Preserving and managing family wealth requires addressing a number of major issues. These include saving for your children’s education and funding your own retirement. Juggling these competing demands is no trick. Rather, it requires a carefully devised and maintained family wealth management plan.
Start with the basics
First, a good estate plan can help ensure that, in the event of your death, your children will be taken care of and, if your estate is large, that they won’t lose a substantial portion of their inheritances to estate taxes. It can also guarantee that your assets will be passed along to your heirs according to your wishes.
Second, life insurance is essential. The right coverage can provide the liquidity needed to repay debts, support your children and others who depend on you financially, and pay estate taxes.
Prepare for the challenge
Most families face two long-term wealth management challenges: funding retirement and paying for college education. While both issues can be daunting, don’t sacrifice saving for your own retirement to finance your child’s education. Scholarships, grants, loans and work-study may help pay for college — but only you can fund your retirement.
Uncle Sam has provided several education incentives that are worth checking out, including tax credits and deductions for qualifying expenses and tax-advantaged savings opportunities such as 529 plans and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Because of income limits and phaseouts, many higher-income families won’t benefit from some of these tax breaks. But, your children (or your parents, in the case of contributing to an ESA) may be able to take advantage of them.
Give assets wisely
Giving money, investments or other assets to your children or other family members can save future income tax and be a sound estate planning strategy as well. You can currently give up to $14,000 per year per individual ($28,000 if married) without incurring gift tax or using your lifetime gift tax exemption. Depending on the number of children and grandchildren you have, and how many years you continue this gifting program, it can really add up.
By gifting assets that produce income or that you expect to appreciate, you not only remove assets from your taxable estate, but also shift income and future appreciation to people who may be in lower tax brackets.
Also consider using trusts to facilitate your gifting plan. The benefit of trusts is that they can ensure funds are used in the manner you intended and can protect the assets from your loved ones’ creditors.
Overcome the complexities
Creating a comprehensive plan for family wealth management and following through with it may not be simple — but you owe it to yourself and your family. We can help you overcome the complexities and manage your tax burden.
Sidebar: Charitable giving’s place in family wealth management
Do charitable gifts have a place in family wealth management? Absolutely. Properly made gifts can avoid gift and estate taxes, while possibly qualifying for an income tax deduction. Consider a charitable trust that allows you to give income-producing assets to charity, but keep the income for life — or for the charity to receive the earnings and the assets to later pass to your heirs. These are just two examples; there are more ways to use trusts to accomplish your charitable goals.
Like many taxpayers, you probably feel a sense of relief after filing your tax return. But that feeling can change if, soon after, you realize you’ve overlooked a key detail or received additional information that should have been considered. In such instances, you may want (or need) to amend your return.
Typically, an amended return — Form 1040X, to be exact — must be filed within three years from the date you filed the original tax return or within two years of the date the applicable tax was paid (whichever is later). Your choice of timing should depend on whether you expect a refund or a bill.
If claiming an additional refund, you should typically wait until you’ve received your original refund. Then cash or deposit the first refund check while waiting for the second. If you owe additional dollars, file the amended return and pay the tax immediately to minimize interest and penalties.
Bear in mind that, as of this writing, the IRS doesn’t offer amended returns via e-file. You can, however, track your amended return electronically. The IRS now offers an automated status-tracking tool called “Where’s My Amended Return?” at https://www.irs.gov/Filing/Individuals/Amended-Returns-(Form-1040-X)/Wheres-My-Amended-Return-1.
If you think an amended return is needed or warranted, please give us a call. We will be glad to help.
Many people want to do something, however small, to contribute to a healthier environment. There are many ways to do so and, for some of them, you can even save a few tax dollars for your efforts.
Indeed, with the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) late last year, a couple of specific ways to go green and claim a tax break have been made permanent or extended. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Not driving for dollars
Air pollution is a problem in many areas of the country. Among the biggest contributors are vehicle emissions. So it follows that cutting down on the number of vehicles on the road can, in turn, diminish air pollution.
To help accomplish this, many people choose to commute to work via van pools or using public transportation. And, helpfully, the PATH Act is doing its part as well. The law made permanent the requirement that limits on the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes be the same for both parking benefits and van pooling / mass transit benefits.
Before the PATH Act’s parity provision, the monthly limit for 2015 was only $130 for van pooling / mass transit benefits. But, because of the new law, the 2015 monthly limit for these benefits was boosted to the $250 parking benefit limit and the 2016 limit is $255.
Sprucing up the homestead
Energy consumption can also have a negative impact on the environment and use up limited natural resources. Many homeowners want to reduce their energy consumption for environmental reasons or simply to cut their utility bills.
The PATH Act lends a helping hand here, too, by extending through 2016 the credit for purchases of residential energy property. This includes items such as:
The provision allows a credit of 10% of eligible costs for energy-efficient insulation, windows and doors. A credit is also available for 100% of eligible costs for energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment and water heaters, up to a lifetime limit of $500 (with no more than $200 from windows and skylights).
Doing it all
Going green and saving some green on your tax bill? Yes, you can do both. Van pooling or taking public transportation and improving your home’s energy efficiency are two prime examples. Please contact us for more information about how to claim these tax breaks or identify other ways to save this year.
Restructuring debt has become a common approach to personal financial management. But many people fail to realize that there’s often a tax impact to debt relief. And if you don’t anticipate it, a winning tax return may turn into a losing one.
Less debt, more income
Income tax applies to all forms of income — including what’s referred to as “cancellation-of-debt” (COD) income. Think of it this way: If a creditor forgives a debt, you avoid the expense of making the payments, which increases your net income.
Debt forgiveness isn’t the only way to generate a tax liability, though. You can have COD income if a creditor reduces the interest rate or gives you more time to pay. Calculating the amount of income can be complex but, essentially, by making it easier for you to repay the debt, the creditor confers a taxable economic benefit.
You can also have COD income in connection with a mortgage foreclosure, including a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure. Here, the tax consequences depend on which of the following two categories the mortgage falls into:
1. Nonrecourse. Here the lender’s sole remedy in the event of default is to take possession of the home. In other words, you’re not personally liable if the foreclosure proceeds are less than your outstanding loan balance. Foreclosure on a nonrecourse mortgage doesn’t produce COD income.
2. Recourse. This type of foreclosure can trigger COD tax liability if the lender forgives the portion of the loan that’s not satisfied. In a short sale, the lender permits you to sell the property for less than the amount you owe and accepts the sale proceeds in satisfaction of your mortgage. A deed in lieu of foreclosure means you convey the property to the lender in satisfaction of your debt. In either case, if the lender agrees to cancel the excess debt, the transaction is treated like a foreclosure for tax purposes — that is, a recourse mortgage may generate COD income.
Keep in mind that COD income is taxable as ordinary income, even if the debt is related to long-term capital gains property. And, in some cases, foreclosure can trigger both COD income and a capital gain or loss (depending on your tax basis in the property and the property’s market value).
Exceptions vs. exclusions
Several types of canceled debt are considered nontaxable “exceptions” — for example, debt cancellation that’s considered a gift (such as forgiveness of a family loan). Certain student loans are also considered exceptions — as long as they’re canceled in exchange for the recipient’s commitment to public service.
Other types of canceled debt qualify as “exclusions.” For instance, homeowners can exclude up to $2 million in COD income in connection with qualified principal residence indebtedness. A recent tax law change extended this exclusion through 2016, modifying it to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. Other exclusions include certain canceled debts relating to bankruptcy and insolvency.
The rules applying to COD income are complex. So if you’re planning to restructure your debt this year, let us help you manage the tax impact.
Like many taxpayers, you may have been expecting to encounter a few roadblocks while traversing your preferred tax-saving avenues. If so, tax extenders legislation signed into law this past December may make your journey a little easier. Let’s walk through a few highlights of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act).
Of interest to individuals
If you’re a homeowner, the PATH Act allows you to treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction through 2016. However, this deduction is phased out for higher income taxpayers. The law likewise extends through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness.
Those living in a state with low or no income taxes (or who make large purchases, such as a car or boat) will be pleased that the itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes, instead of state and local income taxes, is now permanent. Your deduction can be determined easily by using an IRS calculator and adding the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases.
Investors should note that the PATH Act makes permanent the exclusion of 100% of the gain on the sale of qualified small business stock acquired and held for more than five years (if acquired after September 27, 2010). The law also permanently extends the rule that eliminates qualified small business stock gain as a preference item for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.
Breaks for businesses
The PATH Act gives business owners much to think about as well. First, there’s the enhanced Section 179 expensing election. Now permanent (and indexed for inflation beginning in 2016) is the ability for companies to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate, up to $500,000 in qualified new or used assets. The deduction phases out, dollar for dollar, to the extent qualified asset purchases for the year exceeded $2 million.
The 50% bonus depreciation break is also back, albeit temporarily. It’s generally available for new (not used) tangible assets with a recovery period of 20 years or less, and certain other assets. The 50% amount will drop to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019, however.
In addition, the PATH Act addresses two important tax credits. First, the research credit has been permanently extended, with some specialized provisions for smaller businesses and start-ups. Second, the Work Opportunity credit for employers that hire members of a “target group” has been extended through 2019.
Does your company provide transit benefits? If so, note that the law makes permanent equal limits for the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes for parking fringe benefits and van-pooling / mass transit benefits.
Much, much more
Whether you’re filing as an individual or on behalf of a business, the PATH Act could have a substantial effect on your 2015 tax return. We’ve covered only a few of its many provisions here. Please contact us to discuss these and other provisions that may affect your situation.
Sidebar: Good news for generous IRA owners
The recent tax extenders law makes permanent the provision allowing taxpayers age 70½ or older to make direct contributions from their IRA to qualified charities up to $100,000 per tax year. The transfer can count toward the IRA owner’s required minimum distribution. Many rules apply so, if you’re interested, let us help with this charitable giving opportunity.
There are virtually countless charitable organizations to which you might donate. You may choose to give cash or to contribute noncash items such as books, sporting goods, or computers or other tech gear. In either case, once you do the good deed, you owe it to yourself to properly claim a tax deduction.
No matter what you donate, you’ll need documentation. And precisely what you’ll need depends on the type and value of your donation. Here are five things to know:
1. Cash contributions of less than $250 are the easiest to substantiate. A canceled check or credit card statement is sufficient. Alternatively, you can obtain a receipt from the recipient organization showing its name, as well as the date, place and amount of the contribution. Bear in mind that unsubstantiated contributions aren’t deductible anymore. So you must have a receipt or bank record.
2. Noncash donations of less than $250 require a bit more. You’ll need a receipt from the charity. Plus, you typically must estimate a reasonable value for the donated item(s). Organizations that regularly accept noncash donations typically will provide you a form for doing so. Keep in mind that, for donations of clothing and household items to be deductible, the items generally must be in at least good condition.
3. Bigger cash donations mean more paperwork. If you donate $250 or more in cash, a canceled check or credit card statement won’t be sufficient. You’ll need a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the recipient organization that meets IRS guidelines.
Among other things, a contemporaneous written acknowledgment must be received on or before the earlier of the date you file your return for the year in which you made the donation or the due date (including an extension) for filing the return. In addition, it must include a disclosure of whether the charity provided anything in exchange. If it did, the organization must provide a description and good-faith estimate of the exchanged item or service. You can deduct only the difference between the amount donated and the value of the item or service.
4. Noncash donations valued at $250 or more and up to $5,000 require still more. You must get a contemporaneous written acknowledgment plus written evidence that supports the item’s acquisition date, cost and fair market value. The written acknowledgment also must include a description of the item.
5. Noncash donations valued at more than $5,000 are the most complicated. Generally, both a contemporaneous written acknowledgment and a qualified appraisal are required — unless the donation is publicly traded securities. In some cases additional requirements might apply, so be sure to contact us if you’ve made or are planning to make a substantial noncash donation. We can verify the documentation of any type of donation, but contributions of this size are particularly important to document properly.
If you’ve looked into retirement planning, you’ve probably heard about the Roth IRA. Maybe in the past you decided against one of these arrangements, or perhaps you just decided to sleep on it. Whatever the case may be, now’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with the Roth IRA and its potential benefits, because you have until April 18, 2016, to make a 2015 Roth IRA contribution.
With a Roth IRA, you give up the deductibility of contributions for the freedom to make tax-free qualified withdrawals. This differs from a traditional IRA, where contributions may be deductible and earnings grow on a tax-deferred basis, but withdrawals (less any prorated nondeductible contributions) are subject to ordinary income taxes — plus a 10% penalty if you’re under age 59½ at the time of the distribution.
With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions tax-free and penalty-free anytime. Withdrawals of account earnings (considered made only after all your contributions are withdrawn) are tax-free if you make them after you’ve had the Roth IRA for five years and you’re age 59½ or older. Earnings withdrawn before this time are subject to ordinary income taxes, as well as a 10% penalty (with certain exceptions) if withdrawn before you are age 59½.
On the plus side, you can leave funds in your Roth IRA as long as you want. This differs from the required minimum distributions starting after age 70½ for traditional IRAs.
For 2016, the annual Roth IRA contribution limit is $5,500 ($6,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older), reduced by any contributions made to traditional IRAs. Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may also affect your ability to contribute, however.
In 2016, the contribution limit phases out for married couples filing jointly with MAGIs between $184,000 and $194,000. The 2016 phaseout range for single and head-of-household filers is $117,000 to $132,000.
Regardless of MAGI, anyone may convert a traditional IRA into a Roth to turn future tax-deferred potential growth into tax-free potential growth. From an income tax perspective, whether a conversion makes sense depends on whether you’re better off paying tax now or later.
When you do a Roth conversion, you have to pay taxes on the amount you convert. So if you expect your tax rate to be higher in retirement than it is now, converting to a Roth may be advantageous — provided you can afford to pay the tax using funds from outside an IRA. If you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, however, it may make more sense to leave your savings in a traditional IRA or employer-sponsored plan.
Roth IRAs have become a fundamental part of retirement planning. Even if you’re not ready for one just yet, be sure to keep the idea of opening one on your radar.
Some married couples assume they have to file their tax returns jointly. Others may know they have a choice but not want to rock the boat by filing separately. The truth is that there’s no harm in at least considering your options every year.
Granted, married taxpayers who file jointly can take advantage of certain credits not available to separate filers. They’re also more likely to be able to make deductible IRA contributions and less likely to be subject to the alternative minimum tax.
But there are circumstances under which filing separately may be a good idea. For example, filing separately can save tax when one spouse’s income is much higher than the others, and the spouse with lower income has miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeding 2% of his or her adjusted gross income (AGI) or medical expenses exceeding 10% of his or her AGI — but jointly the couple’s expenses wouldn’t exceed the applicable floor for their joint AGI. However, in community property states, income and expenses generally must be split equally unless they’re attributable to separate funds.
Many factors play into the joint vs. separate filing decision. If you’re interested in learning more, please give us a call.
Tax-related fraud isn’t a new crime, but tax preparation software, e-filing and increased availability of personal data have made tax-related identity theft increasingly easy to perpetrate. The IRS is taking steps to reduce such fraud, but taxpayers must play their part, too.
How they do it
Criminals perpetrate tax identity theft by using stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file tax returns in their victims’ names. Naturally, the fake returns claim that the filer is owed a refund — and the bigger, the better.
To ensure they’re a step ahead of taxpayers filing legitimate returns and employers submitting W-2 and 1099 forms, the thieves file early in the tax season. They usually request that refunds be made to debit cards, which are hard for the IRS to trace once they’re distributed.
IRS takes action
The increasing rate of tax-related fraud — not to mention the well-publicized 2015 IRS data breach — has spurred government agencies and private sector businesses to act. This past June, a coalition made up of the IRS, state tax administrators, tax preparation services and payroll and tax product processors announced a new program with five initiatives:
1. Taxpayer identification. Coalition members will review transmission data such as Internet Protocol numbers.
2. Fraud identification. Members will share fraud leads and aggregated tax return information.
3. Information assessment. The Refund Fraud Information Sharing and Assessment Center will help public and private sector members share information.
4. Cybersecurity framework. Members will be required to adopt the National Institute of Standards and Technology cybersecurity framework.
5. Taxpayer awareness and communication. Members will increase efforts to inform the public about identity theft and protecting personal data.
Your role in preventing fraud
But the IRS and tax preparation professionals can’t fight fraud without your help. Be sure to keep your Social Security card secure, and if businesses (including financial institutions and medical providers) request your Social Security number, ensure they need it for a legitimate purpose and have taken precautions to keep your data safe. Also regularly review your credit report. You can obtain free copies from all three credit bureaus once a year.
If you’ve accumulated many bank, investment and other financial accounts over the years, you might consider consolidating some of them. Having multiple accounts requires you to spend more time tracking and reconciling financial activities and can make it harder to keep a handle on how much you have and whether your money is being invested advantageously.
