BY CRAIG TAYLOR
Published: June 15, 2017
Do you think about cybersecurity training in your son or daughter’s K-12 school? If not, you should be.
Take it from this cybersecurity veteran, we are not preparing our kids to spot and defend against online attacks, nor are we educating them on the best protective measures either.
Schools do a decent job teaching children about some cybersecurity topics including:
— The harm of cyber bullying
— Why you should never sext (send nude photos by text)
— Understanding important privacy issues on Facebook and other social media platforms
But schools mostly fail to educate students on the fundamentals of 21st century online cybersecurity risks. Passwords, password management and password tools are rarely, if ever, discussed. Learning the fundamentals of a phishing or social engineering attack are woefully absent from our basic computer curriculum.
Why is it important to educate young students about these threats and to teach them necessary habits of online protection? Learning online protective habits early matters a great deal. From a cybersecurity perspective, the internet is the great equalizer for all nations, peoples and groups. It is cheaper and easier than ever before in the history of the world for an anonymous attacker to target anyone, any business, located anywhere in the world.
Whether you’re a cybersecurity expert like myself, youngster playing online games or parent checking their bank account, the risks we all face come in many shapes and sizes. For all its conveniences and efficiencies, the internet has no borders or boundaries. For criminals it has become a revival of the Wild West – a frontier where policing and the law are usually one or two steps behind emboldened and very smart hackers.
A recent Pew Center study on cybersecurity highlighted a troubling dichotomy among adults. The study found that while most Americans have directly experienced some form of data theft or fraud, many admit they “are failing to follow digital security best practices in their own personal lives, and a substantial majority expects that major cyberattacks will be a fact of life in the future.”
While teaching our children as early as possible is imperative, the good news is we’re not talking rocket science. The rules of cybersecurity are as easy to learn as it is to drive a car, and just as safe driving is tied to defensive driving, so too is the need to defensively operate our computers today.
Fortunately, schools and students are beginning to recognize this need. A series of investigative stories on the IT website fedscoop.com highlighted the challenges and opportunities of integrating cybersecurity literacy into school technology curriculums as early as possible. “Using technology is one of the three ‘Rs’ of the 21st century,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, referring to the traditional subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic. “If you don’t graduate from high school knowing how to use technology, it’s going to be a hindrance in the same way if you don’t know how to read.”
Making basic cybersecurity literacy a new ‘R’ in school curriculums will expose students to lessons that can last a lifetime and teach them critical steps to protect themselves. The time to create good cybersecurity habits is when children first begin operating a computer. Rather than trying to “unlearn” bad habits (as identified in the Pew study) we should build a strong foundation of cybersecurity literacy skills in our students as early as possible.
We can do a better job of preparing our students to enter the workforce with a strong set of cybersecurity literacy skills. We can begin with a focus on the topics mentioned earlier: passwords, their management and tools, as well as understanding social engineering and phishing attacks. Engaged and enlightened students with a modicum of cybersecurity literacy will make a huge difference in creating a workforce prepared to defend against the daily cyberattacks in our homes and businesses of today and tomorrow.
Craig Taylor is the chief security officer for Neoscope Technology Solutions in Portsmouth. He can be reached at CTaylor@neoscopeit.com
Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.
Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.
An education break
One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).
You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.
Mortgage-related tax breaks
Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.
The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.
Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.
Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”
Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:
• Their household income is below the federal income tax return filing threshold.
• They lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage.
• They suffered a hardship in obtaining coverage.
• They have only a short-term coverage gap.
• They qualify for an exception on religious grounds or have coverage through a health care sharing ministry.
• They’re not a U.S. citizen or national.
• They’re incarcerated.
• They’re a member of a Native American tribe.
Calculating the tax
So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:
1. The applicable percentage of your household income above the applicable federal income tax return filing threshold, or
2. The applicable dollar amount times the number of uninsured individuals in your household, limited to 300% of the applicable dollar amount.
In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.
In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).
The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.
If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.
Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.
In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:
1. Consider your bracket
The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)
You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).
2. Look at investment income
This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.
Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.
3. Plan for medical expenses
The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)
Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.
These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.
Tax reform has been a major topic of discussion in Washington, but it’s still unclear exactly what such legislation will include and whether it will be signed into law this year. However, the last major tax legislation that was signed into law — back in December of 2015 — still has a significant impact on tax planning for businesses. Let’s look at three midyear tax strategies inspired by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act:
1. Buy equipment. The PATH Act preserved both the generous limits for the Section 179 expensing election and the availability of bonus depreciation. These breaks generally apply to qualified fixed assets, including equipment or machinery, placed in service during the year. For 2017, the maximum Sec. 179 deduction is $510,000, subject to a $2,030,000 phaseout threshold. Without the PATH Act, the 2017 limits would have been $25,000 and $200,000, respectively. Higher limits are now permanent and subject to inflation indexing.
Additionally, for 2017, your business may be able to claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified costs in excess of what you expense under Sec. 179. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019 before it’s set to expire on December 31, 2019.
2. Ramp up research. After years of uncertainty, the PATH Act made the research credit permanent. For qualified research expenses, the credit is generally equal to 20% of expenses over a base amount that’s essentially determined using a historical average of research expenses as a percentage of revenues. There’s also an alternative computation for companies that haven’t increased their research expenses substantially over their historical base amounts.
In addition, a small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts may claim the credit against its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability. And, a start-up company with less than $5 million in gross receipts may claim the credit against up to $250,000 in employer Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes.
3. Hire workers from “target groups.” Your business may claim the Work Opportunity credit for hiring a worker from one of several “target groups,” such as food stamp recipients and certain veterans. The PATH Act extended the credit through 2019. It also added a new target group: long-term unemployment recipients.
Generally, the maximum Work Opportunity credit is $2,400 per worker. But it’s higher for workers from certain target groups, such as disabled veterans.
One last thing to keep in mind is that, in terms of tax breaks, “permanent” only means that there’s no scheduled expiration date. Congress could still pass legislation that changes or eliminates “permanent” breaks. But it’s unlikely any of the breaks discussed here would be eliminated or reduced for 2017. To keep up to date on tax law changes and get a jump start on your 2017 tax planning, contact us.
Now that we’ve hit midsummer, if you own a vacation home that you both rent out and use personally, it’s a good time to review the potential tax consequences:
If you rent it out for less than 15 days: You don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) won’t be deductible.
If you rent it out for 15 days or more: You must report the income. But what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:
• Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction.
• Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence, but you will still have to report the rental income. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years. You also can take an itemized deduction for the personal portion of both mortgage interest and property tax.
Look at the use of your vacation home year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. Adjusting the number of days you rent it out and/or use it personally between now and year end might allow the home to be classified in a more beneficial way.
For assistance, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
You may be tempted to forget all about taxes during summertime, when “the livin’ is easy,” as the Gershwin song goes. But if you start your tax planning now, you may avoid an unpleasant tax surprise when you file next year. Summer is also a good time to set up a storage system for your tax records. Here are some tips:
Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you owe. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.
Keep records accessible but safe. Put your 2016 tax return and supporting records together in a place where you can easily find them if you need them, such as if you’re ever audited by the IRS. You also may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid. Although accessibility is important, so is safety.
A good storage medium for hard copies of important personal documents like tax returns is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. You may want to maintain a duplicate set of records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You can also store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to an external storage device (which you can keep in your home safe or bank safety deposit box). If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.
Stay organized. Make tax time easier by putting records you’ll need when you file in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records next February or March. Some examples include substantiation of charitable donations, receipts from work-related travel not reimbursed by your employer, and documentation of medical expenses not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account.
For more information on summertime tax planning or organizing your tax-related information, contact us.
Summer is a popular time to move, whether it’s so the kids don’t have to change schools mid-school-year, to avoid having to move in bad weather or simply because it can be an easier time to sell a home. Unfortunately, moving can be expensive. The good news is that you might be eligible for a federal tax deduction for your moving costs.
Pass the tests
The first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.
The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would increase your commute significantly.
Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)
So which expenses can be written off? Generally, you can deduct transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving.
In addition, you can likely deduct the cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property. And you may be able to deduct the expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit. Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities are usually deductible, too.
But don’t expect to write off everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible. Nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.
Questions about whether your moving expenses are deductible? Or what you can deduct? Contact us.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
• File a 2016 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
• If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
• If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
* File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
* Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
© 2017 (updated 6-22-17)
The tax consequences of the sale of an investment, as well as your net return, can be affected by a variety of factors. You’re probably focused on factors such as how much you paid for the investment vs. how much you’re selling it for, whether you held the investment long-term (more than one year) and the tax rate that will apply.
But there are additional details you should pay attention to. If you don’t, the tax consequences of a sale may be different from what you expect. Here are a few details to consider when selling an investment:
Which shares you’re selling. If you bought the same security at different times and prices and want to sell high-tax-basis shares to reduce gain or increase a loss to offset other gains, be sure to specifically identify which block of shares is being sold.
Trade date vs. settlement date. When it gets close to year end, keep in mind that the trade date, not the settlement date, of publicly traded securities determines the year in which you recognize the gain or loss.
Transaction costs. While transaction costs, such as broker fees, aren’t taxes, like taxes they can have a significant impact on your net returns, especially over time, because they also reduce the amount of money you have available to invest.
If you have questions about the potential tax impact of an investment sale you’re considering — or all of the details you should keep in mind to minimize it — please contact us.
With school letting out you might be focused on summer plans for your children (or grandchildren). But the end of the school year is also a good time to think about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) — especially if the children are in grade school or younger.
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Here are some other key ESA benefits:
• Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
• You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
• You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.
A sibling or first cousin is a typical example of a qualifying family member, if he or she is eligible to be an ESA beneficiary (that is, under age 18 or has special needs).
The ESA annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. The total contributions for a particular ESA beneficiary cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established or how many people are contributing.
However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income. The phaseout range is modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000–$220,000 for married couples filing jointly and $95,000–$110,000 for other filers. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, and no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
If there is a balance in the ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special needs individual), it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. But these taxes can be avoided by rolling over the full balance to another ESA for a qualifying family member.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!
All charitable donations aren’t created equal — some provide larger deductions than others. And it isn’t necessarily just how much or even what you donate that matters. How the charity uses your donation might also affect your deduction.
Take vehicle donations, for example. If you donate your vehicle, the value of your deduction can vary greatly depending on what the charity does with it.
Determining your deduction
You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) if the charity:
• Uses the vehicle for a significant charitable purpose (such as delivering meals-on-wheels to the elderly),
• Sells the vehicle for substantially less than FMV in furtherance of a charitable purpose (such as a sale to a low-income person needing transportation), or
• Makes “material improvements” to the vehicle.
But in most other circumstances, if the charity sells the vehicle, your deduction is limited to the amount of the sales proceeds.
