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Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals
Year-End Tax Planning Strategies for Businesses
Tax Treatment of Virtual Currency Transactions
Tax Tips for Owners of Historic Buildings
Seasonal Workers and the Healthcare Law
Business Expense Deductions for Meals, Entertainment
New Twist on the Social Security Number (SSN) Scam
Solar Technology Tax Credits Still Available for 2019
Tax Preparation vs. Tax Planning
New Tax Rules for Divorce and Alimony Payments
Small Business: Tips for Ensuring Financial Success
Tax Advantages of S-Corporations
Be Prepared When Natural Disasters Strike
Employer Credit for Family and Medical Leave
Expat Compliance with US Tax Filing Obligations
Rental Real Estate Qualifies as a Business
Credit Reports: What You Should Know
Tax Deductions for Teachers and Educators
Three Tips for Getting an Accurate Business Valuation
Who Can Represent You Before the IRS?
Two New Tax Scams to Watch Out for
List of Preventive Care Benefits Expanded for HSAs

Higher Ed Institutions Affected by Proposed Regulations
Avoid Refund Delays by Renewing Expiring ITINs Now
What to Do if You Receive an IRS CP2000 Notice
Are You a Member of the Sandwich Generation?
TCJA Draws a Silver Lining around the Individual AMT
Study Up on the Tax Advantages of a 529 Savings Plan
Take Note of the Distinctive Features of Roth IRAs
Assessing Your Exposure to the Estate Tax and Gift Tax
Don't Let the Kiddie Tax Play Costly Games with You
4 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Household Help
Deducting Home Equity Interest Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
Three Common Types of IRS Tax Penalties
Get an Early Tax "Refund" by Adjusting Your Withholding
Foreign Accounts Call for Specific Reporting Requirements
The New Deal on Employee Meals (and Entertainment)
Dynasty Trusts Are More Valuable Than Ever
Business Owners: Brush Up on Bonus Depreciation
Making 2017 Retirement Plan Contributions in 2018
When an Elderly Parent Might Qualify as Your Dependent
Highlights of the New Tax Reform Law
Help Prevent Tax Identity Theft By Filing Early



Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals
With the end of the year fast approaching, now is the time to take a closer look at tax planning strategies you can use to minimize your tax liability for 2019.
General Tax planning Strategies
General tax planning strategies for individuals include postponing income and accelerating deductions, and careful consideration of timing-related tax planning strategies with regard to investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning.
For example, taxpayers might consider using one or more of the following:
Investments. Selling any investments on which you have a gain (or loss) this year. For more on this, see Investment Gains and Losses, below.
Year-end bonus. If you anticipate an increase in taxable income this year, in 2019, and are expecting a bonus at year-end, try to get it before December 31. Keep in mind, however, that contractual bonuses are different, in that they are typically not paid out until the first quarter of the following year. Therefore, any taxes owed on a contractual bonus would not be due until you file your 2020 tax return in 2021. Don't hesitate to call the office if you have any questions about this.
Medical expenses. Medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI), therefore, you might pay medical bills in whichever year they would do you the most tax good. To deduct medical and dental expenses in 2019, these amounts must exceed 10 percent of AGI. By bunching medical expenses into one year, rather than spreading them out over two years, you have a better chance of exceeding the thresholds, thereby maximizing the deduction. Taxpayers should be reminded that the 7.5 percent threshold was only in effect for tax years 2017 and 2018; in 2019, it reverted to 10 percent AGI.
Deductible expenses such as medical expenses and charitable contributions can be prepaid this year using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken based on when the expense was charged on the credit card, not when the bill was paid. Likewise, with checks. For example, if you charge a medical expense in December but pay the bill in January, assuming it's an eligible medical expense, it can be taken as a deduction on your 2019 tax return.
Stock options. If your company grants stock options, then you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercising an option this year. Use this strategy if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2020. Generally, exercising this option is a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.
Invoices. If you're self-employed, send invoices or bills to clients or customers this year to be paid in full by the end of December; however, make sure you keep an eye on estimated tax requirements.
Withholding. If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, there is still time to increase your withholding before year-end and avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due. On the other hand, the penalty could be avoided by covering the extra tax in your final estimated tax payment and computing the penalty using the annualized income method.
Accelerating Income and Deductions
Accelerating income and deductions are two strategies that are commonly used to help taxpayers minimize their tax liability. Most taxpayers anticipate increased earnings from year to year, whether it's from a job or investments, so this strategy works well. On the flip side, however, if you anticipate a lower income next year or know you will have significant medical bills, you might want to consider deferring income and expenses to the following year.
In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of accelerating income and deductions might allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2019, depending on your situation. Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child tax credits, higher education tax credits, and deductions for student loan interest are examples of these types of tax benefits.
Accelerating income into 2019 is also a good idea if you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year. This is especially true for taxpayers whose earnings are close to threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married filing jointly) that make them liable for additional Medicare Tax or Net Investment Income Tax (more about this topic below).
Taxpayers close to threshold amounts for the Net Investment Income Tax (3.8 percent of net investment income) should pay close attention to "one-time" income spikes such as those associated with Roth conversions, sale of a home or any other large asset that may be subject to tax.
Examples of accelerating income include:

Additional Medicare Tax
Taxpayers whose income exceeds certain threshold amounts ($200,000 single filers and $250,000 married filing jointly) are liable for an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on their tax returns but may request that their employers withhold additional income tax from their pay to be applied against their tax liability when filing their 2019 tax return next April.
As such, high net worth individuals should consider contributing to Roth IRAs and 401(k) because distributions are not subject to the Medicare Tax. In addition, if you're a taxpayer who is close to the threshold for the Medicare Tax, it might make sense to switch Roth retirement contributions to a traditional IRA plan, thereby avoiding the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) as well (more about the NIIT below).
Alternate Minimum Tax
The alternative minimum tax (AMT) applies to high-income taxpayers that take advantage of deductions and credits to reduce their taxable income. The AMT ensures that those taxpayers pay at least a minimum amount of tax and was made permanent under the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012 and exemption amounts increased significantly under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). As such, the AMT is not expected to affect as many taxpayers. Furthermore, the phaseout threshold increases to $510,300 ($1,020,600 for married filing jointly). Both the exemption and threshold amounts are indexed for inflation.
AMT exemption amounts for 2019 are as follows:

Charitable Contributions
Property, as well as money, can be donated to a charity. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the property; however, for certain property, the deduction is limited to your cost basis. While you can also donate your services to charity, you may not deduct the value of these services. You may also be able to deduct charity-related travel expenses and some out-of-pocket expenses, however.
Keep in mind that a written record of your charitable contributions - including travel expenses such as mileage - is required in order to qualify for a deduction. A donor may not claim a deduction for any contribution of cash, a check or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a canceled check) or written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.
Contributions of appreciated property (i.e. stock) provide an additional benefit because you avoid paying capital gains on any profit.
Taxpayers age 70 or older can reduce income tax owed on required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRA accounts by donating them to a charitable organization(s) instead.
Investment Gains and Losses
Investment decisions are often more about managing capital gains than about minimizing taxes. For example, taxpayers below threshold amounts in 2019 might want to take gains; whereas taxpayers above threshold amounts might want to take losses.
Fluctuations in the stock market are commonplace; don't assume that a down market means investment losses as your cost basis may be low if you've held the stock for a long time.
Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term capital gains, which are taxed as ordinary income (i.e., the rate is the same as your tax bracket).
In 2019 tax rates on capital gains and dividends remain the same as 2018 rates (0%, 15%, and a top rate of 20%); however, threshold amounts have been adjusted for inflation as follows:

Where feasible, reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000. As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.
Wash Sale Rule. After selling a securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. This is known as the "Wash Rule Sale." If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., and ETF or another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.
If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free; your original investment is restored, and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).
Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)
The Net Investment Income Tax, which went into effect in 2013, is a 3.8 percent tax that is applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains for earners above a certain threshold amount ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly). Short-term capital gains are subject to ordinary income tax rates as well as the 3.8 percent NIIT. This information is something to think about as you plan your long-term investments. Business income is not considered subject to the NIIT provided the individual business owner materially participates in the business.
Mutual Fund Investments
Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the following year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.
Action: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund in 2019. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends, and in late December of 2019, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.
Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund's long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.
The mutual fund's distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as "ordinary dividends" that don't qualify for relief.
Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date. To find out a fund's ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.
Please call if you'd like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.
Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax
The federal gift and estate tax exemption is currently set at $11.40 million but is projected to increase to $11.58 million in 2020. The maximum estate tax rate is set at 40 percent.
Gift Tax. Sound estate planning often begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor's assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.
Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $15,000 a year per donee in 2019 and are expected to remain the same in 2020.
An unused annual exemption doesn't carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2019, you must make your gift by December 31.
Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $30,000 ($15,000 each). Though what's given may come from either you or your spouse or both of you, both of you must consent to such "split gifts."
Gifts of "future interests," assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don't qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.
If you're considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, don't hesitate to call the office for assistance.
Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift's true value when given.
You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings and built-in gain on the sale.
Gift tax returns for 2019 are due the same date as your income tax return (April 15, 2020). Returns are required for gifts over $15,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $15,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $15,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not "adequately disclosed." Please call the office if you're considering making a gift of property whose value isn't unquestionably less than $15,000.
New Tax Rate Structure for the Kiddie Tax
The kiddie tax rules changed under the TCJA. For tax years 2018 through 2025, unearned income exceeding $2,200 is taxed at the rates paid by trusts and estates. For ordinary income (amounts over $12,750), the maximum rate is 37 percent. For long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, the maximum rate is 20 percent.
Other Year-End Moves
Maximize Retirement Plan Contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don't already have one. It doesn't actually need to be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year's return.
If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($19,000 for 2019), plus an additional catch-up contribution of $6,000 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this, and income restrictions don't apply.
If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $6,000 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.
Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.
In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the amount of excess over 10 percent of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later that are not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.
To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2019, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,350 for single coverage or $2,700 for a family.
529 Education Plans. Maximize contributions to 529 plans, which starting in 2019, can be used for elementary and secondary school tuition as well as college or vocational school.
Don't Miss Out.
Many of the strategies discussed here must be implemented before the end of the year. Please contact the office for assistance with implementing these and other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable for your particular situation.