Start by identifying the accounts that offer you the best combination of excellent customer service, convenience, lower fees and higher returns. Hold on to these and consider closing the rest, keeping in mind the bank account amounts you’ll be consolidating. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation generally insures $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank. So if consolidation means that your balance might exceed that amount, it’s better to keep multiple accounts. You should also keep accounts with different beneficiaries separate.
When closing accounts, make sure you stop automatic payments or deposits and destroy checks and cards associated with them. To prevent any future disputes, obtain letters from the financial institutions stating that your accounts have been closed. Closing an account generally takes several weeks.
When you sell a capital asset, the sale results in a capital gain or loss. A capital asset includes most property you own for personal use (such as your home or car) or own as an investment (such as stocks and bonds). Here are some facts that you should know about capital gains and losses:
• Gains and losses. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis and the amount you get when you sell an asset. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset.
• Net investment income tax (NIIT). You must include all capital gains in your income, and you may be subject to the NIIT. The NIIT applies to certain net investment income of individuals who have income above statutory threshold amounts: $200,000 if you are unmarried, $250,000 if you are a married joint-filer, or $125,000 if you use married filing separate status. The rate of this tax is 3.8%.
• Deductible losses. You can deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You cannot deduct losses on the sale of property that you hold for personal use.
• Long- and short-term. Capital gains and losses are either long-term or short-term, depending on how long you held the property. If you held the property for more than one year, your gain or loss is long-term. If you held it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.
• Net capital gain. If your long-term gains are more than your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a net capital gain.
• Tax rate. The capital gains tax rate, which applies to long-term capital gains, usually depends on your taxable income. For 2015, the capital gains rate is zero to the extent your taxable income (including long-term capital gains) does not exceed $74,900 for married joint-filing couples ($37,450 for singles). The maximum capital gains rate of 20% applies if your taxable income (including long-term capital gains) is $464,850 or more for married joint-filing couples ($413,200 for singles); otherwise a 15% rate applies. However, a 25% or 28% tax rate can also apply to certain types of long-term capital gains. Short-term capital gains are taxed at ordinary income tax rates.
• Limit on losses. If your capital losses are more than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year, or $1,500 if you are married and file a separate return.
• Carryover losses. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry over the losses you are not able to deduct to next year's tax return. You will treat those losses as if they happened in that next year.
Yes, that is too good to be true, but we got your attention. As you are painfully aware, it is extremely difficult to earn much, if any, interest on savings, money market funds, or CDs these days. So, what are we to do? Well, one way to improve the earnings on those idle funds is to pay down debt. Paying off a home loan having an interest rate of 5% with your excess liquid assets is just like earning 5% on those funds. The same goes for car loans and other installment debt. But, the best return will more likely come from paying off credit card debt! We are not suggesting you reduce liquid assets to an unsafe level, but examine the possibility of paying off some of your present debt load with your liquid funds. Paying down $100,000 on a 5% home loan is like making more than $400 per month on those funds.
Your health insurance company may request that you provide the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for you, your spouse, and your children covered by your policy. This is because the Affordable Care Act requires every provider of minimum essential coverage to report that coverage by filing an information return with the IRS and furnishing a statement to covered individuals. The information is used by the IRS to administer — and by individuals to show compliance with — the health care law.
Health coverage providers will file an information return (Form 1095-B, “Health Coverage”) with the IRS and will furnish statements to you in 2016 to report coverage information from calendar year 2015. The law requires coverage providers to list SSNs on this form. If you don’t provide your SSN and the SSNs of all covered individuals to the sponsor of the coverage, the IRS may not be able to match the Form 1095-B with the individuals to determine that they have complied with the individual shared responsibility provision.
Your health insurance company may mail you a letter that discusses these new rules and requests SSNs for all family members covered under your policy. The IRS has not designated a specific form for your health insurance company to request this information. However, it should be a written request that is mailed to you through the U.S. Postal Service, not emailed to you. If you receive an email request, it could be a phishing attempt by a hacker who is aware of this requirement, so be cautious and take precautions to protect yourself. Don’t respond directly to the email. Instead, call the insurance company at its main number (not any number contained in the email) or go directly to the insurance company’s website (not from the link or to an address contained in the email) to verify the request.
The Form 1095-B will provide information for your income tax return that shows you, your spouse, and individuals you claim as dependents had qualifying health coverage for some or all months during the year. You do not have to attach Form 1095-B to your tax return. However, it is important to keep it with your other important tax documents.
Anyone on your return who does not have minimum essential coverage, and who does not qualify for an exemption, may be liable for the individual shared responsibility payment.
The information received by the IRS will be used to verify information on your individual income tax return. If you refuse to provide this information to your health insurance company, the IRS cannot verify the information you provide on your tax return, and you may receive an inquiry from the IRS. You also may receive a notice from the IRS indicating that you are liable for the individual shared responsibility payment.
Continuing to work while receiving Social Security benefits may cause the benefit to be reduced below the anticipated amount. If you are under the full retirement age (currently 66), an earnings test determines whether your Social Security retirement benefits will be reduced because you earned more from a job or business than an annual exempt amount.
As a general rule, the earnings test is based on income earned during the year as a whole, without regard to the amount you earned each month. However, in the first year, benefits you receive are not reduced for any month in which you earn less than one-twelfth of the annual exempt amount.
For 2015, Social Security beneficiaries under the full benefit retirement age who have earnings in excess of the annual exempt amount are subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $2 earned over the exempt amount ($15,720 in 2015) for each year before the year during which they reach the full benefit retirement age. However, in the year beneficiaries reach their full benefit retirement age, earnings above a different annual exempt amount ($41,880 in 2015) are subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $3 earned over the exempt amount. Social Security benefits are not affected by earned income beginning with the month the beneficiary reaches full benefit retirement age.
The federal income tax rates for 2015 are the same as last year: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%. However, the rate bracket beginning and ending points are increased slightly to account for inflation. For 2015, the maximum 39.6% bracket affects singles with taxable income above $413,200, married joint-filing couples with income above $464,850, heads of households with income above $439,000, and married individuals who file separate returns with income above $232,425. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the 0.9% additional Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), which can both result in a higher-than-advertised marginal federal income tax rate for 2015.
What we’ve listed below are a few money-saving ideas to get you started that you may want to put in action before the end of 2015:
• For 2015, the standard deduction is $12,600 for married taxpayers filing joint returns. For single taxpayers, the amount is $6,300. If your total itemized deductions each year are normally close to these amounts, you may be able to leverage the benefit of your deductions by bunching deductions, such as charitable contributions and property taxes, in every other year. This allows you to time your itemized deductions so they are high in one year and low in the next. However, the alternative minimum tax (AMT), discussed later in this article, should be considered when using this strategy.
• If you or a family member own traditional IRAs and reached age 70½ this year, consider whether it’s better to take the first required minimum distribution in 2015 or by April 1 of next year.
• If your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account arrangement for your out-of-pocket medical or child care expenses, make sure you’re maximizing the tax benefits during the upcoming enrollment period for 2016.
• If you have a 401(k) plan at work, it’s just about time to tell your company how much you want to set aside on a tax-free basis for next year. Contribute as much as you can stand, especially if your employer makes matching contributions. You give up “free money” when you fail to participate with the maximum amount the company will match.
• If it looks like you are going to owe income taxes for 2015, consider bumping up the federal income taxes withheld from your paychecks now through the end of the year.
• Between now and year end, review your securities portfolio for any losers that can be sold before year end to offset gains you have already recognized this year or to get you to the $3,000 ($1,500 married filing separately) net capital loss that’s deductible each year.
• If you own any securities that are all but worthless with little hope of recovery, you might consider selling them before the end of the year so you can capitalize on the loss this year.
• Don’t overlook estate planning. For 2015, the unified federal gift and estate tax exemption is a generous $5.43 million, and the federal estate tax rate is a historically reasonable 40%. Even if you already have an estate plan, it may need updating to reflect the current estate and gift tax rules. Also, you may need to make some changes that have nothing to do with taxes.
• If you are self-employed, consider employing your child. Doing so shifts income (which is not subject to the “kiddie tax”) from you to your child, who normally is in a lower tax bracket or may avoid tax entirely due to the standard deduction. There can also be payroll tax savings and the ability to contribute to an IRA for the child.
• If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation that you expect to generate a loss this year, you may want to make a capital contribution (or in the case of an S corporation, loan it additional funds) before year end to ensure you have sufficient basis to claim a full deduction.
Remember that effective tax planning requires considering at least this year and next year. Without a multiyear outlook, you can’t be sure maneuvers intended to save taxes on your 2015 return won’t backfire and cost additional money in the future.
And finally, watch out for the AMT in all of your planning, because what may be a great move for regular tax purposes may create or increase an AMT problem. There’s a good chance you’ll be hit with AMT if you deduct a significant amount of state and local taxes, claim multiple dependents, exercise incentive stock options, or recognize a large capital gain this year.
Again, these are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. If you’d like to know more about them or want to discuss other ideas, please feel free to call us.
Adult children may be able to acquire a more expensive home than they might otherwise afford by using a shared equity financing arrangement, under which parents or other relatives share in the purchase and cost of maintaining a house used by the children as a principal residence. The nonresident owner rents his or her portion of the home to the resident owner and obtains the annual tax benefits of renting real estate if the statutory requirements are satisfied. Since the child does not own 100% of the home, he or she is the relative’s tenant as to the portion of the home not owned and rents that interest from the relative at a fair market rate.
A shared equity financing arrangement is an agreement by which two or more persons acquire qualified home ownership interests in a dwelling unit and the person (or persons) holding one of the interests is entitled to occupy the dwelling as his or her principal residence, and is required to pay rent to the other person(s) owning qualified ownership interests.
Under the vacation home rules, personal use of the home by a child or other relative of the property’s owner is normally attributed to the owner. However, an exception to the general rule exists when the dwelling is rented to a tenant for a fair market rent and serves as the renter’s principal residence. When the tenant owns an interest in the property, this exception to the general rule applies only if the rental qualifies as a shared equity financing arrangement.
Example: Shared equity financing arrangement facilitates child’s home ownership.
Mike and Laura have agreed to help their son, Bob, purchase his first home. The total purchase price is $100,000, consisting of a $20,000 down payment and a mortgage of $80,000. Mike and Laura pay half of the down payment and make half of the mortgage payment pursuant to a shared equity financing agreement with Bob. Bob pays them a fair rental for using 50% of the property, determined when the agreement was entered into.
Under this arrangement, Bob treats the property as his personal residence for tax purposes, deducting his 50% share of the mortgage interest and property taxes. Because his use is not attributed to his parents, Mike and Laura, they treat the property as rental. They must report the rent they receive from Bob, but can deduct their 50% share of the mortgage interest and taxes, the maintenance expenses they pay, and depreciation based on 50% of the property’s depreciable basis. If the property generates a tax loss, it is subject to, and its deductibility is limited by, the passive loss rules.
One drawback to shared equity arrangements is that the nonresident owners will not qualify for the gain exclusion upon the sale of the residence. The result will be a taxable gain for the portion of the gain related to the deemed rental. The gain may also be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Parents should consider guaranteeing or cosigning the mortgage, instead of outright joint ownership, if excluding potential future gain is a major consideration.
If it is anticipated that the resident owner will ultimately purchase the equity of the nonresident owner and the rental will generate losses suspended under the passive loss rules, special care must be taken when the lease terms are agreed to, because suspended passive losses normally allowed at disposition are not allowed when the interest is sold to a related party. This problem can be minimized by making a larger down payment that decreases mortgage interest expense, or by charging a rent at the higher end of the reasonable range for the value of the interest being rented to the resident owner.
The net investment income tax, or NIIT, is a 3.8% surtax on investment income collected from higher-income individuals. It first took effect in 2013. After filing your 2014 return, you may have been hit with this extra tax for two years, and you may now be ready to get proactive by taking some steps to stop, or at least slow, the bleeding for this year and beyond.
NIIT Basics. The NIIT can affect higher-income individuals who have investment income. While the NIIT mainly hits folks who consistently have high income, it can also strike anyone who has a big one-time shot of income or gain this year or any other year. For example, if you sell some company stock for a big gain, get a big bonus, or even sell a home for a big profit, you could be a victim. The types of income and gain (net of related deductions) included in the definition of net investment income and, therefore, exposed to the NIIT, include—
• Gains from selling investment assets (such as gains from stocks and securities held in taxable brokerage firm accounts) and capital gain distributions from mutual funds.
• Real estate gains, including the taxable portion of a big gain from selling your principal residence or a taxable gain from selling a vacation home or rental property.
• Dividends, taxable interest, and the taxable portion of annuity payments.
• Income and gains from passive business activities (meaning activities in which you don’t spend a significant amount of time) and gains from selling passive partnership interests and S corporation stock (meaning you don’t spend much time in the partnership or S corporation business activity).
• Rents and royalties.
Are You Exposed? Thankfully, you are only exposed to the NIIT if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) exceeds $200,000 if you are unmarried, $250,000 if you are a married joint-filer, or $125,000 if you use married filing separate status. However, these thresholds are not all that high, so many individuals will be exposed. The amount that is actually hit with the NIIT is the lesser of: (1) net investment income or (2) the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold. MAGI is your “regular” Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) shown on the last line on page 1 of your Form 1040 plus certain excluded foreign-source income net of certain deductions and exclusions (most people are not affected by this add-back).
Planning Considerations. As we just explained, the NIIT hits the lesser of: (1) net investment income or (2) the amount by which MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold. Therefore, planning strategies must be aimed at the proper target to have the desired effect of avoiding or minimizing your exposure to the tax.
• If your net investment income amount is less than your excess MAGI amount, your exposure to the NIIT mainly depends on your net investment income. You should focus first on strategies that reduce net investment income. Of course, some strategies that reduce net investment income will also reduce MAGI. If so, that cannot possibly hurt.
• If your excess MAGI amount is less than your net investment income amount, your exposure to the tax mainly depends on your MAGI. You should focus first on strategies that reduce MAGI. Of course, some strategies that reduce MAGI will also reduce net investment income. If so, that cannot possibly hurt.
Perhaps the most obvious way to reduce exposure to the NIIT is to invest in tax-exempt bonds via direct ownership or a mutual find. There are other ways, too. Contact us to identify strategies that will work in your specific situation.
Since the Supreme Court's 2013 Windsor decision, same-sex couples who are legally married under state or foreign laws are treated as married for federal tax purposes just like any other married couple. The Supreme Court's Obergefell decision (issued in late June) now requires all states to license and recognize marriages between same-sex couples. Specifically, the decision states that same-sex couples can exercise the fundamental right to marry in all states and that there is no lawful basis for a state to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another state.
Therefore, same-sex couples who are legally married in any state are now allowed to file joint state income tax returns wherever they reside. They are also entitled to the same inheritance and property rights and rules of intestate succession that apply to other legally married couples. Therefore, same-sex couples should now be able to amend previously filed state income, gift, and inheritance tax returns for open years to reflect married status and claim refunds. Furthermore, these couples likely need to rethink their estate and gift tax plans.
Before the Obergefell decision, members of married same-sex couples who live in states that did not previously recognize same-sex marriages had to file state income, gift, and inheritance tax returns as unmarried individuals. This caused additional complexity and expense in filing state returns.
Other implications of an individual's marital status include spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decision-making authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers' compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rights.
Note: The ruling does not apply to individuals in registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law, but not denominated as a marriage under the laws of that state. These individuals are considered unmarried for federal and state purposes. However, these state-law “marriage substitutes” might be eliminated now that all states must allow same-sex marriages. Individuals in these relationships can now obtain marriage licenses, get married, and thereby qualify as married individuals for both state and federal tax purposes.
Most of us have more than enough to do. We're on the go from early in the morning until well into the evening — six or seven days a week. Thus, it's no surprise that we may let some important things slide. We know we need to get to them, but it seems like they can just as easily wait until tomorrow, the next day, or whenever.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision reminds us that sometimes "whenever" never gets here and the results can be tragic. The case involved a $400,000 employer-sponsored retirement account, owned by William, who had named his wife, Liv, as his beneficiary in 1974 shortly after they married. The couple divorced 20 years later. As part of the divorce decree, Liv waived her rights to benefits under William's employer-sponsored retirement plans. However, William never got around to changing his beneficiary designation form with his employer.
When William died, Liv was still listed as his beneficiary. So, the plan paid the $400,000 to Liv. William's estate sued the plan, saying that because of Liv's waiver in the divorce decree, the funds should have been paid to the estate. The Court disagreed, ruling that the plan documents (which called for the beneficiary to be designated and changed in a specific way) trumped the divorce decree. William's designation of Liv as his beneficiary was done in the way the plan required; Liv's waiver was not. Thus, the plan rightfully paid $400,000 to Liv.
