected to issue guidance to clarify this issue. Again, check in with us for the latest information.

You also have the option of simply reporting the taxable income from the CVD on your 2020 individual income tax return Form 1040. Again, you won't owe the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under 59½.

Getting through the crisis

CVDs can be a helpful, flexible tax-favored financial tool for eligible taxpayers during the pandemic. But it's just one of several financial relief measures available under the CARES Act that include tax relief, and other relief legislation may be forthcoming. We can help you take advantage of relief measures that will help you get through the COVID-19 crisis.


How Employers Can Get Some Financial Relief with the Retention Tax Credit

To help reduce layoffs during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act created a new federal income tax credit for employers that keep workers on their payrolls. The credit equals 50% of eligible employee wages paid by an eligible employer in a 2020 calendar quarter. It's subject to an overall wage cap of $10,000 per eligible employee. Here are answers to some FAQs about the retention credit.

What employers are eligible?

Eligible employer status for the retention credit is determined on a 2020 calendar quarter basis. The credit is available to employers, including nonprofits, whose operations have been fully or partially suspended during a 2020 calendar quarter as a result of an order from an appropriate governmental authority that limits commerce, travel or group meetings due to COVID-19.

The retention credit can also be claimed by employers that have experienced a greater-than-50% decline in gross receipts for a 2020 calendar quarter compared to the corresponding 2019 calendar quarter. However, the credit is disallowed for quarters following the first calendar 2020 quarter during which gross receipts exceed 80% of gross receipts for the corresponding 2019 calendar quarter.

To illustrate: Suppose a company’s 2020 gross receipts are as follows compared to 2019:

  • First quarter: 86%
  • Second quarter: 43%
  • Third quarter: 92%

The company had a greater-than-50% decline in gross receipts for the second quarter of 2020. So, it’s an eligible employer for purposes of the retention credit for the second and third quarters of 2020. For the fourth quarter of 2020, it’s ineligible because its gross receipts for the third quarter of 2020 exceeded 80% of gross receipts for the third quarter of 2019.

What wages are eligible?

The retention credit is available to cover eligible wages paid from March 13, 2020, through December 31, 2020. For an eligible employer that had an average of 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, all employee wages are eligible for the credit (subject to the overall $10,000 per-employee wage cap), regardless of whether employees are furloughed due to COVID-19.

For an employer that had more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, only wages of employees who are furloughed or given reduced hours due to the employer's closure or reduced gross receipts are eligible for the retention credit (subject to the overall $10,000 per-employee wage cap, including qualified health plan expenses allocable to those wages).

The amount of wages eligible for the credit is capped at a cumulative total of $10,000 for each eligible employee. The $10,000 cap includes allocable health plan expenses. For example, a company pays an employee $8,000 in eligible wages in the second quarter of 2020 and another $8,000 in the third quarter of 2020. The credit for wages paid to the employee in the second quarter is $4,000 (50% x $8,000). The credit for wages paid to the employee in the third quarter is limited to $1,000 (50% x $2,000) due to the $10,000 wage cap. Any additional wages paid to the employee are ineligible for the credit due to the $10,000 cap.

What other rules and restrictions apply?

The retention credit is not allowed for:

  • Emergency sick leave wages or emergency family leave wages that small employers (generally those with fewer than 500 employees) are required to pay under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), because they’re covered by federal payroll tax credits granted by the FFCRA,
  • Wages taken into account for purposes of claiming the pre-existing Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and
  • Wages taken into account for purposes of claiming the pre-existing employer credit for paid family and medical leave.

In addition, the retention credit isn't available to small employers that receive a potentially forgivable Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed Small Business Interruption Loan under the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program.

How is the credit claimed?

Technically, an eligible employer's allowable retention credit for a calendar quarter is offset against the employer's liability for the Social Security tax component of federal payroll taxes. That component equals 6.2% of the first $137,700 of an employee's 2020 wages.

But the credit is "refundable." That means an employer can collect the full amount of the credit even if it exceeds its federal payroll tax liability.

The allowable credit can be used to offset all of an employer's federal payroll tax deposit liability, apparently including federal income tax, Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from employee paychecks. If an employer's tax deposit liability isn't enough to absorb the credit, the employer can apply for an advance payment of the credit from the IRS.

Can you benefit?

If your business has suffered financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES Act’s 50% employee retention credit might help you keep workers on the payroll during the crisis. Keep in mind that additional guidance could be released on the credit or more legislation could be signed into law extending or expanding the credit. We can apprise you of any updates, help you determine whether you’re eligible and explore other tax-saving and financial assistance opportunities that may be available to you during this challenging time.

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Apr 2020 April 2020 – Special COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 relief: Overview of the CARES Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. In addition to funding the health care fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the roughly $2 trillion legislation provides much-needed financial relief to individuals, businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and state and local governments during the pandemic. Here are some of the key provisions for individuals and businesses.

Economic Impact Payments

The CARES Act provides one-time direct Economic Impact Payments of up to $1,200 for single filers or heads of households; married couples filing jointly can receive up to $2,400. An additional payment of up to $500 is available for each qualifying child under age 17.

Economic Impact Payments are subject to phaseout thresholds based on adjusted gross income (AGI). The phaseouts begin at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of household and $150,000 for married couples.

The payments are phased out by $5 for every $100 of AGI above the thresholds. For example, the payment for a married couple with no children is completely phased out when AGI exceeds $198,000. The payment for a head of household with one child is completely phased out when AGI exceeds $146,500. And, for a single filer, it’s completely phased out when AGI exceeds $99,000.

Employee retention credit

The CARES Act creates a new payroll tax credit for employers that pay wages when:

  • Their operations are partially or fully suspended because of certain government orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, or
  • Their gross receipts have declined by more than 50% compared to the same quarter in the prior year.

Eligible employers may claim a 50% refundable payroll tax credit on wages paid (including health insurance benefits) of up to $10,000 that are paid or incurred from March 13, 2020, through December 31, 2020.

For employers who had an average number of full-time employees in 2019 of 100 or fewer, all employee wages are eligible, regardless of whether the employee is furloughed. For employers who had a larger average number of full-time employees in 2019, only the wages of employees who are furloughed or face reduced hours as a result of their employers’ closure or reduced gross receipts are eligible for the credit.

Be aware that additional rules and restrictions apply.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

This $349 billion loan program — administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) — is intended to help U.S. employers keep workers on their payrolls. To potentially qualify, you must have fewer than 500 full- or part-time employees. PPP loans can be as large as $10 million. But most organizations will receive smaller amounts — generally a maximum of 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs.

If you receive a loan through the program, proceeds may be used only for paying certain expenses, generally:

  • Payroll (including benefits),
  • Mortgage interest,
  • Rent, and
  • Utilities.

Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of PPP loans is that they can be forgiven — so long as you follow the rules. And many rules and limits apply. Because of the limited funds available, if you could qualify, you should apply as soon as possible.

The CARES Act expands business access to capital in additional ways. Many of the other loan programs are also being administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Modifications of TCJA provisions

The CARES Act rolls back several revenue-generating provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). This will help free up cash for some individuals and businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

The new law temporarily scales back TCJA deduction limitations on:

  • Net operating losses (NOLs),
  • Business tax losses sustained by individuals,
  • Business interest expense, and
  • Certain itemized charitable deductions by individuals and charitable deductions for corporations.

The new law also accelerates the recovery of credits for prior-year corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability.

Significant for the hard-hit restaurant and retail sectors, the CARES Act also fixes a TCJA drafting error for real estate qualified improvement property (QIP). Congress originally intended to permanently install a 15-year depreciation period for QIP, making it eligible for first-year bonus depreciation in tax years after the TCJA took effect. Unfortunately, due to a drafting glitch, QIP wasn’t added to the list of property with a 15-year depreciation period — instead, it was left subject to a 39-year depreciation period. The CARES Act retroactively corrects this mistake and allows you to choose between first-year bonus depreciation and 15-year depreciation for QIP expenditures.

So much more

The financial relief package under the CARES Act also includes provisions to:

  • Significantly expand unemployment benefits for workers,
  • Allow IRA owners and qualified retirement plan participants under age 59 ½ who suffer certain adverse effects due to the COVID-19 pandemic to withdraw in 2020 up to $100,000 and then recontribute the withdrawn amount within three years with no federal income tax consequences,
  • Waive required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs and retirement plans that would otherwise have to be taken in 2020 to avoid an expensive penalty,
  • Provide an above-the-line charitable deduction of up to $300, generally for 2020 cash contributions to qualified charities, and
  • Exclude from an employee’s taxable income up to $5,250 of employer payments made on the employee’s student loans from the date of the CARES Act’s enactment through December 31, 2020.

The CARES Act also allows employers to defer their portion of payments of Social Security payroll taxes through the end of 2020 (with similar relief provided to self-employed individuals).

Need help?

Keep in mind that additional guidance could be released, or legislation signed into law, that could affect these CARES Act provisions. And more relief measures could be forthcoming.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every household and business in some way. If you have suffered financial losses, contact us to discuss resources that may be available to help you weather this unprecedented storm.

Federal tax relief to alleviate COVID-19 hardships

The massive Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes numerous tax-related provisions. But before the CARES Act was signed into law March 27, the federal government provided other valuable tax relief in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Here is a closer look.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 18, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In certain situations, it mandates paid leave benefits for small business employees affected by COVID-19. The paid leave provisions generally apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees, though employers with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible for an exception. Here are the benefits:

Paid sick leave. The law requires covered employers to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave for full-time employees in certain situations. (Part-time employees are entitled to this paid sick leave for the average number of hours worked over a two-week period.)

Generally, paid sick leave is required when an employee is subject to a COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation order, has been advised to self-quarantine or is seeking a medical diagnosis for COVID-19 symptoms. It’s also generally required when an employee is caring for someone subject to a COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation order or is caring for a child whose school or place of care has been closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions.

When leave is taken for an employee’s own COVID-19 illness or quarantine, the leave must be paid at the employee’s regular rate, up to $511 per day (up to $5,110 in total). When the leave is related to caring for someone else, the leave must be paid at a minimum of two-thirds of the employee’s usual pay, up to $200 per day (up to $2,000 in total).

Paid family leave. The law gives an employee the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected family leave if the employee’s child’s school or childcare location is closed due to COVID-19. The first two weeks are unpaid (though they might qualify for sick pay). For the remaining 10 weeks, the employer must pay at least two-thirds of the employee’s usual pay, up to a maximum of $200 per day, subject to an overall maximum of $10,000 in total family leave payments.

Tax credit for employers. To help employers cover this paid leave, the law allows a refundable tax credit equal to 100% of qualified sick leave wages and family and medical leave wages paid by the employer.

The credit applies only to eligible leave payments made during the period beginning on the effective date of April 1, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020.

Tax credits may also be available to certain self-employed individuals.

Federal tax deadline deferrals

On March 18, the IRS released guidance that outlined the details of a postponed deadline for paying federal income taxes. Notice 2020-17 clarified that individual taxpayers and corporations can defer until July 15 federal income tax payments that would otherwise be due on April 15.

Notice 2020-18 subsequently provided additional clarifications, including a postponement of the federal income tax filing deadline to July 15 as well.

Some specifics under these relief measures are as follows:

For individuals. Individual taxpayers can defer federal income tax payments (including any self-employment tax) owed for the 2019 tax year from the normal April 15 deadline until July 15. They can also defer initial quarterly estimated federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year (including any self-employment tax) from the normal April 15 deadline until July 15.

