Tax Articles

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Deducting Business-Related Car Expenses
Your Canceled Debt Could Be Taxable
Special Tax Breaks for Members of the Armed Forces
10 Facts about the Adoption Tax Credit
IRS Ends Tax Transcript Fax and Third-Party Services
Tax Reform Reminder: Changes to Itemized Deductions
Filing an Amended Tax Return: What You need to Know
How the Sharing Economy Affects Your Taxes
Choosing a Legal Entity for Your Business
Recordkeeping Tips for Small Business Owners
Employers: Backup Withholding Lowered to 24 Percent
Tax Tips for Students with a Summer Job
What to Do if You Missed the Tax Deadline
Tips for Getting Paid on Time
Identity Theft and Your Taxes
Credit for Plug-in Electric Vehicles Winds Down
Delinquent Tax Debts Could Affect Passport Renewal
EIN Application Process Revised to Enhance Security
Act Now to Save 2019 Taxes on Your Investments
Living the Dream of Early Retirement
Is "Bunching" Medical Expenses Still Feasible in 2019?
Mortgage Matters: To Pay Down or Not To Pay Down

The Tax Cost of Divorce Has Risen for Many
Double Up on Tax Benefits by Donating Appreciated Artwork
Know a Teacher? Tell Them about This Tax Break
Planning for the Net Investment Income Tax
No Surprises: Why You Should Check Your Tax Bracket
Estate Planning Portability Lives on Under The TCJA
Consider the Tax Advantages of Qualified Small Business Stock
Vacation Homes: Do You Understand the Tax Nuances?
Innocent Spouse Rules Offer Protection under Some Circumstances
Send Your Kids to Day Camp and You May Get a Tax Break
Business vs Hobby: The Tax Rules Have Changed
Are Income Taxes Taking a Bite Out of Your Trusts?
Weigh the Tax Impact of Income vs. Growth When Investing
Deducting Charitable Gifts Depends on a Variety of Factors
Multistate Resident? Watch Out for Double Taxation
Fewer Taxpayers to Qualify for Home Office Deduction
Laying the Groundwork for Your 2018 Tax Return
Installment Sales: A Viable Option for Transferring Assets
Use Capital Losses to Offset Capital Gains
Accelerating Your Property Tax Deduction to Reduce Your Tax Bill
Taxable vs. Tax-advantaged: Where to Hold Investments
Is Now the Time for Some Life Insurance?


 


Your Canceled Debt Could Be Taxable
Generally, debt that is forgiven or canceled by a lender is considered taxable income by the IRS and must be included as income on your tax return. When that debt is forgiven, negotiated down (when you pay less than you owe), or canceled you will receive a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from your financial institution or credit union. Form 1099-C shows the amount of canceled or forgiven debt that was reported to the IRS. Creditors who forgive $600 or more of debt are required to issue this form.
If you receive a Form 1099-C and the information is incorrect, contact the lender to make corrections. If you and another person were jointly and severally liable for a canceled debt, each of you may get a Form 1099-C showing the entire amount of the canceled debt. Please call if you have questions regarding joint liability of canceled debt.
Exceptions and Exclusions
If you have debt forgiven or canceled and receive a Form 1099-C, you might qualify for an exception or exclusion. If your canceled debt meets the requirements for an exception or exclusion, then you don't need to report your canceled debt on your tax return. Under the federal tax code, there are seven exceptions and five exclusions. Here are the five most commonly used:
1. Amounts specifically excluded from income by law such as gifts, bequests, devises or inheritances
In most cases, you do not have income from canceled debt if the debt is canceled as a gift, bequest, devise, or inheritance. For example, if an acquaintance or family member loaned you money (and for whom you signed a promissory note) died and relieved you of the obligation to pay back the loan in his or her will, this exception would apply.
2. Cancellation of certain qualified student loans
Certain student loans provide that all or part of the debt incurred to attend a qualified educational institution will be canceled if the person who received the loan works for a certain period of time in certain professions for any of a broad class of employers. If your student loan is canceled as a result of this type of provision, the cancellation of this debt is not included in your gross income. You may also qualify for this exception if you receive student loan repayment assistance or you become permanently and totally disabled.
3. Canceled debt paid by a cash basis taxpayer (most taxpayers) would be deductible
If you use the cash method of accounting, then you do not realize income from the cancellation of debt if the payment of the debt would have been a deductible expense.
For example, in 2018, you own a farm and hire an accounting firm, paying for their services with credit. In 2019, due to financial troubles, you are not able to pay off your farm debts and your accountant forgives a portion of the amount you owe for their services. If you use the cash method of accounting you do not include the canceled debt as income on your tax return because payment of the debt would have been deductible as a business expense.
4. Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case
Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case is not included in your income.
5. Debt canceled during insolvency
Do not include a canceled debt as income if you were insolvent immediately before the cancellation. In the eyes of the IRS, you would be considered insolvent if the total of all of your liabilities was more than the Fair Market Value (FMV) of all of your assets immediately before the cancellation.
For purposes of determining insolvency, assets include the value of everything you own (including assets that serve as collateral for debt and exempt assets which are beyond the reach of your creditors under the law, such as your interest in a pension plan and the value of your retirement account).
Here's an example: Let's say you owe $25,000 in credit card debt, which you are able to negotiate down to $5,000. You have no other debts and your assets are worth $15,000. Your canceled debt is $20,000. Your insolvency amount is $10,000. Because you are insolvent at the time of cancellation, you are only required to report the $10,000 on your tax return.
Reporting Canceled Debt
If you receive a Form 1099-C, don't ignore it. Although you may not have to report the entire amount shown on Form 1099-C as income unless you meet one of the exceptions or exclusions discussed above, you must report any taxable canceled debt reported on Form 1099-C as ordinary income on one of the following:

If you exclude canceled debt from income under one of the form 1099-C exclusions listed above, you must reduce certain tax attributes (certain credits, losses, basis of assets, etc.), within limits, by the amount excluded. If this is the case, then you must file Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment), to report the amount qualifying for exclusion and any corresponding reduction of those tax attributes.


Special Tax Breaks for Members of the Armed Forces
Active members of the U.S. Armed Forces should be aware that there are special tax benefits available to them such as not having to pay taxes on some types of income or more time to file and pay their federal taxes. If you're an active member of the armed forces, here's what you should know about these important tax benefits.
1. Moving Expenses. If you are a member of the Armed Forces on active duty and you move because of a permanent change of station, you may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving expenses.
2. Combat Pay Exclusion. If you serve in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer for any part of a month, military pay you received for military service during that month is not taxable. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.
3. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). You can also elect to include your nontaxable combat pay in your "earned income" when claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit. In 2019, this credit is worth up to $6,557 for low-and-moderate-income service members. A special computation method is available for those who receive nontaxable combat pay. Choosing to include it in taxable income may boost the EITC, meaning that you owe less tax or get a larger refund.
4. Extension of Deadline to File a Tax Return. An automatic extension to file a federal income tax return is available to U.S. service members stationed abroad. Also, those serving in a combat zone typically have until 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file and to pay any tax due.
5. Joint Returns. Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return, but if one spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, the other spouse may be able to sign for him or her. A power of attorney is required in other instances. A military installation's legal office may be able to help with this.
6. ROTC Students. Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay, such as pay received during summer advanced camp, is taxable.
If you have any questions about this topic, don't hesitate to call.

 


10 Facts about the Adoption Tax Credit
If you adopt a child in 2019, you may qualify for a tax credit, and if your employer helped pay for the costs of an adoption, you may be able to exclude some of your income from tax. Here are ten facts you should know about the Adoption Tax Credit.
1. Credit or Exclusion. The credit is nonrefundable. This means that the credit may reduce your tax to zero. If the credit is more than your tax, you can't get any additional amount as a refund. If your employer helped pay for the adoption through a written qualified adoption assistance program, you may qualify to exclude that amount from tax.
2. Maximum Benefit. The maximum adoption tax credit and exclusion for 2019 is $14,080 per child.
3. Credit Carryover. If your credit is more than your tax, you can carry any unused credit forward. This means that if you have an unused credit in 2019, you can use it to reduce your taxes for 2020. You can do this for up to five years, or until you fully use the credit, whichever comes first.
4. Eligible Child. An eligible child is under age 18. This rule does not apply to persons who are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves.
5. Qualified Expenses. Adoption expenses must be directly related to the adoption of the child and be reasonable and necessary. Types of expenses that can qualify include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and travel.
6. Domestic Adoptions. For domestic adoptions (adoption of a U.S. child), qualified adoption expenses paid before the year the adoption becomes final are allowable as a credit for the tax year following the year of payment even if the adoption is never finalized.
7. Foreign Adoptions. For foreign adoptions (adoption of an eligible child who is not yet a citizen or resident of the U.S.), qualified adoption expenses paid before and during the year are allowable as a credit for the year when it becomes final.
8. Special Needs Child. If you adopted an eligible U.S. child with special needs and the adoption is final, a special rule applies. You may be able to take the tax credit even if you didn't pay any qualified adoption expenses.
9. No Double Benefit. Depending on the adoption's cost, you may be able to claim both the tax credit and the exclusion. However, you can't claim both a credit and exclusion for the same expenses. This rule prevents you from claiming both tax benefits for the same expense.
10. Income Limits. The credit and exclusion are subject to income limitations. The limits may reduce or eliminate the amount you can claim depending on the amount of your income.
Please contact the office if you have any questions or would like additional information about this tax credit.

 


IRS Ends Tax Transcript Fax and Third-Party Services
Due to ongoing efforts to protect taxpayers from identity thieves, the Internal Revenue Service no longer offers tax transcript faxing service and third-party mailing of tax returns and certain transcripts. These measures are effective June 28 and July 1, 2019 respectively, and affect individual and business transcripts.
Background
Tax transcripts are summaries of tax return information and have increasingly become a target of criminal activity. Identity thieves impersonate taxpayers or authorized third parties and use tax transcripts to file fraudulent returns for refunds. These fraudulent returns are difficult to detect because they mirror a legitimate tax return.
In September 2018, the IRS began to mask personally identifiable information for every individual and entity listed on the transcript and works with tax professionals like me to make sure that we have what we need for tax preparation and representation for our clients.
Here is what is visible on the new tax transcript:

Faxing Service Ends June 28
Starting June 28, 2019, the IRS will stop faxing tax transcripts to both taxpayers and third parties, including tax professionals. This action affects individual and business transcripts.Several options remain, however, for obtaining a tax transcript, including using the IRS2Go app to get transcripts online or by mail. Taxpayers can also call 800-908-9946 to access an automated Get Transcript by Mail feature, or submit Form 4506-T or 4506T-EZ, Request for Transcript of Tax Return, to have a transcript mailed to the address of record.
Certain Third-party Mailings Stop July 1
Effective July 1, 2019, the IRS will no longer provide transcripts requested on Form 4506, Form 4506-T and Form 4506T-EZ to third parties. These forms are often used by lenders and others to verify income for non-tax purposes and have been amended to remove the option for mailing to a third-party. Taxpayers may continue to use these forms to obtain a copy of their tax return or a copy of their tax transcripts.
Among the largest users are colleges and universities verifying income for financial aid purposes. This change will NOT affect use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process.
Third parties who use these forms for income verification have other alternatives such as Income Verification Express Service (IVES). Taxpayers may choose to provide transcripts to requestors instead of authorizing the third party to request these transcripts from the IRS on their behalf.
Because the taxpayer's name and Social Security number are now partially masked, the IRS also created a Customer File Number space that can be used to help third parties match transcripts to taxpayers. Third parties can assign a Customer File Number, such as a loan application number or a student identification number. The number will populate on the transcript and help match it to the client/student.
If you have any questions about tax transcripts, don't hesitate to call.