The tragic outcome of this case was largely controlled by its unique facts. If the facts had been slightly different (such as the plan allowing a beneficiary to be designated on a document other than the plan's beneficiary form), the outcome could have been quite different and much less tragic. However, it still would have taken a lot of effort and expense to get there. This leads us to a couple of important points.
If you want to change the beneficiary for a life insurance policy, retirement plan, IRA, or other benefit, use the plan's official beneficiary form rather than depending on an indirect method, such as a will or divorce decree.
It's important to keep your beneficiary designations up to date. Whether it is because of divorce or some other life-changing event, beneficiary designations made years ago can easily become outdated.
One final thought regarding beneficiary designations: While you're verifying that all of your beneficiary designations are current, make sure you've also designated secondary beneficiaries where appropriate. This is especially important with assets such as IRAs, where naming both a primary and secondary beneficiary can potentially allow payouts from the account to be stretched out over a longer period and maximize the time available for the tax deferral benefits to accrue.
A Health Savings Account (HSA) represents an opportunity for eligible individuals to lower their out-of-pocket health care costs and federal tax bill. Since most of us would like to take advantage of every available tax break, now might be a good time to consider an HSA, if eligible.
An HSA operates somewhat like a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) that employers offer to their eligible employees. An FSA permits eligible employees to defer a portion of their pay, on a pretax basis, which is used later to reimburse out-of-pocket medical expenses. However, unlike an FSA, whatever remains in the HSA at year end can be carried over to the next year and beyond. In addition, there are no income phaseout rules, so HSAs are available to high-earners and low-earners alike.
Naturally, there are a few requirements for obtaining the benefits of an HSA. The most significant requirement is that an HSA is only available to an individual who carries health insurance coverage with a relatively high annual deductible. For 2015, the individual's health insurance coverage must come with at least a $1,300 deductible for single coverage or $2,600 for family coverage. For many self-employed individuals, small business owners, and employees of small and large companies alike, these thresholds won't be a problem. In addition, it's okay if the insurance plan doesn't impose any deductible for preventive care (such as annual checkups). Other requirements for setting up an HSA are that an individual can't be eligible for Medicare benefits or claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return.
Individuals who meet these requirements can make tax-deductible HSA contributions in 2015 of up to $3,350 for single coverage or $6,650 for family coverage. The contribution for a particular tax year can be made as late as April 15 of the following year. The deduction is claimed in arriving at adjusted gross income (the number at the bottom of page 1 on your return). Thus, eligible individuals can benefit whether they itemize or not. Unfortunately, however, the deduction doesn't reduce a self-employed person's self-employment tax bill.
When an employer contributes to an employee's HSA, the contributions are exempt from federal income, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes.
An account beneficiary who is age 55 or older by the end of the tax year for which the HSA contribution is made may make a larger deductible (or excludible) contribution. Specifically, the annual tax-deductible contribution limit is increased by $1,000.
An HSA can generally be set up at a bank, insurance company, or other institution the IRS deems suitable. The HSA must be established exclusively for the purpose of paying the account beneficiary's qualified medical expenses. These include uninsured medical costs incurred for the account beneficiary, spouse, and dependents. However, for HSA purposes, health insurance premiums don't qualify.
You may be tempted to forget all about your taxes once you've filed your tax return, but that's not a good idea. If you start your tax planning now, you may avoid a tax surprise when you file next year. Also, now is a good time to set up a system so you can keep your tax records safe and easy to find. Here are some tips to give you a leg up on next year's taxes:
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 pay. 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 (“Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate”) with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.
Keep records safe. Put your 2014 tax return and supporting records in a safe place. If you ever need your tax return or records, it will be easy for you to get them. You'll need your supporting documents if you are ever audited by the IRS. You may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid.
Stay organized. Make tax time easier. Have your family put tax records in the same place during the year. That way you won't have to search for misplaced records when you file next year.
If you are self-employed, here are a couple of additional tax tips to consider:
Employ your child. Doing so shifts income (which is not subject to the “kiddie tax”) from you to your child, who normally is in a lower tax bracket or may avoid tax entirely due to the standard deduction. There can also be payroll tax savings; plus, the earnings can enable the child to contribute to an IRA. However, the wages paid must be reasonable given the child's age and work skills. Also, if the child is in college, or is entering soon, having too much earned income can have a detrimental impact on the student's need-based financial aid eligibility.
Avoid the hobby loss rules. A lot of businesses that are just starting out or have hit a bump in the road may wind up showing a loss for the year. The last thing the business owner wants in this situation is for the IRS to come knocking on the door arguing the business's losses aren't deductible because the activity is just a hobby for the owner. If your business is expecting a loss this year, we should talk as soon as possible to make sure you do everything possible to maximize the tax benefit of the loss and minimize its economic impact.
If you go on a business trip within the U.S. and add on some vacation days, you know you can deduct some of your expenses. The question is how much.
First, let’s cover just the pure transportation expenses. Transportation costs to and from the scene 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. Transportation costs include travel to and from your departure airport, the airfare itself, baggage fees and tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car also fit into this category.
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 are not called upon to work on those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours is also counted as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but could not due to reasons beyond your control (local transportation difficulties, power failure, etc.).
You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip whenever the business days exceed the 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 some notes to show you attended the sessions.
Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. Out-of-pocket 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.
In its efforts to combat identity theft, the IRS is stopping suspicious tax returns that have indications of being identity theft, but contain a real taxpayer’s name and/or Social Security number, and sending out Letter 5071C to request that the taxpayer verify his or her identity.
Letter 5071C is mailed through the U.S. Postal Service to the address on the return. It asks taxpayers to verify their identities in order for the IRS to complete processing of the returns if the taxpayers did file it or reject the returns if the taxpayers did not file it.
It is important to understand that the IRS does not request such information via e-mail; nor will the IRS call you directly to ask this information without first sending you a Letter 5071C. The letter number can be found in the upper corner of the page.
Letter 5071C gives you two options to contact the IRS and confirm whether or not you filed the return: You can (1) use the www.idverify.irs.gov site or (2) call a toll-free number on the letter. However, the IRS says that, because of the high volume on its toll-free numbers, the IRS-sponsored website, www.idverify.irs.gov, is the safest, fastest option for taxpayers with Web access.
Before accessing the website, be sure to have your prior-year and current-year tax returns available, including supporting documents, such as Forms W-2 and 1099. You will be asked a series of questions that only the real taxpayer can answer.
Once your identity is verified, you can confirm whether or not you filed the return in question. If you did not file the return, the IRS will take steps at that time to assist you. If you did file the return, it will take approximately six weeks to process it and issue a refund.
You should always be aware of tax scams, efforts to solicit personally identifiable information, and IRS impersonations. However, www.idverify.irs.gov is a secure, IRS-supported site that allows taxpayers to verify their identities quickly and safely. IRS.gov is the official IRS website. Always look for a URL ending with “.gov” — not “.com,” “.org,” “.net,” or other nongovernmental URLs.
A number of charities now ask their donors to consider donating life insurance policies rather than (or in addition to) cash in order to make substantially larger gifts than would otherwise be possible. The advantage to donors is that they can make a sizable gift with relatively little up-front cash (or even no cash, if an existing policy is donated). The fact that a charity may have to wait many years before receiving a payoff from the gift is typically not a problem, because charities normally earmark such gifts for their endowment or long-term building funds.
Of course, good reasons may exist for keeping the policy in force (such as to provide liquidity for a taxable estate or to meet the continuing needs of a surviving spouse or disabled child). Still, for individuals with both excess life insurance and a charitable intent, the donation of a life insurance policy may make sense.
If handled correctly, a life insurance policy donation can net the donor a charitable deduction for the value of the policy. A charitable deduction is also available for any cash contributed in future years to continue paying the premiums on a policy that was not fully paid up at the time it was donated. However, if handled incorrectly, no deduction is allowed. For this reason, we encourage you to contact us if you are considering donating a life insurance policy. We can help ensure that you receive the expected income tax deduction and that the contribution works as planned.
If you have a financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account exceeding certain thresholds, the Bank Secrecy Act may require you to report the account yearly to the IRS by filing a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Form 114 (“Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR)”).
Specifically, for 2014, Form 114 is required to be filed if during the year:
1. You had a financial interest in or signature authority over at least one foreign financial account (which can be anything from a securities, brokerage, mutual fund, savings, demand, checking, deposit, or time deposit account to commodity futures or options, and a whole life insurance or a cash value annuity policy); and
2. The aggregate value of all such foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2014.
The FBAR is filed on a separate return basis (that is, joint filings are not allowed). However, a spouse who has only a financial interest in a joint account that is reported on the other spouse’s FBAR does not have to file a separate FBAR.
The 2014 Form 114 must be filed by June 30, 2015, and cannot be extended. Furthermore, it must be filed electronically through http://bsaefiling.fincen.treas.gov/main.html. The penalty for failing to file Form 114 is substantial — up to $10,000 per violation (or the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the balance in an account if the failure is willful).
Please give us a call if you have any questions or would like us to prepare and file Form 114 for you.
If your college-age child is or will be receiving financial aid, congratulations. Now, you’ll probably want to know if the financial aid is taxable. Keep in mind that the economic characteristics of financial aid, rather than how it is titled, will determine its taxability. Strictly speaking, scholarships, fellowships, and grants are usually awards of “free money” that are nontaxable. However, these terms are also sometimes used to describe arrangements involving obligations to provide services, in which case the payments are taxable compensation.
Tax-free awards. Scholarships, fellowships, and grants are awarded based on the student’s financial need or are based on scholastic achievement and merit. Generally, for federal income tax purposes, these awards are nontaxable as long as (1) the recipient is a degree candidate, (2) the award does not exceed the recipient’s “qualified tuition and related expenses” (tuition and enrollment fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for courses, but not room and board or incidental expenses) for the year, (3) the agreement does not expressly designate the funds for other purposes (such as room and board or incidental expenses) or prohibit the use of the funds for qualified education expenses, and (4) the award is not conditioned on the student performing services (teaching, research, or anything else).
Work-study arrangements. If the financial aid is conditioned on the student performing services, the amount that represents payment for such services is taxable income and will be reported on a Form W-2 or Form 1099. This is true even if the work is integrated with the student’s curriculum or if the payment is called a scholarship, fellowship, or grant. Students typically work for the school they’re attending. However, they could work for other employers under the auspices of a work-study program.
Student loans. Naturally, student loan proceeds are not taxable income because the borrowed amounts must be paid back. However, some college education loans are subsidized to allow borrowers to pay reduced interest rates. Fortunately, college loan interest subsidies are nontaxable to the same extent as if they were provided in the form of an outright scholarship, fellowship, or grant. An above-the-line deduction (i.e., available whether or not the borrower itemizes) of up to $2,500 is allowed for interest expense paid by a taxpayer on a loan to fund qualified higher education expenses. The deduction is phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income exceeding certain amounts.
What happens when financial aid isn’t free? Fortunately, taxable scholarships, fellowships, grants, and compensation from work-study programs count as earned income. Assuming the student is your dependent, this means that for 2015 he or she can offset this income by his or her standard deduction of the greater of (1) $1,050 or (2) earned income plus $350, up to $6,300. Since taxable scholarships, fellowships, grants, and compensation count as earned income, they increase the student’s standard deduction. If the student isn’t anyone’s dependent for 2015, he or she can offset earned income of up to $10,300 with his or her personal exemption ($4,000) and standard deduction ($6,300). (Dependents are not entitled to a personal exemption.)
Taxable financial aid in excess of what can be offset by the student’s personal exemption (if any) and standard deduction is usually taxed at only 10%. (For 2015, the 10% bracket for single taxpayers applies to taxable income up to $9,225.)
Warning: The “kiddie tax” rules may cause investment income (such as interest, dividend, and capital gains) received by students who are under age 24 to be taxed at the parent’s higher rates instead of at the student’s lower rates. The student’s earned income (including taxable scholarships, fellowships, grants, and compensation) is not subject to the kiddie tax.
Please give us a call if you have questions or want more information.
Besides being the last day to file (or extend) your 2014 personal return and pay any tax that is due, 2015 first quarter estimated tax payments for individuals, trusts, and calendar-year corporations are due today. So are 2014 returns for trusts and calendar-year estates, partnerships, and LLCs, plus any final contribution you plan to make to an IRA or Education Savings Account for 2014. SEP and Keogh contributions are also due today if your return is not being extended.
Second quarter estimated tax payments for individuals, trusts, and calendar-year corporations are due today.
The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $14,000 for 2015. (Married couples can gift up to $28,000 combined.) This limit applies to the total of all gifts, including birthday and holiday gifts, made to the same individual during the year. However, any payment made directly to the medical care provider (for example, doctor, hospital, etc.) or educational organization for tuition is not subject to the gift tax and, therefore, is not included in the $14,000 limit.
So, when paying tuition or large medical bills for parents, grandchildren, or any other person who is not your dependent minor child, be sure to make the payment directly to the organization or service provider. Don’t give the funds to the parent or other individual first and have them pay the school, doctor, or hospital. By doing so, you have made a gift to that person, subject to the $14,000 limit. In summary, make direct payments to schools or medical providers and avoid taxable gifts that could be subject to the gift tax or reduce the payer’s unified credit.
Caution: Direct payments of tuition reduce the student’s eligibility for financial aid on a dollar-for-dollar basis. However, if the gift were made directly to the student, only 20% of the gifted assets would be counted as assets of the student for financial aid purposes. Accordingly, careful analysis of the trade-offs between the gift tax exclusion and impairment of financial aid eligibility should be considered.
The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (TIPA) was signed into law on December 19, 2014. Thankfully, TIPA retroactively extends most of the federal income tax breaks that would have affected many individuals and businesses through 2014. So, these provisions may have a positive impact on your 2014 returns. Unfortunately, these extended provisions expired again on December 31, 2014. So, unless Congress takes action again, these favorable provisions won’t be available for 2015.
In this article, we will discuss some of the extended provisions impacting individual taxpayers.
Qualified tuition deduction. This write-off, which can be as much as $4,000 for married taxpayers with adjusted gross income up to $130,000 ($65,000 if unmarried) or $2,000 for married taxpayers with adjusted gross income up to $160,000 ($80,000 if unmarried), expired at the end of 2013. TIPA retroactively restored it for 2014.
Tax-free treatment for forgiven principal residence mortgage debt. For federal income tax purposes, a forgiven debt generally counts as taxable Cancellation of Debt (COD) income. However, a temporary exception applied to COD income from canceled mortgage debt that was used to acquire a principal residence. Under the temporary rule, up to $2 million of COD income from principal residence acquisition debt that was canceled in 2007–2013 was treated as a tax-free item. TIPA retroactively extended this break to cover eligible debt cancellations that occurred in 2014.
$500 Energy-efficient Home Improvement Credit. In past years, taxpayers could claim a tax credit of up to $500 for certain energy-saving improvements to a principal residence. The credit equals 10% of eligible costs for energy-efficient insulation, windows, doors and roof, plus 100% of eligible costs for energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment, subject to a $500 lifetime cap. This break expired at the end of 2013, but TIPA retroactively restored it for 2014.
Mortgage insurance premium deduction. Premiums for qualified mortgage insurance on debt to acquire, construct or improve a first or second residence can potentially be treated as deductible qualified residence interest. The deduction is phased out for higher-income taxpayers. Before TIPA, this break wasn’t available for premiums paid after 2013. TIPA retroactively restored the break for premiums paid in 2014.
Option to deduct state and local sales taxes. In past years, individuals who paid little or no state income taxes had the option of claiming an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes. The option expired at the end of 2013, but TIPA retroactively restored it for 2014.
IRA Qualified Charitable Contributions (QCDs). For 2006–2013, IRA owners who had reached age 70½ were allowed to make tax-free charitable contributions of up to $100,000 directly out of their IRAs. These contributions counted as IRA Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Thus, charitably inclined seniors could reduce their income tax by arranging for tax-free QCDs to take the place of taxable RMDs. This break expired at the end of 2013, but TIPA retroactively restored it for 2014, so that it was available for qualifying distributions made before 2015.
$250 deduction for K-12 educators. For the last few years, teachers and other eligible personnel at K-12 schools could deduct up to $250 of school-related expenses paid out of their own pockets — whether they itemized or not. This break expired at the end of 2013. TIPA retroactively restored it for 2014.
Unfortunately, as we said at the beginning of this article, none of these favorable provisions will be available for 2015, unless Congress takes further action. This is entirely possible, but far from certain. We’ll keep you posted as the year progresses.
If you are getting a refund this year, here are four good reasons to choose direct deposit:
1. Convenience. With direct deposit, your refund goes directly into your bank account. There's no need to make a trip to the bank to deposit a check.