For corporations. Corporations that use the calendar year for tax purposes can defer until July 15 federal income tax payments that would otherwise be due on April 15. This relief covers the amount owed for the 2019 tax year and the amount due for the first quarterly estimated tax payment for the 2020 tax year. Both of those amounts would otherwise be due on April 15.

For trusts and estates. Trusts and estates pay federal income taxes, too. Normally, federal income tax payments for the 2019 tax year of trusts and estates that use the calendar year for tax purposes would be due on April 15. The initial quarterly estimated federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year of trusts and estates that use the calendar year for tax purposes would also normally be due on April 15. These deadlines have also been postponed to July 15.

Notice 2020-20 postponed the filing and payment deadlines for 2019 federal gift and generation-skipping transfer taxes from April 15 to July 15.

Moving target

We’ve covered only some of the COVID-19-related tax law changes that have already been finalized. There are also other types of federal relief under the CARES Act and through federal agencies. And many states have announced their own COVID-19 relief. More federal measures and additional guidance are expected, some of which could affect the relief discussed here. Contact us to discuss which relief measures may apply in your specific situation.

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Apr 2020 Seniors: Medicare Premiums Could Lower Your Tax Bill & Protect Your Estate with These Two Essential Documents

Seniors: Medicare Premiums Could Lower Your Tax Bill

Americans who are 65 and older qualify for basic Medicare insurance, but they may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage they desire. The premiums can be expensive — especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. One aspect of paying premiums might be a positive, however: If you’re eligible, they may help lower your tax bill.

Premium tax deductions

Premiums for Medicare health insurance can be combined with other qualifying health care expenses for purposes of possibly claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your individual tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans.

Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, co-insurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.

Fewer itemizers

Qualifying for a medical expense deduction can be difficult for a couple of reasons. For 2019, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of AGI.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. For the 2019 tax year, the standard deduction amounts are $12,200 for single filers, $24,400 for married joint-filing couples and $18,350 for heads of households. So, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions. However, if you have significant medical expenses (including Medicare health insurance premiums), you may be able to itemize and collect some tax savings.

Important note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. That means they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.

Other deductible medical expenses

In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct a variety of medical expenses, including those for ambulance services, dental treatment, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.

Keep in mind that many items that Medicare doesn’t cover can be written off for tax purposes, if you qualify. You can also deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 20-cents-per-mile rate for 2019.

More information

Contact us if you have additional questions about Medicare coverage options or claiming medical expense deductions on your personal tax return. We can help you identify an optimal overall tax-planning strategy based on your personal circumstances.


Protect Your Estate with These Two Essential Documents

Estate planning isn’t just about what happens to your assets after you die. It’s also about protecting yourself and your loved ones. To ensure that your wishes are carried out, and that your family is spared the burden of guessing — or arguing over — what you would decide, put those wishes in writing. Generally, that means executing two documents:

1. A living will. This document expresses your preferences for the use of life-sustaining medical procedures, such as artificial feeding and breathing, surgery, invasive diagnostic tests, and pain medication. It also specifies the situations in which these procedures should be used or withheld. Living wills often contain a “do not resuscitate” order, often referred to as a “DNR,” which instructs medical personnel not to perform CPR in the event of cardiac arrest.

2. A health care power of attorney (HCPA). This document authorizes a surrogate — your spouse, child or another trusted representative — to make medical decisions or consent to medical treatment on your behalf if you’re unable to do so. It’s broader than a living will, which generally is limited to end-of-life situations, though there may be some overlap. An HCPA might authorize your surrogate to make medical decisions that don’t conflict with your living will, including consenting to medical treatment, placing you in a nursing home or other facility, or even implementing or discontinuing life-prolonging measures.

It’s a good idea to have both a living will and an HCPA or, if allowed by state law, a single document that combines the two. Contact us if you have questions regarding either one or about any other aspect of the estate planning process.

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Mar 2020 Gig Workers, Know Your Tax Responsibilities & The 2019 Gift Tax Return Deadline is Almost Here, Too

Gig Workers, Know Your Tax Responsibilities

Let’s say you drive for a ride-sharing app, deliver groceries ordered online or perform freelance home repairs booked via a mobile device. If you do one of these jobs or myriad others, you’re a gig worker — part of a growing segment of the economy.

In fact, a 2019 IRS report found that the share of the workforce with income from alternative, nonemployee work arrangements grew by 1.9 percentage points from 2000 to 2016. (That’s a big increase.) And, over 50% of this rise occurred during the period 2013 to 2016, almost entirely because of gigs set up online.

A different way

No matter what the job or app, all gig workers have one thing in common: taxes. But the way you’ll pay taxes differs from the way you would as an employee.

To start, you’re typically considered self-employed. As a result, and because an employer isn’t withholding money from your paycheck to cover your tax obligations, you’re responsible for making federal income tax payments. Depending on where you live, you also may have to pay state income tax.

Quarterly tax payments

The U.S. tax system is considered “pay as you go.” Self-employed individuals typically pay both federal income tax and self-employment taxes four times during the year: generally on April 15, June 15, and September 15 of the current year, and January 15 of the following year.

If you don’t pay enough over these four installments to cover the required amount for the year, you may be subject to penalties. To minimize the risk of penalties, you must generally pay either 90% of the tax you’ll owe for the current year or the same amount you paid the previous year.

The 1099

You may have encountered the term “the 1099 economy” or been called a “1099 worker.” This is because, as a self-employed person, you won’t get a W-2 from an employer. You may, however, receive a Form 1099-MISC from any client or customer that paid you at least $600 throughout the year. The client sends the same form to the IRS, so it pays to monitor the 1099s you receive and verify that the amounts match your records.

If a client (say, a ride-sharing app) uses a third-party payment system, you might receive a Form 1099-K. Even if you didn’t earn enough from a client to receive a 1099, or you’re not sent a 1099-K, you’re still responsible for reporting the income you were paid. Keep in mind that typically you’re taxed on income when received, not when you send a request for payment.

Good record keeping

As a gig worker, you need to keep accurate, timely records of your revenue and expenses so you pay the taxes you owe — but no more. Our firm can help you set up a good record keeping system, file your taxes and stay updated on new developments in the gig economy.

Sidebar: Expense deductions

By definition, gig workers are self-employed. So, your taxes are based on the profits left after you deduct business-related expenses from your revenue. Expenses can include payment processing fees, your investment in office equipment and specific costs required to provide your service. Remember, if you use a portion of your home as a work space, you may be able to deduct the pro rata share of some home-related expenses.


The 2019 Gift Tax Return Deadline is Almost Here, Too

Most people have April 15 “tattooed on the brain” as the deadline for filing their federal income tax returns. What you may forget is that the gift tax return deadline is on the very same date. So, if you made large gifts to family members or heirs last year, it’s important to determine whether you’re required to file.

Filing requirements

Generally, you must file a gift tax return for 2019 if, during the tax year, you made gifts that exceeded the $15,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse) or that you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $30,000 annual exclusion.

You also need to file if you made gifts to a Section 529 college savings plan and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($75,000) into 2019. Other reasons to file include making gifts:

  • That exceeded the $155,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse, or
  • Of future interests (such as remainder interests in a trust) regardless of the amount, or
  • Of jointly held or community property.

Keep in mind that you’ll owe gift tax only to the extent an exclusion doesn’t apply and you’ve used up your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.4 million for 2019). As you can see, some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax.

No return required

No gift tax return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of gifts that are tax-free because they qualify as annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, or political or charitable contributions.

But if you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.

Be ready

If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is indeed April 15 — regardless of whether you file for an extension (in which case you have until October 15 to file). If you’re unsure whether you must (or should) file a 2019 gift tax return, contact us.

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Feb 2020 The TCJA Effect: Qualified Residence Interest & Careful Tax Planning Required for Incentive Stock Options

The TCJA Effect: Qualified Residence Interest

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made a significant impact — both directly and indirectly — on the deductibility of various types of interest expense for individuals. One area affected is qualified residence interest.

Two ways about it

The TCJA affects interest on residential loans in two ways. First, by nearly doubling the standard deduction and placing a $10,000 cap on deductions of state and local taxes, the act substantially reduces the number of taxpayers who itemize. This means that fewer taxpayers will benefit from mortgage and home equity interest deductions. Second, from 2018 through 2025, the act places new limits on the amount of qualified residence interest you can deduct.

Previously, taxpayers could deduct interest on up to $1 million in acquisition indebtedness ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) and up to $100,000 in home equity indebtedness ($50,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).

Acquisition indebtedness is debt that’s incurred to acquire, build or substantially improve a qualified residence, and is secured by that residence. Home equity indebtedness is debt that’s incurred for any other purpose (such as buying a boat or paying off credit cards) and is secured by a qualified residence. A single mortgage could be treated as both acquisition and home equity indebtedness, allowing taxpayers to deduct interest on debt up to $1.1 million.

The TCJA reduced the deduction limit for acquisition indebtedness to interest on up to $750,000 in debt and eliminated the deduction for home equity indebtedness altogether, through 2025. The new limit on acquisition indebtedness doesn’t apply to debt incurred on or before December 15, 2017, subject to an exception for mortgages that were incurred on or before April 1, 2018, in certain circumstances. Specifically, it involves debt incurred pursuant to a written binding contract to purchase a qualified residence executed before December 15, 2017, and scheduled to close before January 1, 2018 (so long as the purchase, as it turned out, was completed before April 1, 2018). And it doesn’t apply to existing mortgages that are refinanced after December 15, 2017, provided the resulting debt doesn’t exceed the refinanced debt.

The elimination of interest deductions for home equity indebtedness, however, applies to existing debt. So, if you were previously deducting interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt, that interest is no longer deductible. The same holds true for the $100,000 home equity portion of $1.1 million in mortgage debt. Note, however, that interest on a home equity loan used to substantially improve a qualified residence is deductible as acquisition indebtedness (subject to applicable limits).

Review your expenses

In light of the TCJA’s changes, you may want to make changes such as paying off home equity loans because interest is no longer deductible. Contact us for help.

Sidebar: Investment interest also affected

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) also affects investment interest. This is interest on debt borrowed to buy taxable investments (margin loans, for example). Like qualified residence interest, investment interest is an itemized deduction, which is lost if you no longer itemize.

Deductions of investment interest cannot exceed your net investment income, which generally includes interest income and ordinary dividend income, but not lower-taxed capital gains, qualified dividends or tax-free investment earnings. For many people, net investment income is now higher because the TCJA eliminated miscellaneous itemized deductions for such expenses.


Careful Tax Planning Required for Incentive Stock Options

Incentive stock options (ISOs) are a popular form of compensation for executives and other key employees. They allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the ISO grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. But careful tax planning is required because of the complex rules that apply.

Tax advantages abound

Although ISOs must comply with many rules, they receive tax-favored treatment. You owe no tax when ISOs are granted. You also owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs. There could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences, but the AMT is less of a risk now because of the high AMT exemption under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

There are regular income tax consequences when you sell the stock. If you sell after holding it at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).

If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and a portion of the gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.

2019 impact

If you were granted ISOs in 2019, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2019 income tax return. But if in 2019 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2019 tax liability. It’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your 2019 return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.

Planning ahead

If you receive ISOs in 2020 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.

Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.

The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.