 


Year-End Tax Planning Strategies for Businesses
There are a number of end of year tax planning strategies that businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2019. Here are a few of them:
Deferring Income
Businesses using the cash method of accounting can defer income into 2020 by delaying end-of-year invoices, so payment is not received until 2020. Businesses using the accrual method can defer income by postponing delivery of goods or services until January 2020.
Purchase New Business Equipment
Section 179 Expensing. Businesses should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2019 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $1.02 million for the first $2.55 million of property placed in service by December 31, 2019. Keep in mind that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed net taxable business income. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2.55 million threshold and eliminated above amounts exceeding $3.57 million.
The TCJA removed computer or peripheral equipment from the definition of listed property. This change applies to property placed in service after December 31, 2017.
Tax reform legislation also expanded the definition of Section 179 property to allow a taxpayer to elect to include certain improvements made to nonresidential real property after the date when the property was first placed in service (see below). These changes apply to property placed in service in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.
1. Qualified improvement property, which means any improvement to a building's interior. However, improvements do not qualify if they are attributable to:

2. Roofs, HVAC, fire protection systems, alarm systems and security systems.
Bonus Depreciation. Businesses are allowed to immediately deduct 100% of the cost of eligible property placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, after which it will be phased downward over a four-year period: 80% in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, and 20% in 2026.
Qualified Property
Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.
Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.
Please contact the office if you have any questions regarding qualified property.
If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here's a simplified explanation:
Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include "conventions" or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.

  1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as "placed in service" (or "disposed of") at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

You buy a $70,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

  1. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40 percent of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.
  2. The mid-month convention:This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

If you're planning on buying equipment for your business, call the office and speak with a tax professional who can help you figure out the best time to buy that equipment and take full advantage of these tax rules.
Other Year-End Moves to Take Advantage Of
Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Small business employers with 25 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees with average annual wages of $50,000 indexed for inflation (e.g., $53,200 in 2018) may qualify for a tax credit to help pay for employees' health insurance. The credit is 50 percent (35 percent for non-profits).
Business Energy Investment Tax Credits. Business energy investment tax credits are still available for eligible systems placed in service on or before December 31, 2022, and businesses that want to take advantage of these tax credits can still do so. Business energy credits include geothermal electric, large wind (expires at the end of 2020), and solar energy systems used to generate electricity, to heat, cool, or to provide hot water for use in a structure, or to provide solar process heat. Hybrid solar lighting systems, which use solar energy to illuminate the inside of a structure using fiber-optic distributed sunlight, are eligible; however, passive solar and solar pool-heating systems excluded are excluded. Utilities are allowed to use the credits as well.
Repair Regulations. Where possible, end of year repairs and expenses should be deducted immediately, rather than capitalized and depreciated. Small businesses lacking applicable financial statements (AFS) are able to take advantage of de minimis safe harbor by electing to deduct smaller purchases ($2,500 or less per purchase or per invoice). Businesses with applicable financial statements are able to deduct $5,000. Small businesses with gross receipts of $10 million or less can also take advantage of safe harbor for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to eligible buildings. Please call if you would like more information on this topic.
Qualified Business Income Deduction. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act non-corporations) may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20 percent of their qualified business income (QBI) from a qualified trade or business for tax years 2018 through 2025. To take advantage of the deduction, taxable income must be under $160,700 ($321,400 for joint returns).
The QBI is complex, and tax planning strategies can directly affect the amount of deduction, i.e., increase or reduce the dollar amount. As such it is especially important to speak with a tax professional before year's end to determine the best way to maximize the deduction.
Depreciation Limitations on Luxury, Passenger Automobiles and Heavy Vehicles. The new law changed depreciation limits for luxury passenger vehicles placed in service after December 31, 2017. If the taxpayer doesn't claim bonus depreciation, the maximum allowable depreciation deduction is $10,000 for the first year.
For passenger autos eligible for the additional bonus first-year depreciation, the maximum first-year depreciation allowance remains at $8,000. It applies to new and used ("new to you") vehicles acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and remains in effect for tax years through December 31, 2022. When combined with the increased depreciation allowance above, the deduction amounts to as much as $18,000.
Under tax reform, heavy vehicles including pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs whose gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is more than 6,000 pounds are treated as transportation equipment instead of passenger vehicles. As such, heavy vehicles (new or used) placed into service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, qualify for a 100 percent first-year bonus depreciation deduction as well.
Deductions are based on a percentage of business use; i.e., a business owner whose business use of the vehicle is 100 percent can take a larger deduction than one whose business use of a car is only 50 percent.
Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2019. Call today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.
Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders.
Year-end tax planning could make a difference in your tax bill.
If you'd like more information, please call to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific tax and financial needs and develop a plan that works for your business.


Tax Treatment of Virtual Currency Transactions
If you've invested in Bitcoin and decide to sell you need to consider the impact of virtual currency transactions on your taxes. Here's what you should know:
Background
Prior to 2014, there was no IRS guidance and many people did not understand that selling virtual currency was a reportable transaction. They may have found themselves with a hefty tax bill - money they were hard-pressed to come up with at tax time. Others were unaware that they needed to report their transactions at all or failed to do so because it seemed too complicated.
In 2018, the IRS announced a Virtual Currency Compliance campaign to address tax noncompliance related to the use of virtual currency through outreach and examinations of taxpayers, and in August 2019, began sending letters to taxpayers with virtual currency transactions that potentially failed to:

More than 10,000 taxpayers received these letters, whose names were obtained through various ongoing IRS compliance efforts. There were three variations of the letter: Letter 6173, Letter 6174 or Letter 6174-A. All three versions strive to help taxpayers understand their tax and filing obligations and how to correct past errors.
In October 2019, the IRS expanded their guidance to include two additional pieces of information that help taxpayers understand their reporting and tax obligations with regard to virtual currency transactions. This expanded guidance includes:

Definitions
Virtual Currency - a digital representation of value, other than a representation of the U.S. dollar or a foreign currency ("real currency"), that functions as a unit of account, a store of value, and a medium of exchange.
Cryptocurrency - a type of virtual currency that uses cryptography to secure transactions that are digitally recorded on a distributed ledger, such as a blockchain.
Hard Fork - when a single cryptocurrency splits in two. This may result in the creation of a new cryptocurrency on a new distributed ledger such as blockchain in addition to the legacy cryptocurrency on the legacy distributed ledger (e.g., blockchain).
Virtual Currency Taxed as Property
Virtual currency, as generally defined, functions in the same manner as a country's traditional currency and is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. The same general tax principles that apply to property transactions also apply to transactions using virtual currency such as:

What to Do if You Failed to Report Transactions
The good news is that if you failed to report income from virtual currency transactions on your income tax return, it's not too late. Even though the due date for filing your income tax return has passed, taxpayers can still report income by filing Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return within 3 years after the date you filed your original return or within 2 years after the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
In October 2019, the IRS issued a draft version of Schedule 1 (Form 1040) that includes a question at the top regarding whether the taxpayer has received, sold, sent, or exchanged virtual currency.
Noncompliance
Taxpayers should also be aware that forgetting, not knowing, or generally pleading ignorance about reporting income from these types of transactions on your tax return is not viewed favorably by the IRS. Taxpayers who do not properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions can be audited for those transactions and, when appropriate, can be liable for penalties and interest.
Taxpayers who did not report transactions involving virtual currency or who reported them incorrectly may, when appropriate, be liable for tax, penalties and interest. In more extreme situations, taxpayers could be subject to criminal prosecution for failing to properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions. Criminal charges could include tax evasion and filing a false tax return. Anyone convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Anyone convicted of filing a false return is subject to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.