2. Security. Since your refund goes directly into your account, there’s no risk of your refund check being stolen or lost in the mail.
3. Ease. Choosing direct deposit is easy. You just need to provide us your bank account and routing number and we’ll take care of it.
4. Options. You can split your refund among up to three financial accounts. Checking, savings, and certain retirement, health and education accounts may qualify.
You can have your refund deposited into accounts that are in your own name, your spouse’s name, or both, but not to accounts owned by others. Some banks require both spouses’ names on the account to deposit a tax refund from a joint return. Check with your bank for its direct deposit requirements.
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. Likewise, standard mileage rates are available for computing the deduction when a vehicle is used for charitable, medical or moving purposes.
The 2015 standard mileage rates for use of a vehicle are 57.5 cents per mile for business miles (up from 56 cents per mile in 2014), 23 cents per mile for medical or moving purposes, and 14 cents per mile for rendering gratuitous services to a charitable organization.
The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the charitable and medical/moving rates because it contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the charitable or medical/moving use of a vehicle.
In addition to deductions based on the business standard mileage rate, taxpayers may deduct the parking fees and tolls attributable to the business use of an automobile, as well as interest expense relating to the purchase of the automobile and state and local personal property taxes. However, employees using a vehicle to perform services as an employee cannot deduct interest expense related to that vehicle. Also, if the vehicle is operated less than 100% for business purposes, the taxpayer must allocate the business and non-business portion of the allowable taxes and interest deduction.
For plan years beginning after 2013, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) institutes so-called market reform provisions that place a whole host of new restrictions on group health plans. The penalty for violating the market reform restrictions is a punitive $100-per-day, per-employee penalty; or $36,500 per employee, per year. With a limited exception, these new market reform provisions significantly restrict an employer’s ability to reimburse employees for premiums paid on individual health insurance policies, referred to as employer payment arrangements.
Under employer payment arrangements, the employer reimburses employees for premiums they pay on their individual health insurance policies (or the employer sometimes pays the premium on behalf of the employee). As long as the employer (1) makes the reimbursement under a qualified medical reimbursement plan and (2) verifies that the reimbursement was spent only for insurance coverage, the premium reimbursement is excludable from the employee’s taxable income. These arrangements have long been popular with small employers who want to offer health insurance but are unwilling or unable to purchase group health coverage.
Unfortunately, according to the IRS and Department of Labor (DOL), group health plans can’t be integrated with individual market policies to meet the new market reform provisions. Furthermore, according to the DOL, an employer that reimburses employees for individual policies (on a pretax or after-tax basis) has established a group health plan because the arrangement’s purpose is to provide medical care to its employees. Therefore, reimbursing employees for premiums paid on individual policies violates the market reform provisions, potentially subjecting the employer to a $100 per-day, per-employee ($36,500 per year, per employee) penalty.
Limited exception for one-employee plans. The market reform provisions do not apply to group health plans that have only one participating employee. Therefore, it is still allowable to provide an employer payment arrangement that covers only one employee. Note, however, that nondiscrimination rules require that essentially all full-time employees must participate in the plan
Bottom line. While still technically allowed under the tax code, employer payment arrangements, other than arrangements covering only one employee, are no longer a viable alternative.
First of all, don’t panic. You are not alone. The impact of the market reform provisions to these plans has come as a great surprise to many small business employers, not to mention the tax practitioner community, and we believe there is reasonable cause to keep the penalty from applying for earlier payments. However, it is important to discontinue making payments under the plan and rescind any written documents. Also, any reimbursements made after 2013 should be classified as taxable wages.
Because of the ACA market reform requirements, employers are basically precluded from subsidizing or reimbursing employees for individual health insurance policies if there is more than one employee participating in the plan. Employers can, however, continue to do any of the following:
· Provide a tax-free fringe benefit by purchasing an ACA-approved employer-sponsored group health plan. Small employers with 50 or fewer employees can provide a group health plan through the Small Business Health Options Plan (SHOP) Marketplace. A cafeteria plan can be set up for pretax funding of the employee portion of the premium.
· Increase the employee’s taxable wages to provide funds that the employee may use to pay for individual insurance policies. However, the employer cannot require that the funds be used to pay for insurance — it must be the employee’s decision to do so (or not). The employer can claim a deduction for the wages paid. The wages are taxable to the employee, but the employee can claim the premiums as an itemized deduction subject to the 10%-of-AGI limit (7.5% if age 65 or older).
If you have any questions, please give us a call.
• Individual taxpayers’ final 2014 estimated tax payment is due unless Form 1040 is filed by February 2, 2015, and any tax due is paid with the return.
• Most employers must file Form 941 (“Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”) to report Medicare, Social Security, and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2014. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
• Employers who have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return”).
• Give your employees their copies of Form W-2 for 2014. If an employee agreed to receive Form W-2 electronically, have it posted on the website and notify the employee.
• Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014. You can use the appropriate version of Form 1099 or other information return. Form 1099 can be filed electronically with the consent of the recipient.
• File Form 940 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return”) for 2014. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
• File Form 945 (“Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax”) for 2014 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, etc. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.
• File Form 943 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees”) to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
• The government’s copy of Form 1099 series returns (along with the appropriate transmittal form) should be sent in by today. However, if these forms will be filed electronically, the due date is extended to March 31.
• The government’s copy of Form W-2 series returns (along with the appropriate transmittal Form W-3) should be sent in by today. However, if these forms will be filed electronically, the due date is extended to March 31.
• 2014 income tax returns must be filed or extended for calendar-year corporations. If the return is not extended, this is also the last day for calendar-year corporations to make 2014 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
The annual inflation adjustments have also impacted the various Social Security amounts and thresholds for 2015.
The Social Security wage base, for computing the Social Security tax (OASDI only), increases to $118,500 in 2015, up from $117,000 for 2014. There is no taxable earnings limit for Medicare (HI only) contributions. However, there is a 0.9% Medicare surtax that is imposed on wages and self-employment (SE) income in excess of the modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) threshold amounts of $250,000 for joint filers, $125,000 for married separate filers, and $200,000 for all other taxpayers. The MAGI thresholds are not adjusted for inflation. The surtax does not apply to the employer portion of the tax.
For Social Security beneficiaries under the full retirement age, the annual exempt amount increases to $15,720 in 2015, up from $15,480 in 2014. These beneficiaries will be subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $2 they earn in excess of $15,720 in 2015. However, in the year beneficiaries reach their full retirement age (FRA), earnings above a different annual exemption amount ($41,880 in 2015, up from $41,400 in 2014) are subject to $1 reduction in benefits for each $3 earned over this exempt amount. Social Security benefits are not reduced by earned income beginning with the month the beneficiary reaches FRA. But remember, Social Security benefits received may be subject to federal income tax.
The Social Security Administration estimates the average retired worker will receive $1,328 monthly in 2015. The average monthly benefit for an aged couple where both are receiving monthly benefits is $2,176. These amounts reflect a 1.7% cost of living adjustment (COLA). The maximum 2015 Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at FRA is $2,663 per month, up from $2,642 in 2014.
The tax laws generally require individuals with retirement accounts to take annual withdrawals based on the size of their account and their age beginning with the year they reach age 70½. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount not withdrawn.
If you turned age 70½ in 2014, you can delay your 2014 required distribution to 2015. Think twice before doing so, though, as this will result in two distributions in 2015 — the amount required for 2014 plus the amount required for 2015, which might throw you into a higher tax bracket or trigger the 3.8% net investment income tax. On the other hand, it could be beneficial to take both distributions in 2015 if you expect to be in a substantially lower tax bracket in 2015.
You might want to consider three charitable giving strategies that can help boost your 2014 charitable contribution deduction.
1. Use your credit card. Donations charged to a credit card are deductible in the year charged, not when payment is made on the card. Thus, charging donations to your credit card before year end enables you to increase your 2014 charitable donation deduction even if you're temporarily short on cash or just want to put off payment until later.
2. Donate a life insurance policy. A number of charities are asking their donors to consider donating life insurance policies rather than (or in addition to) cash in order to make substantially larger gifts than would otherwise be possible. The advantage to donors is that they can make a sizable gift with relatively little up-front cash (or even no cash, if an existing policy is donated). The fact that a charity may have to wait many years before receiving a payoff from the gift is typically not a problem because charities normally earmark such gifts for their endowment or long-term building funds.
If handled correctly, a life insurance policy donation can net the donor a charitable deduction for the value of the policy. A charitable deduction is also available for any cash contributed in future years to continue paying the premiums on a policy that was not fully paid up at the time it was donated. However, if handled incorrectly, no deduction is allowed. For this reason, we encourage you to contact us if you are considering the donation of a life insurance policy. We can help ensure that you receive the expected income or transfer tax deduction and that the contribution works as planned.
3. Take advantage of a donor-advised fund. Another charitable giving approach you might want to consider is the donor-advised fund. These funds essentially allow you to obtain an immediate tax deduction for setting aside funds that will be used for future charitable donations.
With donor-advised funds, which are available through a number of major mutual fund companies, as well as universities and community foundations, you contribute money or securities to an account established in your name. You then choose among investment options and, on your own timetable, recommend grants to charities of your choice.
The minimum for establishing a donor-advised fund is often $10,000 or more, but these funds can make sense if you want to obtain a tax deduction now but take your time in determining or making payments to the recipient charity or charities. These funds can also be a way to establish a family philanthropic legacy without incurring the administrative costs and headaches of establishing a private foundation.
Individual Year End Tax Planning Ideas
As we approach year end, it's time again to focus on last-minute moves you can make to save taxes — both on your 2014 return and in future years. Here are a few ideas.
Maximize the benefit of the standard deduction. For 2014, the standard deduction is $12,400 for married taxpayers filing joint returns. For single taxpayers, the amount is $6,200. Currently, it looks like these amounts will be about the same for 2015. If your total itemized deductions each year are normally close to these amounts, you may be able to leverage the benefit of your deductions by bunching deductions in every other year. This allows you to time your itemized deductions so they are high in one year and low in the next. For instance, you might consider moving charitable donations you normally would make in early 2015 to the end of 2014. If you're temporarily short on cash, charge the contribution to a credit card — it is deductible in the year charged, not when payment is made on the card. You can also accelerate payments of your real estate taxes or state income taxes otherwise due in early 2015. But, watch out for the alternative minimum tax (AMT), as these taxes are not deductible for AMT purposes.
Consider deferring income. It may be beneficial to defer some taxable income from this year into next year, especially if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket in 2015 or affected by unfavorable phase out rules that reduce or eliminate various tax breaks (child tax credit, education tax credits, and so forth) in 2014. By deferring income every other year, you may be able to take more advantage of these breaks every other year. For example, if you're in business for yourself and a cash-method taxpayer, you can postpone taxable income by waiting until late in the year to send out some client invoices. That way, you won't receive payment for them until early 2015. You can also postpone taxable income by accelerating some deductible business expenditures into this year. Both moves will defer taxable income from this year until next year.
Secure a deduction for nearly worthless securities. If you own any securities that are all but worthless with little hope of recovery, you might consider selling them before the end of the year so you can capitalize on the loss this year. You can deduct a loss on worthless securities only if you can prove the investment is completely worthless. Thus, a deduction is not available, as long as you own the security and it has any value at all. Total worthlessness can be very difficult to establish with any certainty. To avoid the issue, it may be easier just to sell the security if it has any marketable value. As long as the sale is not to a family member, this allows you to claim a loss for the difference between your tax basis and the proceeds (subject to the normal rules for capital losses and the wash sale rules restricting the recognition of loss if the security is repurchased within 30 days before or after the sale).
Invest in tax-free securities. The most obvious source of tax-free income is tax-exempt securities, either owned outright or through a mutual fund. Whether these provide a better return than the after-tax return on taxable investments depends on your tax bracket and the market interest rates for tax-exempt investments. With the additional layer of net investment income taxes on higher income taxpayers, this year might be a good time to compare the return on taxable and tax-exempt investments. In some cases, it may be as simple as transferring assets from a taxable to a tax-exempt fund.
Again, these are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. Please call us if you'd like to know more about them or want to discuss other ideas.
Eight Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions
If you are looking for a tax deduction, giving to charity can be a “win-win” situation. It’s good for them and good for you. Here are eight things you should know about deducting your contributions to charity:
1. You must donate to a qualified charity if you want to deduct the contribution. You can’t deduct contributions to individuals, political organizations, or candidates.
2. To deduct your contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions.
3. If you get a benefit in return for your contribution, your deduction is limited. You can only deduct the amount of your contribution that’s more than the value of what you received in return. Examples of such benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to an event, or other goods and services.
4. If you give property instead of cash, the deduction is usually that item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price you would get if you sold the property on the open market.
5. Used clothing and household items generally must be in good condition to be deductible. Special rules apply to vehicle donations.
6. You must file Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions,” if your deduction for all noncash contributions is more than $500 for the year.
7. You must keep records to prove the amount of the contributions you make during the year. The kind of records you must keep depends on the amount and type of your donation. For example, you must have a written record of any cash you donate, regardless of the amount, to claim a deduction. It can be a canceled check, a letter from the organization, or a bank or payroll statement. It should include the name of the charity, the date, and the amount donated. A cell phone bill meets this requirement for text donations if it shows this same information.
8. To claim a deduction for donated cash or property of $250 or more, you must have a written statement from the organization. It must show the amount of the donation and a description of any property given. It must also say whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the contribution.
Simple Tax Savings Techniques for Security Gains
The market swings over the last several years may have you wondering whether it’s time to capitalize on some market gains. While taxes should not be the main consideration in this decision, they certainly need to be considered, as they can make a significant impact on your investment return.
With that in mind, here are a couple of tax-smart strategies to consider as you analyze your investment opportunities and decide what to do about recent gains.
Should you wait to sell until the stock qualifies for long-term capital gains treatment?
If the stock sale qualifies for long-term capital gains treatment, it will be taxed at a maximum tax rate of 23.8%. Otherwise it will be taxed at your ordinary-income tax rate, which can be as high as 43.4%.
Clearly, you’ll pay less taxes (and keep more of your gains) if the stock sale qualifies for long-term capital gains treatment. The amount of taxes you’ll save depends on your ordinary-income tax bracket.
To qualify for the preferential long-term capital gains rates, you must hold the stock for more than 12 months. The holding period generally begins the day after you purchase the stock and runs through (and includes) the date you sell it. These rules must be followed exactly, because missing the required holding period by even one day prevents you from using the preferential rates.
The question then becomes: "Are the tax savings that would be realized by holding the asset for the long-term period worth the investment risk that the asset’s value will fall during the same time period? " If you think the value will fall significantly, liquidating quickly- regardless of tax consequences- may be the better option. Otherwise, the potential risk of holding an asset should be weighed against the tax benefit of qualifying for a reduced tax rate.
Comparing the risk of a price decline to the potential tax benefit of holding an investment for a certain time is not an exact science. We’d be glad to help you weigh your options.
Use "specific ID method" to minimize taxes
If you are considering selling less than your entire interest in a security that you purchased at various times for various prices, you have a couple of options for identifying the particular shares sold:
(1) The first-in, first-out (FIFO) method and
(2) The specific ID method.
FIFO is used if you do not (or cannot) specifically identify which shares of stock are sold, so the oldest securities are assumed to be sold first. Alternatively, you can use the specific ID method to select the particular shares you wish to sell. This is typically the preferred method, as it allows you at least some level of control over the amount and character of the gain (or loss) realized on the sale, which can lead to tax-savings opportunities.
The specific ID method requires that you adequately identify the specific stock to be sold. This can be accomplished by delivering the specific shares to be sold to the broker selling the stock. Alternatively, if the securities are held by your broker, IRS regulations say you should notify your broker regarding which shares you want to sell and the broker should then issue you a written confirmation of your instructions.
Weddings Mean Tax Changes
It may not be as high on the wedding plan checklist as the venue, invitations and attire, but there are important tax issues created by a marriage that warrant some prompt attention following the wedding.
Name change. Anytime names are changed, it should be reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The name associated with an individual’s Social Security Number (SSN) should match the name on the tax return. To change a name with the SSA, file Form SS-5, “Application for a Social Security Card.” The form is available from www.ssa.gov, by calling (800) 772-1213, or from the local SSA office.
Address change. Let the IRS know about an address change by filing Form 8822, “Change of Address.” Also notify the U.S. Postal Service at www.usps.com to forward mail. You may also report the change at your local post office.
Change tax withholding. A change in marital status requires that a new Form W-4, “Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate,” be furnished to the employer(s). Combined incomes may move the taxpayers into a higher tax bracket. Search www.irs.gov for the IRS Withholding Calculator tool for help completing the new Form W-4.