 


Tax Reform Reminder: Changes to Itemized Deductions
Under tax reform, many tax laws changed, including those affecting itemized deductions. While many people no longer need to itemize due to the nearly doubling of the standard deduction, certain taxpayers whose total deductions exceed the standard deduction may still want to consider itemizing. As a reminder, here is quick summary of how tax reform affected four itemized deductions used by many taxpayers in prior years:
1. Medical and Dental Expenses. Taxpayers can deduct the part of their medical and dental expenses that are more than 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income.
2. State and Local Taxes (SALT). The law limits the deduction of state and local income, sales, and property taxes to a combined total deduction of $10,000. The amount is $5,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns. Taxpayers cannot deduct any state and local taxes paid above this amount.
3. Home Equity Loan Interest. Taxpayers can no longer deduct interest paid on most home equity loans unless they used the loan proceeds to buy, build or substantially improve their main home or second home.
4. Miscellaneous Deductions. The new law suspends the deduction for job-related expenses or other miscellaneous itemized deductions that exceed two percent of adjusted gross income. This includes, among other things, unreimbursed employee expenses such as uniforms, and union dues.
If you have any questions or would like more information about itemized deductions after tax reform, don't hesitate to call.

 


Filing an Amended Tax Return: What You need to Know
If you discover a mistake on your tax return after you've already filed, don't panic. In most cases, all you have to do is file an amended tax return. Here's what you need to know.
Taxpayers should use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to file an amended (corrected) tax return. An amended tax return should only be filed to correct errors or make changes to your original tax return. For example, you should amend your return if you need to change your filing status or correct your income, deductions or credits. An amended return cannot be e-filed. You must file the corrected tax return on paper. If you need to file another schedule or form, don't forget to attach it to the amended return.
Taxpayers filing Form 1040X in response to an IRS notice, should mail it to the address shown on the notice.
You normally do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors because the IRS automatically makes those changes for you. Also, do not file an amended return because you forgot to attach tax forms, such as W-2s or schedules. The IRS normally will mail you a request asking for those.
If you are amending more than one tax return, prepare a separate 1040X for each return and mail them to the IRS in separate envelopes. Note the tax year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. You will find the appropriate IRS address to mail your return to in the Form 1040X instructions.
If you are filing an amended tax return to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original tax refund before filing Form 1040X. Amended returns take up to 16 weeks to process. You may cash your original refund check while waiting for the additional refund.
If you owe additional taxes file Form 1040X and pay the tax as soon as possible to minimize interest and penalties on unpaid taxes. You can use IRS Direct Pay to pay your tax directly from your checking or savings account.
Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original tax return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. For example, the last day for most people to file a 2016 claim for a refund is April 15, 2020. Special rules may apply to certain claims. Please call the office if you would like more information about this topic.
You can track the status of your amended tax return for the current year three weeks after you file. You can also check the status of amended returns for up to three prior years. To use the "Where's My Amended Return" tool on the IRS website, just enter your taxpayer identification number (usually your Social Security number), date of birth and zip code. If you have filed amended returns for more than one year, you can select each year individually to check the status of each.
Don't hesitate to call if you need assistance filing an amended return or have any questions about Form 1040X.

 


How the Sharing Economy Affects Your Taxes
If you've ever used--or provided services for-- Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Etsy, Rover, or TaskRabbit. then you're a member of the sharing economy and it could affect your taxes. The good news is that if you've only used these services (and not provided them), then there's no need to worry about the tax implications.
However, if you've rented out a spare room in your house through a company like Airbnb then you need to be aware of the tax consequences. You may not realize that the extra income you're making could impact your taxable income--especially if you have a full-time job with an employer. That extra income is taxable even when the activity is cash only or is a part-time "side gig" and it could turn into a tax liability if you're not careful.
To avoid surprises at tax time, it's more important than ever to be proactive in understanding the tax implications of your new sharing economy gig and seek the advice of a competent tax professional.
If you have a job with an employer make sure your withholding reflects any extra income derived from your side gig (e.g. boarding pets at your home through Rover or driving for a ride-share company like Uber on weekends). Use Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate, to make any adjustments and submit it to your employer who will use it to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from pay.
New Business Owner
While you may not necessarily think of yourself as a newly self-employed business owner, the IRS does. So, even though you work through a company like Airbnb or Rover, you are considered a business owner and are responsible for your own taxes (including paying estimated taxes if you need to). It's up to you to keep track of income and expenses--and of course, to keep good records that substantiate your income and expenses (more on this below).
If you receive income from a sharing economy activity, it's generally taxable even if you don't receive a Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, Form 1099-K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions, Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or some other income statement.
And now, for the good news. As a business owner, you are entitled to certain deductions (subject to special rules and limits) that you cannot take as an employee. Deductions reduce the amount of rental income that is subject to tax. You might also be able to deduct expenses directly related to enhancements made exclusively for the comfort of your guests. For instance, if you rent out a room in your apartment through Airbnb, amounts you spend on window treatments, linens, or even a bed, could be deductible. If you drive for Uber and use your personal vehicle you may be able to take the standard business mileage rate, which in 2019, is 58 cents per mile.
Pitfalls: It's more complicated than it seems
At first glance renting out a spare room through Airbnb or pet sitting through Rover seems like an easy thing to do, but as with most things, it's more complicated than it seems and you'll need to keep an eye out for the following pitfalls:

Many municipalities charge room, occupancy, or tourist taxes on the amount of rental paid for short term stays (less than 30 days). Noncompliance may result in penalties, fees, and payment of back taxes owed.

Failure to set aside money for taxes and/or estimated tax payments is common, especially under tax reform. The U.S. tax system is pay as you go, which means taxes must be paid as income is earned during the year, referred to as estimated tax payments. Estimated tax payments apply toward both income tax and self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare).
If you don't pay enough tax, through either withholding or estimated tax (or a combination of both) you may have to pay a penalty. Estimated tax payments are due quarterly. The payment of estimated tax for the income for the first quarter of the calendar year (that is, January through March) is due on April 15. Payments for subsequent quarters are generally due on June 15, September 15 and January 15. Please visit the Tax Due Dates for applicable dates this year. If you don't pay enough by these dates you may be charged a penalty even if you're due a refund when you file your tax return.
If you also work as an employee, you can often avoid needing to make estimated tax payments by having more tax withheld from your paycheck.

Taxpayers involved in the sharing economy who are employees at another job can often avoid making estimated tax payments by having more tax withheld from their paychecks. Don't hesitate to call the office if you need assistance figuring out your withholding and filing a new W-4 with your employer to request the additional withholding.

As a sole proprietor, you may receive a Form 1099-MISC (employees receive a Form W-2) or a 1099-K. Form 1099-K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions, is an information return that reports the gross amount of reportable payment card and third party network transactions for the calendar year to you and the IRS. If you receive a Form 1099-K, you should retain it and use the information reported on the Form 1099-K in conjunction with your other tax records to determine your correct tax. Even if you didn't receive one from the company you provide services for (Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, etc.), the IRS might have, so make sure you report that income on your return.
Special Tax Rules for Renting out your Home
If you rent your home out for 15 days or more during a calendar year and you receive rental income for the use of a house or an apartment, including a vacation home, that rental income must be reported on your return in most cases. You may deduct certain expenses such as mortgage interest, real estate taxes, maintenance, utilities, and insurance and depreciation, which reduce the amount of rental income that is subject to tax.
If you use the dwelling unit for both rental and personal purposes, you generally must divide your total expenses between the rental use and the personal use based on the number of days used for each purpose. You won't be able to deduct your rental expense in excess of the gross rental income limitation.
Generally, if you rent out your home for less than 15 days, then you do not need to report any of the rental income and you don't deduct any expenses as rental expenses.
Recordkeeping
It's important to keep good records and to choose a recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses. The type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes depends on what kind of business you operate; however, at a minimum, your recordkeeping system should include a summary of your business transactions (i.e. income and expenses) using a cash basis of accounting. Your records must also show your gross income, as well as your deductions and credits.
Tax Rules are Complicated: Don't get Caught Short
If you have any questions or would like more information about the sharing economy and your taxes, please contact the office.

 