Nice perk

ISOs are a nice perk to have, but they come with complex rules. For help with both tax planning and filing, please contact us.

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Jan 2020 Do You Know Your Tax Bracket? & Every Business Owner Needs an Exit Strategy

Do You Know Your Tax Bracket?

Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduced individual tax rates through 2025, there’s no guarantee you’ll receive a refund or lower tax bill. Some taxpayers have actually seen their taxes go up because of reductions or eliminations of certain tax breaks. For this reason, it’s important to know your bracket.

Some single and head of household filers could be pushed into higher tax brackets more quickly than was the case pre-TCJA. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for singles for 2019 is $160,725, whereas it was $191,651 for 2017 (though the rate was 33% then). For heads of households, the beginning of this bracket has decreased even more significantly, to $160,700 for 2019 from $212,501 for 2017.

Married taxpayers, on the other hand, won’t be pushed into some middle brackets until much higher income levels through 2025. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for joint filers for 2019 is $321,450, whereas it was $233,351 for 2017. (Again, the rate was 33% then.)

As before the TCJA, the tax brackets are adjusted annually for inflation. Because there are so many variables under the law, it’s hard to say exactly how a specific taxpayer’s bracket might change from year to year. Contact us for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2020 — and for help filing your 2019 tax return.


Every Business Owner Needs an Exit Strategy

As a business owner, you have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks. But you also must look out for your own financial future. And that includes creating an exit strategy.

Buy-sell agreement

When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business if a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. A well-drafted agreement provides a ready market for the departing owner’s interest in the business and prescribes a method for setting a price for that interest. It also allows business continuity by preventing disagreements caused by new owners.

A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income, provided certain conditions are met.

Succession within the family

You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.

Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can currently gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.

With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.

Get started now

To be successful, your exit strategy will require planning well in advance of retirement or any other reason for ownership transition. Please contact us for help.

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Dec 2019 Year-End Tax and Financial To-Do List for Individuals & Pump the Brakes Before Donating That Vehicle to Charity

Year-End Tax and Financial To-Do List for Individuals

With the dawn of 2020 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2019 ends:

Check your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) balance. If you have an FSA for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2½-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.

Max out tax-advantaged savings. Reduce your 2019 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2019 return if they’re made by April 15, 2020.)

Take required minimum distributions (RMDs). If you’ve reached age 70½, you generally must take RMDs from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2020, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year.

Consider a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). If you’re 70½ or older and charitably inclined, a QCD allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).

Use it or lose it. Make the most of annual limits that don’t carry over from year to year, even if doing so won’t provide an income tax deduction. For example, if gift and estate taxes are a concern, make annual exclusion gifts up to $15,000 per recipient. If you have a Coverdell Education Savings Account, contribute the maximum amount you’re allowed.

Contribute to a Section 529 plan. Sec. 529 prepaid tuition or college savings plans aren’t subject to federal annual contribution limits and don’t provide a federal income tax deduction. But contributions may entitle you to a state income tax deduction (depending on your state and plan).

Review withholding. The IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding estimator (available at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator) to review your situation.

If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholding from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholding, unlike estimated tax payments, is treated as if it were paid evenly over the year.)

For assistance with these and other year-end planning ideas, please contact us.


Pump the Brakes Before Donating That Vehicle to Charity

Many people might consider donating their vehicles to charity at year end to start the new year. Why not get a fresh ride and a tax deduction, eh? Pump the brakes — this strategy doesn’t always work out as intended.

Donating an old car to a qualified charity may seem like a hassle-free way to dispose of an unneeded vehicle, satisfy your philanthropic desires and enjoy a tax deduction (provided you itemize). But in most cases, it’s not the most tax-efficient strategy. Generally, your deduction is limited to the actual price the charity receives when it sells the car.

You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) only if the charity 1) uses the vehicle for a significant charitable purpose, such as delivering meals to homebound seniors, 2) makes material improvements to the vehicle that go beyond cleaning and painting, or 3) disposes of the vehicle for less than FMV for a charitable purpose, such as selling it at a below-market price to a needy person.

If you decide to donate a car, be sure to comply with IRS substantiation and acknowledgment requirements. And watch out for disreputable car donation organizations that distribute only a fraction of what they take in to charity and, in some cases, aren’t even eligible to receive charitable gifts. We can help you double-check the idea before going through with it.

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Nov 2019 Act Now to Save 2019 Taxes on Your Investments & Living the Dream of Early Retirement

Act Now to Save 2019 Taxes on Your Investments

Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to reduce your 2019 tax bill by selling some investments — you just need to carefully select which investments you sell.

Balance gains and losses

If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.

If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, you’ll essentially lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.

Review tax rates

At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retained the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets. For example, for 2019, the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate are $434,551 for singles, $461,701 for heads of households and $488,851 for married couples.

But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect for 2019 until taxable income exceeds $510,300 for singles and heads of households or $612,350 for joint filers. The TCJA also retained the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

Check the netting rules

Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.

You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.

Consider everything

Keep in mind that tax considerations alone shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. Also consider factors such as your risk tolerance, investment goals and the long-term potential of the investment. We can help you determine what makes sense for you.


Living the Dream of Early Retirement

Many people dream of retiring early so they can pursue activities other than work, such as volunteering, traveling and pursuing their hobbies full-time. But making this dream a reality requires careful planning and diligent saving during the years leading up to the anticipated retirement date.

It all starts with retirement savings accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Among the best ways to retire early is to build up these accounts as quickly as possible by contributing the maximum amount allowed by law each year.

From there, consider other potential sources of retirement income, such as a company pension plan. If you have one, either under a past or current employer, research whether you can receive benefits if you retire early. Then factor this income into your retirement budget.

Of course, you’re likely planning on Social Security benefits composing a portion of your retirement income. If so, keep in mind that the earliest you can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits is age 62 (though waiting until later may allow you to collect more).

The flip side of saving up enough retirement income is reducing your living expenses during retirement. For example, many people strive to pay off their home mortgages early, which can possibly free up enough monthly cash flow to make early retirement feasible.

By saving as much money as you can in your retirement savings accounts, carefully planning your Social Security strategies and cutting your living expenses in retirement, you just might be able to make this dream a reality. Contact our firm for help.

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Oct 2019 Is "Bunching" Medical Expenses Still Feasible in 2019? & Mortgage Matters: To Pay Down or Not To Pay Down

Is "Bunching" Medical Expenses Still Feasible in 2019?

Some medical expenses may be tax deductible, but only if you itemize deductions and you have enough expenses to exceed the applicable floor for deductibility. With proper planning, you may be able to time controllable medical expenses to your tax advantage.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made bunching such expenses beneficial for some taxpayers. At the same time, certain taxpayers who’ve benefited from the medical expense deduction in previous years might no longer benefit because of the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction.

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 of a tax break with a floor is the medical expense deduction.

Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible expenses into one year where possible. The TCJA reduced the floor for the medical expense deduction for 2017 and 2018 from 10% to 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

However, beginning January 1, 2019, taxpayers may once again deduct only the amount of the unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses for the year that exceeds 10% of their AGI. Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursed by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible.

Itemized deductions

If your total itemized deductions won’t exceed your standard deduction, bunching medical expenses into 2019 won’t save you tax. The TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction. For 2019, it’s $12,200 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,350 for heads of households, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.

If your total itemized deductions for 2019 will exceed your standard deduction, then bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2019 may allow you to exceed the floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and some types of elective surgery.

Exploring the concept

As mentioned, bunching doesn’t work for everyone. For help determining whether you could benefit, please contact us.


Mortgage Matters: To Pay Down or Not To Pay Down

If you’re a homeowner and manage your finances well, you might have extra cash after you’ve paid your monthly bills. What should you do with this extra money? Some would say make additional mortgage payments toward your principal to pay off your mortgage early. Others would say: No, invest those dollars in the stock market!

The decision is very much about risk vs. return. There’s little, if any, risk in prepaying a mortgage, because you already know what your rate of return will be: the interest rate on your mortgage. For instance, if your mortgage interest rate is 4.5%, this would be the return earned by every dollar that goes toward prepayment (not factoring in the mortgage interest deduction if you qualify).

However, if you invest the money in the stock market, you’ll assume much more risk. The level of risk depends on the assets you invest in, but there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.

Your mortgage interest rate is indeed an important factor. If your rate is relatively low, so is the return from prepaying your mortgage. The final decision for many people comes down to whether they believe they can earn a higher return investing the money than they would prepaying their mortgage.

Clearly there’s the potential to outperform your mortgage interest rate by investing your money for the long term. Remember, though, that the stock market may be volatile in the short term and offers no guarantees.

There’s no single answer to the “pay down the mortgage or invest in the market?” question. We can provide additional, more specific guidance on making the right decision for you.

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Sep 2019 The Tax Cost of Divorce Has Risen for Many & Double Up on Tax Benefits by Donating Appreciated Artwork

The Tax Cost of Divorce Has Risen for Many

Are you divorced or in the process of divorcing? If so, it’s critical to understand how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has changed the tax treatment of alimony. Unfortunately, for many couples, the news isn’t good — the tax cost of divorce has risen.

What’s changed?

Under previous rules, a taxpayer who paid alimony was entitled to a deduction for payments made during the year. The deduction was “above-the-line,” which was a big advantage, because there was no need to itemize. The payments were included in the recipient spouse’s gross income.

The TCJA essentially reverses the tax treatment of alimony, effective for divorce or separation instruments executed after 2018. In other words, alimony payments are no longer deductible by the payer and are excluded from the recipient’s gross income.

What’s the impact?

The TCJA will likely cause alimony awards to decrease for post-2018 divorces or separations. Paying spouses will argue that, without the benefit of the alimony deduction, they can’t afford to pay as much as under previous rules. The ability of recipients to exclude alimony from income will at least partially offset the decrease, but many recipients will be worse off under the new rules.

For example, let’s say John and Lori divorced in 2018. John is in the 35% federal income tax bracket and Lori is a stay-at-home mom with no income who cares for John and Lori’s two children. The court ordered John to pay Lori $100,000 per year in alimony. He’s entitled to deduct the payments, so the after-tax cost to him is $65,000. Presuming Lori qualifies to file as head of household, and the children qualify for the full child credit, Lori’s net federal tax on the alimony payments (after the child credit) is approximately $8,600, leaving her with $91,400 in after-tax income.

Suppose, under the same circumstances, that John and Lori divorce in 2019. John argues that, without the alimony deduction, he can afford to pay only $65,000, and the court agrees. The payments are tax-free to Lori, but she’s still left with $26,400 less than she would have received under pre-TCJA rules.

The pre-2019 rules can create a tax benefit by reducing the divorced couple’s overall tax liability (assuming the recipient is in a lower tax bracket). The new rules eliminate this tax advantage. Of course, if the recipient is in a higher tax bracket than the payer, a couple is better off under the new rules.

What to do?

If you’re contemplating a divorce or separation, be sure to familiarize yourself with the post-TCJA divorce-related tax rules. Or, if you’re already divorced or separated, determine whether you would benefit by applying the new rules to your alimony payments through a modification of your divorce or separation instrument. (See “What if you’re already divorced?”) We can help you sort out the details.

Sidebar: What if you’re already divorced?

Existing divorce or separation instruments, including those executed during 2018, aren’t affected by the TCJA changes. The previous rules still apply unless a modification expressly provides that the TCJA rules must be followed. However, spouses who would benefit from the TCJA rules — for example, because their relative income levels have changed — may voluntarily apply them if the modification expressly provides for such treatment.