Getting proper substantiation
You also must obtain proper substantiation from the charity, including a written acknowledgment that:
• Certifies whether the charity sold the vehicle or retained it for use for a charitable purpose,
• Includes your name and tax identification number and the vehicle identification number, and
• Reports, if applicable, details concerning the sale of the vehicle within 30 days of the sale.
For more information on these and other rules that apply to vehicle donation deductions — or deductions for other charitable gifts — please contact us.
If you recently filed your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.
Catching the IRS’s eye
Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:
• Significant inconsistencies between previous years’ filings and your most current filing,
• Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and
• Miscalculated or unusually high deductions.
An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.
If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.
The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors.
More good news: In no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, you’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you:
• Understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always crystal clear),
• Gather the specific documents and information needed, and
• Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.
Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place.
Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.
Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.
To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:
• More than 50% of your personal services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate, and
• More than 750 hours of service in these businesses.
Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)
If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:
Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.
Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.
Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.
Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.
If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.
It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines.
But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.
Do you have “nexus”?
Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations.
Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:
- Employing workers in the state,
- Owning (or, in some cases even leasing) property there,
- Marketing your products or services in the state,
- Maintaining a substantial amount of inventory there, and
- Using a local telephone number.
Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.
If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you.
Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill.
The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines.
Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.
Fortunately, there is a way to begin collecting your 2017 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.
Reasons to modify amounts
It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:
• You received an especially large 2016 refund,
• You’ve gotten married or divorced or added a dependent,
• You’ve purchased a home,
• You’ve started or lost a job, or
• Your investment income has changed significantly.
Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.
Making a change
You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even several times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.
While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2018 deadline.
If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.
Private companies with more than one owner should have a buy-sell agreement to spell out how ownership shares will change hands should an owner depart. For businesses structured as C corporations, the agreements also have significant tax implications that are important to understand.
A buy-sell agreement sets up parameters for the transfer of ownership interests following stated “triggering events,” such as an owner’s death or long-term disability, loss of license or other legal incapacitation, retirement, bankruptcy, or divorce. The agreement typically will also specify how the purchase price for the departing owner’s shares will be determined, such as by stating the valuation method to be used.
Another key issue a buy-sell agreement addresses is funding. In many cases, business owners don’t have the cash readily available to buy out a departing owner. So insurance is commonly used to fund these agreements. And this is where different types of agreements — which can lead to tax issues for C corporations — come into play.
Under a cross-purchase agreement, each owner buys life or disability insurance (or both) that covers the other owners, and the owners use the proceeds to purchase the departing owner’s shares. Under a redemption agreement, the company buys the insurance and, when an owner exits the business, buys his or her shares.
Sometimes a hybrid agreement is used that combines aspects of both approaches. It may stipulate that the company gets the first opportunity to redeem ownership shares and that, if the company is unable to buy the shares, the remaining owners are then responsible for doing so. Alternatively, the owners may have the first opportunity to buy the shares.
C corp. tax consequences
A C corp. with a redemption agreement funded by life insurance can face adverse tax consequences. First, receipt of insurance proceeds could trigger corporate alternative minimum tax.
Second, the value of the remaining owners’ shares will probably rise without increasing their basis. This, in turn, could drive up their tax liability if they later sell their shares.
Heightened liability for the corporate alternative minimum tax is generally unavoidable under these circumstances. But you may be able to manage the second problem by revising your buy-sell as a cross-purchase agreement. Under this approach, owners will buy additional shares themselves — increasing their basis.
Naturally, there are downsides. If owners are required to buy a departing owner’s shares, but the company redeems the shares instead, the IRS may characterize the purchase as a taxable dividend. Your business may be able to mitigate this risk by crafting a hybrid agreement that names the corporation as a party to the transaction and allows the remaining owners to buy back the shares without requiring them to do so.
For more information on the tax ramifications of buy-sell agreements, contact us. And if your business doesn’t have a buy-sell in place yet, we can help you figure out which type of funding method will best meet your needs while minimizing any negative tax consequences.
Because of a weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday, the 2016 tax return filing deadline for individual taxpayers is Tuesday, April 18. The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 18 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. But dropping your return in a mailbox on the 18th may not be sufficient.
Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 18, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared.
You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you’re hit with failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties totaling $1,500.
Avoiding penalty risk
To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:
Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.
If you’re concerned about meeting the April 18 deadline, another option is to file for an extension. If you owe tax, you’ll still need to pay that by April 18 to avoid risk of late-payment penalties as well as interest.
If you’re owed a refund, however, it isn’t necessary to file for an extension: You won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty if you file late but don’t owe tax.
We can help you determine if filing for an extension makes sense for you — and help estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 18.
Currently, home ownership comes with many tax-saving opportunities. Consider both deductions and exclusions when you’re filing your 2016 return and tax planning for 2017:
Property tax deduction. Property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible.
Home equity debt interest deduction. Interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. But keep in mind that, if home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes.
Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.
Home office deduction. If your home office use meets certain tests, you generally can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, and the depreciation allocable to the space. Or you may be able to use a simplified method for claiming the deduction.
Rental income exclusion. If you rent out all or a portion of your principal residence or second home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses directly associated with the rental, such as advertising and cleaning, won’t be deductible.
Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Be aware that gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.
Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2016, but Congress might extend it.
The debt forgiveness exclusion and mortgage insurance premium deduction aren’t the only home-related breaks that might not be available in the future. There have been proposals to eliminate other breaks, such as the property tax deduction, as part of tax reform.
Whether such changes will be signed into law and, if so, when they’d go into effect is uncertain. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So contact us for information on the latest tax reform developments or which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
• If a calendar-year C corporation, file a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120) or file for an automatic six-month extension (Form 7004), and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2016 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
• If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the first installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
• If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the second installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
If you have a child in college, you may be eligible to claim the American Opportunity credit on your 2016 income tax return. If, however, your income is too high, you won’t qualify for the credit — but your child might. There’s one potential downside: If your dependent child claims the credit, you must forgo your dependency exemption for him or her. And the child can’t take the exemption.
The maximum American Opportunity credit, per student, is $2,500 per year for the first four years of postsecondary education. It equals 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000 of such expenses.
The ability to claim the American Opportunity credit begins to phase out when modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) enters the applicable phaseout range ($160,000–$180,000 for joint filers, $80,000–$90,000 for other filers). It’s completely eliminated when MAGI exceeds the top of the range.
Running the numbers
If your American Opportunity credit is partially or fully phased out, it’s a good idea to assess whether there’d be a tax benefit for the family overall if your child claimed the credit. As noted, this would come at the price of your having to forgo your dependency exemption for the child. So it’s important to run the numbers.
Dependency exemptions are also subject to a phaseout, so you might lose the benefit of your exemption regardless of whether your child claims the credit. The 2016 adjusted gross income (AGI) thresholds for the exemption phaseout are $259,400 (singles), $285,350 (heads of households), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If your exemption is fully phased out, there likely is no downside to your child taking the credit. If your exemption isn’t fully phased out, compare the tax savings your child would receive from the credit with the savings you’d receive from the exemption to determine which break will provide the greater overall savings for your family.
We can help you run the numbers and can provide more information about qualifying for the American Opportunity credit.
Yes, there’s still time to make 2016 contributions to your IRA. The deadline for such contributions is April 18, 2017. If the contribution is deductible, it will lower your 2016 tax bill. But even if it isn’t, making a 2016 contribution is likely a good idea.
Benefits beyond a deduction
Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. But annual contributions are limited by tax law, and any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.
This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.
The 2016 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2016). If you haven’t already maxed out your 2016 limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 18:
1. Deductible traditional. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) — or you do but your income doesn’t exceed certain limits — the contribution is fully deductible on your 2016 tax return. Account growth is tax-deferred; distributions are subject to income tax.
2. Roth. The contribution isn’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Income-based limits, however, may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute.
3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth. Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.
Want to know which option best fits your situation? Contact us.
It’s not uncommon for adult children to help support their aging parents. If you’re in this position, you might qualify for the adult-dependent exemption. It allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to $4,050 for each adult dependent claimed on their 2016 tax return.
For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Generally Social Security is excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.
In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with a sibling and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption.
Factors to consider
Even though Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.
Don’t forget about your home. If your parent lives with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence. If the parent lives elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contribute to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.
Easing the financial burden
Sometimes caregivers fall just short of qualifying for the exemption. Should this happen, you may still be able to claim an itemized deduction for the medical expenses that you pay for the parent. To receive a tax benefit, the combined medical expenses paid for you, your dependents and your parent must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.
The adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ to ease the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent. Contact us for more information on qualifying for this break or others.
If last year your business made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, you may be eligible for a valuable deduction on your 2016 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly “repairs,” and not actually “improvements.”
Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted.
What’s an “improvement”?
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be capitalized. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.
Under the “betterment test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.
Under the “restoration test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.
Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.
2 safe harbors
Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:
1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.
Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be capitalized, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.
There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. Contact us for details on these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions.
Rather than keeping track of the actual cost of operating a vehicle, employees and self-employed taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate to compute their deduction related to using a vehicle for business. But you might also be able to deduct miles driven for other purposes, including medical, moving and charitable purposes.
What are the deduction rates?
The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:
Business: 54 cents (2016), 53.5 cents (2017)
Medical: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)
Moving: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)
Charitable: 14 cents (2016 and 2017)
The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the medical, moving and charitable rates because the business rate contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the medical, moving or charitable use of a vehicle.
In addition to deductions based on the standard mileage rate, you may deduct related parking fees and tolls.
What other limits apply?
The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify.
For example, miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense deduction. But medical expenses generally are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. (For 2016, the deduction threshold is 7.5% for qualifying seniors.)
And while miles driven related to moving can be deductible, the move must be work-related. In addition, among other requirements, the distance from your old residence to the new job must be at least 50 miles more than the distance from your old residence to your old job.
There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates.
So contact us to help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2016 tax return — but not more. You don’t want to risk back taxes and penalties later.
And if you drove potentially eligible miles in 2016 but can’t deduct them because you didn’t track them, start tracking your miles now so you can potentially take advantage of the deduction when you file your 2017 return next year.
Last year you may have made significant gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs as part of your estate planning strategy. Or perhaps you just wanted to provide loved ones with some helpful financial support. Regardless of the reason for making a gift, it’s important to know under what circumstances you’re required to file a gift tax return.
Some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax. And sometimes it’s desirable to file a return even if it isn’t required.
When filing is required
Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2016 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
* That exceeded the $14,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
* That exceeded the $148,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
* That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $28,000 annual exclusions,
* To a Section 529 college savings plan for your child, grandchild or other loved one and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($70,000) into 2016,
* Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
* Of jointly held or community property.
When filing isn’t required
No return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, qualifying educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, and political or charitable contributions.
If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.
Meeting the deadline
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2016 returns, it’s April 18, 2017 (or October 16 if you file for an extension). If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is also April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension.