Change in filing status. Marital status is determined as of December 31 each year. Spouses can choose to file jointly or separately each year. We can help you make that determination by calculating your tax liability both ways.
Change in circumstances. Taxpayers receiving an advance payment of the health care premium tax credit in 2014 should report changes in circumstances, such as a change in income or family size, to the Health Insurance Marketplace. Also, the Marketplace should be notified when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace to ensure you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance.
Small Business Resources
If you are a small business owner, here is a list of organizations that may have tools, information, and other resources to help your business grow.
Business USA The mission of Business USA is to be a centralized, one-stop platform for businesses to access government services to help them grow and hire. Business USA uses technology to connect businesses to the services and information relevant to them, regardless of where the information is located or which government agency’s website, call center, or office they go to for help.
Department of Agriculture, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) The mission of the OSDBU is to provide maximum opportunities for small businesses to participate in USDA contracting activities by establishing and attaining small disadvantaged business program goals.
Department of Commerce The Commerce Department’s mission is to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity by promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, competitiveness, and stewardship.
Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) OSHA’s mission is to assure the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health.
GobiernoUSA.gov The U.S. government’s official Spanish language web portal.
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) SCORE is a nonprofit organization that is federally supported to provide free business mentoring and low-cost training to aspiring and existing business owners.
Small Business Administration (SBA) The mission of the SBA is to maintain and strengthen the nation’s economy by enabling the establishment and viability of small businesses and by assisting in the economic recovery of communities after disasters.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) SBDCs, which are located across the U.S., are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies. SBDC advisors provide free business consulting and low-cost training services including business plan development, financial packaging and lending assistance, exporting and importing support, procurement and contracting aid, and health care guidance.
Social Security Administration The Social Security Administration is the nation’s primary income security agency. It pays retirement, disability, and survivors benefits to workers and their families; administers the Supplemental Security Income program; and issues Social Security numbers.
State and Local Contacts The State and Local Government on the Net directory provides convenient one-stop access to the websites of thousands of state agencies and city and county governments.
U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) The DOL administers a variety of federal labor laws, including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions, a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay, freedom from employment discrimination, unemployment insurance, and other income support.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) The mission of the EEOC is to eradicate employment discrimination at the workplace.
USA.gov The U.S. government’s official Web portal.
What you need to know about required health insurance coverage for 2014
Beginning in 2014, the individual shared responsibility provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires you and each member of your family to have qualifying health insurance (called minimum essential coverage), have an exemption, or pay a shared responsibility penalty with your 2014 individual income tax return, Form 1040. Many people already have minimum essential coverage and don’t need to do anything more than maintain that coverage.
Do I have minimum essential coverage? You have minimum essential coverage if you have employer-sponsored coverage, coverage obtained through a Health Insurance Marketplace, or coverage through a government-sponsored program. Coverage under certain other plans will qualify as well. You must maintain this coverage for each month of the calendar year.
Am I eligible for an exemption? You may be exempt from the requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage if you’re a member of certain religious sects, a federally recognized Indian tribe, or a health care sharing ministry. You may also be eligible if you are suffering a hardship, meet certain income criteria, or are uninsured for less than three consecutive months of the year.
Will I have to pay a penalty? If you or any of your dependents don’t have minimum essential coverage or an exemption, you will have to pay an individual shared responsibility penalty with your tax return.
For 2014, the annual shared responsibility penalty is the greater of:
However, the maximum amount cannot be more than the cost of the national average premium for a bronze level health plan available through the Marketplace in 2014.
2015 HSA amounts
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) were created as a tax-favored framework to provide health care benefits mainly for small business owners, the self-employed, and employees of small to medium-size companies who do not have access to health insurance.
The tax benefits of HSAs are quite substantial. Eligible individuals can make tax-deductible (as an adjustment to AGI) contributions into HSA accounts. The funds in the account may be invested (somewhat like an IRA), so there is an opportunity for growth. The earnings inside the HSA are free from federal income tax, and funds withdrawn to pay eligible health care costs are tax-free.
An HSA is a tax-exempt trust or custodial account established exclusively for the purpose of paying qualified medical expenses of the participant who, for the months for which contributions are made to an HSA, is covered under a high-deductible health plan. Consequently, an HSA is not insurance; it is an account, which must be opened with a bank, brokerage firm, or other provider (i.e., insurance company). It is therefore different from a Flexible Spending Account in that it involves an outside provider serving as a custodian or trustee.
The recently released 2015 inflation-adjusted contribution limit for individual self-only coverage under a high-deductible plan is $3,350, while the comparable amount for family coverage is $6,650. For 2015, a high-deductible health plan is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,300 for self-only coverage and $2,600 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles and copayments, but not premiums) must not exceed $6,450 for self-only coverage or $12,900 for family coverage.
Do you need to adjust your federal income tax withholding amount?
With over half the year already gone, now is a good time to check to see if you are on track to have about the right amount of federal income tax withheld from your paychecks for 2014. The problem with not having the correct amount of taxes withheld for the year is that:
Neither situation is good. The simplest way to correct your withholding is by turning in a new Form W-4 ("Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate") to your employer. Taking this action now will adjust the amount of federal income tax that is withheld from your paychecks for the rest of 2014.
Specifically, you can adjust your withholding by increasing or decreasing the number of allowances claimed on your Form W-4. The more allowances claimed, the lower the withholding from each paycheck; the fewer allowances claimed, the greater the withholding. If claiming zero allowances for the rest of the year would still not result in enough extra withholding, you can ask your employer to withhold an additional amount of federal income tax from each paycheck.
While filling out a new Form W-4 seems like something that should be quick and easy, it's not necessarily so - because the tax rules are neither quick nor easy. Fortunately, there is an online Form W-4 calculator on the IRS website at www.irs.gov that can help to make the job simpler. From the IRS home page, click on the "More ..." link under "Tools." Then click on the "IRS withholding calculator" link. You will see the entry point for the online calculator. It's pretty easy to use once you assemble information about your expected 2014 income and expenses, plus your most recent pay stub and tax return.
Please understand that the IRS calculator is not perfect. (Remember, it's free, and to some extent, you always get what you pay for.) However, using the calculator to make withholding allowance changes on a new Form W-4 filed with your employer is probably better than doing nothing, especially if you believe you are likely to be significantly underwithheld or overwithheld for this year.
Of course, if you want more precise results, we would be happy to put together a 2014 tax projection for you. At the same time, we can probably recommend some planning strategies to lower this year's tax bill. Contact us for details.
Midyear Tax Planning Ideas
Tax planning is a year-round process, so now is a good time to think about the following:
Are you considering making a cash gift to a relative? If so, consider making the gift in conjunction with the overall revamping of your stocks and mutual funds held in taxable brokerage accounts to achieve better tax results. Don’t gift loser shares (currently worth less than you paid for them). Instead, sell these shares, recognize the capital loss on your tax return, and then gift the cash proceeds to a relative. However, do gift winner shares to lower tax bracket relatives (unless they are under age 24 and subject to the Kiddie Tax). The 2014 annual gift tax exclusion is $14,000.
Are you considering making a contribution to a favorite charity? The previous strategies will also work well for contributions to qualified charities. Sell loser shares, recognize the loss on your tax return, and then give the cash proceeds to the charity and claim the resulting charitable contribution (if you itemize). Donate winner shares to the charity and deduct the full current fair market value at the time of the gift (without being taxed on the capital gain). The tax-exempt organization can sell your donated shares without owing tax.
Are you self-employed? Consider employing your child in the business (but pay a reasonable wage for their age and work skills). This practice can shift income (which is not subject to the Kiddie Tax) to the child who is normally in a lower tax bracket, decrease payroll taxes, and enable the child to contribute to an IRA.
Is your estate plan current? If you already have an estate plan, it may need updating to reflect the current estate and gift tax rules. For 2014, the unified federal gift and estate tax exemption is a generous $5.34 million, and the rate is 40%. Furthermore, the impact of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision and resulting IRS changes in the federal definition of marriage mean that legally married same-sex couples need to revise their estate plan. Plus, there may be nontax reasons to update your estate plan.
Please contact us to discuss any tax planning strategies you are interested in implementing.
IRS Warns Taxpayers to Beware of Phishing Scams
Phishing is a scam typically carried out by unsolicited e-mail and/or bogus websites posing as legitimate sites luring unsuspecting victims to provide personal and financial information. The IRS has recently warned consumers to watch for e-mails appearing to be from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) that include a bogus case number. The e-mail may include the following message: “Your reported 2013 income is flagged for review due to a document processing error. Your case has been forwarded to the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance. To avoid delays processing your 2013 filing contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance.” The e-mail may contain links appearing to provide information about the “advocate” assigned to the recipient’s case but actually lead to Web pages soliciting personal information.
If you receive an e-mail claiming to be from the IRS that contains a request for personal information, do not reply to the e-mail, open any attachments, or click on any links. Instead, forward the e-mail to the IRS at email@example.com. After forwarding the e-mail to the IRS, delete the original e-mail you received.
Remember, the IRS, including the TAS, does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail, text, or any social media.
If you receive a phone call from an individual claiming to be from the IRS but you suspect they are not an IRS employee: (1) Ask for a call-back number and employee badge number, and (2) contact the IRS to determine if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you. If you determine it is a legitimate call, then call the IRS employee back or call us to handle it for you. If you receive a notice or letter via paper mail, contact us to help you determine if it is a legitimate IRS letter. If it is a legitimate IRS letter, we can help you reply if needed. For information on how to contact the IRS, see http://www.irs.gov/uac/How-to-Contact-the-IRS-1. If either the caller or letter is not legitimate, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report.shtml.
Taxing Social Security Benefits
Some taxpayers must include up to 85% of their Social Security benefits in taxable income, while others find that their benefits are not taxable at all. If Social Security is your only source of income, your benefits probably won’t be taxable. In fact, you may not even need to file a federal income tax return. If you get income from other sources, however, you may have to pay taxes on at least a portion of your Social Security benefits. Your income and filing status will also affect whether you must pay taxes on your Social Security benefits.
A quick way to find out if any of your benefits may be taxable is to add half of your Social Security benefits to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest. Next, compare this total to the following base amounts. If your total is more than the base amount for your filing status, then some of your benefits may be taxable. The three base amounts are:
To avoid tax time surprises, Social Security recipients can request that federal income tax be withheld from their benefit payments. Withholding is voluntary and can be initiated by completing IRS Form W-4V (“Voluntary Withholding Request”), requesting to have 7%, 10%, 15%, or 25% (those are the only choices) withheld for federal income tax, and submitting the form to the local Social Security Administration office. Voluntary withholding can be stopped by completing a new Form W-4V.
Taxing a Child's Investment Income
Some children who receive investment income are required to file a tax return and pay tax on at least a portion of that income (and possibly at the parents’ marginal tax rate). This is often referred to as the kiddie tax. The kiddie tax cannot be computed accurately until the parents’ income is known. Thus, the child’s return may have to be extended until the parents’ return has been completed. Additionally, if the parents’ return is amended or adjusted upon IRS audit, the child’s return could require correction (assuming the changes to the parental return affect the tax bracket). If a child cannot file his or her own tax return for any reason, such as age, the child’s parent or guardian is responsible for filing a return on the child’s behalf.
There are tax rules that affect how parents report a child’s investment income. Investment income normally includes interest, dividends, capital gains, and other unearned income, such as from a trust. Some parents can include their child’s investment income on their tax return. Other children may have to file their own tax return. Special rules apply if a child’s total investment income is more than $2,000. Finally, the parents’ tax rate may apply to part of that income instead of the child’s tax rate.
Note: Higher income individuals subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (3.8% NIIT) may benefit from shifting income to and having their child claim investment income on the child’s tax return. This may be advantageous because the child receives his or her own $200,000 exclusion from the 3.8% NIIT.
Tax Implications of Investor or Trader Status
Most taxpayers who trade stocks are classified as investors for tax purposes. This means any net gains are going to be treated as capital gains vs. ordinary income. That's good if your net gains are long term from positions held more than a year. 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. 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 they 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, which is limited to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separate) per year deduction once any capital gains have been offset. Thus, it's no surprise that in two recent Tax Court cases the taxpayers were trying to convince the court they qualified as traders. Although both taxpayers failed, and got hit with negligence penalties on top of back taxes, the cases provide good insights into what it takes to successfully meet the test for trader status.
The answer is pretty simple. A taxpayer's trading must be "substantial." Also, it must be designed to try to catch the swings in the daily market movements, and to profit from these short-term changes rather than from the long-term holding of investments.
So, what counts as 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 in the year, as substantial. Consequently, a few hundred trades, especially when occurring only sporadically during the year, are not likely to pass muster. In addition, the average duration for holding any one position needs to be very short, preferably only a day or two. If you satisfy all of these conditions, then even though there's no guarantee (because the test is subjective), the chances are good that you'd ultimately be able to prove trader vs. investor status if you were challenged. Of course, even if you don't satisfy one of the tests, you might still prevail, but the odds against you are presumably higher.
If you have any questions about this area of the tax law or any other tax compliance or planning issue, please feel free to contact us.
Double Benefit From a Tax Deduction
For most taxpayers, the amount of federal income tax they pay depends on where they fall in the federal income tax brackets and the breakdown of their taxable income between ordinary (e.g., wages) and capital gains from the sale of assets (e.g., common stock). Taxpayers eligible for the lower federal income tax brackets (those under 25%) on their ordinary income can generally expect to be taxed at 0% on their long-term capital gains. Taxpayers in the 25% or higher federal income tax brackets can generally expect to be taxed at either 15% or 20% (again, exceptions apply) on at least a portion of their long-term capital gains.
It seems inevitable that, as federal taxable income increases, the rate we pay on at least a portion of that income also increases. The converse should and does apply. That is, as federal taxable income decreases, the rate of tax we pay on at least a portion of that income also decreases. In addition, if a taxpayer has a long-term capital gain that, after considering ordinary income, is partially taxed at the 0% rate, any additional deduction that decreases ordinary income will simultaneously decrease the tax rate on a comparable amount of long-term capital gain from 15% to 0%. This has the effect of producing a double benefit for that deduction, as shown in the following example.
Example: Jack and Julie, filing jointly for 2014, have net ordinary income of $60,000 and a long-term capital gain from the sale of stock of $40,000, for total income of $100,000. For 2014, the joint rates applicable to ordinary taxable income change from 15% to 25% at $73,800. Accordingly, $13,800 ($73,800 - $60,000) of their long-term capital gain will be taxed at 0% and the balance of $26,200 ($40,000 - $13,800) is taxable at 15%. All income, both capital and ordinary, is taxed at a rate of 15% or less.
If Jack and Julie contribute $11,000 to their deductible IRAs ($5,500 each for 2014, assuming they are both under age 50), they receive a 30% tax rate savings, even though their highest tax bracket is 15%. The $11,000 IRA deduction reduces ordinary income at the 15% rate, but also shifts $11,000 of capital gain taxation from the 15% to the 0% bracket, for another 15% savings. This produces a total tax benefit of 30% on the $11,000 reduction.
A similar impact would occur for any expenditure or deduction that reduced ordinary income (i.e., Section 179 expense, additional interest expense, etc.). Conversely, adding ordinary income at the 15% bracket would cause a 30% impact, as additional ordinary income would push a portion of the capital gains formerly at 0% upward into the 15% bracket.
Lifetime vs. Testamentary Contributions
Many taxpayers with charitable intentions struggle with the decision of whether to donate property to charity during their lifetimes or to make a charitable bequest in their wills that will be fulfilled from property included in their estates (testamentary bequests). While taxpayers frequently base their choice between lifetime charitable gifts and testamentary bequests on nontax considerations, they need to be aware of the tax implications of their decision.
For income tax purposes, the deduction for charitable contributions is limited to a percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI), depending on the type of charity and the type of property donated. In contrast, no percentage limitation exists on the amount of charitable donations that may be deducted from the gross estate (as long as the donated property is included in the gross estate). However, in most instances a charitable gift during lifetime will provide a double tax benefit. The donation produces an income tax deduction at the time of the gift, plus the donated property and any future income and appreciation from the property are fully excluded from the donor's gross estate. The cost of the double benefit is giving up the property and all future income while the donor is still living.
Example: Greater tax benefits by lifetime giving
Tom, who is in the top tax bracket, plans on leaving $1 million to a qualifying charity. If he makes a $1 million testamentary bequest, this could save his estate up to $400,000 ($1,000,000 x an assumed marginal federal estate tax rate of 40%). If Tom makes a current gift, this will save him up to $396,000 in federal income taxes ($1,000,000 x 39.6% for 2014). In addition, if he has a taxable estate, it could also save another $241,600 [($1,000,000 - $396,000) x 40%] based on his estate being reduced by the net amount of $604,000, the difference between the value of the donated property and income taxes he saved. Thus, the total income and estate tax savings from making a current gift is $637,600 ($396,000 + $241,600).