The second consideration, which has more to do with business considerations rather than tax considerations, is the limitation of liability (protecting your assets from claims of business creditors).
Let's take a general look at each of the options more closely:
Types of Business Entities
Sole Proprietorships
The easiest (and most common) form of business organization is the sole proprietorship, which is defined as any unincorporated business owned entirely by one individual. A sole proprietor can operate any kind of business (full or part-time) as long as it is not a hobby or an investment. In general, the owner is also personally liable for all financial obligations and debts of the business.
If you are the sole member of a domestic limited liability company (LLC), you are not a sole proprietor if you elect to treat the LLC as a corporation.
Types of businesses that operate as sole proprietorships include retail shops, farmers, large companies with employees, home-based businesses and one-person consulting firms.
As a sole proprietor, your net business income or loss is combined with your other income and deductions and taxed at individual rates on your personal tax return. Because sole proprietors do not have taxes withheld from their business income, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to make a profit. As a sole proprietor, you must also pay self-employment tax on the net income reported.
Partnerships
A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the business.
There are two types of partnerships: Ordinary partnerships, called "general partnerships," and limited partnerships that limit liability for some partners but not others. Both general and limited partnerships are treated as pass-through entities under federal tax law, but there are some relatively minor differences in tax treatment between general and limited partners.
For example, general partners must pay self-employment tax on their net earnings from self-employment assigned to them from the partnership. Net earnings from self-employment include an individual's share, distributed or not, of income or loss from any trade or business carried on by a partnership. Limited partners are subject to self-employment tax only on guaranteed payments, such as professional fees for services rendered.
Partners are not employees of the partnership and do not pay any income tax at the partnership level. Partnerships report income and expenses from its operation and pass the information to the individual partners (hence the pass-through designation).
Because taxes are not withheld from any distributions partners generally need to make quarterly estimated tax payments if they expect to make a profit. Partners must report their share of partnership income even if a distribution is not made. Each partner reports his share of the partnership net profit or loss on his or her personal tax return.
Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a business structure allowed by state statute. Each state is different, so it's important to check the regulations in the state you plan to do business in. Owners of an LLC are called members, which may include individuals, corporations, other LLCs and foreign entities. Most states also permit "single member" LLCs, those having only one owner.
Depending on elections made by the LLC and the number of members, the IRS treats an LLC as either a corporation, partnership, or as part of the LLC's owner's tax return. A domestic LLC with at least two members is classified as a partnership for federal income tax purposes unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.
An LLC with only one member is treated as an entity disregarded as separate from its owner for income tax purposes (but as a separate entity for purposes of employment tax and certain excise taxes), unless it elects to be treated as a corporation.
C-Corporations
In forming a corporation, prospective shareholders exchange money, property, or both, for the corporation's capital stock. A corporation conducts business, realizes net income or loss, pays taxes and distributes profits to shareholders.
A corporate structure is more complex than other business structures. When you form a corporation, you create a separate tax-paying entity. The profit of a corporation is taxed to the corporation when earned and then is taxed to the shareholders when distributed as dividends. This creates a double tax.
The corporation does not get a tax deduction when it distributes dividends to shareholders. Earnings distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends are taxed at individual tax rates on their personal tax returns. Shareholders cannot deduct any loss of the corporation.
If you organize your business as a corporation, generally are not personally liable for the debts of the corporation, although there may be exceptions under state law.
S-Corporations
An S-corporation has the same corporate structure as a standard corporation; however, its owners have elected to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S corporations generally have limited liability.
Generally, an S-Corporation is exempt from federal income tax other than tax on certain capital gains and passive income. It is treated in the same way as a partnership, in that generally, taxes are not paid at the corporate level. S-Corporations may be taxed under state tax law as regular corporations, or in some other way.
Shareholders must pay tax on their share of corporate income, regardless of whether it is actually distributed. Flow-through of income and losses is reported on their personal tax returns and are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates, allowing S-Corporations to avoid double taxation on the corporate income.
S-corporation owners can choose to receive both a salary and dividend payments from the corporation (i.e., distributions from earnings and profits that pass through the corporation to you as an owner, not as an employee in compensation for your services). Dividends are taxed at a lower rate than self-employment income, which lowers taxable income. S-corp owners also save on Social Security and Medicare taxes because their salary is less than it would be if they were operating a sole proprietorship, for instance.
Furthermore, 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. Here's an example: If you and another person are the owners and the corporation's losses amount to $20,000, each shareholder is able to take $10,000 as a deduction on their tax return.
To qualify for S-Corporation status, the corporation must meet a number of requirements. Please call if you would like more information about which requirements must be met to form an S-Corporation.
Professional Guidance
When making a decision about which type of business entity to choose each business owner must decide which one best meets his or her needs. One form of business entity is not necessarily better than any other and obtaining the advice of a tax professional is critical. If you need assistance figuring out which business entity is best for your business, don't hesitate to call.



Recordkeeping Tips for Small Business Owners
The key to avoiding headaches at tax time is keeping track of your receipts and other records throughout the year. Whether you use an excel spreadsheet, an app, an online system or keep your receipts organized in a folding file organized by month, good record-keeping will help you remember the various transactions you made during the year.
Records help you document the deductions you've claimed on your return. You'll need this documentation should the IRS select your return for audit. Normally, tax records should be kept for three years, but some documents - such as records relating to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, IRA, and business or rental property - should be kept longer.
In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner. Generally speaking, however, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return including but not limited to:

Good record-keeping throughout the year saves you time and effort at tax time. For more information on what kinds of records you should keep or assistance on setting up a recordkeeping system that works for you, please call the office.



Employers: Backup Withholding Lowered to 24 Percent
Small business owners are reminded that tax reform legislation lowered the backup withholding tax rate to 24 percent. In addition, the withholding rate that usually applies to bonuses and other supplemental wages was also lowered to 22 percent. As such, employers should have their employees check their withholding.
Backup withholding. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, the backup withholding tax rate dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent. This new rate was effective on January 1, 2018.
Backup withholding applies in various situations, including when a taxpayer fails to supply their correct taxpayer identification number (TIN) to a payer. Usually, a TIN is a Social Security number (SSN), but in some instances, it can be an employer identification number (EIN), individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) or adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN).
Backup withholding also applies (following notification by the IRS) where a taxpayer under-reported interest or dividend income on their federal income tax return. When backup withholding applies, payers must backup withhold tax from payments not otherwise subject to withholding. This includes most payments reported on IRS Form 1099, such as interest, dividends, payments to independent contractors and payment card and third-party network transactions.
Payees may be subject to backup withholding if they:

To stop backup withholding, the payee must correct any issues that caused it. They may need to give the correct TIN to the payer, resolve the under-reported income and pay the amount owed, or file a missing return. Please call if you need more information about backup withholding.
Payers report any backup withholding on Form 945, Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax. Forms 945 are generally due to the IRS by January 31. Payers also show any backup withholding on information returns, such as Forms 1099, that they furnish to their payees and file with the IRS.
Bonuses and other supplemental wages. The TCJA also lowered the tax withholding rates to 22 percent. This rate normally applies to bonuses, back wages, payments for accumulated leave and other supplemental wages. In most cases, the new rate was effective on January 1, 2018. Please note that for payments exceeding $1 million, the rate is 37 percent.
If you have any questions about tax withholding rates, please don't hesitate to contact the office today.

 


Tax Tips for Students With a Summer Job
Are you a student with a summer job or the parent of a student with a summer job? Here are seven things you should know about the income earned by students during the summer months.

  1. All new employees fill out a W-4 when starting a new job. This form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. Taxpayers with multiple summer jobs will want to make sure all their employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover their total income tax liability. To make sure the withholding is correct, don't hesitate to call.
  2. Whether you are working as a waiter, valet, or a camp counselor, you may receive tips as part of your summer income. You should be aware that tips are considered taxable income and subject to federal income tax. Employees should keep a daily log to accurately report tips and they must report cash tips to their employer for any month that totals $20 or more.
  3. From pet sitting to mowing lawns and pulling weeds, many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. If this is your situation, keep in mind that the earnings you receive from self-employment are subject to income tax.
  4. While some students may earn too little from their summer job to owe income tax, employers usually must still withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from their pay. This tax pays for your future benefits under the Social Security system.
  5. Net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment is taxable, as is church employee income of $108.28 and is reported on Form 1040, Schedule SE. Social Security and Medicare benefits are available to individuals who are self-employed just as they are to wage earners who have Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from their wages.
  6. Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay such as pay received during summer advanced camp is taxable.
  7. Special rules apply to services you perform as a newspaper carrier or distributor. Please call the office if you'd like more information about this.

Summer work for students can be a patchwork of odd jobs, which makes for confusion at tax time. Don't hesitate to call if you have any questions at all about income earned from a summer job.

 


What to Do if You Missed the Tax Deadline
Monday, April 15, 2019, was the tax deadline for most taxpayers to file their tax returns. If you haven't filed a 2018 tax return yet, it's not too late.
First, gather any information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed, then call the office.
If you are owed money, then the sooner you file, the sooner you will get your refund. If you owe taxes, file and pay as soon as you can, which will stop the interest and penalties you owe.
If you owe money but cannot pay the IRS in full, pay as much as you can when you file your tax return to minimize penalties and interest. The IRS will work with taxpayers suffering financial hardship. If you continue to ignore your tax bill, the IRS may take collection action.
Some taxpayers may have extra time to file their tax returns and pay any taxes due. These include: individuals living or working in a federally declared disaster area, military service members and eligible support personnel in combat zones, and U.S. citizens and resident aliens who live and work outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
How to Make a Payment
There are several ways to make a payment on your taxes: credit card, electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier's check, or cash. If you pay your federal taxes using a major credit card or debit card, there is no IRS fee for credit or debit card payments, but processing companies may charge a convenience fee or flat fee. It is important to review all your options. The interest rates on a loan or credit card could be lower than the combination of penalties and interest imposed by the Internal Revenue Code.
What to do if you Can’t Pay in Full
Taxpayers who are not able to pay the full amount owed on a tax bill are encouraged to pay as much as possible. By paying as much as possible now, the amount of interest and penalties owed will be less than if you pay nothing at all. Based on individual circumstances, a taxpayer could qualify for an extension of time to pay, an installment agreement, a temporary delay, or an offer in compromise. Don’t hesitate to call if you have questions about any of these options.
Direct Pay. For individuals, IRS Direct Pay is a fast and free way to pay directly from your checking or savings account. Taxpayers who need more time to pay can set up either a short-term payment extension or a monthly payment plan.
Payment Plans. Most people can set up a monthly payment plan or installment agreement that gives a taxpayer more time to pay. However, penalties and interest will continue to be charged on the unpaid portion of the debt throughout the duration of the installment agreement/payment plan. You should pay as much as possible before entering into an installment agreement.
Taxpayers who have a history of filing and paying on time often qualify for penalty relief. A taxpayer generally qualifies if they have filed and paid timely for the past three years and meet other requirements.
Your specific tax situation will determine which payment options are available to you. Payment options include full payment, a short-term payment plan (paying in 120 days or less) or a long-term payment plan (installment agreement) (paying in more than 120 days). User fees may apply, depending on the type of installment plan you are approved for. A sole proprietor or independent contractor should apply for a payment plan as an individual.
You may qualify to apply online if:

Cash Payments. Individual taxpayers who do not have a bank account or credit card and need to pay their tax bill using cash, are able to make a cash payment at participating PayNearMe payment locations (places like 7-Eleven) in 44 states. Individuals wishing to take advantage of this payment option should visit the IRS.gov payments page, select the cash option in the other ways you can pay section and follow the instructions.
What Happens if you don't File a Past Due Return
It's important to understand the ramifications of not filing a past due return and the steps that the IRS will take. Taxpayers who continue to not file a required return and fail to respond to IRS requests for a return may be considered for a variety of enforcement actions--including substantial penalties and fees. For example, the failure-to-file penalty is 5 percent of the tax owed for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late. However, this penalty is reduced for any month where the failure to pay penalty also applies. The basic failure-to-pay penalty rate is generally 0.5 percent of unpaid tax owed for each month or part of a month.
Need Help Filing your 2018 Tax Return?
If you haven't filed a tax return yet, don't delay. Call the office today to schedule an appointment as soon as possible

 


Need help tightening up your credit and collection policies? Help is just a phone call away!