Double Up on Tax Benefits by Donating Appreciated Artwork

From a tax perspective, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts. Generally, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property.

The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.

Requirements

The first thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a donation of artwork is that you must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has nearly doubled the standard deduction and put tighter limits on many itemized deductions (but not the charitable deduction), many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing.

For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for singles, $18,350 for heads of households and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.

Something else to be aware of is that most artwork donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal.

IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $50,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.

Finally, note that, if you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.

Deduction tips

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.

Careful planning

To reap the maximum tax benefit of donating appreciated artwork, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all applicable rules. Contact us for assistance.

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Aug 2019 Know a Teacher? Tell Them About This Tax Break & Planning for the Net Investment Income Tax

Know a Teacher? Tell Them About This Tax Break

When teachers are setting up their classrooms for the new school year, it’s common for them to pay for a portion of their classroom supplies out of pocket. A special tax break allows these educators to deduct some of their expenses. This educator expense deduction is especially important now due to some changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Old school

Before 2018, employee business expenses were potentially deductible if they were unreimbursed by the employer and ordinary and necessary to the “business” of being an employee. A teacher’s out-of-pocket classroom expenses could qualify.

But these expenses had to be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and were subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This meant employees, including teachers, could enjoy a tax benefit only if they itemized deductions (rather than taking the standard deduction) and only to the extent that all their deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceeded 2% of their AGI.

Now, for 2018 through 2025, the TCJA has suspended miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI floor. Fortunately, qualifying educators can still deduct some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom costs under the educator expense deduction.

New school

Back in 2002, Congress created the above-the-line educator expense deduction because, for many teachers, the 2% of AGI threshold for the miscellaneous itemized deduction was difficult to meet. An above-the-line deduction is one that’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your AGI.

You don’t have to itemize to claim an above-the-line deduction. This is especially significant with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction, which means fewer taxpayers will benefit from itemizing.

Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct above the line up to $250 of qualified expenses. If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.

Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs of supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.

More details

Some additional rules apply to the educator expense deduction. If you’re an educator or know one who might be interested in this tax break, please contact us for more details.


Planning for the Net Investment Income Tax

Despite its name, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t cut all types of taxes. It left several taxes unchanged, including the 3.8% tax on net investment income (NII) of high-income taxpayers.

You’re potentially liable for the NII tax if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and qualifying widows or widowers; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). Generally, MAGI is the same as adjusted gross income. However, it may be higher if you have foreign earned income and certain foreign investments.

To calculate the tax, multiply 3.8% by the lesser of 1) your NII, or 2) the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold. For example, if you’re single with $250,000 in MAGI and $75,000 in NII, your tax would be 3.8% × $50,000 ($250,000 - $200,000), or $1,900.

NII generally includes net income from, among others, taxable interest, dividends, capital gains, rents, royalties and passive business activities. Several types of income are excluded from NII, such as wages, most nonpassive business income, retirement plan distributions and Social Security benefits. Also excluded is the nontaxable gain on the sale of a personal residence.

Given the way the NII tax is calculated, you can reduce the tax either by reducing your MAGI or reducing your NII. To accomplish the former, you could maximize contributions to IRAs and qualified retirement plans. To do the latter, you might invest in tax-exempt municipal bonds or in growth stocks that pay little or no dividends.

There are many strategies for reducing the NII tax. Consult with one of our tax advisors before implementing any of them. And remember that, while tax reduction is important, it’s not the only factor in prudent investment decision-making.

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Jul 2019 No Surprises: Why You Should Check Your Tax Bracket & Estate Planning Portability Lives on Under The TCJA

No Surprises: Why You Should Check Your Tax Bracket

Many taxpayers learned some tough lessons upon completing their 2018 tax returns regarding the changes brought forth by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). If you were one of them, or even if you weren’t, now’s a good time to check your bracket to avoid any unpleasant surprises next April.

Under the TCJA, the top income tax rate is now 37% (down from 39.6%) for taxpayers with taxable income over $500,000 for 2018 (single and head-of-household filers) or $600,000 for 2018 (married couples filing jointly). These thresholds are higher than they were for the top rate in 2017 ($418,400, $444,550 and $470,700, respectively), so the top rate probably wasn’t too much of a concern for many upper-income filers.

But some singles and heads of households in the middle and upper brackets were likely pushed into a higher tax bracket much more quickly for the 2018 tax 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 was 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 found themselves in this bracket and many more could so again in 2019. Fortunately for joint filers, their threshold for this bracket has increased from $233,350 for 2017 to $315,000 for 2018. The thresholds for these brackets have increased slightly for 2019, due to inflation adjustments. 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 might no longer benefit from itemizing because of the nearly doubled standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of certain itemized deductions. For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for singles and married individuals filing separately, $18,350 for heads of households and $24,400 for joint filers.


Estate Planning Portability Lives on Under The TCJA

When the TCJA was passed, the big estate planning news was that the federal gift and estate tax exclusion doubled from $5 million to an inflation-indexed $10 million. It was further indexed for inflation to $11.18 million for 2018 and now $11.4 million for 2019.

Somewhat lost in the clamor, however, was (and is) the fact that the new law preserves the “portability” provision for married couples. Portability allows your estate to elect to permit your surviving spouse to use any of your available estate tax exclusion that is unused at your death.

A brief history

At the turn of this century, the exclusion was a mere $675,000 before being hiked to $1 million in 2002. By 2009, the exclusion increased to $3.5 million, while the top estate tax rate was reduced from 55% in 2000 to 35% in 2010, among other changes.

After a one-year estate tax moratorium in 2010, the Tax Relief Act (TRA) of 2010 reinstated the estate tax with a generous $5 million exclusion, indexed for inflation, and a top 35% tax rate. The American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012 made these changes permanent, aside from increasing the top rate to 40%.

Most important, the TRA authorized portability of the estate tax exclusion, which was then permanently preserved by the ATRA. Under the portability provision, the executor of the estate of the first spouse to die can elect to have the “deceased spousal unused exclusion” (DSUE) transferred to the estate of the surviving spouse.

How the DSUE works

Let’s say Kevin and Debbie, who have two children, each own $5 million individually and $10 million jointly with rights of survivorship, for a total of $20 million. Under their wills, all assets pass first to the surviving spouse and then to the children.

If Debbie had died in early 2019, the $10 million ($5 million owned individually and $5 million held jointly) in assets would be exempt from estate tax because of the unlimited marital deduction. Thus, her entire $11.4 million exclusion would remain unused. However, if the election is made upon her death, Kevin’s estate can later use the $11.4 million of the DSUE from Debbie, plus the exclusion for the year in which Kevin dies, to shelter the remaining $8.6 million from tax, with plenty to spare for some appreciation in value.

What would have happened without the portability provision? For simplicity, let’s say that Kevin dies later in 2019. Without being able to benefit from the unused portion of Debbie’s exclusion, the $11.4 million exclusion for Kevin in 2019 leaves the $8.6 million subject to estate tax. At the 40% rate, the federal estate tax bill would amount to a whopping $3.44 million.

Although techniques such as a traditional bypass trust may be used to avoid or reduce estate tax liability, this example demonstrates the potential impact of the portability election. It also emphasizes the need for planning.

Other points of interest

Be aware that this discussion factors in only federal estate taxes. State estate taxes may also have a significant impact, particularly in some states where the estate tax exemption isn’t tied to the federal exclusion.

Also, keep in mind that, absent further legislation, the exclusion amount is slated to revert to pre-2018 levels after 2025. Portability continues, although, for those whose estates will no longer be fully sheltered, additional planning must be considered.

Furthermore, portability isn’t always the best option. Consider all relevant factors, including nontax reasons that might affect the distribution of assets under a will or living trust. For instance, a person may want to divide assets in other ways if matters are complicated by a divorce, a second marriage, or unusual circumstances.

Details, details

Every estate plan includes details that need to be checked and rechecked. Our firm can help you do so, including deciding whether portability is right for you.

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Jun 2019 Consider the Tax Advantages of Qualified Small Business Stock & Vacation Homes: Do You Understand the Tax Nuances?

Consider the Tax Advantages of Qualified Small Business Stock

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced most ordinary-income tax rates for individuals, it didn’t change long-term capital gains rates. They remain at 0%, 15% and 20%.

The capital gains rates now have their own statutory bracket amounts, but the 0% rate generally applies to taxpayers in the bottom two ordinary-income tax brackets (now 10% and 12%). And, you no longer must be in the top ordinary-income tax bracket (now 37%) to be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate of 20%. Many taxpayers in the 35% tax bracket also will be subject to the 20% rate.

So, finding ways to defer or minimize taxes on investments is still important. One way to do that — and diversify your portfolio, too — is to invest in qualified small business (QSB) stock.

QSB defined

To be a QSB, a business must be a C corporation engaged in an active trade or business and must not have assets that exceed $50 million when you purchase the shares.

The corporation must be a QSB on the date the stock is issued and during substantially all the time you own the shares. If, however, the corporation’s assets exceed the $50 million threshold while you’re holding the shares, it won’t cause QSB status to be lost in relation to your shares.

Two tax advantages

QSBs offer investors two valuable tax advantages:

1. Up to a 100% exclusion of gain. Generally, taxpayers selling QSB stock are allowed to exclude a portion of their gain if they’ve held the stock for more than five years. The amount of the exclusion depends on the acquisition date. The exclusion is 100% for stock acquired on or after Sept. 28, 2010. So, if you purchase QSB stock in 2019, you can enjoy a 100% exclusion if you hold it until sometime in 2024. (The specific date, of course, depends on the date you purchase the stock.)

2. Tax-free gain rollovers. If you don’t want to hold the QSB stock for five years, you still have the opportunity to enjoy a tax benefit: Within 60 days of selling the stock, you can buy other QSB stock with the proceeds and defer the tax on your gain until you dispose of the new stock. The rolled-over gain reduces your basis in the new stock. For determining long-term capital gains treatment, the new stock’s holding period includes the holding period of the stock you sold.

More to think about

Additional requirements and limits apply to these breaks. For example, there are many types of businesses that don’t qualify as QSBs, ranging from various professional fields to financial services to hospitality and more. Before investing, it’s important to also consider nontax factors, such as your risk tolerance, time horizon and overall investment goals. Contact us to learn more.


Vacation Homes: Do You Understand the Tax Nuances?

Owning a vacation home can offer tax breaks, but they may differ from those associated with a primary residence. The key is whether a vacation home is used solely for personal enjoyment or is also rented out to tenants.

Sorting it out

If your vacation home is not rented out, or if you rent it out for no more than 14 days a year, the tax benefits are essentially the same as those you’d receive if you own your primary residence. In this scenario, you’d generally be able to deduct your mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A of your federal income tax return, up to certain limits. Also, you may exclude all your rental income.

But the rules are different if you rent out your vacation home for 15 or more days annually. First, the rental income must be reported. Second, in this scenario, the IRS considers your vacation home to be an investment property and, thus, allows deductions related to the rental of the property, with certain limitations. In addition to mortgage interest and real estate taxes, these deductions generally include insurance, utilities, housekeeping, repairs and depreciation. Also, the deduction for certain categories of expenses cannot exceed the rental income.