Tax Tips for Owners of Historic Buildings
If you own a historic building you should know about a tax credit called the rehabilitation tax credit, which offers an incentive to renovate and restore old or historic buildings.
Here are seven facts that building owners should know about this credit:

  1. The credit is 20 percent of the taxpayer's qualifying costs for rehabilitating a building.
  2. The credit doesn't apply to the money spent on buying the structure.
  3. The legislation now requires that taxpayers take the 20 percent credit spread out over five years beginning in the year they placed the building into service.
  4. The law eliminates the 10 percent rehabilitation credit for pre-1936 buildings.
  5. A transition rule provides relief to owners of either a certified historic structure or a pre-1936 building by allowing owners to use the prior law if the project meets these conditions:
  6. The taxpayer owned or leased the building on January 1, 2018, and the taxpayer continues to own or lease the building after that date.
  7. The 24- or 60-month period selected by the taxpayer for the substantial rehabilitation test began June 20, 2018.
  8. Taxpayers use Form 3468, Investment Credit, to claim the rehabilitation tax credit and a variety of other investment credits.

If you would like more information about the rehabilitation tax credit or any other real estate tax credits you might be eligible for, don't hesitate to call.


Seasonal Workers and the Healthcare Law
Businesses often need to hire workers on a seasonal or part-time basis. For example, some businesses may need seasonal help for holidays, harvest seasons, commercial fishing, or sporting events. Whether you are getting paid or paying someone else, questions often arise over whether these seasonal workers affect employers with regard to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
For the purposes of the Affordable Care Act the size of an employer is determined by the number of employees. As such, employer-offered benefits, opportunities, and requirements are dependent upon your organization's size and the applicable rules. For instance, if you have at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on average during the prior year, you are an ALE (Applicable Large Employer) for the current calendar year.
If you hire seasonal or holiday workers, you should know how these employees are counted under the health care law:
Seasonal worker. A seasonal worker is generally defined for this purpose as an employee who performs labor or services on a seasonal basis, generally for not more than four months (or 120 days). Retail workers employed exclusively during holiday seasons, for example, are seasonal workers.
Seasonal employee. In contrast, a seasonal employee is an employee who is hired into a position for which the customary annual employment is six months or less, where the term "customary employment" refers to an employee who typically works each calendar year in approximately the same part of the year, such as summer or winter.
The terms seasonal worker and seasonal employee are both used in the employer shared responsibility provisions but in two different contexts. Only the term seasonal worker is relevant for determining whether an employer is an applicable large employer subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions; however, there is an exception for seasonal workers:
Exception: If your workforce exceeds 50 full-time employees for 120 days or fewer during a calendar year, and the employees in excess of 50 during that period were seasonal workers, your organization is not considered an ALE.
For additional information on hiring seasonal workers and how it affects the employer shared responsibility provisions please call.


Business Expense Deductions for Meals, Entertainment
As the end of year approaches, taxpayers are reminded that business expense deduction for meals and entertainment have changed due to tax law changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Until proposed regulations clarifying when business meal expenses are deductible and what constitutes entertainment are in effect, taxpayers should rely on transitional guidance that was recently issued by the IRS.
Prior to 2018, a business could deduct up to 50 percent of entertainment expenses directly related to the active conduct of a trade or business or, if incurred immediately before or after a bona fide business discussion, associated with the active conduct of a trade or business. However, the 2017 TCJA eliminated the deduction for any expenses related to activities generally considered entertainment, amusement or recreation.
Taxpayers may continue to deduct 50 percent of the cost of business meals if the taxpayer (or an employee of the taxpayer) is present and the food or beverages are not considered lavish or extravagant. The meals may be provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact.
Please note that food and beverages that are provided during entertainment events will not be considered entertainment if purchased separately from the event.


New Twist on the Social Security Number (SSN) Scam
New variations of tax-related scams show up at regular intervals, the most recent one related to Social Security numbers. Don't be fooled, however; it's nothing more than a new twist on an old scam and yet another attempt to frighten people into returning "robocall" voicemails.
How the Scam Works
Con artists claim to be able to suspend or cancel the victim's SSN and may mention overdue taxes in addition to threatening to cancel the person's SSN. The following are actions that the IRS and its authorized private collection agencies will never undertake, but are the telltale signs of this and many other scams:

What to Do
If taxpayers receive a call threatening to suspend their SSN for an unpaid tax bill, they should just hang up. Taxpayers should not give out sensitive information over the phone unless they are positive they know the caller is legitimate.
Taxpayers who don't owe taxes and have no reason to think they do should:

Taxpayers who owe tax or think they do should:


Solar Technology Tax Credits Still Available for 2019
Certain energy-efficient home improvements can cut your energy bills and save you money at tax time. While many of these tax credits expired at the end of 2016, tax credits for residential and non-business energy-efficient solar technologies do not expire until December 31, 2021. Here are some key facts that you should know about these tax credits:
Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

Equipment costs such as assembling or installing original systems, on-site labor costs, and costs related to wiring or piping solar technology systems are considered final when the installation is complete. For a new home, the placed-in-service date is the occupancy date.
The maximum allowable credit varies by the type of technology:
Solar-electric property

Solar water-heating property

If you would like more information about this topic please contact the office today.

 


Tax Preparation vs. Tax Planning
Many people assume tax planning is the same as tax preparation but the two are actually quite different. Let's take a closer look:
What is Tax Preparation?
Tax preparation is the process of preparing and filing a tax return. Generally, it is a one-time event that culminates in signing your return and finding out whether you owe the IRS money or will be receiving a refund.
For most people, tax preparation involves one or two trips to your accountant (CPA), generally around tax time (i.e., between January and April), to hand over any financial documents necessary to prepare your return and then to sign your return. They will also make sure any tax reporting on your return complies with federal and state tax law.
Alternately, Individual taxpayers might use an enrolled agent, attorney, or a tax preparer who doesn't necessarily have a professional credential. For simple returns, some individuals prepare and file their own tax forms with the IRS. No matter who prepares your tax return, however, you expect them to be trustworthy (you will be entrusting them with your personal financial details), skilled in tax preparation and to accurately file your income tax return in a timely manner.
What is Tax Planning?
Tax planning is a year-round process (as opposed to a seasonal event) and is a separate service from tax preparation. Both individuals and business owners can take advantage of tax planning services, which are typically performed by a CPA and accounting firm or an Enrolled Agent (EA) with in-depth experience and knowledge of tax law, rather than a tax preparer.
Examples of tax planning include bunching expenses (e.g., medical) to maximize deductions, how to use tax-loss harvesting to offset investment gains, increasing retirement plan contributions to defer income, and best timing for capital expenditures to reap the tax benefits. Good recordkeeping is also an important part of tax planning and makes it easier to pay quarterly estimated taxes, for example, or prepare tax returns the following year.
Tax planning is something that most taxpayers do not take advantage of - but should - because it can help minimize their tax liability on next year's tax return by planning ahead. While it may mean spending more time with an accountant, say quarterly or even monthly, the tax benefit is usually worth it. By reviewing past returns an accountant will have a more clear picture of what can be done this year to save money on next year's tax return.
If you're ready to learn more about what strategies you can use to reduce your tax bill next year, help is just a phone call away.

 


New Tax Rules for Divorce and Alimony Payments
Divorce is a painful reality for many people both emotionally and financially, and quite often, the last thing on anyone's mind is the effect a divorce or separation will have on their tax situation. To make matters worse, most court decisions do not take into account the effects divorce or separation has on your tax situation, which is why it's always a good idea to speak to an accounting professional before anything is finalized.
Furthermore, tax rules regarding divorce and separation can and do change - as they recently did under tax reform and divorced and separated individuals should be aware of tax law changes that take effect in 2019 (and affect 2019 tax returns).
Who is Impacted
The new rules relate to alimony or separate maintenance payments under a divorce or separation agreement and includes all taxpayers with:

Tax reform did not change the tax treatment of child support payments which are not taxable to the recipient or deductible by the payor.
Timing of Agreements
Agreements executed beginning January 1, 2019. Alimony or separate maintenance payments are not deductible from the income of the payor spouse, nor are they includable in the income of the receiving spouse, if made under a divorce or separation agreement executed after December 31, 2018.
Agreements executed on or before December 31, 2018 and then modified. The new law applies if the modification does these two things:

Agreements executed on or before December 31, 2018. Prior to tax reform, a taxpayer who made payments to a spouse or former spouse was able to deduct it on their tax return and the taxpayer who receives the payments is required to include it in their income. If an agreement was modified after that date, the agreement still follows the previous law as long as the modifications do not:

Tax reform made an already complicated situation even more so. If you have any questions about the tax rules surrounding divorce and separation, don't hesitate to call.