 


Identity Theft and Your Taxes
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. It presents challenges to individuals, businesses, organizations and government agencies, including the IRS.
Learning that you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event. In many cases, you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity and the IRS may be the first to let you know you're a victim of identity theft after you try to file your taxes.
Between 2015 and 2018, the number of taxpayers reporting they were identity theft victims fell 71 percent. However, despite the steep drop in tax-related identity theft in recent years, taxpayers should remember that identity thieves constantly strive to find new schemes that work. Once their ruse begins to fail as taxpayers become aware of their ploys, they change tactics. Taxpayers and tax professionals must remain vigilant to the various scams and schemes used for data thefts.
Here's what you should know about identity theft:
1. Protect your Records. Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN (Social Security Number) on them. Only provide your SSN if it's necessary and you know the person requesting it. Treat your personal information, including tax returns, as if they were cash. Don't leave it in plain sight for people to steal. Protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software and routinely change passwords for all of your Internet accounts.
2. Don't Fall for Scams. Criminals often try to impersonate your bank, credit card company, and even the IRS in order to steal your personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid those fake emails and texts. Always err on the side of caution and delete anything that seems suspicious or unfamiliar.
3. Beware of Threatening Phone Calls. Correspondence from the IRS is always in the form of a letter in the mail. The IRS will not call you threatening a lawsuit, arrest, or to demand an immediate tax payment using a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. If you receive a suspicious or threatening phone call, hang up immediately.
4. Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement. If you discover that a tax return was already filed using your SSN and cannot e-file your return because, consider taking the following steps:

5. Complete an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft AffidavitOnce you've filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. You may include it with your paper tax return as well.
6. IRS Notices and Letters. If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with your SSN, it may send you a letter asking you to verify your identity by calling a special number or visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is to protect you from tax-related identity theft.
7. IP PINs. If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, he or she will be issued an IP PIN (Identity Protection Personal Identification Number). The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. Each year, you will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.
8. Data Breaches. Not every identity theft case involves taxes. If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind that not every data breach results in identity theft. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.
9. Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can report it on the IRS.gov website.
10. IRS Assistance. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online at IRS.gov. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.
If you have any questions about identity theft and your taxes, don't hesitate to call.

 


Credit for Plug-in Electric Vehicles Winds Down
The tax credit available for purchasers of new General Motors plug-in electric vehicles begins phasing out on April 1, 2019. The phaseout was triggered because General Motors, LLC has sold more than 200,000 vehicles eligible for the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit during the fourth quarter of 2018.
Qualifying vehicles by the manufacturer, which include Chevrolet Spark EV (2014-2016), Chevrolet Volt (2011-2019), Chevrolet Bolt (2017-2019), Cadillac CT6 Plug-In (2017-2018), and Cadillac ELR (2014, 2016) are eligible for a $7,500 credit if acquired before April 1, 2019. Beginning April 1, 2019, however, the credit is reduced to $3,750 for General Motors' eligible vehicles. For the next two quarters beginning on October 1, 2019, the credit will be reduced even further to $1,875. After March 31, 2020, no credit will be available.
The plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit was enacted in the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 and subsequently modified. The law enables owners of eligible passenger vehicles and light trucks to take the credit. By law, five quarters after reaching the sales threshold, the credit ends for the manufacturer. General Motors vehicles are eligible for some portion of the credit until April 1, 2020.
Please call if you'd like more information about the Plug-In Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Credit.


Delinquent Tax Debts Could Affect Passport Renewal
As a reminder, individuals with "seriously delinquent tax debts" are subject to a new set of provisions courtesy of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law in December 2015. These provisions went into effect in February 2018.
The FAST Act requires the IRS to notify the State Department of taxpayers the IRS has certified as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt and also requires the State Department to deny their passport application or deny renewal of their passport. In certain instances, the State Department may revoke their passport.
Taxpayers affected by this law are those with a seriously delinquent tax debt, generally, an individual who owes the IRS more than $51,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest for which the IRS has filed a Notice of Federal Tax Lien and the period to challenge it has expired, or the IRS has issued a levy.
Taxpayers can avoid having the IRS notify the State Department of their seriously delinquent tax debt by doing the following:

However, a taxpayer's passport won't be at risk under this program if an individual:

For taxpayers serving in a combat zone, and who also owe a seriously delinquent tax debt, the IRS postpones notifying the State Department and the individual's passport is not subject to denial during this time.
Taxpayers who are behind on their tax obligations should come forward and pay what they owe or enter into a payment plan with the IRS and may qualify for one of several relief programs, including the following:

If you owe back taxes and are worried your passport could be revoked because of unpaid taxes, please contact the office.

 


EIN Application Process Revised to Enhance Security
Starting May 13, 2019 only individuals with tax identification numbers may request an Employer Identification Number (EIN) as the "responsible party" on the application. An EIN is a nine-digit tax identification number assigned to sole proprietors, corporations, partnerships, estates, trusts, employee retirement plans and other entities for tax filing and reporting purposes.
The change prohibits entities from using their own EINs to obtain additional EINs. Individuals named as the responsible party must have either a Social Security number (SSN) or an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). The requirement applies to both the paper Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number, and online EIN application.
A detailed explanation of who should be the responsible party for various types of entities is provided on the Form SS-4 Instructions, but generally, the responsible party is the person who ultimately owns or controls the entity or who exercises ultimate effective control over the entity. In cases where more than one person meets that definition, the entity may decide which individual should be the responsible party.
Certain Entities Exempt
Governmental entities (federal, state, local and tribal) are exempt from the responsible party requirement as well as the military, including state national guards.
No Change for Tax Professionals
There is no change for tax professionals who may act as third-party designees for entities and complete the paper or online applications on behalf of clients.
Purpose
The new requirement will provide greater security to the EIN process by requiring an individual to be the responsible party and improve transparency. If there are changes to the responsible party, the entity can change the responsible official designation by completing Form 8822-B, Change of Address or Responsible Party. A Form 8822-B must be filed within 60 days of a change.
Questions?
Call today and speak to a tax and accounting professional you can trust.

 


Act Now to Save 2019 Taxes on Your Investments
Do you have investments outside

of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to reduce your 2019 tax bill by selling some investments — you just need to carefully select which investments you sell.
Balance gains and losses
If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.
If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, you’ll essentially lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.
Review tax rates
At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retained the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets. For example, for 2019, the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate are $434,551 for singles, $461,701 for heads of households and $488,851 for married couples.
But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect for 2019 until taxable income exceeds $510,300 for singles and heads of households or $612,350 for joint filers. The TCJA also retained the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.
Check the netting rules
Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.
You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.
Consider everything
Keep in mind that tax considerations alone shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. Also consider factors such as your risk tolerance, investment goals and the long-term potential of the investment. We can help you determine what makes sense for you.

 


Living the Dream of Early Retirement
Many people dream of retiring early so they can pursue activities other than work, such as volunteering, traveling and pursuing their hobbies full-time. But making this dream a reality requires careful planning and diligent saving during the years leading up to the anticipated retirement date.
It all starts with retirement savings accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Among the best ways to retire early is to build up these accounts as quickly as possible by contributing the maximum amount allowed by law each year.
From there, consider other potential sources of retirement income, such as a company pension plan. If you have one, either under a past or current employer, research whether you can receive benefits if you retire early. Then factor this income into your retirement budget.
Of course, you’re likely planning on Social Security benefits composing a portion of your retirement income. If so, keep in mind that the earliest you can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits is age 62 (though waiting until later may allow you to collect more).
The flip side of saving up enough retirement income is reducing your living expenses during retirement. For example, many people strive to pay off their home mortgages early, which can possibly free up enough monthly cash flow to make early retirement feasible.
By saving as much money as you can in your retirement savings accounts, carefully planning your Social Security strategies and cutting your living expenses in retirement, you just might be able to make this dream a reality. Contact our firm for help.

 


Is "Bunching" Medical Expenses Still Feasible in 2019?
Some medical expenses may be tax deductible, but only if you itemize deductions and you have enough expenses to exceed the applicable floor for deductibility. With proper planning, you may be able to time controllable medical expenses to your tax advantage.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made bunching such expenses beneficial for some taxpayers. At the same time, certain taxpayers who’ve benefited from the medical expense deduction in previous years might no longer benefit because of the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction.
The changes
Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example of a tax break with a floor is the medical expense deduction.
Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible expenses into one year where possible. The TCJA reduced the floor for the medical expense deduction for 2017 and 2018 from 10% to 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).
However, beginning January 1, 2019, taxpayers may once again deduct only the amount of the unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses for the year that exceeds 10% of their AGI. Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursed by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible.
Itemized deductions
If your total itemized deductions won’t exceed your standard deduction, bunching medical expenses into 2019 won’t save you tax. The TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction. For 2019, it’s $12,200 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,350 for heads of households, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.
If your total itemized deductions for 2019 will exceed your standard deduction, then bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2019 may allow you to exceed the floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and some types of elective surgery.
Exploring the concept
As mentioned, bunching doesn’t work for everyone. For help determining whether you could benefit, please contact us.

 


Mortgage Matters: To Pay Down or Not To Pay Down
If you’re a homeowner and manage your finances well, you might have extra cash after you’ve paid your monthly bills. What should you do with this extra money? Some would say make additional mortgage payments toward your principal to pay off your mortgage early. Others would say: No, invest those dollars in the stock market!
The decision is very much about risk vs. return. There’s little, if any, risk in prepaying a mortgage, because you already know what your rate of return will be: the interest rate on your mortgage. For instance, if your mortgage interest rate is 4.5%, this would be the return earned by every dollar that goes toward prepayment (not factoring in the mortgage interest deduction if you qualify).
However, if you invest the money in the stock market, you’ll assume much more risk. The level of risk depends on the assets you invest in, but there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.
Your mortgage interest rate is indeed an important factor. If your rate is relatively low, so is the return from prepaying your mortgage. The final decision for many people comes down to whether they believe they can earn a higher return investing the money than they would prepaying their mortgage.
Clearly there’s the potential to outperform your mortgage interest rate by investing your money for the long term. Remember, though, that the stock market may be volatile in the short term and offers no guarantees.
There’s no single answer to the “pay down the mortgage or invest in the market?” question. We can provide additional, more specific guidance on making the right decision for you.