Have questions about gift tax and the filing requirements? Contact us to learn more.
Incentive stock options allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. However, complex tax rules apply to this type of compensation.
Current tax treatment
ISOs must comply with many rules but receive tax-favored treatment:
• You owe no tax when ISOs are granted.
• You owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs, but there could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences.
• If you sell the stock after holding the shares at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
• If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and any gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.
So if you were granted ISOs in 2016, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2016 income tax return. But if in 2016 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2016 tax liability. And it’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.
Future exercises and stock sales
If you receive ISOs in 2017 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.
Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.
The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.
Keep in mind that the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA. So the NIIT may not be a factor in the future. In addition, tax law changes are expected later this year that might include elimination of the AMT and could reduce ordinary and long-term capital gains rates for some taxpayers. When changes might go into effect and exactly what they’ll be is still uncertain.
If you’ve received ISOs, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re reporting everything properly on your 2016 return and evaluate the risks and crunch the numbers to determine the best strategy for you going forward.
The Section 199 deduction is intended to encourage domestic manufacturing. In fact, it’s often referred to as the “manufacturers’ deduction.” But this potentially valuable tax break can be used by many other types of businesses besides manufacturing companies.
Sec. 199 deduction 101
The Sec. 199 deduction, also called the “domestic production activities deduction,” is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts.
Yes, the deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible.
The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax.
How income is calculated
To determine a company’s Sec. 199 deduction, its qualified production activities income must be calculated. This is the amount of domestic production gross receipts (DPGR) exceeding the cost of goods sold and other expenses allocable to that DPGR. Most companies will need to allocate receipts between those that qualify as DPGR and those that don’t — unless less than 5% of receipts aren’t attributable to DPGR.
DPGR can come from a number of activities, including the construction of real property in the United States, as well as engineering or architectural services performed stateside to construct real property. It also can result from the lease, rental, licensing or sale of qualifying production property, such as:
*Tangible personal property (for example, machinery and office equipment),
*Computer software, and
*Master copies of sound recordings.
The property must have been manufactured, produced, grown or extracted in whole or “significantly” within the United States. While each situation is assessed on its merits, the IRS has said that, if the labor and overhead incurred in the United States accounted for at least 20% of the total cost of goods sold, the activity typically qualifies.
Contact us to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2016 return.
Investment interest — interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities — generally is deductible for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax purposes. But special rules apply that can make this itemized deduction less beneficial than you might think.
Limits on the deduction
First, you can’t deduct interest you incurred to produce tax-exempt income. For example, if you borrow money to invest in municipal bonds, which are exempt from federal income tax, you can’t deduct the interest.
Second, and perhaps more significant, your investment interest deduction is limited to your net investment income, which, for the purposes of this deduction, generally includes taxable interest, nonqualified dividends and net short-term capital gains, reduced by other investment expenses. In other words, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends aren’t included.
However, any disallowed interest is carried forward. You can then deduct the disallowed interest in a later year if you have excess net investment income.
Changing the tax treatment
You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates.
If you’re wondering whether you can claim the investment interest expense deduction on your 2016 return, please contact us. We can run the numbers to calculate your potential deduction or to determine whether you could benefit from treating gains or dividends differently to maximize your deduction.
The break allowing taxpayers to take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes was made “permanent” a little over a year ago. This break can be valuable to those residing in states with no or low income taxes or who purchase major items, such as a car or boat.
Your 2016 tax return
How do you determine whether you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2016 return? Compare your potential deduction for state and local income tax to your potential deduction for state and local sales tax.
Don’t worry — you don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases (for which you will need substantiation).
2017 and beyond
If you’re considering making a large purchase in 2017, you shouldn’t necessarily count on the sales tax deduction being available on your 2017 return. When the PATH Act made the break “permanent” in late 2015, that just meant that there’s no scheduled expiration date for it. Congress could pass legislation to eliminate the break (or reduce its benefit) at any time.
Recent Republican proposals have included elimination of many itemized deductions, and the new President has proposed putting a cap on itemized deductions. Which proposals will make it into tax legislation in 2017 and when various provisions will be signed into law and go into effect is still uncertain.
Questions about the sales tax deduction or other breaks that might help you save taxes on your 2016 tax return? Or about the impact of possible tax law changes on your 2017 tax planning? Contact us — we can help you maximize your 2016 savings and effectively plan for 2017.
If you’re like many Americans, you might not start thinking about filing your tax return until close to this year’s April 18 deadline. You might even want to file for an extension so you don’t have to send your return to the IRS until October 16.
But there’s another date you should keep in mind: January 23. That’s the date the IRS will begin accepting 2016 returns, and filing as close to that date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.
Why early filing helps
In an increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.
A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.
Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.
Another important date
Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2016 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2016 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.
Delays for some refunds
The IRS reminded taxpayers claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit to expect a longer wait for their refunds. A law passed in 2015 requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming these credits until at least February 15.
An additional benefit
Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2016 return early. If you’ll be getting a refund, an added bonus of filing early is that you’ll be able to enjoy your refund sooner.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
File 2016 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS and provide copies to recipients. (Note that Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation in Box 7 must be filed by January 31, beginning with 2016 forms filed in 2017.)
If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2016 tax return. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2016 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, most of the limits remain unchanged for 2017. The only limit that has increased from the 2016 level is for contributions to defined contribution plans, which has gone up by $1,000.
Type of limit
Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans
Contributions to defined contribution plans
Contributions to SIMPLEs
Contributions to IRAs
Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans
Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs
Catch-up contributions to IRAs
Nevertheless, if you’re not already maxing out your contributions, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2017. And if you turn age 50 in 2017, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.
However, keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions. If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2017, check with us.
There are many ways to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education. But one has annual contribution limits, and if you don’t make a 2016 contribution by December 31, the opportunity will be lost forever. We’re talking about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
How ESAs work
With an ESA, you contribute money now that the beneficiary can use later to pay qualified education expenses:
Not just for college
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Another advantage is that you have more investment options. So ESAs are beneficial if you’d like to have direct control over how and where your contributions are invested.
Annual contribution limits
The annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income.
The limit begins to phase out at a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000 for married filing jointly and $95,000 for other filers. No contribution can be made when MAGI hits $220,000 and $110,000, respectively.
Maximizing ESA savings
Because the annual contribution limit is low, if you want to maximize your ESA savings, it’s important to contribute every year in which you’re eligible. The contribution limit doesn’t carry over from year to year. In other words, if you don’t make a $2,000 contribution in 2016, you can’t add that $2,000 to the 2017 limit and make a $4,000 contribution next year.
However, because the contribution limit applies on a per beneficiary basis, before contributing make sure no one else has contributed to an ESA on behalf of the same beneficiary. If someone else has, you’ll need to reduce your contribution accordingly.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!
A tried-and-true estate planning strategy is to make tax-free gifts to loved ones during life, because it reduces potential estate tax at death. There are many ways to make tax-free gifts, but one of the simplest is to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion with direct gifts. Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea.
What is the annual exclusion?
The 2016 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.45 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.
The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.
Making gifts in 2016
The exclusion is scheduled to remain at $14,000 ($28,000 for split gifts) in 2017. But that’s not a reason to skip making annual exclusion gifts this year. You need to use your 2016 exclusion by Dec. 31 or you’ll lose it.
The exclusion doesn’t carry from one year to the next. For example, if you don’t make an annual exclusion gift to your daughter this year, you can’t add $14,000 to your 2017 exclusion to make a $28,000 tax-free gift to her next year.
While the President-elect and Republicans in Congress have indicated that they want to repeal the estate tax, it’s uncertain exactly what tax law changes will be passed, since the Republicans don’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Plus, in some states there’s a state-level estate tax. So if you have a large estate, making 2016 annual exclusion gifts is generally still well worth considering.
We can help you determine how to make the most of your 2016 gift tax annual exclusion.
You may be aware of the rule that allows businesses to deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company). But this favorable tax treatment isn’t always available.
For one thing, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule — cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned. Even for accrual-basis taxpayers, however, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted in the year they’re earned only if the employer’s bonus liability is fixed by the end of the year.
The all-events test
For accrual-basis taxpayers, the IRS determines when a liability (such as a bonus) has been incurred — and, therefore, is deductible — by applying the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is deductible when:
1. All events have occurred that establish the taxpayer’s liability,
2. The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and
3. Economic performance has occurred.
Generally, the third requirement isn’t an issue; it’s satisfied when an employee performs the services required to earn a bonus. But the first two requirements can delay your tax deduction until the year of payment, depending on how your bonus plan is designed.
For example, many bonus plans require an employee to remain in the company’s employ on the payment date as a condition of receiving the bonus. Even if the amount of the bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, and employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement.
How a bonus pool works
In a 2011 ruling, the IRS said that employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer. Under such a plan, an employer satisfies the all-events test because the aggregate bonus amount is fixed at the end of the year, even though amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.
Additional rules and limits apply to this strategy. To learn whether your current bonus plan allows you to take 2016 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2017, contact us. If you don’t qualify this year, we can also help you design a bonus plan for 2017 that will allow you to accelerate deductions next year.
In order to take advantage of two important depreciation tax breaks for business assets, you must place the assets in service by the end of the tax year. So you still have time to act for 2016.
Section 179 deduction
The Sec. 179 deduction is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct as depreciation up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and leasehold improvements. Beginning in 2016, air conditioning and heating units were added to the list.
The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2016 is $500,000. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2016 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2,010,000.
Real property improvements used to be ineligible. However, an exception that began in 2010 was made permanent for tax years beginning in 2016. Under the exception, you can claim a Sec. 179 deduction of up to $500,000 for certain qualified real property improvement costs.
Note: You can use Sec. 179 to buy an eligible heavy SUV for business use, but the rules are different from buying other assets. Heavy SUVs are subject to a $25,000 deduction limitation.
First-year bonus depreciation
For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2016, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. (Used assets don’t qualify.) This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, and office furniture.
Additionally, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any eligible improvement to the interior of a nonresidential building if the improvement is made after the date the building was first placed in service. However, certain improvements aren’t eligible, such as enlarging a building and installing an elevator or escalator.
Contemplate what your business needs now
If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end. This article explains only some of the rules involved with the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax breaks. Contact us for ideas on how you can maximize your depreciation deductions.
Smart timing of deductible expenses can reduce your tax liability, and poor timing can unnecessarily increase it. When you don’t expect to be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) in the current year, accelerating deductible expenses into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? Because it will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. One deductible expense you may be able to control is your property tax payment.
You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2016 but that are due in 2017, and deduct the payment on your return for this year. But you generally can’t prepay property taxes that relate to 2017 and deduct the payment on this year’s return.
Should you or shouldn’t you?
As noted earlier, accelerating deductible expenses like property tax payments generally is beneficial. Prepaying your property tax may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.