Small Business: Tips for Ensuring Financial Success
Can you point your company in the direction of financial success, step on the gas, and then sit back and wait to arrive at your destination?
While you may wish it was that easy, the truth is that you can't let your business run on autopilot and expect good results and any business owner knows you need to make numerous adjustments along the way. So, how do you handle the array of questions facing you? One way is through cost accounting.
Cost Accounting Helps You Make Informed Decisions
Cost accounting reports and determines the various costs associated with running your business. With cost accounting, you track the cost of all your business functions - raw materials, labor, inventory, and overhead, among others.
Cost accounting differs from financial accounting because it's only used internally, for decision making. Because financial accounting is employed to produce financial statements for external stakeholders, such as stockholders and the media, it must comply with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Cost accounting does not.
Cost accounting allows you to understand the following:

  1. Cost behavior. For example, will the costs increase or stay the same if production of your product goes up?
  2. Appropriate prices for your goods or services. Once you understand cost behavior, you can tweak your pricing based on the current market.
  3. Budgeting. You can't create an effective budget if you don't know the real costs of the line items.

Is It Hard?
To monitor your company's costs with this method, you need to pay attention to the two types of costs in any business: fixed and variable.
Fixed costs don't fluctuate with changes in production or sales. They include:

Variable costs DO change with variations in production and sales. Variable costs include:

Cost accounting is easier for smaller, less complicated businesses. The more complex your business model, the harder it becomes to assign proper values to all the facets of your company's functioning.
If you'd like to understand the ins and outs of your business better and create sound guidance for internal decision making, consider setting up a cost accounting system.
Need Help?
Please call if you need assistance setting up cost accounting and inventory systems, preparing budgets, cash flow management or any other matter related to ensuring the financial success of your business.

 


Tax Advantages of S-Corporations
As a small business owner, figuring out which form of business structure to use when you started was one of the most important decisions you had to make; however, it's always a good idea to periodically revisit that decision as your business grows. For example, as a sole proprietor, you must pay a self-employment tax rate of 15.3% in addition to your individual tax rate; however, if you were to revise your business structure to become a corporation and elect S-Corporation status you could take advantage of a lower tax rate.
What is an S-Corporation?
An S-Corporation (or S-Corp) is a regular corporation whose owners elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax (and sometimes state) purposes. That is, an S-corporation is a corporation or a limited liability company that's made a Subchapter S election (so named after a chapter of the tax code). Rather than a business entity per se, it is a type of tax classification. Shareholders then report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns and are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates, which allows S-corporations to avoid double taxation on corporate income. S-corporations are, however, responsible for tax on certain built-in gains and passive income at the entity level.
To qualify for S-corporation status, the corporation must submit a Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation to the IRS, signed by all the shareholders, and meet the following requirements:

What are the Tax Advantages of an S-Corp?
Personal Income and Employment Tax Savings
S-corporation owners can choose to receive both a salary from the corporation and nondividend distributions, which are earnings and profits that pass through the corporation to you as an owner, not as an employee in compensation for your services, and are tax-free. Because their compensation is less than it would be if they were operating a sole proprietorship, for example, S-corp owners save on Social Security and Medicare taxes.
The split between salary and distributions must be "reasonable" in the eyes of the IRS, however. Paying self-employment tax on 50 percent or less of profits or a salary that is in line with similar businesses is one example.
Most S-corporation distributions are non-dividend distributions; however, dividend distributions can occur in a company that was previously a C-corporation or acquired C-corporation attributes in a non-taxable transaction (i.e., merger, reorganization, QSub election, etc.). These dividends are taxed at a lower rate than self-employment income, which lowers taxable income.
Finally, some S-corp owners may be able to take advantage of the Qualified Business Income Deduction for pass-through entities as well, thanks to tax reform.
Losses are Deductible
As a corporation, profits and losses are allocated between the owners based on the percentage of ownership or number of shares held. If the S-corporation loses money, these losses are deductible on the shareholder's individual tax return; however, in order for the shareholder to claim a loss, they need to demonstrate they have adequate stock and/or debt basis. For example, if you and another person are the owners and the corporation's losses amount to $20,000, each shareholder can take $10,000 as a deduction on their tax return - provided there is adequate stock and/or debt basis to claim that loss and/or deduction item.
Even when the shareholder has adequate stock and/or debt basis to claim the S corporation loss or deduction item, the shareholder must also consider the at-risk and passive activity loss limitations and therefore may not be able to claim the loss and/or deduction item.
No Corporate Income Tax
Although S-corps are corporations, there is no corporate income tax because business income is passed through to the owners instead of being taxed at the corporate rate, thereby avoiding the double taxation issue, which occurs when dividend income is taxed at both the corporate level and at the shareholder level.
Less Risk of Audit
In 2017, S-corps faced an audit risk of just 0.2% compared to Schedule C filers with gross receipts of $100,000 who faced an audit rate of 0.9% (2018 IRS Data Book). While still low, individuals filing Schedule C (Profit or Loss from Business) are at higher risk of being audited due to IRS concerns about small business owners underreporting income or taking deductions they shouldn't be.
Help is just a phone call away.
Whether you keep your existing structure or decide to change it to a different one, keep in mind that your decision should always be based on the specific needs and practices of the business. Don't hesitate to call the office if you have any questions about electing S-Corporation status or are wondering whether it's time to choose a different business entity altogether.

 


Be Prepared When Natural Disasters Strike
While September and October are prime time for Atlantic hurricanes, natural disasters of any kind can strike at any time. As such, it's a good idea for taxpayers to think about - and plan ahead for - what they can do to be prepared.
Here are four tips to help taxpayers be prepared:
1. Update emergency plans. Because a disaster can strike any time, taxpayers should review emergency plans annually. Personal and business situations change over time, as do preparedness needs. When employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, they should update plans accordingly. They should also tell employees about the changes. Individuals and businesses should make plans ahead of time and be sure to practice them.
2. Create electronic copies of key documents. Taxpayers should keep a duplicate set of key documents in a safe place, such as in a waterproof container and away from the original set. Key documents include bank statements, tax returns, identification documents, and insurance policies.
Doing so is easier now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, and financial information is available on the Internet. Even if the original documents are provided only on paper, these can be scanned into a computer. This way, the taxpayer can download them to a storage device like an external hard drive or USB flash drive.
3. Document valuables and equipment. It's a good idea for a taxpayer to photograph or videotape the contents of their home, especially items of higher value. Documenting these items ahead of time will make it easier to claim any available insurance and tax benefits after the disaster strikes.
4. Payroll service providers should check fiduciary bonds. Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider. The IRS also encourages employers to create an EFTPS.gov account where they can monitor their payroll tax deposits and sign up for email alerts.

 


Employer Credit for Family and Medical Leave
Thanks to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last year, there's a new tax benefit for employers: the employer credit for paid family and medical leave. As the name implies, employers may claim the credit based on wages paid to qualifying employees while they are on family and medical leave.
Here are seven facts about this credit and how it benefits employers:
1. To claim the credit, employers must have a written policy that meets certain requirements such as:

2. A qualifying employee is any employee who has been employed for one year or more, and for the preceding year, had compensation that did not exceed a certain amount. To be a qualifying employee in 2019, an employee must have earned no more than $72,000 in compensation in the preceding year. Looking ahead, to be a qualifying employee in 2020, an employee must have earned no more than $75,000 in compensation in the preceding year.
3. "Family and medical leave" as defined for this particular credit, is leave that is taken for one or more of the following reasons:

4. The credit is a percentage of the amount of wages paid to a qualifying employee while on family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks per taxable year.
5. To be eligible for the credit, an employer must reduce its deduction for wages or salaries paid or incurred by the amount determined as a credit. Any wages taken into account in determining any other general business credit may not be used toward this credit.
6. The credit is generally effective for wages paid in taxable years of the employer beginning after December 31, 2017. It is not available for wages paid in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019, i.e., starting January 1, 2020.
7. To claim the credit, employers file two forms with their tax return: Form 8994, Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave and Form 3800, General Business Credit.
For more information about the employer credit for family and medical leave, please contact the office.

 


Expat Compliance With US Tax Filing Obligations
Taxpayers who relinquish citizenship without complying with their U.S. tax obligations are subject to the significant tax consequences of the U.S. expatriation tax regime. If you're an expat who has relinquished -- or intends to relinquish -- your US citizenship but still has US tax filing obligations (including owing back taxes) you'll be relieved to know there are new IRS procedures in place that allow you to come into compliance and receive relief for any back taxes owed.
Here's what you need to know:
Background
Intended for anyone who has relinquished, or intends to relinquish their United States (U.S.) citizenship, the Relief Procedures for Certain Former Citizens apply to taxpayers who want to come into compliance with their US income tax and reporting obligations and avoid being taxed as a "covered expatriate" under section 877A of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (IRC).
Intended Use
The Relief Procedures for Certain Former Citizens apply only to individuals (not estates, trusts, corporations, partnerships, and other entities) who:

Furthermore, only those US taxpayers whose past compliance failures were non-willful can take advantage of these new procedures. Typically, this situation involves someone born in the United States to foreign parents or someone born outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents, who may be unaware of their status as U.S. citizens or the consequences of such status.
The Details
Eligible individuals wishing to use these relief procedures are required to file outstanding U.S. tax returns, including all required schedules and information returns, for the five years preceding and their year of expatriation. Provided that the taxpayer's tax liability does not exceed a total of $25,000 for the six years in question, the taxpayer is relieved from paying U.S. taxes. The purpose of these procedures is to provide relief for certain former citizens. Individuals who qualify for these procedures will not be assessed penalties and interest.
There is no specific termination date associated with the new IRS procedures; however, a closing date will be announced prior to ending the procedures. Also, individuals who relinquished their U.S. citizenship any time after March 18, 2010, are eligible as long as they satisfy the other criteria of the procedures.
Relinquishing U.S. citizenship and the tax consequences that follow are serious matters that involve irrevocable decisions. Please contact the office if you have any questions about this topic.