 


The Tax Cost of Divorce Has Risen for Many
Are you divorced or in the process of divorcing? If so, it’s critical to understand how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has changed the tax treatment of alimony. Unfortunately, for many couples, the news isn’t good — the tax cost of divorce has risen.
What’s changed?
Under previous rules, a taxpayer who paid alimony was entitled to a deduction for payments made during the year. The deduction was “above-the-line,” which was a big advantage, because there was no need to itemize. The payments were included in the recipient spouse’s gross income.
The TCJA essentially reverses the tax treatment of alimony, effective for divorce or separation instruments executed after 2018. In other words, alimony payments are no longer deductible by the payer and are excluded from the recipient’s gross income.
What’s the impact?
The TCJA will likely cause alimony awards to decrease for post-2018 divorces or separations. Paying spouses will argue that, without the benefit of the alimony deduction, they can’t afford to pay as much as under previous rules. The ability of recipients to exclude alimony from income will at least partially offset the decrease, but many recipients will be worse off under the new rules.
For example, let’s say John and Lori divorced in 2018. John is in the 35% federal income tax bracket and Lori is a stay-at-home mom with no income who cares for John and Lori’s two children. The court ordered John to pay Lori $100,000 per year in alimony. He’s entitled to deduct the payments, so the after-tax cost to him is $65,000. Presuming Lori qualifies to file as head of household, and the children qualify for the full child credit, Lori’s net federal tax on the alimony payments (after the child credit) is approximately $8,600, leaving her with $91,400 in after-tax income.
Suppose, under the same circumstances, that John and Lori divorce in 2019. John argues that, without the alimony deduction, he can afford to pay only $65,000, and the court agrees. The payments are tax-free to Lori, but she’s still left with $26,400 less than she would have received under pre-TCJA rules.
The pre-2019 rules can create a tax benefit by reducing the divorced couple’s overall tax liability (assuming the recipient is in a lower tax bracket). The new rules eliminate this tax advantage. Of course, if the recipient is in a higher tax bracket than the payer, a couple is better off under the new rules.
What to do?
If you’re contemplating a divorce or separation, be sure to familiarize yourself with the post-TCJA divorce-related tax rules. Or, if you’re already divorced or separated, determine whether you would benefit by applying the new rules to your alimony payments through a modification of your divorce or separation instrument. (See “What if you’re already divorced?”) We can help you sort out the details.
Sidebar: What if you’re already divorced?
Existing divorce or separation instruments, including those executed during 2018, aren’t affected by the TCJA changes. The previous rules still apply unless a modification expressly provides that the TCJA rules must be followed. However, spouses who would benefit from the TCJA rules — for example, because their relative income levels have changed — may voluntarily apply them if the modification expressly provides for such treatment.


Double Up on Tax Benefits by Donating Appreciated Artwork
From a tax perspective, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts. Generally, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property.
The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.
Requirements
The first thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a donation of artwork is that you must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has nearly doubled the standard deduction and put tighter limits on many itemized deductions (but not the charitable deduction), many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing.
For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for singles, $18,350 for heads of households and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.
Something else to be aware of is that most artwork donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal.
IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $50,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.
Finally, note that, if you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.
Deduction tips
The charity you choose and how the charity will use the artwork can have a significant impact on your tax deduction. Donations of artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status, can entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, however, your deduction will be limited to your cost.
For your donation to a public charity to qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the donated artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. If, for example, you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university’s art history department for use in its research, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule. But if you donate it to, say, a children’s hospital to auction off at its annual fundraising gala, you won’t satisfy the rule.
Careful planning
To reap the maximum tax benefit of donating appreciated artwork, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all applicable rules. Contact us for assistance.

 


Know a Teacher? Tell Them about This Tax Break
When teachers are setting up their classrooms for the new school year, it’s common for them to pay for a portion of their classroom supplies out of pocket. A special tax break allows these educators to deduct some of their expenses. This educator expense deduction is especially important now due to some changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).
Old school
Before 2018, employee business expenses were potentially deductible if they were unreimbursed by the employer and ordinary and necessary to the “business” of being an employee. A teacher’s out-of-pocket classroom expenses could qualify.
But these expenses had to be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and were subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This meant employees, including teachers, could enjoy a tax benefit only if they itemized deductions (rather than taking the standard deduction) and only to the extent that all their deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceeded 2% of their AGI.
Now, for 2018 through 2025, the TCJA has suspended miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of AGI floor. Fortunately, qualifying educators can still deduct some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom costs under the educator expense deduction.
New school
Back in 2002, Congress created the above-the-line educator expense deduction because, for many teachers, the 2% of AGI threshold for the miscellaneous itemized deduction was difficult to meet. An above-the-line deduction is one that’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your AGI.
You don’t have to itemize to claim an above-the-line deduction. This is especially significant with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction, which means fewer taxpayers will benefit from itemizing.
Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers and other eligible educators (such as counselors and principals) can deduct above the line up to $250 of qualified expenses. If you’re married filing jointly and both you and your spouse are educators, you can deduct up to $500 of unreimbursed expenses — but not more than $250 each.
Qualified expenses include amounts paid or incurred during the tax year for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, the costs of supplies are qualified expenses only if related to athletics.
More details
Some additional rules apply to the educator expense deduction. If you’re an educator or know one who might be interested in this tax break, please contact us for more details.


Planning for the Net Investment Income Tax
Despite its name, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t cut all types of taxes. It left several taxes unchanged, including the 3.8% tax on net investment income (NII) of high-income taxpayers.
You’re potentially liable for the NII tax if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and qualifying widows or widowers; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). Generally, MAGI is the same as adjusted gross income. However, it may be higher if you have foreign earned income and certain foreign investments.
To calculate the tax, multiply 3.8% by the lesser of 1) your NII, or 2) the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold. For example, if you’re single with $250,000 in MAGI and $75,000 in NII, your tax would be 3.8% × $50,000 ($250,000 - $200,000), or $1,900.
NII generally includes net income from, among others, taxable interest, dividends, capital gains, rents, royalties and passive business activities. Several types of income are excluded from NII, such as wages, most nonpassive business income, retirement plan distributions and Social Security benefits. Also excluded is the nontaxable gain on the sale of a personal residence.
Given the way the NII tax is calculated, you can reduce the tax either by reducing your MAGI or reducing your NII. To accomplish the former, you could maximize contributions to IRAs and qualified retirement plans. To do the latter, you might invest in tax-exempt municipal bonds or in growth stocks that pay little or no dividends.
There are many strategies for reducing the NII tax. Consult with one of our tax advisors before implementing any of them. And remember that, while tax reduction is important, it’s not the only factor in prudent investment decision-making.

 


No Surprises: Why You Should Check Your Tax Bracket
Many taxpayers learned some tough lessons upon completing their 2018 tax returns regarding the changes brought forth by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). If you were one of them, or even if you weren’t, now’s a good time to check your bracket to avoid any unpleasant surprises next April.
Under the TCJA, the top income tax rate is now 37% (down from 39.6%) for taxpayers with taxable income over $500,000 for 2018 (single and head-of-household filers) or $600,000 for 2018 (married couples filing jointly). These thresholds are higher than they were for the top rate in 2017 ($418,400, $444,550 and $470,700, respectively), so the top rate probably wasn’t too much of a concern for many upper-income filers.
But some singles and heads of households in the middle and upper brackets were likely pushed into a higher tax bracket much more quickly for the 2018 tax year. For example, for 2017 the threshold for the 33% tax bracket was $191,650 for singles and $212,500 for heads of households. For 2018, the rate for this bracket was reduced slightly to 32% — but the threshold for the bracket is now only $157,500 for both singles and heads of households.
So, a lot more of these filers found themselves in this bracket and many more could so again in 2019. Fortunately for joint filers, their threshold for this bracket has increased from $233,350 for 2017 to $315,000 for 2018. The thresholds for these brackets have increased slightly for 2019, due to inflation adjustments. If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold for a higher bracket, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the next bracket. For example, you could take steps to accelerate deductible expenses.
But carefully consider the changes the TCJA has made to deductions. For example, you might no longer benefit from itemizing because of the nearly doubled standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of certain itemized deductions. For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for singles and married individuals filing separately, $18,350 for heads of households and $24,400 for joint filers.


Estate Planning Portability Lives on Under The TCJA
When the TCJA was passed, the big estate planning news was that the federal gift and estate tax exclusion doubled from $5 million to an inflation-indexed $10 million. It was further indexed for inflation to $11.18 million for 2018 and now $11.4 million for 2019.
Somewhat lost in the clamor, however, was (and is) the fact that the new law preserves the “portability” provision for married couples. Portability allows your estate to elect to permit your surviving spouse to use any of your available estate tax exclusion that is unused at your death.
A brief history
At the turn of this century, the exclusion was a mere $675,000 before being hiked to $1 million in 2002. By 2009, the exclusion increased to $3.5 million, while the top estate tax rate was reduced from 55% in 2000 to 35% in 2010, among other changes.
After a one-year estate tax moratorium in 2010, the Tax Relief Act (TRA) of 2010 reinstated the estate tax with a generous $5 million exclusion, indexed for inflation, and a top 35% tax rate. The American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012 made these changes permanent, aside from increasing the top rate to 40%.
Most important, the TRA authorized portability of the estate tax exclusion, which was then permanently preserved by the ATRA. Under the portability provision, the executor of the estate of the first spouse to die can elect to have the “deceased spousal unused exclusion” (DSUE) transferred to the estate of the surviving spouse.
How the DSUE works
Let’s say Kevin and Debbie, who have two children, each own $5 million individually and $10 million jointly with rights of survivorship, for a total of $20 million. Under their wills, all assets pass first to the surviving spouse and then to the children.
If Debbie had died in early 2019, the $10 million ($5 million owned individually and $5 million held jointly) in assets would be exempt from estate tax because of the unlimited marital deduction. Thus, her entire $11.4 million exclusion would remain unused. However, if the election is made upon her death, Kevin’s estate can later use the $11.4 million of the DSUE from Debbie, plus the exclusion for the year in which Kevin dies, to shelter the remaining $8.6 million from tax, with plenty to spare for some appreciation in value.
What would have happened without the portability provision? For simplicity, let’s say that Kevin dies later in 2019. Without being able to benefit from the unused portion of Debbie’s exclusion, the $11.4 million exclusion for Kevin in 2019 leaves the $8.6 million subject to estate tax. At the 40% rate, the federal estate tax bill would amount to a whopping $3.44 million.
Although techniques such as a traditional bypass trust may be used to avoid or reduce estate tax liability, this example demonstrates the potential impact of the portability election. It also emphasizes the need for planning.
Other points of interest
Be aware that this discussion factors in only federal estate taxes. State estate taxes may also have a significant impact, particularly in some states where the estate tax exemption isn’t tied to the federal exclusion.
Also, keep in mind that, absent further legislation, the exclusion amount is slated to revert to pre-2018 levels after 2025. Portability continues, although, for those whose estates will no longer be fully sheltered, additional planning must be considered.
Furthermore, portability isn’t always the best option. Consider all relevant factors, including nontax reasons that might affect the distribution of assets under a will or living trust. For instance, a person may want to divide assets in other ways if matters are complicated by a divorce, a second marriage, or unusual circumstances.
Details, details
Every estate plan includes details that need to be checked and rechecked. Our firm can help you do so, including deciding whether portability is right for you.