However, under the President-elect’s proposed tax plan, some taxpayers (such as certain single and head of household filers) might be subject to higher tax rates. These taxpayers may save more tax from the property tax deduction by holding off on paying their property tax until it’s due next year.
Likewise, taxpayers who expect to see a big jump in their income next year that would push them into a higher tax bracket also may benefit by not prepaying their property tax bill.
Property tax isn’t deductible for AMT purposes. If you’re subject to the AMT this year, a prepayment may hurt you because you’ll lose the benefit of the deduction. So before prepaying your property tax, make sure you aren’t at AMT risk for 2016.
Also, don’t forget the income-based itemized deduction reduction. If your income is high enough that the reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment will be reduced.
Not sure whether you should prepay your property tax bill or what other deductions you might be able to accelerate into 2016 (or should consider deferring to 2017)? Contact us. We can help you determine the best year-end tax planning strategies for your specific situation.
The last month or so of the year offers accrual-basis taxpayers an opportunity to make some timely moves that might enable them to save money on their 2016 tax bill.
Record and recognize
The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2017. This will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2016 federal tax return. Common examples of such expenses include:
You can also accelerate deductions into 2016 without actually paying for the expenses in 2016 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.) Accelerating deductible expenses into 2016 may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.
Look at prepaid expenses
Also review all prepaid expense accounts and write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year. If you prepay insurance for a period of time beginning in 2016, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2016 and 2017, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.
Miscellaneous tax tips
Here are a few more year-end tax tips to consider:
Consult us for more details on how these and other year-end tax strategies may apply to your business.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and Republicans have retained control of both chambers of Congress, an overhaul of the U.S. tax code next year is likely. President-elect Trump’s tax reform plan, released earlier this year, includes the following changes that would affect individuals:
The House Republicans’ plan is somewhat different. And because Republicans didn’t reach the 60 Senate members necessary to become filibuster-proof, they may need to compromise on some issues in order to get their legislation through the Senate. The bottom line is that exactly which proposals will make it into legislation and signed into law is uncertain, but major changes are just about a sure thing.
If it looks like you could be eligible for lower income tax rates next year, it may make sense to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016 (when they may be more valuable) and defer income to 2017 (when it might be subject to a lower tax rate). But if it looks like your rates could be higher next year, the opposite approach may be beneficial.
In either situation, there is some risk to these strategies, given the uncertainty as to exactly what tax law changes will be enacted. We can help you create the best year-end tax strategy based on how potential changes may affect your specific situation.
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States could result in major tax law changes in 2017. Proposed changes spelled out in Trump’s tax reform plan released earlier this year that would affect businesses include:
President-elect Trump’s tax plan is somewhat different from the House Republicans’ plan. With Republicans retaining control of both chambers of Congress, some sort of overhaul of the U.S. tax code is likely. That said, Republicans didn’t reach the 60 Senate members necessary to become filibuster-proof, which means they may need to compromise on some issues in order to get their legislation through the Senate.
So there’s still uncertainty as to which specific tax changes will ultimately make it into legislation and be signed into law.
It may make sense to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016 that might not be deductible in 2017 and to defer income to 2017, when it might be subject to a lower tax rate. But there is some risk to these strategies, given the uncertainty as to exactly what tax law changes will be enacted. Plus no single strategy is right for every business. Please contact us to develop the best year-end strategy for your business.
Saving for retirement can be tough if you’re putting most of your money and time into operating a small business. However, many retirement plans aren’t difficult to set up and it’s important to start saving so you can enjoy a comfortable future.
So if you haven’t already set up a tax-advantaged plan, consider doing so this year.
Note: If you have employees, they generally must be allowed to participate in the plan, provided they meet the qualification requirements.
Here are three options:
Contact us if you want more information about setting up the best retirement plan in your situation.
Many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated for higher-income taxpayers. Two of particular note are the itemized deduction reduction and the personal exemption phaseout.
If your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the applicable threshold, most of your itemized deductions will be reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately). The limitation doesn’t apply to deductions for medical expenses, investment interest, or casualty, theft or wagering losses.
Exceeding the applicable AGI threshold also could cause your personal exemptions to be reduced or even eliminated. The personal exemption phaseout reduces exemptions by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which a taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the applicable threshold (2% for each $1,250 for married taxpayers filing separately).
The limits in action
These AGI-based limits can be very costly to high-income taxpayers. Consider this example:
Steve and Mary are married and have four dependent children. In 2016, they expect to have an AGI of $1 million and will be in the top tax bracket (39.6%). Without the AGI-based exemption phaseout, their $24,300 of personal exemptions ($4,050 × 6) would save them $9,623 in taxes ($24,300 × 39.6%). But because their personal exemptions are completely phased out, they’ll lose that tax benefit.
The AGI-based itemized deduction reduction can also be expensive. Steve and Mary could lose the benefit of as much as $20,661 [3% × ($1 million − $311,300)] of their itemized deductions that are subject to the reduction — at a tax cost as high as $8,182 ($20,661 × 39.6%).
These two AGI-based provisions combined could increase the couple’s tax by $17,805!
If your AGI is close to the applicable threshold, AGI-reduction strategies — such as contributing to a retirement plan or Health Savings Account — may allow you to stay under it. If that’s not possible, consider the reduced tax benefit of the affected deductions before implementing strategies to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016. If you expect to be under the threshold in 2017, you may be better off deferring certain deductible expenses to next year.
For more details on these and other income-based limits, help assessing whether you’re likely to be affected by them or more tips for reducing their impact, please contact us.
You are probably already aware of when you have to report new employees to the NH Employment Security but were you aware of the rules relating to independent contractors and when you have to let NH Employment Security know about them? Here’s some information.
As it specifically relates to the reporting of independent contractors on the new hire report form:
Please don't hesitate to call with any questions.
In addition to income tax, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on earned income, such as salary and self-employment income. The 12.4% Social Security tax applies only up to the Social Security wage base of $118,500 for 2016. All earned income is subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax.
The taxes are split equally between the employee and the employer. But if you’re self-employed, you pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes on your self-employment income.
Additional 0.9% Medicare tax
Another employment tax that higher-income taxpayers must be aware of is the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. It applies to FICA wages and net self-employment income exceeding $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately).
If your wages or self-employment income varies significantly from year to year or you’re close to the threshold for triggering the additional Medicare tax, income timing strategies may help you avoid or minimize it. For example, as a self-employed taxpayer, you may have flexibility on when you purchase new equipment or invoice customers. If your self-employment income is from a part-time activity and you’re also an employee elsewhere, perhaps you can time with your employer when you receive a bonus.
Something else to consider in this situation is the withholding rules. Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax beginning in the pay period when wages exceed $200,000 for the calendar year — without regard to an employee’s filing status or income from other sources. So your employer might not withhold the tax even though you are liable for it due to your self-employment income.
If you do owe the tax but your employer isn’t withholding it, consider filing a W-4 form to request additional income tax withholding, which can be used to cover the shortfall and avoid interest and penalties. Or you can make estimated tax payments.
Deductions for the self-employed
For the self-employed, the employer portion of employment taxes (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line. (No portion of the additional Medicare tax is deductible, because there’s no employer portion of that tax.)
As a self-employed taxpayer, you may benefit from other above-the-line deductions as well. You can deduct 100% of health insurance costs for yourself, your spouse and your dependents, up to your net self-employment income. You also can deduct contributions to a retirement plan and, if you’re eligible, an HSA for yourself. Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI) and modified AGI (MAGI), which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and the phaseouts of many tax breaks.
For more information on the ins and outs of employment taxes and tax breaks for the self-employed, please contact us.
Typically, it’s better to defer tax. One way is through controlling when your business recognizes income and incurs deductible expenses. Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses do this:
1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before Dec. 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.
But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (or you expect tax rates to go up), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but can save you tax over the two-year period.
These are only some of the nuances to consider. Please contact us to discuss what timing strategies will work to your tax advantage, based on your specific situation.
There’s a lot to think about when you change jobs, and it’s easy for a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan to get lost in the shuffle. But to keep building tax-deferred savings, it’s important to make an informed decision about your old plan. First and foremost, don’t take a lump-sum distribution from your old employer’s retirement plan. It generally will be taxable and, if you’re under age 59½, subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty. Here are three tax-smart alternatives:
1. Stay put. You may be able to leave your money in your old plan. But if you’ll be participating in your new employer’s plan or you already have an IRA, keeping track of multiple plans can make managing your retirement assets more difficult. Also consider how well the old plan’s investment options meet your needs.
2. Roll over to your new employer’s plan. This may be beneficial if it leaves you with only one retirement plan to keep track of. But evaluate the new plan’s investment options.
3. Roll over to an IRA. If you participate in your new employer’s plan, this will require keeping track of two plans. But it may be the best alternative because IRAs offer nearly unlimited investment choices.
If you choose a rollover, request a direct rollover from your old plan to your new plan or IRA. If instead the funds are sent to you by check, you’ll need to make an indirect rollover (that is, deposit the funds into an IRA) within 60 days to avoid tax and potential penalties.
Also, be aware that the check you receive from your old plan will, unless an exception applies, be net of 20% federal income tax withholding. If you don’t roll over the gross amount (making up for the withheld amount with other funds), you’ll be subject to income tax — and potentially the 10% penalty — on the difference.
There are additional issues to consider when deciding what to do with your old retirement plan. We can help you make an informed decision — and avoid potential tax traps.
If you’re charitably inclined, making donations is probably one of your key year-end tax planning strategies. But if you typically give cash, you may want to consider another option that provides not just one but two tax benefits: Donating long-term appreciated stock.
More tax savings
Appreciated publicly traded stock you’ve held more than one year is long-term capital gains property. If you donate it to a qualified charity, you can enjoy two benefits: 1) You can claim a charitable deduction equal to the stock’s fair market value, and 2) you can avoid the capital gains tax you’d pay if you sold the stock. This will be especially beneficial to taxpayers facing the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the top 20% long-term capital gains rate this year.
Let’s say you donate $10,000 of stock that you paid $3,000 for, your ordinary-income tax rate is 39.6% and your long-term capital gains rate is 20%. If you sold the stock, you’d pay $1,400 in tax on the $7,000 gain. If you were also subject to the 3.8% NIIT, you’d pay another $266 in NIIT.
By instead donating the stock to charity, you save $5,626 in federal tax ($1,666 in capital gains tax and NIIT plus $3,960 from the $10,000 income tax deduction). If you donated $10,000 in cash, your federal tax savings would be only $3,960.
Beware that donations of long-term capital gains property are subject to tighter deduction limits — 30% of your adjusted gross income for gifts to public charities, 20% for gifts to nonoperating private foundations (compared to 50% and 30%, respectively, for cash donations).
And don’t donate stock that’s worth less than your basis. Instead, sell the stock so you can deduct the loss and then donate the cash proceeds to charity.