The donor generally must transfer his or her entire interest in the contributed property for the gift to qualify for the charitable donation income tax deduction. Transfers of less than the donor's entire interest in the property (i.e., split-interest gifts) qualify for the deduction only if they meet certain criteria.
A charitable bequest has the obvious advantage of allowing the donor full use of the property until death. However, many lifetime gifts can be structured in a manner that allows the donor to continue to use the property or receive its income for life. In these instances, the donor gets the double tax benefit associated with lifetime contributions while retaining some benefit from the property until his or her death.
Passive Activity Loss Limitations
The passive activity loss (PAL) rules were introduced by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and were designed to curb perceived tax shelter abuses. However, the PAL rules are far-reaching and affect activities other than tax shelters. Additionally, these rules limit the deductibility of losses for federal income tax purposes.
The PAL rules provide that passive losses can only be used to offset passive income, not active income the owners may earn from business activities in which they materially participate or portfolio income they receive from investments, such as dividend and interest income. So, while taxpayers may not benefit currently from losses sustained from passive activities, they may be able to use those losses to offset gains in future years.
A passive activity is a trade or business in which the taxpayer does not materially participate or, with certain exceptions, any rental activity. Rental activities generally are passive regardless of whether the taxpayer materially participates. However, the rental real estate activities of certain qualifying taxpayers in real estate businesses are subject to the same general rule that applies to nonrental activities. In other words, if the taxpayer satisfies certain participation requirements, the rental activity is nonpassive and any losses or credits it generates can be used to offset the taxpayer’s other nonpassive income. Additionally, federal regulations provide several exceptions to the general rule allowing a rental activity to be treated as either a trade or business or an investment activity.
A special rule allows taxpayers who actively participate in a rental activity to deduct up to $25,000 of loss from the activity each year regardless of the PAL rules. Examples of what would constitute active participation include approving new tenants, deciding on rental terms, and approving capital or repair expenditures. The $25,000 special allowance is, however, subject to a limitation. The $25,000 amount is reduced if the taxpayer has an adjusted gross income (AGI) (before passive losses) in excess of $100,000. The allowance is reduced by 50% of the amount by which AGI exceeds the $100,000 level. Consequently, the allowance is completely phased out when AGI exceeds $150,000. If taxpayers have rehabilitation or low-income housing credits, a special rule allows the credits to offset tax on nonpassive income of up to $25,000, regardless of the limitation based on AGI.
Another special rule is the exception for real estate professionals. This provision allows qualifying real estate professionals to deduct losses from rental real estate activities as nonpassive losses if they materially participate in the activity. To qualify as a real estate professional, a taxpayer must demonstrate that he or she spends more than 750 hours during the tax year in real property businesses in which they are a material participant. In addition, they must demonstrate that more than 50% of the services they perform in all of their businesses during the tax year are performed in real property businesses in which they materially participate.
Please contact us to discuss the passive activity provisions or any other tax planning or compliance issue.
Social Security Update
The annual inflation adjustments have been announced for the various Social Security amounts and thresholds, so we thought it would be a good time to update you for 2014.
For Social Security beneficiaries under the full retirement age, the annual exempt amount increases to $15,480 in 2014, up from $15,120 in 2013. These beneficiaries will be subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $2 they earn in excess of $15,480 in 2014. However, in the year beneficiaries reach their full retirement age, earnings above a different annual exempt amount apply. Earnings greater than $41,400 in 2014 (up from $40,080 in 2013) are subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $3 earned over this exempt amount. Social Security benefits are not reduced by earned income beginning with the month the beneficiary reaches full benefit retirement age. But remember, Social Security benefits received may be subject to federal income tax.
The Social Security Administration estimates the average retired worker will receive $1,294 monthly in 2014. The average monthly benefit for an aged couple where both are receiving monthly benefits is $2,111. These amounts reflect a 1.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA). The maximum 2014 Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age is $2,642 per month, up from $2,533 in 2013.
Retirement Plan Review
Your retirement plan savings (e.g., qualified plans and IRAs) are important to your financial well-being for many reasons. You can accumulate income without currently paying tax, and the power of compounding pretax dollars makes a retirement plan one of the most powerful investment vehicles available. When you reach retirement age, your retirement plan assets may be a significant portion of your overall savings. Therefore, it is important to do everything you can to get the most out of one of the best investment opportunities you have. Listed below is information to consider when conducting a review of your retirement plans.
Generally, when you begin to withdraw funds from your retirement plans, you will be subject to tax on the distributions. If you made after-tax contributions to your plan, a portion of each distribution will be tax-free. Also, special rules apply to Roth IRAs that make them particularly beneficial. If distributions begin prematurely (generally before age 59 1/2), you may be hit with a 10% penalty tax, but exceptions are available.
When you reach age 70 1/2 (or in some cases, retire), you must start withdrawing a minimum amount from your traditional IRAs and qualified plans each year. Severe penalties can result if required minimum distributions are not made on a timely basis. However, distributions from Roth IRAs are not required during your lifetime.
At the time of your death, the beneficiary designation in effect will determine not only who gets the retirement plan assets, but also how quickly your account must be paid out to your beneficiary and, therefore, how quickly the benefits of tax deferral are lost. Beneficiary designation adjustments may be necessary as family and beneficiary conditions change (e.g., divorce).
Your retirement plan savings may be critical for you and your dependents' future well-being. With proper planning, you can maximize tax-deferred earnings, avoid penalty taxes, choose a desired beneficiary, and minimize the amount your heirs are required to withdraw (and pay taxes on) after your death.
Additional 0.9% Medicare Tax
Individuals must pay an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on earned income above certain thresholds. The employee portion of the Medicare tax is increased from 1.45% to 2.35% on wages received in a calendar year in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly; $125,000 for married filing separately). Employers must withhold and remit the increased employee portion of the Medicare tax for each employee whose wages for Medicare tax purposes from the employer are greater than $200,000.
There is no employer match for this additional Medicare tax. Therefore, the employer’s Medicare tax rate continues to be 1.45% on all Medicare wages. An employee is responsible for paying any of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax that is not withheld by an employer. The additional tax will be reported on the individual’s federal income tax return.
Because the additional 0.9% Medicare tax applies at different income levels depending on the employee’s marital and filing status, some employees may have the additional Medicare tax withheld when it will not apply to them (e.g., the employee earns more than $200,000, is married, filing jointly, and total annual compensation for both spouses is $250,000 or less). In such a situation, the additional tax will be treated as additional income tax withholding that is credited against the total tax liability shown on the individual’s income tax return.
Alternatively, an individual’s wages may not be greater than $200,000, but when combined with a spouse’s wages, total annual wages exceed the $250,000 threshold. When a portion of an individual’s wages will be subject to the additional tax, but earnings from a particular employer do not exceed the $200,000 threshold for withholding of the tax by the employer, the employee is responsible for calculating and paying the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. The employee cannot request that the additional 0.9% Medicare tax be withheld from wages that are under the $200,000 threshold. However, he or she can make quarterly estimated tax payments or submit a new Form W-4 requesting additional income tax withholding that can offset the additional Medicare tax calculated and reported on the employee’s personal income tax return.
For self-employed individuals, the effect of the new additional 0.9% Medicare tax is in the form of a higher self-employment (SE) tax. The maximum rate for the Medicare tax component of the SE tax is 3.8% (2.9% + 0.9%). Self-employed individuals should include this additional tax when calculating estimated tax payments due for the year. Any tax not paid during the year (either through federal income tax withholding from an employer or estimated tax payments) is subject to an underpayment penalty.
The additional 0.9% Medicare tax is not deductible for income tax purposes as part of the SE tax deduction. Also, it is not taken into account in calculating the deduction used for determining the amount of income subject to SE taxes.
Please contact us if you have questions about the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or any other tax compliance or planning issue.
Individual is responsible for paying the additional 0.9% Medicare tax
Josh and Anna are married. Josh’s salary is $180,000, and Anna’s wages are $150,000. Assume they have no other wage or investment income. Their total combined wage income is $330,000 ($180,000 + $150,000). Since this amount is over the $250,000 threshold, they owe the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on $80,000 ($330,000 ? $250,000). The additional tax due is $720 ($80,000 × .009). Neither Josh’s nor Anna’s employer is liable for withholding and remitting the additional tax because neither of them met the $200,000 wage threshold. Either Josh or Anna (or both) can submit a new Form W-4 to their employer that will result in additional income tax withholding to ensure the $720 is properly paid during the year. Alternatively, they could make quarterly estimated tax payments. If the amount is not paid until their federal income tax return is filed, they may be responsible for the estimated tax penalty on any underpayment amount (whether the underpayment is actually income taxes or the additional Medicare taxes).
Itemized Medical Deductions
Before this year, you could claim itemized deductions for medical expenses paid for you, your spouse, and your dependents to the extent those expenses exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). But the rules have changed for the worse in 2013 and beyond.
Due to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the old 7.5%-of-AGI hurdle is now 10% for most taxpayers in 2013. An exception applies for taxpayers, or their spouse if married, who are age 65 or older on December 31. They can still use the 7.5%-of-AGI threshold through 2016.
Many individuals have flexibility regarding when certain medical expenses will be incurred. They may benefit from concentrating expenses in alternating years. That way, an itemized medical expense deduction can be claimed every other year instead of lost completely if it doesn’t exceed the threshold.
Medical expenses paid for a taxpayer’s dependent, such as a parent or grandparent, can be added to the taxpayer’s own expenses for itemized medical expense deduction purposes. For a person (other than a qualified child) to be the taxpayer’s dependent, the taxpayer must pay more than half of that person’s support for the year. If that test is passed, the taxpayer can include medical expenses paid for the supported person—even if the taxpayer cannot claim a dependency exemption for that person. While the taxpayer must still clear the applicable AGI threshold to claim an itemized medical expense deduction, including a supported person’s expenses in the computation can really help.
Qualified Charitable Deductions
IRA owners and beneficiaries who have reached age 70 1/2 are permitted to make donations to IRS-approved public charities directly out of their IRAs. These so-called qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs, are federal-income-tax-free to you, but you get no charitable deduction on your tax return. But, that is fine because the tax-free treatment of QCDs is the same as an immediate 100% deduction without having to worry about restrictions that can delay itemized charitable write-offs. QCDs have other tax advantages, too.
A QCD is a payment of an otherwise taxable distribution made by your IRA trustee directly to a qualified public charity. The funds must be transferred directly from your IRA trustee to the charity. You cannot receive the funds yourself and then make the contribution to the charity. However, the IRA trustee can give you a check made out to the charity that you then deliver to the charity. You cannot arrange for more than $100,000 of QCDs in any one year. If your spouse has IRAs, he or she has a separate $100,000 limitation. Unfortunately, this taxpayer-friendly provision is set to expire at year-end unless extended by Congress.
Before Congress enacted this beneficial provision, a person wanting to donate money from an IRA to a charity would make a withdrawal from his or her IRA account, include the taxable amount in gross income, donate the cash to charity, and then claim an itemized charitable donation.
QCDs are not included in your adjusted gross income (AGI) on your federal tax return. This helps you remain unaffected by various unfavorable AGI-based phase-out rules. It also keeps your AGI low for computation of the 3.8% NIIT. In addition, you don’t have to worry about the 50%-of-AGI limitation that can delay itemized deductions for garden-variety cash donations to public charities. QCDs also count as payouts for purposes of the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules. Therefore, you can donate all or part of your 2013 RMD amount (up to the $100,000 limit on QCDs) and thereby convert otherwise taxable RMDs into tax-free QCDs. Individuals can arrange to simply donate amounts that they would normally be required to receive (and pay tax on) under the RMD rules.
Note that the charity must provide you with a record of your contribution. Also, you cannot receive any benefit from the charity in return for making the contribution. If the donor receives any benefit from the charity that reduces the deduction under the normal rules, tax-free treatment is lost for the entire distribution.
New Tax Rules for Legally Married Same-sex Couples
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Edith Windsor Case, invalidating a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, raised many questions regarding the federal income tax rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples. The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS recently ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in a jurisdiction that recognizes their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. This ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.
Same-sex couples will now be treated as married for all federal tax purposes (income, gift, and estate taxes) where marriage is a factor. The ruling applies to filing status, personal and dependency exemptions, the standard deduction, employee benefits, IRA contributions, and the earned income and child tax credits.
For 2013, legally married same-sex couples must file their tax return using either the married filing jointly or married filing separately filing status. For years prior to 2013, these couples may, but are not required to, file amended returns choosing to be treated as married for federal tax purposes for one or more prior tax years still open under the statute of limitations.
Employment Tax Withholding--Refunds and Adjustments for Same-sex Married Couples
Federal income and employment tax rules provide exclusions from gross income and from wages for specific benefits employers provide to the spouse of an employee. Prior to the Windsor decision, married same-sex taxpayers were excluded from receiving the benefit of these provisions. As a result, employers withheld and paid employment taxes on certain benefits provided to the same-sex spouse of an employee because (1) the marriage was not recognized and (2) the benefits were not treated as excludable from gross income or from wages for federal income or employment tax purposes.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, the IRS provided guidance to employers and employees on how to make claims for refunds or adjustments (corrections) of overpaid payroll taxes. Specifically, taxpayers who overpaid FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes and federal income tax withholding for certain benefits provided and remuneration paid to same-sex spouses may now be entitled to a refund of or an adjustment to their withholding.
The IRS has provided two alternative procedures for employers to correct the overpayment of employment taxes attributable to same-sex spousal benefits.
An employer can repay its employees for the over-collected FICA and federal income tax withholding with respect to same-sex spousal benefits for the first three quarters of 2013 during the fourth quarter of 2013. The employer will then reduce fourth quarter wages, tips, and other compensation on its fourth quarter Form 941.
An employer that does not reimburse the employee’s over-withholding by December 31, 2013, can file one Form 941-X for the fourth quarter of 2013 to correct FICA taxes paid in all four quarters of 2013. This procedure will correct overpayments of FICA taxes for same-sex spouse benefits paid in 2013. The employer does not correct for over-withheld income taxes; instead, the employees will receive credit for the over-withheld income taxes when they file their 2013 federal income tax return.
The IRS has also provided a special administrative procedure for employers to make adjustments or claims for overpayments during years before 2013 still open under the statute of limitations (2010, 2011, and 2012). For these years, an employer can file one Form 941-X for the fourth quarter of each open year. This fourth quarter Form 941-X would include adjustments or refunds of all overpayments of FICA (but not income) taxes with respect to same-sex spousal benefits provided during that entire year.
These refund and adjustment procedures are complex. Please contact us if you have questions about these provisions or any other tax compliance or planning issues.
October 15 — Personal returns that received an automatic six-month extension must be filed today and any tax, interest, and penalties due must be paid.
— Electing large partnerships that received an additional six-month extension must file their Forms 1065-B today.
— If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in September for social security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.
October 31 — The third quarter Form 941 (Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return) is due today and any undeposited tax must be deposited. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until November 12 to file the return.
— If you have employees, a federal unemployment tax (FUTA) deposit is due if the FUTA liability through September exceeds $500.
November 15 — If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in October for social security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.
December 16 — Calendar-year corporations must deposit the fourth installment of estimated income tax for 2013.
— If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in November for social security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.
Fourth Quarter Tax Planning
For many individuals, the ordinary federal income tax rates for 2013 will be the same as last year: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%. However, the so-called fiscal cliff legislation passed early this year increased the maximum rate for higher-income individuals to 39.6% (up from 35%). This change only affects taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000 for singles, $450,000 for married joint-filing couples, $425,000 for heads of households, and $225,000 for married individuals who file separate returns. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the new additional 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% net investment income tax (3.8% NIIT), which can result in a higher-than-advertised federal tax rate for 2013.
Despite these tax increases, the current federal income tax environment remains relatively favorable by historical standards. This article presents some tax planning ideas to consider this fall that may apply to you and/or your family. Note that it is critical to evaluate all tax planning strategies in light of the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
Leverage Standard Deduction by Bunching Deductible Expenditures
If your 2013 itemized deductions are likely to be just under, or just over, the standard deduction amount, consider bunching together expenditures for itemized deduction items every other year, while claiming the standard deduction in the intervening years. The 2013 standard deduction is $12,200 for married joint filers, $6,100 for single filers, and $8,950 for heads of households.
For example, say you're a joint filer whose only itemized deductions are about $4,000 of annual property taxes and about $8,000 of home mortgage interest. If you prepay your 2014 property taxes by December 31 of this year, you could claim $16,000 of itemized deductions on your 2013 return ($4,000 of 2013 property taxes, plus another $4,000 for the 2014 property tax bill, plus the $8,000 of mortgage interest). Next year, you would only have about $8,000 of mortgage interest, but you could claim the standard deduction (it will probably be around $12,500 for 2014). Following this strategy will cut your taxable income by a meaningful amount over the two-year period (this year and next). You can repeat the drill all over again in future years. Examples of other deductible items that can be bunched together every other year include charitable donations and state income tax payments.