 


Consider the Tax Advantages of Qualified Small Business Stock
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced most ordinary-income tax rates for individuals, it didn’t change long-term capital gains rates. They remain at 0%, 15% and 20%.
The capital gains rates now have their own statutory bracket amounts, but the 0% rate generally applies to taxpayers in the bottom two ordinary-income tax brackets (now 10% and 12%). And, you no longer must be in the top ordinary-income tax bracket (now 37%) to be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate of 20%. Many taxpayers in the 35% tax bracket also will be subject to the 20% rate.
So, finding ways to defer or minimize taxes on investments is still important. One way to do that — and diversify your portfolio, too — is to invest in qualified small business (QSB) stock.
QSB defined
To be a QSB, a business must be a C corporation engaged in an active trade or business and must not have assets that exceed $50 million when you purchase the shares.
The corporation must be a QSB on the date the stock is issued and during substantially all the time you own the shares. If, however, the corporation’s assets exceed the $50 million threshold while you’re holding the shares, it won’t cause QSB status to be lost in relation to your shares.
Two tax advantages
QSBs offer investors two valuable tax advantages:
1. Up to a 100% exclusion of gain. Generally, taxpayers selling QSB stock are allowed to exclude a portion of their gain if they’ve held the stock for more than five years. The amount of the exclusion depends on the acquisition date. The exclusion is 100% for stock acquired on or after Sept. 28, 2010. So, if you purchase QSB stock in 2019, you can enjoy a 100% exclusion if you hold it until sometime in 2024. (The specific date, of course, depends on the date you purchase the stock.)
2. Tax-free gain rollovers. If you don’t want to hold the QSB stock for five years, you still have the opportunity to enjoy a tax benefit: Within 60 days of selling the stock, you can buy other QSB stock with the proceeds and defer the tax on your gain until you dispose of the new stock. The rolled-over gain reduces your basis in the new stock. For determining long-term capital gains treatment, the new stock’s holding period includes the holding period of the stock you sold.
More to think about
Additional requirements and limits apply to these breaks. For example, there are many types of businesses that don’t qualify as QSBs, ranging from various professional fields to financial services to hospitality and more. Before investing, it’s important to also consider nontax factors, such as your risk tolerance, time horizon and overall investment goals. Contact us to learn more.


Vacation Homes: Do You Understand the Tax Nuances?
Owning a vacation home can offer tax breaks, but they may differ from those associated with a primary residence. The key is whether a vacation home is used solely for personal enjoyment or is also rented out to tenants.
Sorting it out
If your vacation home is not rented out, or if you rent it out for no more than 14 days a year, the tax benefits are essentially the same as those you’d receive if you own your primary residence. In this scenario, you’d generally be able to deduct your mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A of your federal income tax return, up to certain limits. Also, you may exclude all your rental income.
But the rules are different if you rent out your vacation home for 15 or more days annually. First, the rental income must be reported. Second, in this scenario, the IRS considers your vacation home to be an investment property and, thus, allows deductions related to the rental of the property, with certain limitations. In addition to mortgage interest and real estate taxes, these deductions generally include insurance, utilities, housekeeping, repairs and depreciation. Also, the deduction for certain categories of expenses cannot exceed the rental income.
If you exceed this number of days of rentals and use your vacation home for personal use, these deductions will be limited by the ratio of actual rental days to the total days of use of the home. Suppose, for example, that you personally use your vacation home for 25 days and rent it for 75 days in a year, so the home is used for 100 total days. Here, you would be allowed to deduct 75% of the expenses listed above as rental expenses. Be aware that a portion of the mortgage interest and real estate taxes may be deductible on Schedule A. In certain circumstances, however, the personal portion of your mortgage interest may not be deductible.
Bottom line
If you want to maximize the tax benefits of your vacation home, limit your personal use of the home to no more than 14 days or 10% of the total rental days. If you want to personally use the home more than this, you can still realize some limited tax benefits. Contact our firm for details about your specific situation.

 


Innocent Spouse Rules Offer Protection under Some Circumstances
Must one spouse pay the tax resulting from a fabrication or omission by another spouse on a jointly filed tax return? It depends. If the spouse qualifies, he or she may be able to avoid personal tax liability under the “innocent spouse” rules.
Joint filing status
Generally, married taxpayers benefit overall by filing a joint tax return on the federal level. This is particularly the case when one spouse earns significantly more than the other. Filing jointly may also help the couple maximize certain income tax deductions and credits.
But joint filing status comes with a catch. Each spouse is “jointly and severally” responsible for any tax, interest and penalties attributable to the return. And this liability continues to apply even if the couple gets a divorce or one spouse dies. In other words, the IRS may try to collect the full amount due from one spouse, even if all the income reported on the joint return was earned by the other spouse.
Basic rules
However, the tax law provides tax relief for an “innocent spouse.” Under these rules, one spouse may not be liable for any unpaid tax and penalties, despite having signed the joint return.
To determine eligibility for relief, the IRS imposes a set of common requirements. The spouses must have filed a joint return that has an understatement of tax, and that understatement must be attributable to one spouse’s erroneous items. For this purpose, “erroneous items” are defined as any deduction, credit or tax basis incorrectly stated on the return, as well as any income not reported.
From there, the other (“innocent”) spouse must establish that, at the time the joint return was signed, he or she didn’t know — or have reason to know — there was an understatement of tax. Finally, to qualify, the IRS needs to find that it would be unfair to hold one spouse liable for the understatement after considering all the facts and circumstances.
Additional notes
For many years, innocent spouse relief had to be requested within two years after the IRS first began its collection activity against a taxpayer. But, in 2011, the IRS announced that it would no longer apply the two-year limit on collection activities.
In addition, by law, when one spouse applies for innocent spouse relief, the IRS must contact the other spouse or former spouse. There are no exceptions even for victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence.
Help available
Historically, courts haven’t been particularly generous about upholding claims under the innocent spouse rules. State laws can also complicate matters. If you’re wondering whether you’d qualify for relief, please contact us for help.
Sidebar: What does the IRS consider?
The IRS considers “all facts and circumstances” in determining whether it would be inequitable to hold an “innocent” spouse liable for taxes due on a jointly filed tax return. One factor that may increase the likelihood of relief is that the taxes owed are clearly attributable to one spouse or an ex-spouse who filled out the errant return.
If one spouse was deserted during the marriage, or suffered abuse, it may also improve the chances that innocent spouse relief will be granted. In some cases, the IRS may examine the couple’s situation to determine whether the spouse applying for relief knew about the erroneous items.


Send Your Kids to Day Camp and You May Get a Tax Break
Among the many great challenges of parenthood is what to do with your kids when school lets out. Do you keep them at home and try to captivate their attention yourself or with the help of sitters? Or do you send them off to the wide variety of day camps now in operation? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but if you choose the latter option, you might qualify for a tax break!
Dollar-for-dollar savings
Day camp — but, to be clear, not overnight camp — is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care tax credit, which is worth 20% of qualifying expenses (more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000), subject to a cap. For 2019, the maximum expenses allowed for the credit are $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more.
Remember that tax credits are particularly valuable because they reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar — $1 of tax credit saves you $1 of taxes. This differs from deductions, which simply reduce the amount of income subject to tax. For example, if you’re in the 24% tax bracket, $1 of deduction saves you only $0.24 of taxes. So, it’s important to take maximum advantage of the tax credits available to you.
Qualifying for the credit
A qualifying child is generally a dependent under age 13. (There’s no age limit if the dependent child is unable physically or mentally to care for him- or herself.) Special rules apply if the child’s parents are divorced or separated or if the parents live apart.
Eligible costs for care must be work-related. This means that the child care is needed so that you can work or, if you’re currently unemployed, look for work.
If you participate in an employer-sponsored child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also sometimes referred to as a Dependent Care Assistance Program, you can’t use expenses paid from or reimbursed by the FSA to claim the credit.
Determining eligibility
Additional rules apply to the child and dependent care credit. If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, contact us. We can assist you in determining your eligibility for this credit and other tax breaks for parents.

 


Business vs Hobby: The Tax Rules Have Changed
If you generate income from a passion such as cooking, woodworking, raising animals — or anything else — beware of the tax implications. They’ll vary depending on whether the activity is treated as a hobby or a business.
The bottom line: The income generated by your activity is taxable. But different rules apply to how income and related expenses are reported.
Factors to consider
The IRS has identified several factors that should be considered when making the hobby vs. business distinction. The greater the extent to which these factors apply, the more likely your activity will be deemed a business.
For starters, in the event of an audit, the IRS will examine the time and effort you devote to the activity and whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood. Also, the IRS will likely view it as a business if any losses you’ve incurred are because of circumstances beyond your control, or they took place in what could be defined as the start-up phase of a company.
Profitability — past, present and future — is also important. If you change your operational methods to improve profitability, and you can expect future profits from the appreciation of assets used in the activity, the IRS is more likely to view it as a business. The agency may also consider whether you’ve previously made a profit in similar activities. Also, the intent to make a profit is a key factor.
The IRS always stresses that the final determination will be based on all the relevant facts and circumstances related to your activity.
Changes under the TCJA
Under previous tax law, if the activity was deemed a hobby, you could still generally deduct ordinary and necessary expenses associated with it. But you had to deduct hobby expenses as miscellaneous itemized deduction items, so they could be written off only to the extent they exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI).
All of this has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Beginning with the 2018 tax year and running through 2025, the TCJA eliminates write-offs for miscellaneous itemized deduction items previously subject to the 2% of AGI threshold.
Thus, if the activity is a hobby, you won’t be able to deduct expenses associated with it. However, you must still report all income from it. If, instead, the activity is considered a business, you can deduct the expenses associated with it. If the business activity results in a loss, you can deduct the loss from your other income in the same tax year, within certain limits.
An issue to address
Worried the IRS might recharacterize your business as a hobby? Contact our firm. We can help you address this issue on your 2018 return or assist you in perhaps filing an amended return, if appropriate.