If you exceed this number of days of rentals and use your vacation home for personal use, these deductions will be limited by the ratio of actual rental days to the total days of use of the home. Suppose, for example, that you personally use your vacation home for 25 days and rent it for 75 days in a year, so the home is used for 100 total days. Here, you would be allowed to deduct 75% of the expenses listed above as rental expenses. Be aware that a portion of the mortgage interest and real estate taxes may be deductible on Schedule A. In certain circumstances, however, the personal portion of your mortgage interest may not be deductible.

Bottom line

If you want to maximize the tax benefits of your vacation home, limit your personal use of the home to no more than 14 days or 10% of the total rental days. If you want to personally use the home more than this, you can still realize some limited tax benefits. Contact our firm for details about your specific situation.

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May 2019 Innocent Spouse Rules Offer Protection Under Some Circumstances & Send Your Kids to Day Camp and You May Get a Tax Break

Innocent Spouse Rules Offer Protection Under Some Circumstances

Must one spouse pay the tax resulting from a fabrication or omission by another spouse on a jointly filed tax return? It depends. If the spouse qualifies, he or she may be able to avoid personal tax liability under the “innocent spouse” rules.

Joint filing status

Generally, married taxpayers benefit overall by filing a joint tax return on the federal level. This is particularly the case when one spouse earns significantly more than the other. Filing jointly may also help the couple maximize certain income tax deductions and credits.

But joint filing status comes with a catch. Each spouse is “jointly and severally” responsible for any tax, interest and penalties attributable to the return. And this liability continues to apply even if the couple gets a divorce or one spouse dies. In other words, the IRS may try to collect the full amount due from one spouse, even if all the income reported on the joint return was earned by the other spouse.

Basic rules

However, the tax law provides tax relief for an “innocent spouse.” Under these rules, one spouse may not be liable for any unpaid tax and penalties, despite having signed the joint return.

To determine eligibility for relief, the IRS imposes a set of common requirements. The spouses must have filed a joint return that has an understatement of tax, and that understatement must be attributable to one spouse’s erroneous items. For this purpose, “erroneous items” are defined as any deduction, credit or tax basis incorrectly stated on the return, as well as any income not reported.

From there, the other (“innocent”) spouse must establish that, at the time the joint return was signed, he or she didn’t know — or have reason to know — there was an understatement of tax. Finally, to qualify, the IRS needs to find that it would be unfair to hold one spouse liable for the understatement after considering all the facts and circumstances.

Additional notes

For many years, innocent spouse relief had to be requested within two years after the IRS first began its collection activity against a taxpayer. But, in 2011, the IRS announced that it would no longer apply the two-year limit on collection activities.

In addition, by law, when one spouse applies for innocent spouse relief, the IRS must contact the other spouse or former spouse. There are no exceptions even for victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence.

Help available

Historically, courts haven’t been particularly generous about upholding claims under the innocent spouse rules. State laws can also complicate matters. If you’re wondering whether you’d qualify for relief, please contact us for help.

Sidebar: What does the IRS consider?

The IRS considers “all facts and circumstances” in determining whether it would be inequitable to hold an “innocent” spouse liable for taxes due on a jointly filed tax return. One factor that may increase the likelihood of relief is that the taxes owed are clearly attributable to one spouse or an ex-spouse who filled out the errant return.

If one spouse was deserted during the marriage, or suffered abuse, it may also improve the chances that innocent spouse relief will be granted. In some cases, the IRS may examine the couple’s situation to determine whether the spouse applying for relief knew about the erroneous items.


Send Your Kids to Day Camp and You May Get a Tax Break

Among the many great challenges of parenthood is what to do with your kids when school lets out. Do you keep them at home and try to captivate their attention yourself or with the help of sitters? Or do you send them off to the wide variety of day camps now in operation? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but if you choose the latter option, you might qualify for a tax break!

Dollar-for-dollar savings

Day camp — but, to be clear, not overnight camp — is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care tax credit, which is worth 20% of qualifying expenses (more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000), subject to a cap. For 2019, the maximum expenses allowed for the credit are $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more.

Remember that tax credits are particularly valuable because they reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar — $1 of tax credit saves you $1 of taxes. This differs from deductions, which simply reduce the amount of income subject to tax. For example, if you’re in the 24% tax bracket, $1 of deduction saves you only $0.24 of taxes. So, it’s important to take maximum advantage of the tax credits available to you.

Qualifying for the credit

A qualifying child is generally a dependent under age 13. (There’s no age limit if the dependent child is unable physically or mentally to care for him- or herself.) Special rules apply if the child’s parents are divorced or separated or if the parents live apart.

Eligible costs for care must be work-related. This means that the child care is needed so that you can work or, if you’re currently unemployed, look for work.

If you participate in an employer-sponsored child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also sometimes referred to as a Dependent Care Assistance Program, you can’t use expenses paid from or reimbursed by the FSA to claim the credit.

Determining eligibility

Additional rules apply to the child and dependent care credit. If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, contact us. We can assist you in determining your eligibility for this credit and other tax breaks for parents.

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Apr 2019 Business vs Hobby: The Tax Rules Have Changed & Are Income Taxes Taking a Bite Out of Your Trusts?

Business vs Hobby: The Tax Rules Have Changed

If you generate income from a passion such as cooking, woodworking, raising animals — or anything else — beware of the tax implications. They’ll vary depending on whether the activity is treated as a hobby or a business.

The bottom line: The income generated by your activity is taxable. But different rules apply to how income and related expenses are reported.

Factors to consider

The IRS has identified several factors that should be considered when making the hobby vs. business distinction. The greater the extent to which these factors apply, the more likely your activity will be deemed a business.

For starters, in the event of an audit, the IRS will examine the time and effort you devote to the activity and whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood. Also, the IRS will likely view it as a business if any losses you’ve incurred are because of circumstances beyond your control, or they took place in what could be defined as the start-up phase of a company.

Profitability — past, present and future — is also important. If you change your operational methods to improve profitability, and you can expect future profits from the appreciation of assets used in the activity, the IRS is more likely to view it as a business. The agency may also consider whether you’ve previously made a profit in similar activities. Also, the intent to make a profit is a key factor.

The IRS always stresses that the final determination will be based on all the relevant facts and circumstances related to your activity.

Changes under the TCJA

Under previous tax law, if the activity was deemed a hobby, you could still generally deduct ordinary and necessary expenses associated with it. But you had to deduct hobby expenses as miscellaneous itemized deduction items, so they could be written off only to the extent they exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

All of this has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Beginning with the 2018 tax year and running through 2025, the TCJA eliminates write-offs for miscellaneous itemized deduction items previously subject to the 2% of AGI threshold.

Thus, if the activity is a hobby, you won’t be able to deduct expenses associated with it. However, you must still report all income from it. If, instead, the activity is considered a business, you can deduct the expenses associated with it. If the business activity results in a loss, you can deduct the loss from your other income in the same tax year, within certain limits.

An issue to address

Worried the IRS might recharacterize your business as a hobby? Contact our firm. We can help you address this issue on your 2018 return or assist you in perhaps filing an amended return, if appropriate.


Are Income Taxes Taking a Bite Out of Your Trusts?

If your estate plan includes one or more trusts, review them before you file your tax return. Or, if you’ve already filed it, look carefully at how your trusts were affected. Income taxes often take an unexpected bite out of these asset-protection vehicles.

3 ways to soften the blow

For trusts, there are income thresholds that may trigger the top income tax rate of 37%, the top long-term capital gains rate of 20%, and the net investment income tax of 3.8%. Here are three ways to soften the blow:

1. Use grantor trusts. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is designed so that you, the grantor, are treated as the trust’s owner for income tax purposes — even though your contributions to the trust are considered “completed gifts” for estate- and gift-tax purposes.

The trust’s income is taxed to you, so the trust itself avoids taxation. This allows trust assets to grow tax-free, leaving more for your beneficiaries. And it reduces the size of your estate. Further, as the owner, you can sell assets to the trust or engage in other transactions without tax consequences.

Keep in mind that, if your personal income exceeds the applicable thresholds for your filing status, using an IDGT won’t avoid the tax rates described above. Still, the other benefits of these trusts make them attractive.

2. Change your investment strategy. Despite the advantages of grantor trusts, non-grantor trusts are sometimes desirable or necessary. At some point, for example, you may decide to convert a grantor trust to a non-grantor trust to relieve yourself of the burden of paying the trust’s taxes. Also, grantor trusts become non-grantor trusts after the grantor’s death.

One strategy for easing the tax burden on non-grantor trusts is for the trustee to shift investments into tax-exempt or tax-deferred investments.

3. Distribute income. Generally, non-grantor trusts are subject to tax only to the extent they accumulate taxable income. When a trust makes distributions to a beneficiary, it passes along ordinary income (and, in some cases, capital gains), which are taxed at the beneficiary’s marginal rate.

Thus, one strategy for minimizing taxes on trust income is to distribute the income (assuming the trust isn’t already required to distribute income) to beneficiaries in lower tax brackets. The trustee might also consider distributing appreciated assets, rather than cash, to take advantage of a beneficiary’s lower capital gains rate. Of course, doing so may conflict with a trust’s purposes.

Opportunities to reduce

If you’re concerned about income taxes on your trusts, contact us. We can review your estate plan to assess the tax exposure of your trusts, as well as to uncover opportunities to reduce your family’s tax burden.

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Mar 2019 Weigh the Tax Impact of Income vs. Growth When Investing & Deducting Charitable Gifts Depends on a Variety of Factors

Weigh the Tax Impact of Income vs. Growth When Investing

As the 2018 tax-filing season heats up, investors have much to consider. Whether you structured your portfolio to emphasize income over growth — or vice versa, or perhaps a balance of the two — will have a substantial impact on your tax liability. Let’s take a look at a couple of the most significant “big picture” issues that affect income vs. growth.

Differing dividends

One benefit of dividends is that they may qualify for preferential long-term capital gains tax rates. For the 2018 tax year, the top rate is 20% for high-income taxpayers (income of $425,800 or more). For those with incomes between $38,601 and $425,800, the rate is 15%. Individuals with incomes of $38,600 and below pay 0% on long-term capital gains.

Keep in mind, however, that only “qualified dividends” are eligible for these rates. Nonqualified dividends are taxed as ordinary income at rates as high as 37% for 2018. Qualified dividends must meet two requirements. First, the dividends must be paid by a U.S. corporation or a qualified foreign corporation. Second, the stock must be held for at least 61 days during the 121-day period that starts 60 days before the ex-dividend date and ends 60 days after that date.

A qualified foreign corporation is one that’s organized in a U.S. possession or in a country that has a current tax treaty with the United States, or whose stock is readily tradable on an established U.S. market. The ex-dividend date is the cutoff date for declared dividends. Investors who purchase stock on or after that date won’t receive a dividend payment.

Timing is everything

One disadvantage of dividend-paying stocks (or mutual funds that invest in dividend-paying stocks) is that they accelerate taxes. Regardless of how long you hold the stock, you’ll owe taxes on dividends as they’re paid, which erodes your returns over time.

When you invest in growth stocks (or mutual funds that invest in growth stocks), you generally have greater control over the timing of the tax bite. These companies tend to reinvest their profits in the companies rather than pay them out as dividends, so taxes on the appreciation in value are deferred until you sell the stock.