Consider Deferring Income
It may pay to defer some taxable income from this year into next year if you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket in 2014. For example, if you're self-employed and a cash-method taxpayer, you can postpone taxable income by waiting until late in the year to send out some client invoices. That way, you won't receive payment for them until early 2014. You can also postpone taxable income by accelerating some deductible business expenditures into this year.
Both moves will defer taxable income from this year until next year. Deferring income may also be helpful if you are affected by unfavorable phase-out rules that reduce or eliminate various tax breaks (child tax credit, education tax credits, and so on). By deferring income every other year, you may be able to take more advantage of these breaks.
Time Investment Gains and Losses
For many individuals, the 2013 federal tax rates on long-term capital gains are the same as last year: either 0% or 15%. However, the maximum rate for higher-income individuals is now 20% (up from 15% last year). This change only affects taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000 for singles, $450,000 for married joint-filing couples, $425,000 for heads of households, and $225,000 for married individuals filing separately. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the new 3.8% NIIT on net investment income, which can result in a maximum 23.8% federal income tax rate on 2013 long-term gains.
As you evaluate investments held in your taxable brokerage firm accounts, consider the tax impact of selling appreciated securities (currently worth more than you paid for them). For most taxpayers, the federal tax rate on long-term capital gains is still much lower than the rate on short-term gains. Therefore, it often makes sense to hold appreciated securities for at least a year and a day before selling to qualify for the lower long-term gain tax rate.
Biting the bullet and selling some loser securities (currently worth less than you paid for them) before year-end can also be a tax-smart idea. The resulting capital losses will offset capital gains from other sales this year, including high-taxed short-term gains from securities owned for one year or less. For 2013, the maximum rate on short-term gains is 39.6%, and the 3.8% NIIT may also apply, which can result in an effective rate of up to 43.4%. However, you don't need to worry about paying a high rate on short-term gains that can be sheltered with capital losses (you will pay 0% on gains that can be sheltered).
If capital losses for this year exceed capital gains, you will have a net capital loss for 2013. You can use that net capital loss to shelter up to $3,000 of this year's high-taxed ordinary income ($1,500 if you're married and file separately). Any excess net capital loss is carried forward to next year.
Selling enough loser securities to create a bigger net capital loss that exceeds what you can use this year might also make sense. You can carry forward the excess capital loss to 2014 and beyond and use it to shelter both short-term gains and long-term gains recognized in those years. Note that the wash sale rules can limit the deduction for securities losses.
Make Charitable Donations from Your IRA
IRA owners and beneficiaries who have reached age 70 1/2 are permitted to make cash donations of up to $100,000 to IRS-approved public charities directly out of their IRAs. These so-called qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) are federal-income-tax-free to you, but you get no itemized charitable write-off on your Form 1040. That's okay, because the tax-free treatment of QCDs equates to an immediate 100% federal income tax deduction without having to worry about restrictions that can delay itemized charitable write-offs.
Note: To qualify for this special tax break, the funds must be transferred directly from your IRA to the charity. Also, this favorable provision will expire at the end of this year unless Congress extends it.
The 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax - More Than Meets the Eye
There's a lot for taxpayers to know when it comes to the 3.8% net investment income tax (3.8% NIIT). This new tax is imposed on income from several sources and its impact is far reaching. Analyzing its impact can get complicated fast.
Originating as a component of 2010 health care legislation and first effective in 2013, the 3.8% NIIT is assessed on the lesser of net investment income (NII) or modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above specific thresholds. MAGI is adjusted gross income plus any excluded net foreign earned income. The MAGI thresholds are $200,000 for single individuals, $250,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses, and $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns.
Only individuals with some amount of NII, and MAGI above the applicable threshold amount, will be subject to the 3.8% NIIT. For example, if a married couple has $200,000 of wage income and $100,000 of interest and dividend income (i.e., MAGI totaling $300,000), the 3.8% NIIT applies to the $50,000 that is over the $250,000 MAGI threshold.
Trusts and estates can also be hit with the 3.8% NIIT. But for them, the tax applies to the lesser of their undistributed net investment income or AGI in excess of the threshold for the top trust federal income tax bracket. For 2013, that threshold is only $11,950, so many trusts and estates will no doubt be affected this year.
The components of NII generally include gross income from interest, dividends, royalties, and rents; gross income from a trade or business involving passive activities; and net gain from the disposition of property (other than property held in a trade or business in which the owner materially participates). All of these components are reduced by any allocable deductions. This may sound simple, but as always, the devil is in the details.
On a positive note, NII does not include tax-exempt bond interest, veterans' and social security benefits, excluded gain from the sale of a principal residence, life insurance proceeds received by reason of an insured's death, lottery winnings, and the tax-free inside buildup of the cash surrender value of life insurance, among other items.
Fortunately, distributions from retirement plans are generally not included in NII. However, if included in MAGI, qualified plan distributions may push the taxpayer over the threshold that would cause other types of investment income to be subject to the 3.8% NIIT.
Another positive aspect of the 3.8% NIIT is that it does not apply to income from a trade or business conducted by a sole proprietor, partnership, or S corporation; but income, gain, or loss on working capital is not treated as derived from a trade or business and thus is subject to the tax. The term working capital generally refers to capital set aside for use in, or the future needs of, a trade or business.
Unfortunately, the 3.8% NIIT does apply to income derived from a trade or business if it is a passive activity or a trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities.
With regard to property dispositions, a gain from the disposition of property that is considered held in the ordinary course of a trade or business is generally exempt from the 3.8% NIIT. Despite the preceding exception, gains from dispositions of property held in a passive business activity or in the business of trading in financial instruments or commodities (whether passive or not) are included in the definition of NII.
For business owners, a gain or loss from the disposition of an interest in a partnership or S corporation may be subject to the 3.8% NIIT. However, a complex calculation involving a deemed sale analysis may be required to make this determination.
Finally, a taxpayer may be subject to both the 3.8% NIIT and the additional 0.9% Medicare tax, but not on the same income. The additional 0.9% Medicare tax applies to wages and self-employment income over certain thresholds, but it does not apply to items included in investment income. So, taxpayers who have both high wages or self-employment income and high investment income may be hit with both taxes.
Taxpayers face numerous challenges in learning about and dealing with the 3.8% NIIT. Please contact us to discuss the 3.8% NIIT or any other tax compliance or planning issue.
Business Tax Breaks
Several favorable business tax provisions have a limited term life that may dictate taking action between now and year-end. They include the following two provisions.
Section 179 Deduction. Your business may be able to take advantage of the temporarily increased Section 179 deduction. Under the Section 179 deduction privilege, an eligible business can often claim first-year depreciation write-offs for the entire cost of new and used equipment, software, and eligible real property costs. For tax years beginning in 2013, the maximum Section 179 deduction is $500,000, including up to $250,000 for qualifying real property costs. However, you cannot claim a Section 179 write-off that would create or increase an overall business tax loss. For tax years beginning in 2014, the maximum deduction is scheduled to drop back to only $25,000, and most real property costs will be ineligible.
50% First-year Bonus Depreciation. Above and beyond the Section 179 deduction, your business can also claim first-year bonus depreciation equal to 50% of the cost of most new (not used) equipment and software placed in service by December 31 of this year. For a new passenger auto or light truck that's used for business and is subject to the luxury auto depreciation limitations, the 50% bonus depreciation break increases the maximum first-year depreciation deduction by $8,000. The 50% bonus depreciation break will expire at year-end unless Congress extends it.
The Affordable Care Act
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (together, the Affordable Care Act), was landmark legislation that dramatically affects how health care is delivered in the United States. Provisions of the legislation affect not only those directly involved in providing health care, but also most individuals and employers.
The health care reform legislation is extremely complex, and many items in the legislation change rules and regulations that were already in place. The IRS, Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other agencies have the monumental task of interpreting the legislation and providing guidance. Many temporary and proposed regulations, as well as some final regulations, have been issued.
The purpose of this legislation was to provide affordable minimum health care benefits to all individuals. With that in mind, the legislation provides for the establishment of qualified health plans that must provide essential health benefits consisting of minimum essential coverage.
Caution: Some of the rules originally enacted have already been repealed and the effective date of other rules has been modified. It is possible that more changes will occur as these rules are implemented. This information is current as of July 11, 2013.
Beginning in 2015, certain applicable large employers (i.e., generally those who had an average of at least 50 full-time employees in the previous calendar year) that do not offer health insurance coverage to their full-time employees (and their dependents), or employers that offer health insurance coverage that is unaffordable or does not provide a certain minimum value, must pay a penalty if the employer is notified that any full-time employee receives a premium assistance credit to purchase health insurance in the individual market through a state insurance exchange or a cost-sharing-reduction subsidy to help with out-of-pocket expenses. Any penalty paid under this provision is not deductible as a business expense for federal income tax purposes.
To determine if an employer is an applicable large employer, the full-time equivalent value of the hours worked by part-time employees must be calculated and added to the employer's number of full-time employees. This calculation can be challenging. Although part-time employees must be considered when determining applicable large employer status, applicable large employers only need to offer full-time employees (and their dependents) adequate health insurance coverage to avoid paying a penalty. However, the rules for determining full-time status can be complicated for certain variable-hour employees. Employers will be subject to many new notice and reporting requirements.
Individual Mandate for Health Coverage
The health care reform legislation requires most U.S. citizens and legal residents (i.e., applicable individuals) to have minimum essential health insurance coverage every month beginning on or after January 1, 2014. Those who do not have such health insurance will be subject to a penalty for each month they do not have minimum essential coverage. The penalty will be the greater of a flat fee amount (for each individual not covered by health insurance) or a percentage of household income over a threshold amount. For applicable individuals who are at least age 18, the maximum applicable annual dollar amount is $95 for 2014, $325 for 2015, and $695 for 2016 and later years. An inflation adjustment will be applied in calendar years beginning after 2016. For individuals under age 18, the maximum applicable penalty is 50% of these amounts.
Individuals who meet certain financial or hardship criteria are exempt from the mandate. In addition, members of an Indian tribe and individuals who are members of certain religious sects or members of certain health care sharing ministries are exempt from the mandate.
Premium Assistance Credits and Cost-sharing-reduction Subsidies
To assist individuals in meeting the mandate for having minimum essential health insurance coverage, the legislation also provides for premium assistance credits and cost-sharing-reduction subsidies. Beginning in 2014, some individuals will qualify for a premium assistance credit to help them pay the premiums on health insurance purchased in the individual market through the state insurance exchanges that will be operational beginning October 1, 2013. Individuals can elect to have this credit payable in advance directly to the insurer.
The premium assistance credit will be available (on a sliding scale basis) for individuals and families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for an individual or $94,200 for a family of four, using 2013 poverty level figures) who are not eligible for Medicaid, CHIP, a state or local public health program, employer-sponsored insurance that is both affordable and provides a certain minimum value, or other acceptable coverage.
Excise Tax on High-cost Employer-sponsored Health Coverage (Cadillac Plans)
Beginning in 2018 under the current law, a nondeductible 40% excise tax will be levied on so-called Cadillac plans. These plans are employer-sponsored health plans with annual premiums (i.e., excess benefits) exceeding $10,200 for self-only coverage and $27,500 for any other coverage. Slightly higher premium thresholds apply for retired individuals age 55 and older who are not eligible for enrollment in Medicare or entitled to Medicare benefits, and for plans that cover employees engaged in high-risk professions. For coverage under a group health plan, the 40% excise tax will be imposed on insurance companies, but it is expected that employers (and their employees) will ultimately bear this tax in the form of higher premiums passed on by insurers. Employers will be responsible for the tax if coverage is provided by employer contributions to HSAs or Archer MSAs.
Employers will be responsible for calculating the excess benefit amounts and reporting those amounts to the applicable insurer. Employers that currently offer generous health benefits (especially if the benefits are to the owners and related persons) should carefully analyze their plans to see if changes are needed to avoid having plans that will be subject to this tax. Additional guidance will be issued on this excise tax (additional legislation may change some of these provisions).
2014 HSA Amounts
Health savings accounts (HSAs) were created as a tax-favored framework to provide health care benefits mainly for small business owners, the self-employed, and employees of small- to medium-sized companies who do not have access to health insurance.
The tax benefits of HSAs are quite substantial. Eligible individuals can make tax-deductible (as an adjustment to AGI) contributions to HSA accounts. Funds in the account may be invested (somewhat like an IRA), so there is opportunity for growth. The earnings inside the HSA are free from federal income tax, and funds withdrawn to pay eligible health care costs are tax free.
An HSA is a tax-exempt trust or custodial account established exclusively for paying qualified medical expenses of the participant who, for the months for which contributions are made to an HSA, is covered under a high-deductible health plan. Consequently, an HSA is not insurance; it is an account that must be opened with a bank, brokerage firm, or other provider (i.e., insurance company). It is therefore different from a flexible spending account in that it involves an outside provider serving as a custodian or trustee.
The 2014 inflation-adjusted deduction for individual self-only coverage under a high-deductible plan is limited to $3,300, while the comparable amount for family coverage is $6,550. This is an increase of 1.5% and 1.6%, respectively, from 2013. For 2014, a high-deductible health plan is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,250 for self-only coverage and $2,500 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles and copayments, but not premiums) must not exceed $6,350 for self-only coverage or $12,700 for family coverage.
July 15 - If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in June for social security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.
July 31 - If you have employees, a federal unemployment tax (FUTA) deposit is due if the FUTA liability through June exceeds $500.
August 15 - If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in July for social security, Medicare, withheld income tax, and nonpayroll withholding.
September 16 - Third quarter estimated tax payments are due for individuals, trusts, and calendar-year corporations.
Tax Impact of Investment Strategies
Higher 2013 income and capital gains rates and the new 3.8% net investment income tax (3.8% NIIT) may cause high-income investors to reexamine their investment strategy. The type of account, taxable or tax deferred (e.g., qualified retirement plan), could affect the investment strategy in a number of ways. Qualified retirement plans, because of their tax-deferred nature, tend to favor the following strategies:
Taxable accounts tend to favor the following strategies:
A topic of continuing discussion among investment professionals is where to hold fixed-income investments and where to hold equity investments. Generally, sufficient fixed-income investments need to be in taxable accounts to provide liquidity. Those investments could be, for example, either tax-free or taxable bonds, depending on the after-tax yield as determined by your marginal tax rate. The need for current income will also affect whether additional fixed-income investments are held outside of qualified plans. Beyond the liquidity amount and provision for current income, the remainder of the fixed-income portfolio can be held in a qualified plan.
Similarly, for stocks, that part of the portfolio that is intended to be long-term, low-turnover, passively managed investments can be held in the taxable accounts. More aggressive parts of the portfolio that call for active management and potentially high turnover can be held in qualified plans.
Higher Education Costs Continue to Escalate
The cost of attending college continues to increase. The College Board reports that 2012-2013 tuition and fees have risen significantly (www.collegeboard.org). Private four-year colleges are up 4.2% (to an average of $29,056) from 2011-2012 for tuition and fees. Public four-year colleges are up 4.8% (to an average of $8,655) from last year for in-state tuition and fees. Public four-year colleges are up 4.2% (to an average of $21,706) from last year for out-of-state tuition and fees. Even public two-year schools are up 5.8% (to an average of $3,131). The report indicates that the subsidies provided to full-time undergraduates at public universities through the combination of grant aid and federal tax benefits averaged $5,750 in 2012-2013.
Help Grandchildren with College Costs
Contributing to a Section 529 college savings program is a great way for grandparents to help their grandchildren pay for college. It is also a great way to remove assets from the grandparent's estate without paying estate tax. As an added feature, money in a 529 plan owned by a grandparent is not assessed by the federal financial aid formula when qualifying for student aid.
Grandparents, as well as other taxpayers, have a unique opportunity for gifting to Section 529 college savings plans by contributing up to $70,000 at one time, which currently represents five years of gifts at $14,000 per year. ($14,000 is the annual gift tax exclusion amount for 2013.) A married couple who elects gift-splitting can contribute up to double that amount ($140,000 in 2013) to a beneficiary's 529 plan account(s) with no adverse federal gift tax consequences.
Example: Electing to spread a 529 plan gift over five years.
In 2013, Linda contributes $75,000 to a 529 plan account for the benefit of her grandson, James. She makes no other gifts to James in 2013. Because the gift exceeds the $14,000 annual gift tax exclusion, Linda elects to account for the gift ratably over five years beginning with 2013. Only $70,000 (five times the current annual gift tax exclusion) is eligible for the election; therefore, Linda is treated as having made an excludible gift of $14,000 in years 2013-2017, and a taxable gift of the remainder ($5,000) in 2013.