Are Income Taxes Taking a Bite Out of Your Trusts?
If your estate plan includes one or more trusts, review them before you file your tax return. Or, if you’ve already filed it, look carefully at how your trusts were affected. Income taxes often take an unexpected bite out of these asset-protection vehicles.
3 ways to soften the blow
For trusts, there are income thresholds that may trigger the top income tax rate of 37%, the top long-term capital gains rate of 20%, and the net investment income tax of 3.8%. Here are three ways to soften the blow:
1. Use grantor trusts. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is designed so that you, the grantor, are treated as the trust’s owner for income tax purposes — even though your contributions to the trust are considered “completed gifts” for estate- and gift-tax purposes.
The trust’s income is taxed to you, so the trust itself avoids taxation. This allows trust assets to grow tax-free, leaving more for your beneficiaries. And it reduces the size of your estate. Further, as the owner, you can sell assets to the trust or engage in other transactions without tax consequences.
Keep in mind that, if your personal income exceeds the applicable thresholds for your filing status, using an IDGT won’t avoid the tax rates described above. Still, the other benefits of these trusts make them attractive.
2. Change your investment strategy. Despite the advantages of grantor trusts, non-grantor trusts are sometimes desirable or necessary. At some point, for example, you may decide to convert a grantor trust to a non-grantor trust to relieve yourself of the burden of paying the trust’s taxes. Also, grantor trusts become non-grantor trusts after the grantor’s death.
One strategy for easing the tax burden on non-grantor trusts is for the trustee to shift investments into tax-exempt or tax-deferred investments.
3. Distribute income. Generally, non-grantor trusts are subject to tax only to the extent they accumulate taxable income. When a trust makes distributions to a beneficiary, it passes along ordinary income (and, in some cases, capital gains), which are taxed at the beneficiary’s marginal rate.
Thus, one strategy for minimizing taxes on trust income is to distribute the income (assuming the trust isn’t already required to distribute income) to beneficiaries in lower tax brackets. The trustee might also consider distributing appreciated assets, rather than cash, to take advantage of a beneficiary’s lower capital gains rate. Of course, doing so may conflict with a trust’s purposes.
Opportunities to reduce
If you’re concerned about income taxes on your trusts, contact us. We can review your estate plan to assess the tax exposure of your trusts, as well as to uncover opportunities to reduce your family’s tax burden.

 


Weigh the Tax Impact of Income vs. Growth When Investing
As the 2018 tax-filing season heats up, investors have much to consider. Whether you structured your portfolio to emphasize income over growth — or vice versa, or perhaps a balance of the two — will have a substantial impact on your tax liability. Let’s take a look at a couple of the most significant “big picture” issues that affect income vs. growth.
Differing dividends
One benefit of dividends is that they may qualify for preferential long-term capital gains tax rates. For the 2018 tax year, the top rate is 20% for high-income taxpayers (income of $425,800 or more). For those with incomes between $38,601 and $425,800, the rate is 15%. Individuals with incomes of $38,600 and below pay 0% on long-term capital gains.
Keep in mind, however, that only “qualified dividends” are eligible for these rates. Nonqualified dividends are taxed as ordinary income at rates as high as 37% for 2018. Qualified dividends must meet two requirements. First, the dividends must be paid by a U.S. corporation or a qualified foreign corporation. Second, the stock must be held for at least 61 days during the 121-day period that starts 60 days before the ex-dividend date and ends 60 days after that date.
A qualified foreign corporation is one that’s organized in a U.S. possession or in a country that has a current tax treaty with the United States, or whose stock is readily tradable on an established U.S. market. The ex-dividend date is the cutoff date for declared dividends. Investors who purchase stock on or after that date won’t receive a dividend payment.
Timing is everything
One disadvantage of dividend-paying stocks (or mutual funds that invest in dividend-paying stocks) is that they accelerate taxes. Regardless of how long you hold the stock, you’ll owe taxes on dividends as they’re paid, which erodes your returns over time.
When you invest in growth stocks (or mutual funds that invest in growth stocks), you generally have greater control over the timing of the tax bite. These companies tend to reinvest their profits in the companies rather than pay them out as dividends, so taxes on the appreciation in value are deferred until you sell the stock.
Keeping an eye out
Regardless of your investment approach, you need to understand the tax implications of various investments so you can make informed decisions. You should also keep an eye on Congress. As of this writing, further tax law reform beyond the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 isn’t on the horizon — but it’s being discussed. Contact our firm for the latest news and to discuss your tax and investment strategies.
Sidebar: What are your investment objectives?
When re-evaluating your investment portfolio, it’s important to consider whether your objectives have changed. There are many factors to consider, both tax and nontax. Some investors seek dividends because they need the current income or they believe that companies with a history of paying healthy dividends are better managed. Others prefer to defer taxes by investing in growth stocks. And, of course, there’s something to be said for a balanced portfolio that includes both income and growth investments. When preparing to file your 2018 taxes, take a moment to identify your objectives and determine if you met them or fell short.

 


Deducting Charitable Gifts Depends on a Variety of Factors
Whether you’re planning to claim charitable deductions on your 2018 return or make donations for 2019, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.
What you give
Among the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give. For example:
Cash or ordinary-income property. You may deduct the amount of gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction. For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.
Long-term capital gains property. You may deduct the current fair market value of appreciated stocks and bonds held for more than one year.
Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation. If the property isn’t related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated for a charity auction), your deduction is limited to your basis. But if the property is related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated to a museum for its collection), you can deduct the fair market value.
Vehicle. Unless the vehicle is being used by the charity, you generally may deduct only the amount the charity receives when it sells the vehicle.
Use of property or provision of services. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift. When providing services, you may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.
Other factors
First, you’ll benefit from the charitable deduction only if you itemize deductions rather than claim the standard deduction. Also, your annual charitable deductions may be reduced if they exceed certain income-based limits.
In addition, your deduction generally must be reduced by the value of any benefit received from the charity. Finally, various substantiation requirements apply, and the charity must be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
Planning ahead
For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubles the standard deduction - plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions. As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax.
You might be able to preserve your charitable deduction by “bunching” donations into alternating years, so that you’ll exceed the standard deduction and can claim a charitable deduction (and other itemized deductions) every other year.
The years ahead
Your charitable giving strategy may need to change in light of tax law reform or other factors. Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2018 return or what’s best to do in the years ahead.

 


Multistate Resident? Watch Out for Double Taxation
Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution or federal law that prohibits multiple states from collecting tax on the same income. Although many states provide tax credits to prevent double taxation, those credits are sometimes unavailable. If you maintain residences in more than one state, here are some points to keep in mind.
Domicile vs. residence
Generally, if you’re “domiciled” in a state, you’re subject to that state’s income tax on your worldwide income. Your domicile isn’t necessarily where you spend most of your time. Rather, it’s the location of your “true, fixed, permanent home” or the place “to which you intend to return whenever absent.” Your domicile doesn’t change — even if you spend little or no time there — until you establish domicile elsewhere.
Residence, on the other hand, is based on the amount of time you spend in a state. You’re a resident if you have a “permanent place of abode” in a state and spend a minimum amount of time there — for example, at least 183 days per year. Many states impose their income taxes on residents’ worldwide income even if they’re domiciled in another state.
Potential solution
Suppose you live in State A and work in State B. Given the length of your commute, you keep an apartment in State B near your office and return to your home in State A only on weekends. State A taxes you as a domiciliary, while State B taxes you as a resident. Neither state offers a credit for taxes paid to another state, so your income is taxed twice.
One possible solution to such double taxation is to avoid maintaining a permanent place of abode in State B. However, State B may still have the power to tax your income from the job in State B because it’s derived from a source within the state. Yet State B wouldn’t be able to tax your income from other sources, such as investments you made in State A.
Minimize unnecessary taxes
This example illustrates just one way double taxation can arise when you divide your time between two or more states. Our firm can research applicable state law and identify ways to minimize exposure to unnecessary taxes.
Sidebar: How to establish domicile
Under the law of each state, tax credits are available only with respect to income taxes that are “properly due” to another state. But, when two states each claim you as a domiciliary, neither believes that taxes are properly due to the other. To avoid double taxation in this situation, you’ll need to demonstrate your intent to abandon your domicile in one state and establish it in the other.
There are various ways to do so. For example, you might obtain a driver’s license and register your car in the new state. You could also open bank accounts in the new state and use your new address for important financially related documents (such as insurance policies, tax returns, passports and wills). Other effective measures may include registering to vote in the new jurisdiction, subscribing to local newspapers and seeing local health care providers. Bear in mind, of course, that laws regarding domicile vary from state to state.


Fewer Taxpayers to Qualify for Home Office Deduction
Working from home has become commonplace for people in many jobs. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it. Beginning with the 2018 tax year, fewer taxpayers will qualify for the home office deduction. Here’s why.
Changes under the TCJA
For employees, home office expenses used to be a miscellaneous itemized deduction. Way back in 2017, this meant one could enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus other miscellaneous itemized expenses (such as unreimbursed work-related travel, certain professional fees and investment expenses) exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income.
Starting in 2018 and continuing through 2025, however, employees can’t deduct any home office expenses. Why? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for this period.
Note: If you’re self-employed, you can still deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income during the 2018 through 2025 period.
Other eligibility requirements
If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.
Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom, or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.
Deduction options
If eligible, you have two options for claiming the home office deduction. First, you can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.
A second approach is to use the simplified option. Here, only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 multiplied by the number of square feet of the office space. The simplified deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.
More rules and limits
Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may qualify for the home office deduction on your 2018 return or would like to know if there’s anything additional you need to do to become eligible, contact us.

 


Laying the Groundwork for Your 2018 Tax Return
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made many changes to tax breaks for individuals. Let’s look at some specific areas to review as you lay the groundwork for filing your 2018 return.
Personal exemptions
For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA suspends personal exemptions. This will substantially increase taxable income for large families. However, enhancements to the standard deduction and child credit, combined with lower tax rates, might mitigate this increase.
Standard deduction
Taxpayers can choose to itemize certain deductions on Schedule A or take the standard deduction based on their filing status instead. Itemizing deductions when the total will be larger than the standard deduction saves tax, but it makes filing more complicated.
The TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction for 2018 to $12,000 for singles and separate filers, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for joint filers. (These amounts will be adjusted for inflation for 2019 through 2025.)
For some taxpayers, the increased standard deduction could compensate for the elimination of the exemptions, and perhaps even provide some additional tax savings. But for those with many dependents or who itemize deductions, these changes might result in a higher tax bill — depending in part on the extent to which they can benefit from enhancements to the child credit.
Child credit
Credits can be more powerful than exemptions and deductions because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar, rather than just reducing the amount of income subject to tax. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA doubles the child credit to $2,000 per child under age 17.
The new law also makes the child credit available to more families than in the past. For 2018 through 2025, the credit doesn’t begin to phase out until adjusted gross income exceeds $400,000 for joint filers or $200,000 for all other filers, compared with the 2017 phaseout thresholds of $110,000 for joint filers, $75,000 for singles and heads of households, and $55,000 for marrieds filing separately. The TCJA also includes, for 2018 through 2025, a $500 tax credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children.
Assessing the impact
Many factors will influence the impact of the TCJA on your tax liability for 2018 and beyond. For help assessing the impact on your situation, contact us.