Rental Real Estate Qualifies as a Business
A safe harbor is now available for taxpayers seeking to claim the section 199A deduction with respect to a "rental real estate enterprise." What this means is that certain interests in rental real estate - including interests in mixed-use property - are allowed to be treated as a trade or business for purposes of the qualified business income deduction under section 199A of the Internal Revenue Code.
Rental Real Estate Enterprise Defined
For the purposes of this safe harbor, a rental real estate enterprise is defined as an interest in real property held to generate rental or lease income. It may consist of an interest in a single property or interests in multiple properties. The taxpayer or a relevant pass-through entity (RPE) relying on this revenue procedure must hold each interest directly or through an entity disregarded as an entity separate from its owner, such as a limited liability company with a single member.
Qualifying for the Safe Harbor
The following requirements must be met by taxpayers or RPEs to qualify for this safe harbor:

If all the safe harbor requirements are met, an interest in rental real estate will be treated as a single trade or business for purposes of the section 199A deduction. If an interest in real estate fails to satisfy all the requirements of the safe harbor, it may still be treated as a trade or business for purposes of the section 199A deduction if it otherwise meets the definition of a trade or business in the Section 199A regulations.
Help is just a phone call away.
If you would like more information about the qualified business income deduction, safe harbor requirements, or any other aspect of tax reform, don't hesitate to call.


Credit Reports: What You Should Know
Creditors keep their evaluation standards secret, making it difficult to know just how to improve your credit rating. Nonetheless, it is still important to understand the factors that determine creditworthiness. Periodically reviewing your credit report can also help you protect your credit rating from fraud--and you from identity theft.
Credit Evaluation Factors
Many factors are used in determining credit decisions. Here are some of them:

Obtaining Your Credit Reports
Credit reports are records of consumers' bill-paying habits, but do not include FICO credit scores. Also referred to as credit records, credit files, and credit histories, they are collected, stored, and sold by three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that each of the three credit bureaus provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, every 12 months. If you have been denied credit or believe you've been denied employment or insurance because of your credit report, you can request that the credit bureau involved provide you with a free copy of your credit report - but you must request it within 60 days of receiving the notification.
You can check your credit report three times a year for free by requesting a credit report from a different agency every four months.
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
This federal law was passed in 1970 to give consumers easier access to, and more information about, their credit files. The FCRA gives you the right to find out the information in your credit file, to dispute information you believe inaccurate or incomplete, and to find out who has seen your credit report in the past six months.
Understanding Your Credit Report
Credit reports contain symbols and codes that are abstract to the average consumer. Every credit bureau report also includes a key that explains each code. Some of these keys decipher the information, but others just cause more confusion.
Read your report carefully, making a note of anything you do not understand. The credit bureau is required by law to provide trained personnel to explain it to you. If accounts are identified by code number, or if there is a creditor listed on the report that you do not recognize, ask the credit bureau to supply you with the name and location of the creditor so you can ascertain if you do indeed hold an account with that creditor.
If the report includes accounts that you do not believe are yours, it is extremely important to find out why they are listed on your report. It is possible they are the accounts of a relative or someone with a name similar to yours. Less likely, but more importantly, someone may have used your credit information to apply for credit in your name. This type of fraud can cause a great deal of damage to your credit report, so investigate the unknown account as thoroughly as possible.
In light of numerous credit card and other breaches, it is recommended that you conduct an annual review of your credit report. It is vital that you understand every piece of information on your credit report so that you can identify possible errors or omissions.
Disputing Errors
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects consumers in the case of inaccurate or incomplete information in credit files. The FCRA requires credit bureaus to investigate and correct any errors in your file.
If you find any incorrect or incomplete information in your file, write to the credit bureau and askthem to investigate the information. Under the FCRA, they have about thirty days to contact the creditor and find out whether the information is correct. If not, it will be deleted.
Be aware that credit bureaus are not obligated to include all of your credit accounts in your report. If, for example, the credit union that holds your credit card account is not a paying subscriber of the credit bureau, the bureau is not obligated to add that reference to your file. Some may do so, however, for a small fee.
If you need help obtaining your credit reports or need assistance in understanding what your credit report means, don't hesitate to call.

 


Tax Deductions for Teachers and Educators
Educators can take advantage of tax deductions for qualified out-of-pocket expenses related to their profession such as classroom supplies, training, and travel. As such, as the new school year begins, teachers, administrators, and aides should remember to keep track of education-related expenses that could help reduce the amount of tax owed next spring.
Prior to tax reform, educators could choose one of two methods for deducting qualified expenses: Claiming the Educator Expense Deduction (up to $250) or, for those who itemized their deductions, claiming eligible work-related expenses as a miscellaneous deduction on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.
Taxpayers should note, however, that under tax reform, miscellaneous itemized deductions are no longer deductible for tax years 2018 through 2025.
Teachers and other educators can also take advantage of various education tax benefits for ongoing educational pursuits such as the Lifetime Learning Credit or, in some instances depending on their circumstances, the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
How the Educator Expense Deduction Works
Educators can deduct up to $250 of unreimbursed business expenses. If both spouses are eligible educators and file a joint return, they may deduct up to $500, but not more than $250 each. The educator expense deduction is available even if an educator doesn't itemize their deductions. To take advantage of this deduction, the taxpayer must be a kindergarten through grade 12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide for at least 900 hours during a school year in a school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined under state law.
Those who qualify can deduct costs of books, supplies, computer equipment and software, classroom equipment, and supplementary materials used in the classroom. Expenses for participation in professional development courses are also deductible. Athletic supplies qualify if used for courses in health or physical education.
Keep Good Records
Educators should keep detailed records of qualifying expenses noting the date, amount, and purpose of each purchase. This will help prevent a missed deduction at tax time. Taxpayers should also keep a copy of their tax return for at least three years. Copies of tax returns may be needed for many reasons. A tax transcript summarizes return information and includes adjusted gross income and are available free of charge from the IRS.
Questions about tax deductions for educators?
Don't hesitate to call if you have any questions about tax deduction available to educators including teachers, administrators, and aides.


Three Tips for Getting an Accurate Business Valuation
If you're conscientious about financial reporting, you may already have a sense of your company's worth, but in some instances, you might need a formal business valuation, such as:

There isn't a single formula for valuing a business, but there are generally accepted measures that will give you a valid assessment of your company's worth. Here are three tips that you can use to give your business a more accurate valuation.
1. Take a close look at how your business operates. Does it incorporate the most tax-efficient structure? Have sales been lagging or are you selling most of your merchandise to only a few customers? If so, then consider jump-starting your sales effort by bringing in an experienced consultant who can help.
Do you have several products that are not selling well? Maybe it's time to remove them from your inventory. Redesign your catalog to give it a fresh new look and make a point of discussing any new and exciting product lines with your existing customer base.
It might also be time to give your physical properties a spring cleaning. Even minor upgrades such as a new coat of paint will increase your business valuation.
2. Tangible and intangible assets. Keep in mind that business valuation is not just an exercise in numbers where you subtract your liabilities from your assets, it's also based on the value of your intangible assets.
It's easy to figure out the numbers for the value of your real estate and fixtures, but what is your intellectual property worth? Do you hold any patents or trademarks? And what about your business relationships or the reputation you've established with existing clients and in the community? Don't forget about key long-term employees whose in-depth knowledge about your business also adds value to its net worth.
3. Choose your appraisal team carefully. Don't try to do it yourself by turning to the Internet or reading a few books. You may eventually need to bring in experts like a business broker and an attorney, but your first step should be to contact us. We have the expertise you need to arrive at a fair valuation of your business.
If you need a business valuation for whatever reason, please don't hesitate to call and speak to a tax and accounting professional who can help.

 


Who Can Represent You Before the IRS?
Many people use a tax professional to prepare their taxes. Anyone who prepares, or assists in preparing, all or substantially all of a federal tax return for compensation is required to have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). All enrolled agents must also have a valid PTIN.
If you choose to have someone prepare your federal tax return, then you should know who can represent you before the IRS if there is a problem with your return. Here's what you should know:
Representation rights, also known as practice rights, fall into two categories:

Unlimited representation rights allow a credentialed tax practitioner to represent you before the IRS on any tax matter. This is true no matter who prepared your return. Credentialed tax professionals who have unlimited representation rights include:

Limited representation rights authorize the tax professional to represent you if, and only if, they prepared and signed the return. They can do this only before IRS revenue agents, customer service representatives and similar IRS employees. They cannot represent clients whose returns they did not prepare. They cannot represent clients regarding appeals or collection issues even if they did prepare the return in question.
For returns filed after December 31, 2015, the only tax return preparers with limited representation rights are Annual Filing Season Program Participants. The Annual Filing Season Program is a voluntary program. Non-credentialed tax return preparers who aim for a higher level of professionalism are encouraged to participate.
Other tax return preparers have limited representation rights, but only for returns filed before January 1, 2016. Keep these changes in mind and choose wisely when you select a tax return preparer.