If you own appreciated stock that you’d like to sell, but you’re concerned about the tax hit, donating it to charity might be right for you. For more details on this and other strategies to achieve your charitable giving and tax-saving goals, contact us.
Section 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for college expenses. Here are just a few of the benefits:
Prepaid tuition plans
With this type of 529 plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.
One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.
This type of 529 plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.
But each time you make a new contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.
As you can see, each 529 plan type has its pluses and minuses. Whether a prepaid tuition plan or a savings plan is better depends on your situation and goals. If you’d like help choosing, please contact us.
If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.
Case 1: Insufficient records
In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.
The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred ”caring for his business.“ That isn’t enough. ”The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,“ the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce ”records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.“ (TC Memo 2016-158)
Case 2: Documents destroyed
In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.
The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.
There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to ”undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.“
The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)
Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.
If you invest, whether you’re considered an investor or a trader can have a significant impact on your tax bill. Do you know the difference?
Most people who trade stocks are classified as investors for tax purposes. This means any net gains are treated as capital gains rather than ordinary income.
That’s good if your net gains are long-term (that is, you’ve held the investment more than a year) because you can enjoy the lower long-term capital gains rate. However, any investment-related expenses (such as margin interest, stock tracking software, etc.) are deductible only if you itemize and, in some cases, only if the total of the expenses exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income.
Traders have it better in some situations. Their expenses reduce gross income even if they can’t itemize deductions and not just for regular tax purposes, but also for alternative minimum tax purposes.
Plus, in certain circumstances, if traders have a net loss for the year, they can claim it as an ordinary loss (so it can offset other ordinary income) rather than a capital loss. Capital losses are limited to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) per year deduction once any capital gains have been offset.
Passing the trader test
What does it take to successfully meet the test for trader status? The answer is twofold:
1. The trading must be “substantial.” While there’s no bright line test, the courts have tended to view more than a thousand trades a year, spread over most of the available trading days, as substantial.
2. The trading must be designed to try to catch the swings in the daily market movements. In other words, you must be attempting to profit from these short-term changes rather than from the long-term holding of investments. So the average duration for holding any one position needs to be very short, generally only a day or two.
If you satisfy these conditions, the chances are good that you’d ultimately be able to prove trader vs. investor status. Of course, even if you don’t satisfy one of the tests, you might still prevail, but the odds against you are higher. If you have questions, please contact us.
If you recently redeemed frequent flyer miles to treat the family to a fun summer vacation or to take your spouse on a romantic getaway, you might assume that there are no tax implications involved. And you’re probably right — but there is a chance your miles could be taxable.
Usually tax free
As a general rule, miles awarded by airlines for flying with them are considered nontaxable rebates, as are miles awarded for using a credit or debit card.
The IRS partially addressed the issue in Announcement 2002-18, where it said “Consistent with prior practice, the IRS will not assert that any taxpayer has understated his federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent flyer miles or other in-kind promotional benefits attributable to the taxpayer’s business or official travel.”
There are, however, some types of mile awards the IRS might view as taxable. Examples include miles awarded as a prize in a sweepstakes and miles awarded as a promotion.
For instance, in Shankar v. Commissioner, the U.S. Tax Court sided with the IRS, finding that airline miles awarded in conjunction with opening a bank account were indeed taxable. Part of the evidence of taxability was the fact that the bank had issued Forms 1099 MISC to customers who’d redeemed the rewards points to purchase airline tickets.
The value of the miles for tax purposes generally is their estimated retail value.
If you’re concerned you’ve received mile awards that could be taxable, please contact us and we’ll help you determine your tax liability, if any.
Many expenses that may qualify as miscellaneous itemized deductions are deductible only to the extent they exceed, in aggregate, 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching these expenses into a single year may allow you to exceed this “floor.” So now is a good time to add up your potential deductions to date to see if bunching is a smart strategy for you this year.
Should you bunch into 2016?
If your miscellaneous itemized deductions are getting close to — or they already exceed — the 2% floor, consider incurring and paying additional expenses by Dec. 31, such as:
But beware …
These expenses aren’t deductible for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. So don’t bunch them into 2016 if you might be subject to the AMT this year.
Also, if your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold, certain deductions — including miscellaneous itemized deductions — are reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).
If you’d like more information on miscellaneous itemized deductions, the AMT or the itemized deduction limit, let us know.
If you go on a business trip within the United States and tack on some vacation days, you can deduct some of your expenses. But exactly what can you write off?
Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, then generally none of your transportation expenses are deductible.
What costs can be included? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.
Business days vs. pleasure days
The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home.
Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t called upon to work those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (such as local transportation difficulties).
You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions.
Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. These expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible.
We can help
Questions? Contact us if you want more information about business travel deductions.
Giving away assets during your life will help reduce the size of your taxable estate, which is beneficial if you have a large estate that could be subject to estate taxes. For 2016, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.45 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).
Even if your estate tax isn’t large enough for estate taxes to be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus it’s possible the estate tax exemption could be reduced or your wealth could increase significantly in the future, and estate taxes could become a concern.
That’s why, no matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Consider both estate and income tax consequences and the economic aspects of any gifts you’d like to make.
Here are three strategies for tax-smart giving:
1. To minimize estate tax, gift property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.
2. To minimize your beneficiary’s income tax, gift property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.
3. To minimize your own income tax, don’t gift property that’s declined in value. Instead, consider selling the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.
For more ideas on tax-smart giving strategies, contact us.
For anyone who takes a spin at roulette, cries out “Bingo!” or engages in other wagering activities, it’s important to be familiar with the applicable tax rules. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk for interest or penalties — or missing out on tax-saving opportunities.
You must report 100% of your wagering winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income because comps are considered gambling winnings. Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate, which may be as high as 39.6%.
Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, keep in mind that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.
You can write off wagering losses as an itemized deduction. However, allowable wagering losses are limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried over to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth don’t count as gambling losses and, therefore, can’t be deducted.
To claim a deduction for wagering losses, you must adequately document them, including:
The IRS allows you to document income and losses from wagering on table games by recording the number of the table that you played and keeping statements showing casino credit that was issued to you. For lotteries, your wins and losses can be documented by winning statements and unredeemed tickets.
Please contact us if you have questions or want more information. If you qualify as a “professional” gambler, some of the rules are a little different.
Last year a break valued by many charitably inclined retirees was made permanent: the charitable IRA rollover. If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions.
Satisfy your RMD
A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year in which you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (An RMD deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)
So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid out to you.
You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD payout and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation. This has two more possible downsides:
A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.
Have questions about charitable IRA rollovers or other giving strategies? Please contact us. We can help you create a giving plan that will meet your charitable goals and maximize your tax savings.
You can only deduct losses from an S corporation, partnership or LLC if you “materially participate” in the business. If you don’t, your losses are generally “passive” and can only be used to offset income from other passive activities. Any excess passive loss is suspended and must be carried forward to future years.
Material participation is determined based on the time you spend in a business activity. For most business owners, the issue rarely arises — you probably spend more than 40 hours working on your enterprise. However, there are situations when the IRS questions participation.
To materially participate, you must spend time on an activity on a regular, continuous and substantial basis.
You must also generally meet one of the tests for material participation. For example, a taxpayer must:
There are other situations in which you can qualify for material participation. For example, you can qualify if the business is a personal service activity (such as medicine or law). There are also situations, such as rental businesses, where it is more difficult to claim material participation. In those trades or businesses, you must work more hours and meet additional tests.
Proving your involvement
In some cases, a taxpayer does materially participate, but can’t prove it to the IRS. That’s where good recordkeeping comes in. A good, contemporaneous diary or log can forestall an IRS challenge. Log visits to customers or vendors and trips to sites and banks, as well as time spent doing Internet research. Indicate the time spent. If you’re audited, it will generally occur several years from now. Without good records, you’ll have trouble remembering everything you did.
Passive activity losses are a complicated area of the tax code. Consult with us for more information on your situation.
The income tax credit for certain energy-efficient home improvements and equipment purchases was extended through 2016 by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act). So, you still have time to save both energy and taxes by making these eco-friendly investments.
The credit is for expenses related to your principal residence. It equals 10% of certain qualified improvement expenses plus 100% of certain other qualified equipment expenses, subject to a maximum overall credit of $500, which is reduced by any credits claimed in earlier years. (Because of this reduction, many people who previously claimed the credit will be ineligible for any further credits in 2016.)
Examples of improvement investments potentially eligible for the 10% of expense credit include:
Examples of equipment investments potentially eligible for the 100% of expense credit include:
Manufacturer certifications required
When claiming the credit, you must keep with your tax records a certification from the manufacturer that the product qualifies. The certification may be found on the product packaging or the manufacturer’s website. Additional rules and limits apply. For more information about these and other green tax breaks for individuals, contact us.
LINKEDIN/FACEBOOK IMAGE POST (STAND-ALONE POST WITHOUT A LINK):
There’s still time to save both energy and taxes by making green home investments. The tax credit for qualified energy-efficiency investments in a principal residence is extended through 2016. It equals 10% of certain expenses (such as exterior windows and doors that meet Energy Star requirements) plus 100% of certain other expenses (such as qualified central air conditioners and water heaters), subject to a maximum overall credit of $500, reduced by credits claimed in earlier years. Additional rules and limits apply. For more information, contact us.
Investing in mutual funds is an easy way to diversify a portfolio, which is one reason why they’re commonly found in retirement plans such as IRAs and 401(k)s. But if you hold such funds in taxable accounts, or are considering such investments, beware of these three tax hazards:
If your mutual fund investments aren’t limited to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, watch out for these hazards. And contact us — we can help you safely navigate them to keep your tax liability to a minimum.
Many businesses host a picnic for employees in the summer. It’s a fun activity for your staff and you may be able to take a larger deduction for the cost than you would on other meal and entertainment expenses.
Generally, businesses are limited to deducting 50% of allowable meal and entertainment expenses. But certain expenses are 100% deductible, including expenses:
There is one caveat for a 100% deduction: The entire staff must be invited. Otherwise, expenses are deductible under the regular business entertainment rules.
Whether you deduct 50% or 100% of allowable expenses, there are a number of requirements, including certain records you must keep to prove your expenses.
If your company has substantial meal and entertainment expenses, you can reduce your tax bill by separately accounting for and documenting expenses that are 100% deductible. If doing so would create an administrative burden, you may be able to use statistical sampling methods to estimate the portion of meal and entertainment expenses that are fully deductible.
For more information about deducting business meals and entertainment, including how to take advantage of the 100% deduction, please contact us.
Are you thinking about turning a business trip into a family vacation this summer? This can be a great way to fund a portion of your vacation costs. But if you’re not careful, you could lose the tax benefits of business travel.