Keeping an eye out

Regardless of your investment approach, you need to understand the tax implications of various investments so you can make informed decisions. You should also keep an eye on Congress. As of this writing, further tax law reform beyond the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 isn’t on the horizon — but it’s being discussed. Contact our firm for the latest news and to discuss your tax and investment strategies.

Sidebar: What are your investment objectives?

When re-evaluating your investment portfolio, it’s important to consider whether your objectives have changed. There are many factors to consider, both tax and nontax. Some investors seek dividends because they need the current income or they believe that companies with a history of paying healthy dividends are better managed. Others prefer to defer taxes by investing in growth stocks. And, of course, there’s something to be said for a balanced portfolio that includes both income and growth investments. When preparing to file your 2018 taxes, take a moment to identify your objectives and determine if you met them or fell short.


Deducting Charitable Gifts Depends on a Variety of Factors

Whether you’re planning to claim charitable deductions on your 2018 return or make donations for 2019, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.

What you give

Among the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give. For example:

Cash or ordinary-income property. You may deduct the amount of gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction. For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.

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

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

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

Use of property or provision of services. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift. When providing services, you may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.

Other factors

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

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

Planning ahead

For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubles the standard deduction - plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions. As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax.

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

The years ahead

Your charitable giving strategy may need to change in light of tax law reform or other factors. Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2018 return or what’s best to do in the years ahead.

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Feb 2019 Multistate Resident? Watch Out for Double Taxation & Fewer Taxpayers to Qualify for Home Office Deduction

Multistate Resident? Watch Out for Double Taxation

Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution or federal law that prohibits multiple states from collecting tax on the same income. Although many states provide tax credits to prevent double taxation, those credits are sometimes unavailable. If you maintain residences in more than one state, here are some points to keep in mind.

Domicile vs. residence

Generally, if you’re “domiciled” in a state, you’re subject to that state’s income tax on your worldwide income. Your domicile isn’t necessarily where you spend most of your time. Rather, it’s the location of your “true, fixed, permanent home” or the place “to which you intend to return whenever absent.” Your domicile doesn’t change — even if you spend little or no time there — until you establish domicile elsewhere.

Residence, on the other hand, is based on the amount of time you spend in a state. You’re a resident if you have a “permanent place of abode” in a state and spend a minimum amount of time there — for example, at least 183 days per year. Many states impose their income taxes on residents’ worldwide income even if they’re domiciled in another state.

Potential solution

Suppose you live in State A and work in State B. Given the length of your commute, you keep an apartment in State B near your office and return to your home in State A only on weekends. State A taxes you as a domiciliary, while State B taxes you as a resident. Neither state offers a credit for taxes paid to another state, so your income is taxed twice.

One possible solution to such double taxation is to avoid maintaining a permanent place of abode in State B. However, State B may still have the power to tax your income from the job in State B because it’s derived from a source within the state. Yet State B wouldn’t be able to tax your income from other sources, such as investments you made in State A.

Minimize unnecessary taxes

This example illustrates just one way double taxation can arise when you divide your time between two or more states. Our firm can research applicable state law and identify ways to minimize exposure to unnecessary taxes.

Sidebar: How to establish domicile

Under the law of each state, tax credits are available only with respect to income taxes that are “properly due” to another state. But, when two states each claim you as a domiciliary, neither believes that taxes are properly due to the other. To avoid double taxation in this situation, you’ll need to demonstrate your intent to abandon your domicile in one state and establish it in the other.

There are various ways to do so. For example, you might obtain a driver’s license and register your car in the new state. You could also open bank accounts in the new state and use your new address for important financially related documents (such as insurance policies, tax returns, passports and wills). Other effective measures may include registering to vote in the new jurisdiction, subscribing to local newspapers and seeing local health care providers. Bear in mind, of course, that laws regarding domicile vary from state to state.


Fewer Taxpayers to Qualify for Home Office Deduction

Working from home has become commonplace for people in many jobs. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it. Beginning with the 2018 tax year, fewer taxpayers will qualify for the home office deduction. Here’s why.

Changes under the TCJA

For employees, home office expenses used to be a miscellaneous itemized deduction. Way back in 2017, this meant one could enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus other miscellaneous itemized expenses (such as unreimbursed work-related travel, certain professional fees and investment expenses) exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income.

Starting in 2018 and continuing through 2025, however, employees can’t deduct any home office expenses. Why? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for this period.

Note: If you’re self-employed, you can still deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income during the 2018 through 2025 period.

Other eligibility requirements

If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.

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

Deduction options

If eligible, you have two options for claiming the home office deduction. First, you can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.

A second approach is to use the simplified option. Here, only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 multiplied by the number of square feet of the office space. The simplified deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.

More rules and limits

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

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Jan 2019 Laying the Groundwork for Your 2018 Tax Return & Installment Sales: A Viable Option for Transferring Assets

Laying the Groundwork for Your 2018 Tax Return

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made many changes to tax breaks for individuals. Let’s look at some specific areas to review as you lay the groundwork for filing your 2018 return.

Personal exemptions

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

Standard deduction

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

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

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

Child credit

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

The new law also makes the child credit available to more families than in the past. For 2018 through 2025, the credit doesn’t begin to phase out until adjusted gross income exceeds $400,000 for joint filers or $200,000 for all other filers, compared with the 2017 phaseout thresholds of $110,000 for joint filers, $75,000 for singles and heads of households, and $55,000 for marrieds filing separately. The TCJA also includes, for 2018 through 2025, a $500 tax credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children.

Assessing the impact

Many factors will influence the impact of the TCJA on your tax liability for 2018 and beyond. For help assessing the impact on your situation, contact us.


Installment Sales: A Viable Option for Transferring Assets

Are you considering transferring real estate, a family business or other assets you expect to appreciate dramatically in the future? If so, an installment sale may be a viable option. Its benefits include the ability to freeze asset values for estate tax purposes and remove future appreciation from your taxable estate.

Giving away vs. selling

From an estate planning perspective, if you have a taxable estate it’s usually more advantageous to give property to your children than to sell it to them. By gifting the asset you’ll be depleting your estate and thereby reducing potential estate tax liability, whereas in a sale the proceeds generally will be included in your taxable estate.

But an installment sale may be desirable if you’ve already used up your $11.18 million (for 2018) lifetime gift tax exemption or if your cash flow needs preclude you from giving the property away outright. When you sell property at fair market value to your children or other loved ones rather than gifting it, you avoid gift taxes on the transfer and freeze the property’s value for estate tax purposes as of the sale date. All future appreciation benefits the buyer and won’t be included in your taxable estate.

Because the transaction is structured as a sale rather than a gift, your buyer must have the financial resources to buy the property. But by using an installment note, the buyer can make the payments over time. Ideally, the purchased property will generate enough income to fund these payments.

Advantages and disadvantages

An advantage of an installment sale is that it gives you the flexibility to design a payment schedule that corresponds with the property’s cash flow, as well as with your and your buyer’s financial needs. You can arrange for the payments to increase or decrease over time, or even provide for interest-only payments with an end-of-term balloon payment of the principal.

One disadvantage of an installment sale over strategies that involve gifted property is that you’ll be subject to tax on any capital gains you recognize from the sale. Fortunately, you can spread this tax liability over the term of the installment note. As of this writing, the long-term capital gains rates are 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on the amount of your net long-term capital gains plus your ordinary income.

Also, you’ll have to charge interest on the note and pay ordinary income tax on the interest payments. IRS guidelines provide for a minimum rate of interest that must be paid on the note. On the bright side, any capital gains and ordinary income tax you pay further reduces the size of your taxable estate.

Simple technique, big benefits

An installment sale is an approach worth exploring for business owners, real estate investors and others who have gathered high-value assets. It can help keep a family-owned business in the family or otherwise play an important role in your estate plan.

Bear in mind, however, that this simple technique isn’t right for everyone. Our firm can review your situation and help you determine whether an installment sale is a wise move for you.

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Dec 2018 Use Capital Losses to Offset Capital Gains & Accelerating Your Property Tax Deduction to Reduce Your Tax Bill

Use Capital Losses to Offset Capital Gains

When is a loss actually a gain? When that loss becomes an opportunity to lower tax liability, of course. Now’s a good time to begin your year-end tax planning and attempt to neutralize gains and losses by year end. To do so, it might make sense to sell investments at a loss in 2018 to offset capital gains that you’ve already realized this year.

Now and later

A capital loss occurs when you sell a security for less than your “basis,” generally the original purchase price. You can use capital losses to offset any capital gains you realize in that same tax year — even if one is short term and the other is long term.

When your capital losses exceed your capital gains, you can use up to $3,000 of the excess to offset wages, interest and other ordinary income ($1,500 for married people filing separately) and carry the remainder forward to future years until it’s used up.

Research and replace

Years ago, investors realized it could be beneficial to sell a security to recognize a capital loss for a given tax year and then — if they still liked the security’s prospects — buy it back immediately. To counter this strategy, Congress imposed the wash sale rule, which disallows losses when an investor sells a security and then buys the same or a “substantially identical” security within 30 days of the sale, before or after.

Waiting 30 days to repurchase a security you’ve sold might be fine in some situations. But there may be times when you’d rather not be forced to sit on the sidelines for a month.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative. With a little research, you might be able to identify a security in the same sector you like just as well as, or better than, the old one. Your solution is now simple and straightforward: Simultaneously sell the stock you own at a loss and buy the competitor’s stock, thereby avoiding violation of the “same or substantially identical” provision of the wash sale rule. You maintain your position in that sector or industry and might even add to your portfolio a stock you believe has more potential or less risk.

If you bought shares of a security at different times, give some thought to which lot can be sold most advantageously. The IRS allows investors to choose among several methods of designating lots when selling securities, and those methods sometimes produce radically different results.

Good with the bad

Investing always carries the risk that you will lose some or even all of your money. But you have to take the good with the bad. In terms of tax planning, you can turn investment losses into opportunities — and potentially end the year on a high note.


Accelerating Your Property Tax Deduction to Reduce Your Tax Bill

Smart timing of deductible expenses can reduce your tax liability, and poor timing can increase it unnecessarily. One deductible expense you may be able to control to your advantage is your property tax payment.

You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2018 (the taxes must be assessed in 2018) but that are due in 2019, and deduct the payment on your return for this year. But you generally can’t prepay property taxes that relate to 2019 (they must be assessed in 2019) and deduct the payment on this year’s return. Also, beware of the dollar-amount limitation discussed below.

A big decision

Accelerating deductible expenses such as property tax payments is typically beneficial. Prepaying your property tax may be especially advantageous if your tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is expected to decrease in the next year. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.

But not every tax rate has dropped for the 2018 tax year under the TCJA — the very lowest rate, 10%, has been retained, as well as the 35% rate (though the income brackets for these rates have changed). So, some taxpayers may not save any more by prepaying. Also, taxpayers who expect to substantially increase their income next year, pushing them into a higher tax bracket, may benefit by not prepaying their property tax bill.

Another important point is that, under the TCJA, for tax years 2018 through 2025 the itemized deduction for all state and local taxes is limited to $10,000 ($5,000 for married filing separately).

More considerations

Property tax isn’t deductible for purposes of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). So, if you’re subject to the AMT this year, a prepayment may hurt you because you’ll lose the benefit of the deduction. Before prepaying your property tax, make sure you aren’t at AMT risk for 2018.

Also, don’t forget that, for 2018 to 2025, the TCJA suspends personal itemized exemptions but roughly doubles the standard deduction amounts (for 2018) to $12,000 for singles and separate filers, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for joint filers. This may affect your decision on whether to prepay.