 


Two New Tax Scams to Watch out For
Although the April filing deadline has come and gone, scam artists remain hard at work. As such, taxpayers should be on the lookout for scams that reference taxes or mention the IRS, especially during the summer and fall as tax bills and refunds arrive.
The two new variations of tax-related scams that are currently making the rounds are what the IRS has dubbed the "SSN Hustle" and the "Fake Tax Agency." The first involves Social Security numbers (SSNs) related to tax issues and the second threatens people with a tax bill from a fictional government agency. Both display classic signs of being scams.
The SSN Hustle
The latest twist includes scammers claiming to be able to suspend or cancel the victim's Social Security number. In this variation, the Social Security cancellation threat scam is similar to and often associated with the IRS impersonation scam. It is yet another attempt by con artists to frighten people into returning "robocall" voicemails. Scammers may mention overdue taxes in addition to threatening to cancel the person's SSN.
Fake Tax Agency
This scheme involves the mailing of a letter threatening an IRS lien or levy. The lien or levy is based on bogus delinquent taxes owed to a non-existent agency, "Bureau of Tax Enforcement." There is no such agency. The lien notification scam also likely references the IRS to confuse potential victims into thinking the letter is from a legitimate organization.
A Reminder about Phone and Email Phishing Scams
The IRS does not leave prerecorded, urgent or threatening messages. In many variations of the phone scam, victims are told if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Other verbal threats include law-enforcement agency intervention, deportation or revocation of licenses.
Criminals can fake or "spoof" caller ID numbers to appear to be from anywhere in the country, including an IRS office. This prevents taxpayers from being able to verify the true caller ID number. Fraudsters also have spoofed local sheriff's offices, state departments of motor vehicles, federal agencies, and others to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate.
The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.
There are, however, special circumstances when the IRS will call or come to a home or business. Examples of when this might occur include times when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or the IRS needs to tour a business as part of a civil investigation (such as an audit or collection case) or during a criminal investigation.
If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS that is fraudulent, report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov. The Report Phishing and Online Scams page provides additional details.
Taxpayers should also note that the IRS does not use text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds.
If you have any questions or concerns about tax scams, help is just a phone call away.

 


List of Preventive Care Benefits Expanded for HSAs
The list of medical care services for a range of chronic conditions allowed to be provided by a high deductible health plan (HDHP) was expanded effective July 17, 2019. These medical services and items are limited to the specific medical care services or items listed for chronic conditions including hypertension, congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, asthma, depression, liver disease, and diabetes. Any medical care previously recognized as preventive care for these rules is still treated as preventive care.
Individuals covered by an HDHP generally may establish and deduct contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) as long as they have no disqualifying health coverage. To qualify as a high deductible health plan, an HDHP generally may not provide benefits for any year until the minimum deductible for that year is satisfied. However, an HDHP is not required to have a deductible for preventive care (as defined for purposes of the HDHP/HSA rules).
The Treasury Department and the IRS, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, have determined that certain medical care services received, and items purchased, including prescription drugs, for certain chronic conditions should be classified as preventive care for someone with that chronic condition.
The expanded list includes (but is not limited to) beta-blockers, blood pressure monitors, inhaled corticosteroids, insulin, glucometers, Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) testing, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), and Statins.
If you need more information about the expanded list of medical care services that are allowed and their associated chronic conditions, please call.

 


Higher Ed Institutions Affected by Proposed Regulations
Proposed regulations were issued by the IRS on June 18, 2019, regarding the new 1.4 percent excise tax on the net investment income of certain private colleges and universities. While the new excise tax is estimated to affect 40 or fewer institutions, it applies to any private college or university that has at least 500 full-time tuition-paying students (more than half of whom are located in the U.S.) and that has assets other than those used in its charitable activities worth at least $500,000 per student.
The proposed regulations define several of the terms necessary for educational institutions to determine whether the section 4968 excise tax applies to them. The IRS guidance clarifies how affected institutions should determine net investment income, including how to include the net investment income of related organizations and how to determine an institution's basis in property.
These proposed regulations incorporate the interim guidance provided previously in IRS Notice 2018-55, Guidance on the Calculation of Net Investment Income for Purposes of the Section 4968 Excise Tax Applicable to Certain Private Colleges and Universities, stating that for property held by an institution at the end of 2017, the educational institution is generally allowed to use the property's fair market value at the end of 2017 as its basis for figuring the tax on any resulting gain.

 


Avoid Refund Delays by Renewing Expiring ITINs Now
ITINs (Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers) are used by people who have tax filing or payment obligations under U.S. law but who are not eligible for a Social Security number. Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, ITINs that have not been used on a federal tax return at least once in the last three consecutive years will expire Dec. 31, 2019. Furthermore, ITINs with middle digits 83, 84, 85, 86 or 87 that have not already been renewed will also expire at the end of the year. Others do not need to take any action.
Affected taxpayers who expect to file a 2019 tax return in 2020 must submit a renewal application by filing Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. With nearly two million ITINs set to expire at the end of 2019, affected taxpayers should submit their renewal applications as soon as possible to avoid refund delays next year.
The IRS began sending the CP48 Notice, You must renew your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file your U.S. tax return, in early summer. This notice explains the steps to take to renew the ITIN if it will be included on a U.S. tax return filed in 2020.
Taxpayers who receive the notice after acting to renew their ITIN do not need to take further action unless another family member is affected. ITINs with middle digits of 70 through 82 have previously expired. Taxpayers with these ITINs can still renew at any time if they have not renewed already.
How to Renew an ITIN
Form W-7. To renew an ITIN, a taxpayer must complete a Form W-7 and submit all required documentation. Taxpayers submitting a Form W-7 to renew their ITIN are not required to attach a federal tax return. However, taxpayers must still note a reason for needing an ITIN on the Form W-7.
Family Option. Taxpayers with an ITIN that has middle digits 83, 84, 85, 86 or 87, as well as all previously expired ITINs, have the option to renew ITINs for their entire family at the same time. Those who have received a renewal letter from the IRS can choose to renew the family's ITINs together, even if family members have an ITIN with middle digits that have not been identified for expiration. Family members include the tax filer, spouse and any dependents claimed on the tax return.
Spouses and dependents residing outside of the U.S.. If your spouse or dependent lives outside the U.S., they only need to renew their ITIN if filing an individual tax return, or if they qualify for an allowable tax benefit (e.g., a dependent parent who qualifies the primary taxpayer to claim head of household filing status.) In these instances, a federal return must be attached to the Form W-7 renewal application.
Important Reminders
As a reminder, the IRS no longer accepts passports that do not have a date of entry into the U.S. as a stand-alone identification document for dependents from a country other than Canada or Mexico, or dependents of U.S. military personnel overseas. The dependent’s passport must have a date of entry stamp, otherwise, additional documents are required to prove U.S. residency.
Federal tax returns that are submitted in 2020 with an expired ITIN will be processed. However, certain tax credits and any exemptions will be disallowed. Taxpayers will receive a notice in the mail advising them of the change to their tax return and their need to renew their ITIN. Once the ITIN is renewed, applicable credits and exemptions will be restored, and any refunds will be issued.
Don't hesitate to call if you have any questions about renewing ITINs.

 


What to Do if You Receive an IRS CP2000 Notice
An IRS CP2000 notice is mailed to a taxpayer when income reported from third-party sources such as an employer, bank, or mortgage company does not match the income reported on the tax return.
It is not a tax bill or a formal audit notification; it merely informs you about the information the IRS has received and how it affects your tax. It is, however, important to pay attention to what your CP2000 notice states because interest accrues on your unpaid balance until you pay it in full.
If you receive a CP2000 notice in the mail complete the response form. If your notice doesn't have a response form, then follow the notice instructions. Generally, you must respond within 30 days of the date printed on the notice. You may request additional time to respond, and if you cannot pay the full amount that you owe, you can set up a payment plan with the IRS.
If the information on the CP2000 notice is not correct, then check the notice response form for instructions on what to do next. You also may want to contact whoever reported the information and ask them to correct it.
If the information is wrong because someone else is using your name and social security number please contact the IRS and let them know. You can also use the link on the IRS Identity theft information web page to find out more about what you can do.
If you do not respond, the IRS will send another notice. If the IRS does not accept the information provided, it will send IRS Notice CP3219A, Statutory Notice of Deficiency, and information about how to challenge the decision in Tax Court.
Do I Need to Amend my Return?
If the information displayed in the CP2000 notice is correct, you don't need to amend your return unless you have additional income, credits or expenses to report. If you agree with the IRS notice, follow the instructions to sign the response page and return it to the IRS in the envelope provided.
If you have additional income, credits or expenses to report, complete and submit a Form 1040-X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. If you need assistance with this, please call the office.