Reasonable and necessary
Generally, if the primary purpose of your trip is business, expenses directly attributable to business will be deductible (or excludable from your taxable income if your employer is paying the expenses or reimbursing you through an accountable plan). Reasonable and necessary travel expenses generally include:
Expenses associated with taking extra days for sightseeing, relaxation or other personal activities generally aren’t deductible. Nor is the cost of your spouse or children traveling with you.
Business vs. pleasure
How do you determine if your trip is “primarily” for business? One factor is the number of days spent on business vs. pleasure. But some days that you might think are “pleasure” days might actually be “business” days for tax purposes. “Standby days,” for example, may be considered business days, even if you’re not engaged in business-related activities. You also may be able to deduct certain expenses on personal days if tacking the days onto your trip reduces the overall cost.
During your trip it’s critical to carefully document your business vs. personal expenses. Also keep in mind that special limitations apply to foreign travel, luxury water travel and certain convention expenses.
Maximize your tax savings
For more information on how to maximize your tax savings when combining business travel with a vacation, please contact us. In some cases you may be able to deduct expenses that you might not think would be deductible.
This year’s stock market volatility can be unnerving, but if you have a traditional IRA, this volatility may provide a valuable opportunity: It can allow you to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at a lower tax cost.
Contributions to a traditional IRA may be deductible, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and whether you participate in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Funds in the account can grow tax-deferred.
On the downside, you generally must pay income tax on withdrawals, and, with only a few exceptions, you’ll face a penalty if you withdraw funds before age 59½ — and an even larger penalty if you don’t take your required minimum distributions (RMDs) after age 70½.
Roth IRA contributions, on the other hand, are never deductible. But withdrawals — including earnings — are tax-free as long as you’re age 59½ or older and the account has been open at least five years. In addition, you’re allowed to withdraw contributions at any time tax- and penalty-free.
There are also estate planning advantages to a Roth IRA. No RMD rules apply, so you can leave funds growing tax-free for as long as you wish. Then distributions to whoever inherits your Roth IRA will be income-tax-free as well.
The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA, however, is subject to limits based on your MAGI. Fortunately, anyone is eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. The catch? You’ll have to pay income tax on the amount you convert.
This is where the “benefit” of stock market volatility comes in. If your traditional IRA has lost value, converting to a Roth now rather than later will minimize your tax hit. Plus, you’ll avoid tax on future appreciation when the market stabilizes.
Of course, there are more ins and outs of IRAs that need to be considered before executing a Roth IRA conversion. If your interest is piqued, discuss with us whether a conversion is right for you.
Back in 2012, Linked-in acknowledged a breach of hashed passwords and email addresses. At the time they claimed only a small portion of their 100+ Million accounts were compromised and suggested that Linked In users change their password to protect their account. They did not force a password change across all Linked-In user accounts… a decision they now undoubtedly regret.
In fact, all of their user accounts (117 Million+) were compromised. Shamefully, they did not SALT their passwords, leaving identical passwords with identical hashes making password cracking trivially easy.
Many users reused passwords across email accounts, various websites, and even VPN accounts; this is a very bad practice. As such, you should consider these other accounts may have been compromised. Many of you (myself included) have received strange emails from friends and family trying to sell me Viagra or containing random strange website links. These are indications of a compromised email account. Now we know one potential source of those compromised email accounts: Linked-In.
Step #1: Change your Linked-In Password! Anyone still using their 2012 Linked in password needs to immediately login and change their password. Linked-In has finally done what they should have done in the beginning – notified ALL account holders, expired their passwords so users have to change their password upon next login, and informed users of the compromise and to consider where else users had used the same username/password combination so as to update and change those locations too.
Step #2: Invest in a Password Manager. The time to invest in a password manager is more important than ever before. Password Managers are free for personal use. They enable you to use long and complex passwords (I recommend 16 to 20 character passwords) for every online web property you log into. This is a critical step that limits your exposure when one company is breached… all the other web properties are still intact because you haven’t reused the same password at those sites!
Step #3: Start changing your Shared Passwords! Now that you have as password manager, don’t stop there. Most Password managers have a feature that lists accounts sharing the same password. It’s time to start changing your bad habits and update those accounts to unique passwords. Over time you will fix your password hygiene with fresh and complex unique passwords on all of your online accounts!
Step #4: Register your Public Email address for notifications. If you register your public email address at the site https://haveibeenpwned.com/ they will notify you if your email is included in any of the large-scale publicly disclosed breaches such as the Linked In breach or the Adobe, Ashley Madison, and Mate1.com breaches. This is a convenient feature to alert you when the vendor themselves fail to do so.
Sophos video on Picking Proper Passwords: https://youtu.be/pMPhBEoVulQ
Advantages: enterprise support and the separation of work from personal passwords.
Disadvantages: user interface is slightly less intuitive than DashLane.
Advantages: Most intuitive inferface with excellent import and security audit features to inform you of your bad password practices with some automation built in to correct those accounts.
Disadvantage: no ability to separate work from personal passwords making it unsuitable for work or enterprise environments.
Source: Craig Taylor, Chief Security Officer; Neoscope, Portsmouth, NH
It seems like a simple question: How many full-time workers does your business employ? But, when it comes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the answer can be complicated.
The number of workers you employ determines whether your organization is an applicable large employer (ALE). Just because your business isn’t an ALE one year doesn’t mean it won’t be the next year.
50 is the magic number
Your business is an ALE if you had an average of 50 or more full time employees — including full-time equivalent employees — during the prior calendar year. Therefore, you’ll count the number of full time employees you have during 2016 to determine if you’re an ALE for 2017.
Under the law, an ALE:
A full-timer is generally an employee who works on average at least 30 hours per week, or at least 130 hours in a calendar month.
A full-time equivalent involves more than one employee, each of whom individually isn’t a full-timer, but who, in combination, are equivalent to a full-time employee.
If you’re hiring employees for summer positions, you may wonder how to count them. There’s an exception for workers who perform labor or services on a seasonal basis. An employer isn’t considered an ALE if its workforce exceeds 50 or more full-time employees in a calendar year because it employed seasonal workers for 120 days or less.
However, while the IRS states that retail workers employed exclusively for the holiday season are considered seasonal workers, the situation isn’t so clear cut when it comes to summer help. It depends on a number of factors.
We can help
Contact us for help calculating your full-time employees, including how to handle summer hires. We can help ensure your business complies with the ACA.
Although the kids might still be in school for a few more weeks, summer day camp is rapidly approaching for many families. If yours is among them, did you know that sending your child to day camp might make you eligible for a tax credit?
The power of tax credits
Day camp (but not overnight camp) is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit, which is worth 20% of qualifying expenses (more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000), subject to a cap. For 2016, 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 28% tax bracket, $1 of deduction saves you only $0.28 of taxes. So it’s important to take maximum advantage of the tax credits available to you.
Rules to be aware of
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, which means that the child care is needed so that you can work or, if you’re currently unemployed, look for work. However, if your employer offers a child and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) that you participate in, you can’t use expenses paid from or reimbursed by the FSA to claim the credit.
Are you eligible?
These are only some of the rules that apply to the child and dependent care credit. So please contact us to determine whether you’re eligible.
As the school year draws to a close and the days lengthen, you may be one of the many homeowners who are getting ready to put their home on the market. After all, in many locales, summer is the best time of year to sell a home. But it’s important to think not only about the potential profit (or loss) from a sale, but also about the tax consequences.
If you’re selling your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain — as long as you meet certain tests. Gain that qualifies for exclusion also is excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.
To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain thorough records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use. Keep in mind that gain that’s allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.
A loss on the sale of your principal residence generally isn’t deductible. But if part of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that portion may be deductible.
If you’re selling a second home, be aware that it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 exchange. Or you may be able to deduct a loss.
If you’re considering putting your home on the market, please contact us to learn more about the potential tax consequences of a sale.
It’s not unusual for the IRS to conduct audits of qualified employee benefit plans, including 401(k)s. Plan sponsors are expected to stay in compliance with numerous, frequently changing federal laws and regulations.
For example, have you identified all employees eligible for your 401(k) plan and given them the opportunity to make deferral elections? Are employee contributions limited to the amounts allowed under tax law for the calendar year? Does your 401(k) plan pass nondiscrimination tests? Traditional 401(k) plans must be regularly tested to ensure that the contributions don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.
If the IRS uncovers compliance errors and the plan sponsor doesn’t fix them, the plan could be disqualified.
What happens if qualified status is lost?
Tax law and administrative details that may seem trivial or irrelevant may actually be critical to maintaining a plan’s qualified status. If a plan loses its tax-exempt status, each participant is taxed on the value of his or her vested benefits as of the disqualification date. That can result in large (and completely unexpected) tax liabilities for participants.
In addition, contributions and earnings that occur after the disqualification date aren’t tax-free. They must be included in participants’ taxable incomes. The employer’s tax deductions for plan contributions are also at risk. There are also penalties and fees that can be devastating to a business.
Finally, withdrawals made after the disqualification date cannot be rolled over into other tax-favored retirement plans or accounts (such as IRAs).
The good news is that 401(k) plan errors can often be voluntarily corrected. We can help determine if changes should be made to your company’s qualified plan to achieve and maintain compliance. Contact us for more information.
Now that the April 18 income tax filing deadline has passed, it may be tempting to set aside any thought of taxes until year end is approaching. But don’t succumb. For maximum tax savings, now is the time to start tax planning for 2016.
A tremendous number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. Starting to look at these variables early in the year can give you more opportunities to reduce your 2016 tax bill.
For example, the timing of income and deductible expenses can affect both the rate you pay and when you pay. By regularly reviewing your year-to-date income, expenses and potential tax, you may be able to time income and expenses in a way that reduces, or at least defers, your tax liability.
In other words, tax planning shouldn’t be just a year-end activity.
In recent years, planning early has been a challenge because there were a lot of expired tax breaks where it was uncertain whether they’d be extended for the year. But the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) extended a wide variety of tax breaks through 2016, or, in some cases, later. It also made many breaks permanent.
For example, the PATH Act made permanent the deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes and tax-free IRA distributions to charities for account holders age 70½ or older. So you don’t have to wait and see whether these breaks will be available for the year like you did in 2014 and 2015.
To get started on your 2016 tax planning, contact us. We can discuss what strategies you should be implementing now and throughout the year to minimize your tax liability.
The short answer is: none. You need to hold on to all of your 2015 tax records for now. But this is a great time to take a look at your records for previous tax years and determine what you can purge.
The 3-year rule
At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you likely can shred and toss most records related to tax returns for 2012 and earlier years.
What to keep longer
You’ll need to hang on to certain records beyond the statute of limitations:
Just a starting point
This is only a sampling of retention guidelines for tax-related documents. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.
Yes, the federal income tax filing deadline is slightly later than usual this year — April 18 — but it’s now nearly upon us. So, if you haven’t filed your return yet, you may be thinking about an extension.