Specific strategies

Not sure whether you should prepay your property tax bill or what other deductions you might be able to accelerate into 2018 (or should consider deferring to 2019)? Contact us. We can help you determine your optimal year-end tax planning strategies.

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Nov 2018 Taxable vs. Tax-advantaged: Where to Hold Investments & Is Now the Time for Some Life Insurance?

Taxable vs. Tax-advantaged: Where to Hold Investments

When investing for retirement or other long-term goals, people usually prefer tax-advantaged accounts, such as IRAs, 401(k)s or 403(b)s. Certain assets are well suited to these accounts, but it may make more sense to hold other investments in traditional taxable accounts.

Know the rules

Some investments, such as fast-growing stocks, can generate substantial capital gains, which may occur when you sell a security for more than you paid for it.

If you’ve owned that position for over a year, you face long-term gains, taxed at a maximum rate of 20%. In contrast, short-term gains, assessed on holding periods of a year or less, are taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate — maxing out at 37%. (Note: These rates don’t account for the possibility of the 3.8% net investment income tax.)

Choose tax efficiency

Generally, the more tax efficient an investment, the more benefit you’ll get from owning it in a taxable account. Conversely, investments that lack tax efficiency normally are best suited to tax-advantaged vehicles.

Consider municipal bonds (“munis”), either held individually or through mutual funds. Munis are attractive to tax-sensitive investors because their income is exempt from federal income taxes and sometimes state and local income taxes. Because you don’t get a double benefit when you own an already tax-advantaged security in a tax-advantaged account, holding munis in your 401(k) or IRA would result in a lost opportunity.

Similarly, tax-efficient investments such as passively managed index mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, or long-term stock holdings, are generally appropriate for taxable accounts. These securities are more likely to generate long-term capital gains, which have more favorable tax treatment. Securities that generate more of their total return via capital appreciation or that pay qualified dividends are also better taxable account options.

Take advantage of income

What investments work best for tax-advantaged accounts? Taxable investments that tend to produce much of their return in income. This category includes corporate bonds, especially high-yield bonds, as well as real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are required to pass through most of their earnings as shareholder income. Most REIT dividends are nonqualified and therefore taxed at your ordinary-income rate.

Another tax-advantaged-appropriate investment may be an actively managed mutual fund. Funds with significant turnover — meaning their portfolio managers are actively buying and selling securities — have increased potential to generate short-term gains that ultimately get passed through to you. Because short-term gains are taxed at a higher rate than long-term gains, these funds would be less desirable in a taxable account.

Get specific advice

The above concepts are only general suggestions. Please contact our firm for specific advice on what may be best for you.

Sidebar: Doing due diligence on dividends

If you own a lot of income-generating investments, you’ll need to pay attention to the tax rules for dividends, which belong to one of two categories:

1. Qualified. These dividends are paid by U.S. corporations or qualified foreign corporations. Qualified dividends are, like long-term gains, subject to a maximum tax rate of 20%, though many people are eligible for a 15% rate. (Note: These rates don’t account for the possibility of the 3.8% net investment income tax.)

2. Nonqualified. These dividends — which include most distributions from real estate investment trusts and master limited partnerships — receive a less favorable tax treatment. Like short-term gains, nonqualified dividends are taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate.


Is Now the Time for Some Life Insurance?

Many people reach a point in life when buying some life insurance is highly advisable. Once you determine that you need it, the next step is calculating how much you should get and what kind.

Careful calculations

If the coverage is to replace income and support your family, this starts with tallying the costs that would need to be covered, such as housing and transportation, child care, and education — and for how long. For many families, this will be only until the youngest children are on their own.

Next, identify income available to your family from Social Security, investments, retirement savings and any other sources. Insurance can help bridge any gaps between the expenses to be covered and the income available.

If you’re purchasing life insurance for another reason, the purpose will dictate how much you need:

Funeral costs. An average funeral bill can top $7,000. Gravesite costs typically add thousands more to this number.

Mortgage payoff. You may need coverage equal to the amount of your outstanding mortgage balance.

Estate planning. If the goal is to pay estate taxes, you’ll need to estimate your estate tax liability. If it’s to equalize inheritances, you’ll need to estimate the value of business interests going to each child active in your business and purchase enough coverage to provide equal inheritances to the inactive children.

Term vs. permanent

The next question is what type of policy to purchase. Life insurance policies generally fall into two broad categories: term or permanent.

Term insurance is for a specific period. If you die during the policy’s term, it pays out to the beneficiaries you’ve named. If you don’t die during the term, it doesn’t pay out. It’s typically much less expensive than permanent life insurance, at least if purchased while you’re relatively young and healthy.

Permanent life insurance policies last until you die, so long as you’ve paid the premiums. Most permanent policies build up a cash value that you may be able to borrow against. Over time, the cash value also may reduce the premiums.

Because the premiums are typically higher for permanent insurance, you need to consider whether the extra cost is worth the benefits. It might not be if, for example, you may not require much life insurance after your children are grown.

But permanent life insurance may make sense if you’re concerned that you could become uninsurable, if you’re providing for special-needs children who will never be self-sufficient, or if the coverage is to pay estate taxes or equalize inheritances.

Some comfort

No one likes to think about leaving loved ones behind. But you’ll no doubt find some comfort in having a life insurance policy that helps cover your family’s financial needs and plays an important role in your estate plan. Let us help you work out the details.

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Oct 2018 Are You a Member of the Sandwich Generation? & Fourth Quarter Tax Calendar

Are You a Member of the Sandwich Generation?

If you’re currently taking care of your children and elderly parents, count yourself among those in the “Sandwich Generation.” Although it may be personally gratifying to help your parents, it can be a financial burden and affect your own estate plan. Here are some critical steps to take to better manage the situation.

Identify key contacts

Just like you’ve done for yourself, compile the names and addresses of professionals important to your parents’ finances and medical conditions. These may include stockbrokers, financial advisors, attorneys, CPAs, insurance agents and physicians.

List and value their assets

If you’re going to be able to manage the financial affairs of your parents, having knowledge of their assets is vital. Keep a list of their investment holdings, IRA and retirement plan accounts, and life insurance policies, including current balances and account numbers. Be sure to add in projections for Social Security benefits.

Open the lines of communication

Before going any further, have a frank and honest discussion with your elderly relatives, as well as other family members who may be involved, such as your siblings. Make sure you understand your parents’ wishes and explain the objectives you hope to accomplish. Understandably, they may be hesitant or too proud to accept your help initially.

Execute the proper documents

Assuming you can agree on how to move forward, develop a plan incorporating several legal documents. If your parents have already created one or more of these documents, they may need to be revised or coordinated with new ones. Some elements commonly included in an estate plan are:

Wills. Your parents’ wills control the disposition of their possessions, such as cars, and tie up other loose ends. (Of course, jointly owned property with rights of survivorship automatically pass to the survivor.) Notably, a will also establishes the executor of your parents’ estates. If you’re the one providing financial assistance, you may be the optimal choice.

Living trusts. A living trust can supplement a will by providing for the disposition of selected assets. Unlike a will, a living trust doesn’t have to go through probate, so this might save time and money, while avoiding public disclosure.

Powers of attorney for health and finances. These documents authorize someone to legally act on behalf of another person. With a durable power of attorney, the most common version, the authorization continues after the person is disabled. This enables you to better handle your parents’ affairs.

Living wills or advance medical directives. These documents provide guidance for end-of-life decisions. Make sure that your parents’ physicians have copies, so they can act according to their wishes.

Beneficiary designations. Undoubtedly, your parents have completed beneficiary designations for retirement plans, IRAs and life insurance policies. These designations supersede references in a will, so it’s important to keep them up to date.

Spread the wealth

If you decide the best approach for helping your parents is to give them monetary gifts, it’s relatively easy to avoid gift tax liability. Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can give each recipient up to $15,000 (for 2018) without paying any gift tax. Plus, payments to medical providers aren’t considered gifts, so you may make such payments on your parents’ behalf without using any of your annual exclusion or lifetime exemption amount.

Mind your needs

If you’re part of the Sandwich Generation, you already have a lot on your plate. But don’t overlook your own financial needs. Contact us to discuss the matter further.


Fourth Quarter Tax Calendar

October 15 — Personal federal income tax returns that received an automatic six-month extension must be filed today and any tax, interest and penalties due must be paid.

  • The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Report 114, “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts” (FBAR), must be filed by today, if not filed already, for offshore bank account reporting. (This report received an automatic extension to today if not filed by the original due date of April 17.)
  • If a six-month extension was obtained, calendar-year C corporations should file their 2017 Form 1120 by this date.
  • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in September for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax and nonpayroll withholding.

October 31 — The third quarter Form 941 (“Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”) is due today and any undeposited tax must be deposited. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until November 13 to file the return.

  • If you have employees, a federal unemployment tax (FUTA) deposit is due if the FUTA liability through September exceeds $500.

November 15 — If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in October for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

December 17 — Calendar-year corporations must deposit the fourth installment of estimated income tax for 2018.

  • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in November for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.

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Sep 2018 TCJA Draws a Silver Lining Around the Individual AMT & Study Up on the Tax Advantages of a 529 Savings Plan

TCJA Draws a Silver Lining Around the Individual AMT

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t eliminate the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT). But the law did draw a silver lining around it. Revised rules now lessen the likelihood that many taxpayers will owe substantial taxes under the AMT for 2018 through 2025.

Parallel universe

Think of the AMT as a parallel universe to the regular federal income tax system. The difference: The AMT system taxes certain types of income that are tax-free under the regular tax system and disallows some regular tax deductions and credits.

The maximum AMT rate is 28%. By comparison, the maximum regular tax rate for individuals has been reduced to 37% for 2018 through 2025 thanks to the TCJA. For 2018, that 28% AMT rate starts when AMT income exceeds $191,100 for married joint-filing couples and $95,550 for others (as adjusted by Revenue Procedure 2018-18).

Exemption available

Under the AMT rules, you’re allowed a relatively large inflation-adjusted AMT exemption. This amount is deducted when calculating your AMT income. The TCJA significantly increases the exemption for 2018 through 2025. The exemption is phased out when your AMT income surpasses the applicable threshold, but the TCJA greatly increases those thresholds for 2018 through 2025.

If your AMT bill for the year exceeds your regular tax bill, you must pay the higher AMT amount. Originally, the AMT was enacted to ensure that very wealthy people didn’t avoid paying tax by taking advantage of “too many” tax breaks. Unfortunately, the AMT also hit some unintended targets. The new AMT rules are better aligned with Congress’s original intent.

Under both old and new law, the exemption is reduced by 25% of the excess of AMT income over the applicable exemption amount. But under the TCJA, only those with high incomes will see their exemptions phased out, while others — particularly middle-income taxpayers — will benefit from full exemptions.

Need to plan

For many taxpayers, the AMT rules are less worrisome than they used to be. Let our firm assess your liability and help you plan accordingly.

Sidebar: High-income earners back in the AMT spotlight

Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many high-income taxpayers weren’t affected by the alternative minimum tax (AMT). That’s because, after multiple legislative changes, many of their tax breaks were already cut back or eliminated under the regular income tax rules. So, there was no need to address the AMT.