How to Avoid Receiving an IRS CP2000 notice:

If you have any questions about IRS notices, help is just a phone call away.

 


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.


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.


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:

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.

 


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:

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.

 


Deducting Home Equity Interest Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
Passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017 has led to confusion over some longstanding deductions. In response, the IRS recently issued a statement clarifying that the interest on home equity loans, home equity lines of credit and second mortgages will, in many cases, remain deductible.
How it used to be
Under prior tax law, a taxpayer could deduct “qualified residence interest” on a loan of up to $1 million secured by a qualified residence, plus interest on a home equity loan (other than debt used to acquire a home) up to $100,000. The home equity debt couldn’t exceed the fair market value of the home reduced by the debt used to acquire the home.
For tax purposes, a qualified residence is the taxpayer’s principal residence and a second residence, which can be a house, condominium, cooperative, mobile home, house trailer or boat. The principal residence is where the taxpayer resides most of the time; the second residence is any other residence the taxpayer owns and treats as a second home. Taxpayers aren’t required to use the second home during the year to claim the deduction. If the second home is rented to others, though, the taxpayer also must use it as a home during the year for the greater of 14 days or 10% of the number of days it’s rented.
In the past, interest on qualifying home equity debt was deductible regardless of how the loan proceeds were used. A taxpayer could, for example, use the proceeds to pay for medical bills, tuition, vacations, vehicles and other personal expenses and still claim the itemized interest deduction.
What’s deductible now
The TCJA limits the amount of the mortgage interest deduction for taxpayers who itemize through 2025. Beginning in 2018, for new home purchases, a taxpayer can deduct interest only on acquisition mortgage debt of $750,000.
On February 21, the IRS issued a release (IR 2018-32) explaining that the law suspends the deduction only for interest on home equity loans and lines of credit that aren’t used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan. In other words, the interest isn’t deductible if the loan proceeds are used for certain personal expenses, but it is deductible if the proceeds go toward, for example, a new roof on the home that secures the loan. The IRS further stated that the deduction limits apply to the combined amount of mortgage and home equity acquisition loans — home equity debt is no longer capped at $100,000 for purposes of the deduction.
Further clarifications
As a relatively comprehensive new tax law, the TCJA will likely be subject to a variety of clarifications before it settles in. Please contact our firm for help better understanding this provision or any other.


Three Common Types of IRS Tax Penalties
Around this time of year, many people have filed and forgotten about their 2017 tax returns. But you could get an abrupt reminder in the form of an IRS penalty. Here are three common types and how you might seek relief:
1. Failure-to-file and failure-to-pay. The IRS will consider any reason that establishes that you were unable to meet your federal tax obligations despite using “all ordinary business care and prudence” to do so. Frequently cited reasons include fire, casualty, natural disaster or other disturbances. The agency may also accept death, serious illness, incapacitation or unavoidable absence of the taxpayer or an immediate family member.
If you don’t have a good reason for filing or paying late, you may be able to apply for a first-time penalty abatement (FTA) waiver. To qualify for relief, you must have: 1) received no penalties (other than estimated tax penalties) for the three tax years preceding the tax year in which you received a penalty, 2) filed all required returns or filed a valid extension of time to file, and 3) paid, or arranged to pay, any tax due. Despite the expression “first-time,” you can receive FTA relief more than once, so long as at least three years have elapsed.
2. Estimated tax miscalculation. It’s possible, but unlikely, to obtain relief from estimated tax penalties on grounds of casualty, disaster or other unusual circumstances. You’re more likely to get these penalties abated if you can prove that the IRS made an error, such as crediting a payment to the wrong tax period, or that calculating the penalty using a different method (such as the annualized income installment method) would reduce or eliminate the penalty.
3. Tax-filing inaccuracy. These penalties may be imposed, for example, if the IRS finds that your return was prepared negligently or that there’s a substantial understatement of tax. You can obtain relief from these penalties if you can demonstrate that you properly disclosed your tax position in your return and that you had a reasonable basis for taking that position.
Generally, you have a reasonable basis if your chances of withstanding an IRS challenge are greater than 50%. Reliance on a competent tax advisor greatly improves your odds of obtaining penalty relief. Other possible grounds for relief include computational errors and reliance on an inaccurate W-2, 1099 or other information statement.

 


Get an Early Tax "Refund" by Adjusting Your Withholding
Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.
Fortunately, there’s a way to begin collecting your 2018 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.
Choosing to adjust
It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:

Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.
Making a change
You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even more than once within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.
While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax throughout the year on a timely basis, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2019 deadline.
Getting help
One timely reason to consider adjusting your withholding is the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year. In fact, the IRS had to revise its withholding tables to account for the increase to the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions, and changes in tax rates and brackets. If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.


Foreign Accounts Call for Specific Reporting Requirements
In an increasingly globalized society, many people choose to open offshore accounts to deposit a portion of their wealth. When doing so, it’s important to follow the IRS’s strict foreign accounts reporting requirements. In a nutshell, if you have a financial interest in or signature authority over any foreign accounts, including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds or trusts, you must disclose those accounts to the IRS and you may have additional reporting requirements.
To do so, your tax preparer will check the box on line 7a of Schedule B (“Interest and Ordinary Dividends”) of Form 1040 — regardless of the account value. If the total value of your foreign financial assets exceeds $50,000 ($100,000 for joint filers) at the end of the tax year or exceeds $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) at any time during the tax year, you must provide account details on Form 8938 (“Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets”) and attach it to your tax return.
Finally, if the aggregate value of your foreign accounts is $10,000 or more during the calendar year, file FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) Form 114 — “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).” The current deadline for filing the form electronically with FinCEN is April 15, 2018, with an automatic extension to October 15.
Failure to disclose an offshore account could result in substantial IRS penalties, including collecting three to six years’ worth of back taxes, interest, a 20% to 40% accuracy-related penalty and, in some cases, a 75% fraud penalty. For further information, contact us.
No Kidding: Child Credit to Get Even More Valuable
The child credit has long been a valuable tax break. But, with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) late last year, it’s now even better — at least for a while. Here are some details that every family should know.
Amount and limitations
For the 2017 tax year, the child credit may help reduce federal income tax liability dollar-for-dollar by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under age 17. So if you haven’t yet filed your personal return or you might consider amending it, bear this in mind.
The credit is, however, subject to income limitations that may reduce or even eliminate eligibility for it depending on your filing status and modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). For 2017, the limits are $110,000 for married couples filing jointly, and $55,000 for married taxpayers filing separately. (Singles, heads of households, and qualifying widows and widowers are limited to $75,000 in MAGI.)
Exciting changes
Now the good news: Under the TCJA, the credit will double to $2,000 per child under age 17 starting in 2018. The maximum amount refundable (because a taxpayer’s credits exceed his or her tax liability) will be limited to $1,400 per child.
The TCJA also makes the child credit available to more families than in the past. That’s because, beginning in 2018, the credit won’t begin to phase out until MAGI exceeds $400,000 for married couples or $200,000 for all other filers, compared with the 2017 phaseouts of $110,000 and $75,000. The phaseout thresholds won’t be indexed for inflation, though, meaning the credit will lose value over time.
In addition, the TCJA includes (starting in 2018) a $500 nonrefundable credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children (for example, a taxpayer’s 17-year-old child, parent, sibling, niece or nephew, or aunt or uncle). Importantly, these provisions expire after 2025.
Qualifications to consider
Along with the income limitations, there are other qualification requirements for claiming the child credit. As you might have noticed, a qualifying child must be under the age of 17 at the end of the tax year in question. But the child also must be a U.S. citizen, national or resident alien, and a dependent claimed on the parents’ federal tax return who’s their own legal son, daughter, stepchild, foster child or adoptee. (A qualifying child may also include a grandchild, niece or nephew.)
As a child gets older, other circumstances may affect a family’s ability to claim the credit. For instance, the child needs to have lived with his or her parents for more than half of the tax year.
Powerful tool
Tax credits can serve as powerful tools to help you manage your tax liability. So if you may qualify for the child credit in 2017, or in years ahead, please contact our firm to discuss the full details of how to go about claiming it properly.