Filing for an extension allows you to delay filing your return until the applicable extension deadline:
While filing for an extension can provide relief from April 18 deadline stress, it’s important to consider the perils:
A tax-smart move?
Filing for an extension can still be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about avoiding interest and penalties.
Starting a new business is an exciting time. But before you even open the doors, you generally have to spend a lot of money. You may have to train workers and pay for rent, utilities, marketing and more.
Entrepreneurs are often unaware that many expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be deducted right away.
How expenses are handled on your tax return
When planning a new enterprise, remember these key points:
An important decision
Time may be of the essence if you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year. You need to decide whether to take the elections described above. Recordkeeping is important. Contact us about your business start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new venture.
If you suffer damage to your home or personal property, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your federal income tax return. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.
Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses:
When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.
Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)
$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.
10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.
Have questions about deducting casualty losses? Contact us!
Tax-advantaged retirement plans allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. But annual contributions are limited by tax law, and any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years. So it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limits as possible. Have you maxed out your 2015 limits?
April 18 deadline
While it’s too late to add to your 2015 401(k) contributions, there’s still time to make 2015 IRA contributions. The deadline is April 18, 2016. The limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2015).
A traditional IRA contribution also might provide some savings on your 2015 tax bill. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) — or you do but your income doesn’t exceed certain limits — your traditional IRA contribution is fully deductible on your 2015 tax return.
Evaluate your options
If you don’t qualify for a deductible traditional IRA contribution, see if you qualify to make a Roth IRA contribution. If you exceed the applicable income-based limits, a nondeductible traditional IRA contribution may even make sense. Neither of these options will reduce your 2015 tax liability, but they still provide valuable opportunities for tax-deferred or tax-free growth.
We can help you determine which type of contributions you’re eligible for and what makes sense for you.
Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, making them particularly valuable. Two valuable credits are especially for small businesses that offer certain employee benefits. Can you claim one — or both — of them on your 2015 return?
Retirement plan credit
Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified startup costs.
Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.
Small-business health care credit
The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2015, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $25,000 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,000.
To qualify for the credit, online enrollment in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) generally is required. In addition, the credit can be taken for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits taken before 2014 don’t count, however.)
Take all the credits you’re entitled to
If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible for these credits, we can help. We can also advise you on what other tax credits you might be eligible for when you file your 2015 return.
When it comes to deducting charitable gifts, all donations are not created equal. As you file your 2015 return and plan your charitable giving for 2016, it’s important to keep in mind the available deduction:
Cash. This includes not just actual cash but gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction. You may deduct 100%.
Ordinary-income property. Examples include 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 more than one year.
Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation:
Vehicle. Unless it’s being used by the charity, you generally may deduct only the amount the charity receives when it sells the vehicle.
Use of property. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift.
Services. You may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.
Finally, be aware that your annual charitable donation deductions may be reduced if they exceed certain income-based limits. If you receive some benefit from the charity, your deduction must be reduced by the benefit’s value. Various substantiation requirements also apply. If you have questions about how much you can deduct, let us know.
If there was a college student in your family last year, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2015 return. To max out your education-related breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that will provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.
Credits vs. deductions
Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:
But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.
If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative.
Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.
How much can your family save?
Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2015 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.
Today it’s becoming more common to work from home. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it.
If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.
Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.
A valuable break
If you are eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You may be able to 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.
Or you can take the simpler “safe harbor” deduction in lieu of calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 per square foot up to a maximum of 300 square feet.
For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income.
Finally, be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction, contact us for more information.
Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended 50% bonus depreciation through 2017.
The break had expired December 31, 2014, for most assets. So the PATH Act may give you a tax-saving opportunity for 2015 you wouldn’t otherwise have had. Many businesses will benefit from claiming this break on their 2015 returns. But you might save more tax in the long run if you forgo it.
What assets are eligible
For 2015, new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment) qualifies for bonus depreciation. So does off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified leasehold-improvement property.
Acquiring the property in 2015 isn’t enough, however. You must also have placed the property in service in 2015.
Should you or shouldn’t you?
If you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation (to the extent you’ve exhausted any Section 179 expensing available to you) is likely a good tax strategy. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.
But if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax for 2015, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re in a higher bracket.
We can help
If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2015 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.
If you’re like many Americans, you may not start thinking about filing your tax return until the April 15 deadline (this year, April 18) is just a few weeks — or perhaps even just a few days — away. But there’s another date you should keep in mind: January 19. That’s the date the IRS began accepting 2015 returns, and filing as close to that date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.
How filing early helps
In this increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.
Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the thief who’s filing the duplicate return, not you.
Another key date
Of course you need to have your W-2s and 1099s to file. So another key date to be aware of is February 1 — the deadline for employers to issue 2015 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2015 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.
An added bonus
Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2015 return early. An added bonus of filing early, if you’ll be getting a refund, is enjoying that refund sooner.
By purchasing stock in certain small businesses, you can not only diversify your portfolio but also enjoy preferential tax treatment. And under a provision of the tax extenders act signed into law this past December (the PATH Act), such stock is now even more attractive from a tax perspective.
100% exclusion from gain
The PATH Act makes permanent the exclusion of 100% of the gain on the sale or exchange of qualified small business (QSB) stock acquired and held for more than five years. The 100% exclusion is available for QSB stock acquired after September 27, 2010. (Smaller exclusions are available for QSB stock acquired earlier.)
The act also permanently extends the rule that eliminates QSB stock gain as a preference item for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.
What stock qualifies?
A QSB is generally a domestic C corporation that has gross assets of no more than $50 million at any time (including when the stock is issued) and uses at least 80% of its assets in an active trade or business.
Many factors to consider
Of course tax consequences are only one of the many factors that should be considered before making an investment. Also, keep in mind that the tax benefits discussed here are subject to additional requirements and limits. Consult us for more details.
For the last several years, taxpayers have been allowed to take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes. This break can be valuable to those residing in states with no or low income taxes or who purchase major items, such as a car or boat. But it had expired December 31, 2014. Now the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) has made the break permanent.
So see if you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2015 return. Don’t worry — you don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases.
Questions about this or other PATH Act breaks that might help you save taxes on your 2015 tax return? Contact us — we can help you identify which tax breaks will provide you the maximum benefit.
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) extended a wide variety of tax breaks, in some cases making them permanent. Extended breaks include many tax credits — which are particularly valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar (compared to deductions, for example, which reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed).
Here are two extended credits that can save businesses taxes on their 2015 returns:
1. The research credit. This credit (also commonly referred to as the “research and development” or “research and experimentation” credit) has been made permanent. It rewards businesses that increase their investments in research. The credit, generally equal to a portion of qualified research expenses, is complicated to calculate, but the tax savings can be substantial.
2. The Work Opportunity credit. This credit has been extended through 2019. It’s available for hiring from certain disadvantaged groups, such as food stamp recipients, ex-felons and veterans who’ve been unemployed for four weeks or more. The maximum credit ranges from $2,400 for most groups to $9,600 for disabled veterans who’ve been unemployed for six months or more.
Want to know if you might qualify for either of these credits? Or what other breaks extended by the PATH Act could save taxes on your 2015 return? Contact us!
Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, the limits remain unchanged for 2016:
Type of limit
Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans
Contributions to defined contribution plans
Contributions to SIMPLEs
Contributions to IRAs
Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans
Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs
Catch-up contributions to IRAs
Nevertheless, if you’re not already maxing out your contributions, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2016. And if you turn age 50 in 2016, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.
However, keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions. If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2016, check with us.
Many valuable tax breaks expired December 31, 2014. For them to be available for 2015, Congress had to pass legislation extending them — which it now has done, with the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), signed into law by the President on December 18. The PATH Act not only revives expired breaks for 2015 but also makes many breaks permanent, generally extends the rest through either 2016 or 2019, and enhances some breaks.
Here is a sampling of extended breaks that may benefit you or your business:
Please contact us for more information on these and other breaks under the PATH Act. Keep in mind that, for you to take maximum advantage of certain extended breaks on your 2015 tax return, quick action may be required.
The year is quickly drawing to a close, but there’s still time to take steps to reduce your 2015 tax liability — you just must act by December 31:
Keep in mind, however, that in certain situations these strategies might not make sense. For example, if you’ll be subject to the alternative minimum tax this year or be in a higher tax bracket next year, taking some of these steps could have undesirable results.
If you’re unsure whether these steps are right for you, consult us before taking action.
After you reach age 70½, you must take annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRAs (except Roth IRAs) and, generally, from your defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans). You also could be required to take RMDs if you inherited a retirement plan (including Roth IRAs).
If you don’t comply — which usually requires taking the RMD by December 31 — you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t.
So, should you withdraw more than the RMD? Taking only RMDs generally is advantageous because of tax-deferred compounding. But a larger distribution in a year your tax bracket is low may save tax.
Be sure, however, to consider the lost future tax-deferred growth and, if applicable, whether the distribution could: 1) cause Social Security payments to become taxable, 2) increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges, or 3) affect other tax breaks with income-based limits.
Also keep in mind that, while retirement plan distributions aren’t subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), they are included in your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That means they could trigger or increase the NIIT, because the thresholds for that tax are based on MAGI.
For more information on RMDs or tax-savings strategies for your retirement plan distributions, please contact us.
Recently, the IRS released the 2016 annually adjusted amount for the unified gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption: $5.45 million (up from $5.43 million in 2015). But even with the rising exemptions, annual exclusion gifts offer a valuable tax-saving opportunity.
The 2015 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free — without using up any of your gift and estate or GST tax exemption. (The exclusion remains the same for 2016.)
The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can avoid gift and estate taxes.
But you need to use your 2015 exclusion by December 31. The exclusion doesn’t carry over from year to year. For example, if you and your spouse don’t make annual exclusion gifts to your grandson this year, you can’t add $28,000 to your 2016 exclusions to make a $56,000 tax-free gift to him next year.
Questions about making annual exclusion gifts or other ways to transfer assets to the next generation while saving taxes? Contact us!
From the Thanksgiving kick-off of the holiday season through December 31, many businesses find themselves short-staffed as employees take time off to spend with family and friends. But if you limit how many vacation days employees can roll over to the new year, you might find your workplace to be nearly a ghost town as employees scramble to use their time off rather than lose it.
A paid time off (PTO) contribution arrangement may be the solution. It allows employees with unused vacation hours to elect to convert them to retirement plan contributions. If the plan has a 401(k) feature, it can treat these amounts as a pretax benefit, similar to normal employee deferrals. Alternatively, the plan can treat the amounts as employer profit sharing, converting the excess PTO amounts to employer contributions.
A PTO contribution arrangement can be a better option than increasing the number of days employees can roll over. Why? Larger rollover limits can result in employees building up large balances that create a significant liability on your books.