If one’s income exceeds certain levels, phaseout rules chip away or eliminate other tax breaks. As a result, higher-income taxpayers had little or nothing left to lose by the time they got to the AMT calculation, while many upper-middle-income folks still had plenty left to lose. Also, the highest earners were in the 39.6% regular federal income tax bracket under prior law, which made it less likely that the AMT — with its maximum 28% rate — would hit them.

In addition, the AMT exemption is phased out as income goes up. This amount is deducted in calculating AMT income. Under previous law, this exemption had little or no impact on individuals in the top bracket because the exemption was completely phased out. But the exemption phaseout rule made upper-middle-income taxpayers more likely to owe AMT under previous law. Suffice it to say that, under the TCJA, high-income earners are back in the AMT spotlight. So, proper planning is essential.


Study Up on the Tax Advantages of a 529 Savings Plan

With kids back in school, it’s a good time for parents (and grandparents) to think about college funding. One option, which can be especially beneficial if the children in question still have many years until heading off to college, is a Section 529 plan.

Tax-deferred compounding

529 plans are generally state-sponsored, and the savings-plan option offers the opportunity to potentially build up a significant college nest egg because of tax-deferred compounding. So, these plans can be particularly powerful if contributions begin when the child is young. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer applicable state tax incentives.

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer-related items and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and, in many cases, for state purposes as well. (The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes the definition of “qualifying expenses” to include not just postsecondary school costs, but also primary and secondary school expenses.)

Additional benefits

529 plans offer other benefits, too. They usually have high contribution limits and no income-based phaseouts to limit contributions. There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions. And the owner can control the account — even after the child is a legal adult — as well as make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions, which means you can make up to a $75,000 contribution (or $150,000 if you split the gift with your spouse) in 2018. In the case of grandparents, this also can avoid generation-skipping transfer taxes.

Minimal minuses

One negative of a 529 plan is that your investment options are limited. Another is that you can make changes to your options only twice a year or if you change the beneficiary.

But whenever you make a new contribution, you can choose a different option for that contribution, no matter how many times you contribute during the year. Also, you can make a tax-free rollover to another 529 plan for the same child every 12 months.

More to learn

We’ve focused on 529 savings plans here; a prepaid tuition version of 529 plans is also available. If you’d like to learn more about either type of 529 plan, please contact us.

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Aug 2018 Take Note of the Distinctive Features of Roth IRAs & Assessing Your Exposure to the Estate and Gift Tax

Take Note of the Distinctive Features of Roth IRAs

For some people, Roth IRAs can offer income and estate tax benefits that are preferable to those offered by traditional IRAs. However, it’s important to take note of just what the distinctive features of a Roth IRA are before making the choice.

Traditional vs. Roth

The biggest difference between traditional and Roth IRAs is how taxes affect contributions and distributions. Contributions to traditional IRAs generally are made with pretax dollars, reducing your current taxable income and lowering your current tax bill. You pay taxes on the funds when you make withdrawals. As a result, if your current tax bracket is higher than what you expect it will be after you retire, a traditional IRA can be advantageous.

In contrast, contributions to Roth IRAs are made with after-tax funds. You pay taxes on the funds now, and your withdrawals won’t be taxed (provided you meet certain requirements). This can be advantageous if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement or if tax rates increase.

Roth distributions differ from traditional IRA distributions in yet another way. Withdrawals aren’t counted when calculating the taxable portion of your Social Security benefits.

Additional advantages

A Roth IRA may offer a greater opportunity to build up tax-advantaged funds. Your contributions can continue after you reach age 70½ as long as you’re earning income, and the entire balance can remain in the account until your death. In contrast, beginning with the year you reach age 70½, you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA — even if you do have earned income. Further, you must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a traditional IRA no later than April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½.

Avoiding RMDs can be a valuable benefit if you don’t need your IRA funds to live on during retirement. Your Roth IRA can continue to grow tax-free over your lifetime. When your heirs inherit the account, they’ll be required to take distributions — but spread out over their own lifetimes, allowing a continued opportunity for tax-free growth on assets remaining in the account. Further, the distributions they receive from the Roth IRA won’t be subject to income tax.

Many vehicles

As you begin planning for retirement (or reviewing your current plans), it’s important to consider all retirement planning vehicles. A Roth IRA may or may not be one of them. Please contact our firm for individualized help in determining whether it’s a beneficial choice.

Sidebar: TCJA eliminated option to recharacterize Roth IRAs

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year had a marked impact on Roth IRAs: to wit, taxpayers who wish to convert a pretax traditional IRA into a post-tax Roth IRA can no longer “recharacterize” (that is, reverse) the conversion for 2018 and later years.

The IRS recently clarified in FAQs on its website that, if you converted a traditional IRA into a Roth account in 2017, you can still reverse the conversion as long as it’s done by October 15, 2018. (This deadline applies regardless of whether you extend the deadline for filing your 2017 federal income tax return to October 15.)

Also, recharacterization is still an option for other types of contributions. For example, you can still make a contribution to a Roth IRA and subsequently recharacterize it as a contribution to a traditional IRA (before the applicable deadline).


Assessing Your Exposure to the Estate Tax and Gift Tax

When Congress was debating tax law reform last year, there was talk of repealing the federal estate and gift taxes. As it turned out, rumors of their demise were highly exaggerated. Both still exist and every taxpayer with a high degree of wealth shouldn’t let either take their heirs by surprise.

Exclusions and exemptions

For 2018, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $11.18 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, no federal estate tax will be due.

Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But not every gift you make will use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:

  • Gifts to your U.S. citizen spouse are tax-free under the marital deduction, as are transfers at death (bequests).
  • Gifts and bequests to qualified charities aren’t subject to gift and estate taxes.
  • Payments of another person’s health care or tuition expenses aren’t subject to gift tax if paid directly to the provider.
  • Each year you can make gifts up to the annual exclusion amount ($15,000 per recipient for 2018) tax-free without using up any of your lifetime exemption.

It’s important to be aware of these exceptions as you pass along wealth to your loved ones.

A simple projection

Here’s a simplified way to help project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.

Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate.

You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met).

If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax.

Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So, you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax.

Strategies to consider

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax, or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us.

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Jul 2018 Don't Let the Kiddie Tax Play Costly Games with You & 4 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Household Help

Don't Let the Kiddie Tax Play Costly Games with You

It’s not uncommon for parents, grandparents and others to make financial gifts to minors and young adults. Perhaps you want to transfer some appreciated stock to a child or grandchild to start them on their journey toward successful wealth management. Or maybe you simply want to remove some assets from your taxable estate or shift income into a lower tax bracket. Whatever the reason, beware of the “kiddie tax.” It can play costly games with the unwary.

An evolving concept

Years ago, the kiddie tax applied only to those under age 14. But, more recently, the age limits were revised to children under age 19 and to full-time students under age 24 (unless the students’ earned income is more than half of their own support).

Another important, and even more recent, change to the kiddie tax occurred under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Before passage of this law, the net unearned income of a child was taxed at the parents’ tax rates if the parents’ tax rates were higher than the tax rates of the child. The remainder of a child’s taxable income — in other words, earned income from a child’s job, plus unearned income up to $2,100 (for 2018), less the child’s standard deduction — was taxed at the child’s rates. The kiddie tax applied to a child if the child:

  • Hadn’t reached the age of 19 by the close of the tax year, or the child was a full-time student under the age of 24 whose earned income was less than half of their own support, and either of the child’s parents was alive at such time,
  • Had unearned income exceeding $2,100 (for 2018), and
  • Didn’t file a joint return.

Now, under the TCJA, for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, the taxable income of a child attributable to earned income is taxed under the rates for single individuals, and taxable income of a child attributable to net unearned income is taxed according to the brackets applicable to trusts and estates. This rule applies to the child’s ordinary income and his or her income taxed at preferential rates. As under previous law, the kiddie tax can potentially apply until the year a child turns 24.

The tax in action

Let’s say you transferred to your 16-year-old some stock you’d held for several years that had appreciated $10,000. You were thinking she’d be eligible for the 0% long-term gains rate and so could sell the stock with no tax liability for your family. But you’d be in for an unhappy surprise: Assuming your daughter had no other unearned income, in 2018 $7,900 of the gain would be taxed at the estate and trust capital gains rates, equal to a tax of $795.

Or let’s say you transferred the appreciated stock to your 18-year-old grandson with the plan that he could sell the stock tax-free to pay for his college tuition. He won’t end up with the entire $10,000 gain available for tuition because of the kiddie tax liability.

Fortunately, there may be ways to achieve your goals without triggering the kiddie tax. For example, if you’d like to shift income and you have adult children (older than 24) who’re no longer subject to the kiddie tax but in a lower tax bracket, consider transferring income-producing or highly appreciated assets to them.

A risky time

Many families wait until the end of the year to make substantial, meaningful gifts. But, given what’s at stake, now is a good time to start a methodical process to determine the best possible way to pass along your wealth. After all, with the many changes made under the TCJA, the kiddie tax might affect you in ways you weren’t expecting. The best advice is to simply run the numbers with an expert’s help. Please contact our firm for more information and some suggestions on how to achieve your financial goals.


4 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Household Help

When you hire someone to work in your home, you may become an employer. Thus, you may have specific tax obligations, such as withholding and paying Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes and possibly federal and state unemployment insurance. Here are four questions to ask before you say, “You’re hired.”

1. Who’s considered a household employee?

A household worker is someone you hire to care for your children or other live-in family members, clean your house, cook meals, do yard work or provide similar domestic services. But not everyone who works in your home is an employee.

For example, some workers are classified as independent contractors. These self-employed individuals typically provide their own tools, set their own hours, offer their services to other customers and are responsible for their own taxes. To avoid the risk of misclassifying employees, however, you may want to assume that a worker is an employee unless your tax advisor tells you otherwise.

2. When do I pay employment taxes?

You’re required to fulfill certain state and federal tax obligations for any person you pay $2,100 or more annually (in 2018) to do work in or around your house. (The threshold is adjusted annually for inflation.)

In addition, you’re required to pay the employer’s half of FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes (7.65% of cash wages) and to withhold the employee’s half. For employees who earn $1,000 or more in a calendar quarter, you must also pay federal unemployment taxes (FUTA) equal to 6% of the first $7,000 in cash wages. And, depending on your resident state, you may be required to make state unemployment contributions, but you’ll receive a FUTA credit for those contributions, up to 5.4% of wages.

You don’t have to withhold federal (and, in most cases, state) income taxes, unless you and your employees agree to a withholding arrangement. But regardless of whether you withhold income taxes, you’re required to report employees’ wages on Form W-2.

3. Are there exceptions?

Yes. You aren’t required to pay employment taxes on wages you pay to your spouse, your child under age 21, your parent (unless an exception is met) or an employee who is under age 18 at any time during the year, providing that performing household work isn’t the employee’s principal occupation. If the employee is a student, providing household work isn’t considered his or her principal occupation.

4. How do I make tax payments?

You pay any federal employment and withholding taxes by attaching Schedule H to your Form 1040. You may have to pay state taxes separately and more frequently (usually quarterly). Keep in mind that this may increase your own tax liability at filing, though the Schedule H tax isn’t subject to estimated tax penalties.

If you owe FICA or FUTA taxes or if you withhold income tax from your employee’s wages, you need an employer identification number (EIN).

There’s no statute of limitations on the failure to report and remit federal payroll taxes. You can be audited by the IRS at any time and be required to pay back taxes, penalties and interest charges. Our firm can help ensure you comply with all the requirements.

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