Installment Sales: A Viable Option for Transferring Assets
Are you considering transferring real estate, a family business or other assets you expect to appreciate dramatically in the future? If so, an installment sale may be a viable option. Its benefits include the ability to freeze asset values for estate tax purposes and remove future appreciation from your taxable estate.
Giving away vs. selling
From an estate planning perspective, if you have a taxable estate it’s usually more advantageous to give property to your children than to sell it to them. By gifting the asset you’ll be depleting your estate and thereby reducing potential estate tax liability, whereas in a sale the proceeds generally will be included in your taxable estate.
But an installment sale may be desirable if you’ve already used up your $11.18 million (for 2018) lifetime gift tax exemption or if your cash flow needs preclude you from giving the property away outright. When you sell property at fair market value to your children or other loved ones rather than gifting it, you avoid gift taxes on the transfer and freeze the property’s value for estate tax purposes as of the sale date. All future appreciation benefits the buyer and won’t be included in your taxable estate.
Because the transaction is structured as a sale rather than a gift, your buyer must have the financial resources to buy the property. But by using an installment note, the buyer can make the payments over time. Ideally, the purchased property will generate enough income to fund these payments.
Advantages and disadvantages
An advantage of an installment sale is that it gives you the flexibility to design a payment schedule that corresponds with the property’s cash flow, as well as with your and your buyer’s financial needs. You can arrange for the payments to increase or decrease over time, or even provide for interest-only payments with an end-of-term balloon payment of the principal.
One disadvantage of an installment sale over strategies that involve gifted property is that you’ll be subject to tax on any capital gains you recognize from the sale. Fortunately, you can spread this tax liability over the term of the installment note. As of this writing, the long-term capital gains rates are 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on the amount of your net long-term capital gains plus your ordinary income.
Also, you’ll have to charge interest on the note and pay ordinary income tax on the interest payments. IRS guidelines provide for a minimum rate of interest that must be paid on the note. On the bright side, any capital gains and ordinary income tax you pay further reduces the size of your taxable estate.
Simple technique, big benefits
An installment sale is an approach worth exploring for business owners, real estate investors and others who have gathered high-value assets. It can help keep a family-owned business in the family or otherwise play an important role in your estate plan.
Bear in mind, however, that this simple technique isn’t right for everyone. Our firm can review your situation and help you determine whether an installment sale is a wise move for you.


Use Capital Losses to Offset Capital Gains
When is a loss actually a gain? When that loss becomes an opportunity to lower tax liability, of course. Now’s a good time to begin your year-end tax planning and attempt to neutralize gains and losses by year end. To do so, it might make sense to sell investments at a loss in 2018 to offset capital gains that you’ve already realized this year.
Now and later
A capital loss occurs when you sell a security for less than your “basis,” generally the original purchase price. You can use capital losses to offset any capital gains you realize in that same tax year — even if one is short term and the other is long term.
When your capital losses exceed your capital gains, you can use up to $3,000 of the excess to offset wages, interest and other ordinary income ($1,500 for married people filing separately) and carry the remainder forward to future years until it’s used up.
Research and replace
Years ago, investors realized it could be beneficial to sell a security to recognize a capital loss for a given tax year and then — if they still liked the security’s prospects — buy it back immediately. To counter this strategy, Congress imposed the wash sale rule, which disallows losses when an investor sells a security and then buys the same or a “substantially identical” security within 30 days of the sale, before or after.
Waiting 30 days to repurchase a security you’ve sold might be fine in some situations. But there may be times when you’d rather not be forced to sit on the sidelines for a month.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative. With a little research, you might be able to identify a security in the same sector you like just as well as, or better than, the old one. Your solution is now simple and straightforward: Simultaneously sell the stock you own at a loss and buy the competitor’s stock, thereby avoiding violation of the “same or substantially identical” provision of the wash sale rule. You maintain your position in that sector or industry and might even add to your portfolio a stock you believe has more potential or less risk.
If you bought shares of a security at different times, give some thought to which lot can be sold most advantageously. The IRS allows investors to choose among several methods of designating lots when selling securities, and those methods sometimes produce radically different results.
Good with the bad
Investing always carries the risk that you will lose some or even all of your money. But you have to take the good with the bad. In terms of tax planning, you can turn investment losses into opportunities — and potentially end the year on a high note.

 


Accelerating Your Property Tax Deduction to Reduce Your Tax Bill
Smart timing of deductible expenses can reduce your tax liability, and poor timing can increase it unnecessarily. One deductible expense you may be able to control to your advantage is your property tax payment.
You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2018 (the taxes must be assessed in 2018) but that are due in 2019, and deduct the payment on your return for this year. But you generally can’t prepay property taxes that relate to 2019 (they must be assessed in 2019) and deduct the payment on this year’s return. Also, beware of the dollar-amount limitation discussed below.
A big decision
Accelerating deductible expenses such as property tax payments is typically beneficial. Prepaying your property tax may be especially advantageous if your tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is expected to decrease in the next year. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.
But not every tax rate has dropped for the 2018 tax year under the TCJA — the very lowest rate, 10%, has been retained, as well as the 35% rate (though the income brackets for these rates have changed). So, some taxpayers may not save any more by prepaying. Also, taxpayers who expect to substantially increase their income next year, pushing them into a higher tax bracket, may benefit by not prepaying their property tax bill.
Another important point is that, under the TCJA, for tax years 2018 through 2025 the itemized deduction for all state and local taxes is limited to $10,000 ($5,000 for married filing separately).
More considerations
Property tax isn’t deductible for purposes of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). So, if you’re subject to the AMT this year, a prepayment may hurt you because you’ll lose the benefit of the deduction. Before prepaying your property tax, make sure you aren’t at AMT risk for 2018.
Also, don’t forget that, for 2018 to 2025, the TCJA suspends personal itemized exemptions but roughly doubles the standard deduction amounts (for 2018) to $12,000 for singles and separate filers, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for joint filers. This may affect your decision on whether to prepay.
Specific strategies
Not sure whether you should prepay your property tax bill or what other deductions you might be able to accelerate into 2018 (or should consider deferring to 2019)? Contact us. We can help you determine your optimal year-end tax planning strategies.

 


Taxable vs. Tax-advantaged: Where to Hold Investments
When investing for retirement or other long-term goals, people usually prefer tax-advantaged accounts, such as IRAs, 401(k)s or 403(b)s. Certain assets are well suited to these accounts, but it may make more sense to hold other investments in traditional taxable accounts.
Know the rules
Some investments, such as fast-growing stocks, can generate substantial capital gains, which may occur when you sell a security for more than you paid for it.
If you’ve owned that position for over a year, you face long-term gains, taxed at a maximum rate of 20%. In contrast, short-term gains, assessed on holding periods of a year or less, are taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate — maxing out at 37%. (Note: These rates don’t account for the possibility of the 3.8% net investment income tax.)
Choose tax efficiency
Generally, the more tax efficient an investment, the more benefit you’ll get from owning it in a taxable account. Conversely, investments that lack tax efficiency normally are best suited to tax-advantaged vehicles.
Consider municipal bonds (“munis”), either held individually or through mutual funds. Munis are attractive to tax-sensitive investors because their income is exempt from federal income taxes and sometimes state and local income taxes. Because you don’t get a double benefit when you own an already tax-advantaged security in a tax-advantaged account, holding munis in your 401(k) or IRA would result in a lost opportunity.
Similarly, tax-efficient investments such as passively managed index mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, or long-term stock holdings, are generally appropriate for taxable accounts. These securities are more likely to generate long-term capital gains, which have more favorable tax treatment. Securities that generate more of their total return via capital appreciation or that pay qualified dividends are also better taxable account options.
Take advantage of income
What investments work best for tax-advantaged accounts? Taxable investments that tend to produce much of their return in income. This category includes corporate bonds, especially high-yield bonds, as well as real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are required to pass through most of their earnings as shareholder income. Most REIT dividends are nonqualified and therefore taxed at your ordinary-income rate.
Another tax-advantaged-appropriate investment may be an actively managed mutual fund. Funds with significant turnover — meaning their portfolio managers are actively buying and selling securities — have increased potential to generate short-term gains that ultimately get passed through to you. Because short-term gains are taxed at a higher rate than long-term gains, these funds would be less desirable in a taxable account.
Get specific advice
The above concepts are only general suggestions. Please contact our firm for specific advice on what may be best for you.
Sidebar: Doing due diligence on dividends
If you own a lot of income-generating investments, you’ll need to pay attention to the tax rules for dividends, which belong to one of two categories:
1. Qualified. These dividends are paid by U.S. corporations or qualified foreign corporations. Qualified dividends are, like long-term gains, subject to a maximum tax rate of 20%, though many people are eligible for a 15% rate. (Note: These rates don’t account for the possibility of the 3.8% net investment income tax.)
2. Nonqualified. These dividends — which include most distributions from real estate investment trusts and master limited partnerships — receive a less favorable tax treatment. Like short-term gains, nonqualified dividends are taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate.


Is Now the Time for Some Life Insurance?
Many people reach a point in life when buying some life insurance is highly advisable. Once you determine that you need it, the next step is calculating how much you should get and what kind.
Careful calculations
If the coverage is to replace income and support your family, this starts with tallying the costs that would need to be covered, such as housing and transportation, child care, and education — and for how long. For many families, this will be only until the youngest children are on their own.
Next, identify income available to your family from Social Security, investments, retirement savings and any other sources. Insurance can help bridge any gaps between the expenses to be covered and the income available.
If you’re purchasing life insurance for another reason, the purpose will dictate how much you need:
Funeral costs. An average funeral bill can top $7,000. Gravesite costs typically add thousands more to this number.
Mortgage payoff. You may need coverage equal to the amount of your outstanding mortgage balance.
Estate planning. If the goal is to pay estate taxes, you’ll need to estimate your estate tax liability. If it’s to equalize inheritances, you’ll need to estimate the value of business interests going to each child active in your business and purchase enough coverage to provide equal inheritances to the inactive children.
Term vs. permanent
The next question is what type of policy to purchase. Life insurance policies generally fall into two broad categories: term or permanent.
Term insurance is for a specific period. If you die during the policy’s term, it pays out to the beneficiaries you’ve named. If you don’t die during the term, it doesn’t pay out. It’s typically much less expensive than permanent life insurance, at least if purchased while you’re relatively young and healthy.
Permanent life insurance policies last until you die, so long as you’ve paid the premiums. Most permanent policies build up a cash value that you may be able to borrow against. Over time, the cash value also may reduce the premiums.
Because the premiums are typically higher for permanent insurance, you need to consider whether the extra cost is worth the benefits. It might not be if, for example, you may not require much life insurance after your children are grown.
But permanent life insurance may make sense if you’re concerned that you could become uninsurable, if you’re providing for special-needs children who will never be self-sufficient, or if the coverage is to pay estate taxes or equalize inheritances.
Some comfort
No one likes to think about leaving loved ones behind. But you’ll no doubt find some comfort in having a life insurance policy that helps cover your family’s financial needs and plays an important role in your estate plan. Let us help you work out the details.

 


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