To offer a PTO contribution arrangement, you simply need to amend your plan. However, you must still follow the plan document’s eligibility, vesting, rollover, distribution and loan terms, and additional rules apply.
To learn more about PTO contribution arrangements, including their tax implications, please contact us.
While tax consequences should never drive investment decisions, it’s critical that they be considered — especially by higher-income taxpayers, who may be facing the 39.6% short-term capital gains rate, the 20% long-term capital gains rate and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
Holding on to an investment until you’ve owned it more than one year so the gains qualify for long-term treatment may help substantially cut tax on any gain. Here are some other tax-saving strategies:
Many of the strategies that can help you save or defer income tax on your investments can also help you avoid or defer NIIT liability. And because the threshold for the NIIT is based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), strategies that reduce your MAGI — such as making retirement plan contributions — can also help you avoid or reduce NIIT liability.
These are only a few of the year-end strategies that may help you reduce taxes on your investments. For more ideas, contact us.
Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. But before you donate, it’s critical to make sure the charity you’re considering is indeed a qualified charity — that it’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.
Also, with the 2016 presidential election heating up, it’s important to remember that political donations aren’t tax-deductible.
Of course, additional rules affect your charitable deductions, so please contact us if you have questions about whether a donation you’re planning will be fully deductible. We can also provide ideas for maximizing the tax benefits of your charitable giving.
If you’re saving for college, consider a Section 529 plan. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. (Some states do offer tax incentives for contributing.)
Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, equipment, supplies and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
529 plans offer other benefits as well:
Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions and make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse).
The biggest downside may be that your investment options — and when you can change them — are limited. Please contact us for more information on 529 plans and other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.
The first step to smart timing is to project your business’s income and expenses for 2015 and 2016. With this information in hand, you can determine the best year-end timing strategy for your business.
If you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket in 2016, consider:
Deferring income to 2016. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
Accelerating deductible expenses into 2015. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before December 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.
If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2016, accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses may save you more tax over the two-year period (though it will increase your 2015 tax liability).
For help projecting your income and expenses or for more ideas on how you can effectively time them, please contact us.
Now may be a great time to refinance, because mortgage rates are still low but expected to increase. Before deciding to refinance, however, here are a couple of tax consequences to consider:
1. Cash-out refinancing. If you borrow more than you need to cover your outstanding mortgage balance, the tax treatment of the cash-out portion depends on how you use the excess cash. If you use it for home improvements, it’s considered acquisition indebtedness, and the interest is deductible subject to a $1 million debt limit. If you use it for another purpose, such as buying a car or paying college tuition, it’s considered home equity debt, and deductible interest is subject to a $100,000 debt limit.
2. Prepaying interest. “Points” paid when refinancing generally are amortized and deducted ratably over the life of the loan, rather than being immediately deductible. If you’re already amortizing points from a previous refinancing and you refinance with a new lender, you can deduct the unamortized balance in the year you refinance. But if you refinance with the same lender, you must add the unamortized points from the old loan to any points you pay on the new loan and then deduct the total over the life of the new loan.
Is your head spinning? Don’t worry; we can help you understand exactly what the tax consequences of refinancing will be for you. Contact us today!
The additional Medicare tax and net investment income tax (NIIT) apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.
The following types of executive compensation could be subject to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:
And the following types of gains from exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:
Concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed? Please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.
Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but generally only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.
Taxpayers age 65 and older can enjoy a 7.5% floor through 2016. The floor for alternative minimum tax purposes, however, is 10% for all taxpayers.
By “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.
If it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in 2015, consider accelerating controllable expenses into this year. But if you’re far from exceeding it, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), you might want to put off medical expenses until next year, in case you have enough expenses in 2016 to exceed the floor.
For more information on how to bunch deductions or exactly what expenses are deductible, please contact us.
Although a vehicle’s value typically drops fairly rapidly, the tax rules limit the amount of annual depreciation that can be claimed on most cars and light trucks. Thus, when it’s time to replace a vehicle used in business, it’s not unusual for its tax basis to be higher than its value.
If you trade a vehicle in on a new one, the undepreciated basis of the old vehicle simply tacks onto the basis of the new one (even though this extra basis generally doesn’t generate any additional current depreciation because of the annual depreciation limits). However, if you sell the old vehicle to an unrelated third party rather than trading or selling it to the dealer, any excess of basis over the vehicle’s value can be claimed as a deductible loss to the extent of your business use of the vehicle.
For example, if you sell a vehicle with an adjusted basis of $20,000 for $12,000, you’ll get an immediate write-off of $8,000 ($20,000 – $12,000). If you trade in the vehicle rather than selling it, the $20,000 adjusted basis is added to the new vehicle’s depreciable basis and, thanks to the annual depreciation limits, it may be years before any tax deductions are realized.
For more ideas on how to maximize your vehicle-related deductions, contact us.
Contributing to a traditional employer-sponsored defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan, offers many benefits:
For 2015, you can contribute up to $18,000. If your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, consider increasing your contribution rate through the end of the year. Because of tax-deferred compounding, boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.
If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2015). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding.
Have questions about how much to contribute? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you.
Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.
Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. Those assets qualify for the marital deduction and avoid potential estate tax exposure until the surviving spouse dies. The net number represents your taxable estate.
You can transfer up to your available exemption amount at death free of federal estate taxes. So if your taxable estate is equal to or less than the estate tax exemption (for 2015, $5.43 million) reduced by any gift tax exemption you used during your life, no federal estate tax will be due when you die. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, it will be subject to estate tax. Many states, however, now impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does, so you’ll also need to consider the rules in your state.
If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us.
With Congress returning from its August recess, this is the question on tax-savvy Americans’ minds. Many valuable tax breaks aren’t permanent, so Congress has to pass legislation extending them to keep them in effect. Unfortunately, Congress often waits until the last minute to do so.
For example, Congress didn’t pass 2014 extenders until December 2014, making the legislation retroactive to January 1, 2014 — but not extending the breaks to 2015. So we’re again in a waiting game to see what will happen with extenders legislation. Some believe Congress will act soon, while others think we’ll again be waiting until December.
Here are several expired breaks that may benefit you or your business if extended:
Please check back with us for the latest information. Keep in mind that quick action after extenders legislation is passed may be required in order to take maximum advantage of the extended breaks.
Until recently, estate planning strategies typically focused on minimizing federal gift and estate taxes, such as by giving away assets during life to reduce the taxable estate. Today, however, the focus is shifting toward income taxes.
Since 2001, the federal exemption has grown from $675,000 to $5.43 million, meaning that fewer people have to worry about estate tax liability. In addition, the top estate tax rate has decreased from 55% to 40%, while the top individual income tax rate has increased to 39.6% — nearly as high as the top estate tax rate.
The heightened importance of income taxes means that holding assets until death rather than giving them away during your life may be advantageous. If you give away an appreciated asset, the recipient takes over your tax basis in the asset, triggering capital gains taxes should he or she turn around and sell it.
When an appreciated asset is inherited, on the other hand, the recipient’s basis is “stepped up” to the asset’s fair market value on the date of death, erasing the built-in capital gain. So retaining appreciating assets until death can save significant income taxes.
If you have questions about whether it’s better to focus on reducing estate taxes or income taxes, please give us a call.
The tax treatment of investment income varies, and not just based on whether the income is in the form of dividends or interest. Qualified dividends are taxed at the favorable long-term capital gains tax rate (generally 15% or 20%) rather than at the applicable ordinary-income tax rate (which might be as high as 39.6%). Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary-income rates. So stocks that pay qualified dividends may be more attractive tax-wise than other income investments, such as CDs and taxable bonds.
But there are exceptions. For example, some dividends aren’t qualified and therefore are subject to ordinary-income rates, such as certain dividends from:
Also, the tax treatment of bond income varies. For example:
While tax treatment shouldn’t drive investment decisions, it’s one factor to consider — especially when it comes to income investments. For help factoring taxes into your investment strategy, contact us.
Teenagers’ retirement may seem too far off to warrant saving now, but IRAs can be perfect for teens precisely because they’ll likely have many years to let their accounts grow tax-deferred or tax-free.
The 2015 contribution limit is the lesser of $5,500 or 100% of earned income. A teen’s traditional IRA contributions typically are deductible, but distributions will be taxed. Roth IRA contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions will be tax-free.
Choosing a Roth IRA is typically a no-brainer if a teen doesn’t earn income that exceeds the standard deduction ($6,300 for 2015 for single taxpayers), because he or she will likely gain no benefit from deducting a traditional IRA contribution. Even above that amount, the teen probably is taxed at a low rate, so the Roth will typically still be the better answer.
How powerful can an IRA for a teen be? Here’s an example: Both Madison and Noah contribute $5,500 per year to their IRAs through age 66 and earn a 6% rate of return. But Madison starts contributing when she gets her first job at age 16, while Noah waits until age 23, after he’s graduated from college and started his career. Madison’s additional $38,500 of early contributions results in a nest egg at full retirement age of 67 that’s nearly $600,000 larger than Noah’s — $1,698,158 vs. $1,098,669!
Contact us for more ideas on helping teens benefit from tax-advantaged saving.
Choosing the right executor — sometimes known as a “personal representative” — is critical to the smooth administration of an estate. An executor’s duties may include:
You don’t have to choose a professional executor or someone with legal or financial expertise. Often, family members can effectively perform the job, hiring professionals as needed (at the estate’s expense) to handle matters beyond their expertise. However, appointing a loved one can lead to problems. For example, if your executor stands to gain from the will, he or she may have a conflict of interest, which can lead to will contests or other disputes by disgruntled family members. If this is a concern, consider choosing an independent outsider as executor.
Regardless of whom you choose, designate at least one backup executor to serve in the event that your first choice dies or becomes incapacitated before it’s time to settle your estate.
If you have questions about whom you should consider as an executor, please contact us.
Too often, people planning their estates focus on tax and asset-protection issues and overlook long-term health care needs. But the high cost of long-term care (LTC) can quickly devour resources you need to maintain your lifestyle during retirement and provide for your children or other heirs.
LTC expenses, which can easily reach into six figures annually, aren’t covered by regular health insurance policies. And Medicare provides little assistance, if any. So it’s important to have a plan for financing these costs.
One option to consider is an LTC insurance policy. Although these policies are expensive, under the right circumstances they can prevent LTC costs from depleting assets you’ve set aside for retirement and estate planning.
If your LTC policy is “tax-qualified,” any benefits you receive will be excluded from your taxable income — subject to certain limited exceptions — and you’ll be able to deduct a portion of your premium payments. Tax-qualified policies are guaranteed renewable and noncancelable, don’t delay coverage of pre-existing conditions more than six months, and meet certain other requirements.
To be sure that LTC costs are considered as part of an integrated estate and financial plan, contact us. We can help you determine whether LTC insurance or another funding option best fits your needs.