The New Deal on Employee Meals (and Entertainment)
Years and years ago, the notion of having a company cafeteria or regularly catered meals was generally feasible for only the biggest of businesses. But, more recently, employers providing meals to employees has become somewhat common for many midsize to large companies. A recent tax law change, however, may curtail the practice.
As you’re likely aware, in late December 2017 Congress passed and the President signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The law will phase in a wide variety of changes to the way businesses calculate their tax liabilities — some beneficial, some detrimental. Revisions to the treatment of employee meals and entertainment expenses fall in the latter category.
Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers generally could deduct 50% of expenses for business-related meals and entertainment. But meals provided to an employee for the convenience of the employer on the employer’s business premises were 100% deductible by the employer and tax-free to the recipient employee. Various other employer-provided fringe benefits were also deductible by the employer and tax-free to the recipient employee.
Under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017, deductions for business-related entertainment expenses are disallowed. Meal expenses incurred while traveling on business are still 50% deductible, but the 50% disallowance rule now also applies to meals provided via an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises for the convenience of the employer. After 2025, the cost of meals provided through an on-premises cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises will be completely nondeductible.
If your business regularly provides meals to employees, let us assist you in anticipating the changing tax impact.

 


Dynasty Trusts Are More Valuable Than Ever
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, affects more than just income taxes. It’s brought great changes to estate planning and, in doing so, bolstered the potential value of dynasty trusts.
Exemption changes
Let’s start with the TCJA. It doesn’t repeal the estate tax, as had been discussed before its passage. The tax was retained in the final version of the law. For the estates of persons dying, and gifts made, after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer tax exemption amounts have been increased to an inflation-adjusted $10 million, or $20 million for married couples (expected to be $11.2 million and $22.4 million, respectively, for 2018).
Absent further congressional action, the exemptions will revert to their 2017 levels (adjusted for inflation) beginning January 1, 2026. The marginal tax rate for all three taxes remains at 40%.
GST avoidance
Now let’s turn to dynasty trusts. These irrevocable arrangements allow substantial amounts of wealth to grow free of federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes, largely because of their lengthy terms. The specific longevity of a dynasty trust depends on the law of the state in which it’s established. Some states allow trusts to last for hundreds of years or even in perpetuity.
Where the TCJA and dynasty trusts come together is in the potential to avoid the GST tax. It levies an additional 40% tax on transfers to grandchildren or others that skip a generation, potentially consuming substantial amounts of wealth. The key to avoiding the tax is to leverage your GST tax exemption, which, under the TCJA, will be higher than ever starting in 2018.
Assuming you haven’t yet used any of your gift and estate tax exemption, you can transfer $10 million to a properly structured dynasty trust. There’s no gift tax on the transaction because it’s within your unused exemption amount. And the funds, plus future appreciation, are removed from your taxable estate.
Most important, by allocating your GST tax exemption to your trust contributions, you ensure that any future distributions or other transfers of trust assets to your grandchildren or subsequent generations will avoid GST taxes. This is true even if the value of the assets grows well beyond the exemption amount or the exemption is reduced in the future.
Best interests
Naturally, setting up a dynasty trust is neither simple nor quick. You’ll need to choose a structure, allocate assets (such as securities, real estate, life insurance policies and business interests), and name a trustee. Our firm can work with your attorney to maximize the tax benefits and help ensure the trust is in the best interests of your estate.
Sidebar: Nontax reasons to set up a dynasty trust
Regardless of the tax implications, there are valid nontax reasons to set up a dynasty trust. First, you can designate the beneficiaries of the trust assets spanning multiple generations. Typically, you might provide for the assets to follow a line of descendants, such as children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. You can also impose certain restrictions, such as limiting access to funds until a beneficiary earns a college degree.
Second, by placing assets in a properly structured trust, those assets can be protected from the reach of a beneficiary’s creditors, including claims based on divorce, a failed business or traffic accidents.


Business Owners: Brush Up on Bonus Depreciation
Every company needs to upgrade its assets occasionally, whether desks and chairs or a huge piece of complex machinery. But before you go shopping this year, be sure to brush up on the enhanced bonus depreciation tax breaks created under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed late last year.
Old law
Qualified new — not used — assets that your business placed in service before September 28, 2017, fall under pre-TCJA law. For these items, you can claim a 50% first-year bonus depreciation deduction. This tax break is available for the cost of new computer systems, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment, office furniture and so forth.
In addition, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any qualified improvement to the interior portion of a nonresidential building if the improvement is placed in service after the date the building is placed in service. But qualified improvement costs don’t include expenditures for the enlargement of a building, an elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework of a building.
New law
Bonus depreciation improves significantly under the TCJA. For qualified property placed in service from September 28, 2017, through December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage is increased to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for both new and used qualifying property.
The new law also allows 100% bonus depreciation for qualified film, television and live theatrical productions placed in service on or after September 28, 2017. Productions are considered placed in service at the time of the initial release, broadcast or live commercial performance.
In later years, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 80% for property placed in service in 2023, 60% for property placed in service in 2024, 40% for property placed in service in 2025 and 20% for property placed in service in 2026.
Important: For certain property with longer production periods, the preceding reductions are delayed by one year. For example, 80% bonus depreciation will apply to long-production-period property placed in service in 2024.
More details
If bonus depreciation isn’t available to your company, a similar tax break — the Section 179 deduction — may be able to provide comparable benefits. Please contact our firm for more details on how either might help your business.

 


Making 2017 Retirement Plan Contributions in 2018
The clock is ticking down to the tax filing deadline. The good news is that you still may be able to save on your impending 2017 tax bill by making contributions to certain retirement plans.
For example, if you qualify, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the April 17, 2018, filing date and still benefit from the resulting tax savings on your 2017 return. You also have until April 17 to make a contribution to a Roth IRA.
And if you happen to be a small business owner, you can set up and contribute to a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan up until the due date for your company’s tax return, including extensions.
Deadlines and limits
Let’s look at some specifics. For IRA and Roth IRA contributions, the maximum regular contribution is $5,500. Plus, if you were at least age 50 on December 31, 2017, you are eligible for an additional $1,000 “catch-up” contribution.
There are also age limits. You must have been under age 70½ on December 31, 2017, to contribute to a traditional IRA. Contributions to a Roth can be made regardless of age, if you meet the other requirements.
For a SEP, the maximum contribution is $54,000, and must be made by the April 17th date, or by the extended due date (up to Monday, October 15, 2018) if you file a valid extension. (There’s no SEP catch-up amount.)
Phase-out ranges
If not covered by an employer’s retirement plan, your contributions to a traditional IRA are not affected by your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). Otherwise, when you (or a spouse, if married) are active in an employer’s plan, available contributions begin to phase out within certain MAGI ranges.
For married couples filing jointly, the MAGI range is $99,000 to $119,000. For singles or heads of household, it’s $62,000 to $72,000. For those married but filing separately, the MAGI range is $0 to $10,000, if you lived with your spouse at any time during the year. A phase-out occurs between AGI of $186,000 and $196,000 if a spouse participates in an employer-sponsored plan.
Contributions to Roth IRAs phase out at mostly different ranges. For married couples filing jointly, the MAGI range is $186,000 to $196,000. For singles or heads of household, it’s $118,000 to $133,000. But for those married but filing separately, the phase-out range is the same: $0 to $10,000, if you lived with your spouse at any time during the year.
Essential security
Saving for retirement is essential for financial security. What’s more, the federal government provides tax incentives for doing so. Best of all, as mentioned, you still have time to contribute to an IRA, Roth IRA or SEP plan for the 2017 tax year. Please contact our firm for further details and a personalized approach to determining how to best contribute to your retirement plan or plans.


When an Elderly Parent Might Qualify as Your Dependent
It’s not uncommon for adult children to help support their aging parents. If you’re in this position, you might qualify for an adult-dependent exemption to deduct up to $4,050 for each person claimed on your 2017 return.
Basic qualifications
For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Social Security is generally excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.
In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with one or more siblings and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption in this situation.
Important factors
Although Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.
Also, if your parent lives with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence. If the parent lives elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contribute to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.
Easing the burden
An adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ on your 2017 tax return to ease the burden of caring for an elderly parent. Contact us for more information on qualifying for this break or others.

 


Highlights of the New Tax Reform Law
The new tax reform law, commonly called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), is the biggest federal tax law overhaul in 31 years, and it has both good and bad news for taxpayers.
Below are highlights of some of the most significant changes affecting individual and business taxpayers. Except where noted, these changes are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.
Individuals

Businesses

More to consider
This is just a brief overview of some of the most significant TCJA provisions. There are additional rules and limits that apply, and the law includes many additional provisions. Contact your tax advisor to learn more about how these and other tax law changes will affect you in 2018 and beyond.


Help Prevent Tax Identity Theft By Filing Early
If you’re like many Americans, you might not start thinking about filing your tax return until close to this year’s April 17 deadline. You might even want to file for an extension so you don’t have to send your return to the IRS until October 15.
But there’s another date you should keep in mind: the day the IRS begins accepting 2017 returns (usually in late January). Filing as close to this date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.
Why it helps
In an increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.
A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.
Tax identity theft can cause major complications to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.
What to look for
Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2017 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2017 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments. So be sure to keep an eye on your mailbox or your employer’s internal website.
Additional bonus
An additional bonus: If you’ll be getting a refund, filing early will generally enable you to receive and enjoy that money sooner. (Bear in mind, however, that a law requires the IRS to hold until mid-February refunds on returns claiming the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit.) Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2017 return early.


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