Recent legislation made permanent or extended several tax breaks for families. In addition, several education breaks were made permanent or extended.
Child Credit. For 2013 and beyond, the maximum credit for an eligible under-age-17 child (Child Credit) was scheduled to drop from $1,000 to only $500. The legislation permanently installs the $1,000 maximum credit.
Adoption Expenses. The Bush tax cut package included a major liberalization of the adoption tax credit and also established tax-free employer adoption assistance payments. These taxpayer-friendly provisions were scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. The credit would have been halved and limited to only special needs children. Tax-free adoption assistance payments from employers would have disappeared. The legislation permanently extends the more-favorable Bush-era rules.
Education Credit. The American Opportunity Credit, worth up to $2,500, can be claimed for up to four years of undergraduate education and is 40% refundable. It was scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. The legislation extends the American Opportunity Credit through 2017.
College Tuition Deduction. This write-off, which can be as much as $4,000 at lower income levels and as much as $2,000 at higher income levels, expired at the end of 2011. The legislation retroactively restores the deduction for 2012 and extends it through 2013.
Student Loan Interest Deduction. The student loan interest write-off can be as much as $2,500 (whether the taxpayer itemizes or not). Less favorable rules were scheduled to kick in for 2013 and beyond. The legislation permanently extends the more favorable rules that have applied in recent years.
Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. For 2013 and beyond, the maximum contribution to federal-income-tax-free Coverdell college savings accounts was scheduled to drop from $2,000 to only $500, and a stricter phase-out rule would have limited contributions by many married filing joint couples. The legislation makes permanent the favorable rules that have applied in recent years.
The Medicare payroll tax is the primary source of financing for Medicare, which generally pays medical bills for individuals who are 65 or older or disabled. Wages paid through December 31, 2012, were subject to a 2.9% Medicare payroll tax. Workers and employers pay 1.45% each. Self-employed individuals pay both halves of the tax, but are allowed to deduct the employer-equivalent portion (i.e., 1.45%) for income tax purposes. Unlike the social security payroll tax, which applies to earnings up to an annual ceiling ($113,700 for 2013), the Medicare tax is levied on all of an employee's wages subject to FICA taxes.
Beginning in 2013, individuals who have wage and/or self-employment income exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 if married, filing a joint return; $125,000 if married, filing separately) are subject to an additional 0.9% Medicare tax (i.e., 2.35% total) on their earned income exceeding the applicable threshold. The employer portion of the Medicare tax is not increased. However, employers are required to withhold and remit the additional tax for any employee to whom it pays over $200,000. Companies are not responsible for determining whether a worker's combined income with his or her spouse makes the employee subject to the additional tax. Therefore, many individuals (especially those who are married with each earning less than $200,000, but earning more than $250,000 combined) should adjust their federal income tax withholding (FITW) by submitting a new Form W-4 to the employer or make quarterly estimated tax payments to be sure they are not hit with an underpayment penalty when filing their income tax return each year.
Self-employed individuals who pay both halves of the Medicare tax (i.e., 2.9%) will pay a total Medicare tax of 3.8% on earnings above the thresholds. The additional 0.9% tax is not deductible for income tax purposes. Self-employed individuals should adjust their quarterly estimated income tax payments to account for this additional tax.
Married couples with combined incomes approaching $250,000 should keep tabs on their total earnings to avoid an unexpected tax bill when filing their individual income tax return. At this time, the threshold amounts ($200,000/$250,000) are not adjusted for inflation. Therefore, it is likely that increasingly more people will be subject to the higher payroll taxes in coming years.
With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 each day, some may decide to move to another state for a variety of reasons. These include living in a warmer climate, being closer to children or other relatives, avoiding state income tax, health reasons, or a combination thereof. But, states and municipalities are looking for every available dollar to shore up shrinking budgets. So retirees should use caution to avoid being overtaxed due to a move.
If the retiree's move is intended to be permanent, it is important that legal domicile be established in the new state. If domicile is not established, the retiree may be subject to income tax as a resident of both the old and new states. In addition, since each state has its own rules relating to residence and domicile, both states may try to impose taxes on the retiree even if he or she has established domicile in the new state, but has not adequately relinquished domicile in the previous state.
Furthermore, if the retiree dies without establishing domicile, both the old and the new states may claim jurisdiction over the retiree's estate.
The more time that elapses after the move and the more steps the retiree takes to establish domicile in the new state, the more difficult it will be for the old state to assert that the retiree resides or has domicile there.
The following steps tend to establish domicile in a new state:
For many purposes, the location of property is determined by reference to state law, and legally may be deemed to be somewhere other than where the property is physically located. The state in which the property is deemed to be located may assess income taxes (if any) on income or gains relating to the property. The state may also assess death and succession taxes, and that state will be where probate proceedings will occur when the individual dies. Furthermore, rules of that state will be used to determine whether testamentary instruments are valid and whether the terms of the instruments (such as the powers of a trustee) are legally enforceable.
The retiree's state of domicile generally determines the rules relating to the ownership and tax treatment of intangible personal property. Thus, if the retiree established domicile in a new state, that state's laws generally will apply to his or her intangible assets, such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, notes, partnership interests, trust income rights, and insurance contracts. Interest income from a savings account, for example, will normally be taxed by the state of domicile, rather than the state in which the account is located.New Simplified Home Office Deduction
The IRS recently announced a simplified option that many owners of home-based businesses and some home-based workers may use to figure their deductions for the business use of their homes. The new optional deduction, capped at $1,500 per year based on $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet, will reduce the paperwork and recordkeeping burden on small businesses. The new option is available beginning in 2013.
Though homeowners using the new option cannot depreciate the portion of their home used in a trade or business, they can claim allowable mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and casualty losses on the home as itemized deductions on Schedule A, if they choose to itemize their deductions. These deductions need not be allocated between personal and business use, as is required under the regular method.
Business expenses unrelated to the home, such as advertising, supplies, and wages paid to employees, can still be fully deductible. Current restrictions on the home office deduction, such as the requirement that a home office must be used regularly and exclusively for business and the limit tied to the income derived from the particular business, still apply under the new option.
In tax year 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, the IRS indicates nearly 3.4 million taxpayers claimed deductions for business use of a home. Please contact us if you would like more information on the home office deduction or any other tax compliance or planning issue.
American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012
After a great deal of wrangling, Congress passed and the President signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (Act) in early 2013. The Act provides relief for most taxpayers, but will increase the tax bill for high-income folks. The Act includes, among other items, permanent extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for most taxpayers; revised tax rates on ordinary and capital gain income for high-income individuals; modification of the estate tax; permanent fix of the AMT for individual taxpayers; limits on deductions and exemptions of high-income individuals; and numerous retroactively reinstated and extended tax breaks for individuals and businesses. In this article we will discuss several of the Act's provisions impacting individual taxpayers. Business provisions are discussed on page 3.
Tax rates on ordinary income. For tax years beginning after 2012, the 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% tax brackets from the Bush tax cuts will remain in place and are made permanent. This means that, for most Americans, the tax rates on ordinary income will stay the same. However, there will be a new 39.6% rate, which will begin at the following inflation-adjusted thresholds: $400,000 (single), $425,000 (head of household), $450,000 (joint filers and qualifying widows and widowers), and $225,000 (married filing separately).
Estate tax. The new law prevents steep increases in estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes that were slated to occur for individuals dying and gifts made after 2012 by permanently keeping the exemption level at $5,000,000 (as indexed for inflation; $5,250,000 in 2013). However, the new law also permanently increases the top estate, gift, and GST rate from 35% to 40%. It also continues the portability feature that allows the estate of the first spouse to die to transfer his or her unused exclusion to the surviving spouse.
Capital gains and qualified dividends rates. The new law retains the 0% tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, modifies the 15% rate, and establishes a new 20% rate. Beginning in 2013, the rate will be 0% if ordinary income falls below the 25% tax bracket; 15% if income falls at or above the 25% tax bracket but below the new 39.6% rate; and 20% if income falls in the 39.6% tax bracket. It should be noted that some taxpayers in the 15% and 20% tax brackets could also be required to pay the new 3.8% surtax on investment-type income and gains for tax years beginning after 2012, which applies on investment income of taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income above $250,000 (joint filers), $125,000 (separate), and $200,000 (others).
Personal exemption phase-out. Beginning in 2013, personal exemptions will be phased out (i.e., reduced) for adjusted gross income over $250,000 (single), $275,000 (head of household), and $300,000 (joint filers). Taxpayers claim exemptions for themselves, their spouses and their dependents. For 2013, each exemption is worth $3,900.
Itemized deduction limitation. Beginning in 2013, itemized deductions will be limited for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income over $250,000 (single), $275,000 (head of household), and $300,000 (joint filers).
AMT relief. The new law provides permanent, inflation-adjusted alternative minimum tax (AMT) relief. Prior to the Act, the individual AMT exemption amounts for 2012 were to have been $33,750 for unmarried taxpayers, $45,000 for joint filers, and $22,500 for married persons filing separately. Retroactively effective for tax years beginning after 2011, the new law permanently increases these exemption amounts to $50,600 for unmarried taxpayers, $78,750 for joint filers, and $39,375 for married persons filing separately. In addition, for tax years beginning after 2012, it indexes these exemption amounts for inflation.
Tax credits for low- to middle-wage earners. The new law extends for five years the following items that were originally enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and were slated to expire at the end of 2012: (1) the American Opportunity tax credit, which provides up to $2,500 in tax credits for undergraduate college education; (2) eased rules for qualifying for the refundable child credit; and (3) various earned income tax credit (EITC) changes.
Tax break extenders. Many of the "traditional" tax extenders are extended for two years, retroactively to 2012 and through the end of 2013. Among many others, the extended provisions include the election to take an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes in lieu of the itemized deduction for state and local income taxes, $250 above-the-line deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers, special rule for contributions made for conservation purposes, above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses, and limited tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes (see page 4).
Payroll tax cut. The 2% payroll tax cut available in 2011 and 2012 was allowed to expire.
Business Provisions of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012
The recently enacted 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act includes a wide-ranging assortment of tax changes affecting both individuals and businesses. On the business side, two of the most significant changes provide incentives to invest in machinery and equipment by allowing for faster cost recovery of business property. Here are the details.
Enhanced small business expensing (Section 179 expensing). Generally, the cost of property placed in service in a trade or business can't be deducted in the year it's placed in service if the property will be useful beyond the year. Instead, the cost is "capitalized" and depreciation deductions are allowed for most property (other than land), but are spread out over a period of years. However, to help small businesses quickly recover the cost of capital outlays, small business taxpayers can elect to write off these expenditures in the year they are made instead of recovering them through depreciation. The expense election is made available, on a tax-year-by-tax-year basis, under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code, and is often referred to as the "Section 179 election" or the "Code Section 179 election." The new law makes three important changes to this expense election.
First, the new law provides that for tax years beginning in 2012 or 2013, a taxpayer will be allowed to write off up to $500,000 of capital expenditures subject to a phase-out (i.e., gradual reduction) once capital expenditures exceed $2 million. For tax years beginning after 2013, the maximum expensing amount will drop to $25,000 and the phase-out level will drop to $200,000.
Second, the new law extends the rule that treats off-the-shelf computer software as qualifying property through 2013.
Finally, the new law extends through 2013 the provision permitting a taxpayer to amend or irrevocably revoke an election for a tax year under IRC Sec. 179 without IRS consent.
Extension of additional first-year depreciation. Businesses are allowed to deduct the cost of capital expenditures over time according to depreciation schedules. In previous legislation, Congress allowed businesses to more rapidly deduct capital expenditures of most new tangible personal property, and certain other new property, by permitting an additional first-year write-off of the cost. For qualified property acquired and placed in service after December 31, 2011, and before January 1, 2013 (before January 1, 2014, for certain longer-lived and transportation property), the additional first-year depreciation was 50% of the cost. The new law extends this additional first-year depreciation for investments placed in service before January 1, 2014 (before January 1, 2015, for certain longer-lived and transportation property).
The new law also extends for one year the election to accelerate the AMT credit instead of claiming additional first-year depreciation for certain corporate taxpayers.
The new law leaves in place the existing rules as to what kinds of property qualify for additional first-year depreciation. Generally, the property must be (1) depreciable property with a recovery period of 20 years or less, (2) water utility property, (3) computer software, or (4) qualified leasehold improvements. Also the original use of the property must commence with the taxpayer-used machinery doesn't qualify.
Please contact us if you would like more information about the new cost recovery provisions or any other aspect of the new legislation.
Standard Mileage Rates for 2013
The 2013 standard mileage rates for use of an automobile are 56.5¢ per mile for business miles driven (an increase of 1¢ from 2012), and 24¢ per mile for medical or moving purposes (up 1¢ from 2012). The rate for rendering gratuitous services to a charitable organization remains unchanged at 14¢ per mile.
The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving expenses is based on variable costs. Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rate.
A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for any vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle, or for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.
Social Security and Medicare Update
The annual inflation adjustments have been made for the various social security amounts and thresholds. So, we thought it would be a good time to update you for 2013.
The social security wage base, for computing the social security tax (OASDI only), increases to $113,700 in 2013, up from $110,100 for 2012. The additional $3,600 for 2013 represents an increase of 3.3% in the wage base. There is no taxable earnings limit for Medicare (HI only) contributions.
New for 2013, the 0.9% Medicare Surtax is imposed on wages and self-employment (SE) income in excess of the following modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) threshold amounts: $250,000 for joint filers, $125,000 for married separate filers, and $200,000 for all other taxpayers. The employer portion of the tax is not increased. This new tax is a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
For social security beneficiaries under the full retirement age, the annual exempt amount increases to $15,120 in 2013 up from $14,640 in 2012. These beneficiaries will be subject to a $1 reduction in benefits for each $2 they earn in excess of $15,120 in 2013. However, in the year beneficiaries reach their full retirement age, earnings above a different annual exemption amount ($40,080 in 2013, up from $38,880 in 2012) are subject to $1 reduction in benefits for each $3 earned over this exempt amount. Social security benefits are not reduced by earned income beginning with the month the beneficiary reaches full benefit retirement age. But remember, social security benefits received may be subject to federal income tax.
Individuals may have to pay federal income taxes on up to 85% of their benefits. Inclusion within taxable income can occur if you have substantial income from wages, self-employment, interest, dividends, and other taxable income, in addition to your benefits. However, no one pays federal income tax on more than 85% of his or her benefits.
The Social Security Administration estimates the average retired worker will receive $1,261 monthly in 2013. The average monthly benefit for an aged couple where both are receiving monthly benefits is $2,048. These amounts reflect a 1.7% cost of living adjustment (COLA).
The maximum 2013 social security benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age is $2,533 per month, up from $2,513 in 2012.
Filing Status Implications
For married taxpayers, the implications of filing a joint or separate return extend beyond tax rates and the standard deduction. Like many aspects of income taxation, there is usually more than one approach to finding the optimal solution. We have listed some of the more common implications of filing either a joint or separate return. Although not an exhaustive list, it highlights several issues to consider.
Some of the implications of filing a joint return include (among others):
The implications of filing a separate return include (among others):
There you have it: the implications for married taxpayers filing jointly or separately. Please contact us to discuss the most advantageous filing status or any other tax compliance or planning issue.
Retirement Contribution and Other Limitations for 2013
The IRS has announced cost-of-living adjustments affecting the dollar limitations for retirement plans, deductions, and other items. Several of the limitations are higher for 2013 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory threshold. However, some limitations did not meet that threshold and remain unchanged from 2012.
The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan increased from $17,000 in 2012 to $17,500 in 2013. The catch-up contribution limit for those age 50 and over remains unchanged at $5,500.
The contribution limit for both Roth and traditional IRAs has increased $500 from 2012. You can contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older by year-end) to your IRA in 2013 if certain conditions are met (i.e., sufficient earned income). For married couples, the combined contribution limits are $11,000 ($5,500 each) and $13,000 ($6,500 each if both are age 50 by year-end) when a joint return is filed, provided one or both spouses had at least that much earned income.
Keep in mind that contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible, subject to specific limitations that increase for 2013. When you establish and contribute to a Roth IRA, contributions are not deductible, but withdrawals are tax-free when specific requirements are satisfied. In addition, there are no mandatory distribution rules at age 70 1/2 with a Roth IRA, and you can continue to make contributions past age 70 1/2 if you meet the earned income requirement.
The 2013 limitation for SIMPLE retirement accounts increased $500 to $12,000. However, the SIMPLE catch-up contribution for those age 50 by year-end is unchanged from 2012 at $2,500.
The 2013 contribution limit for profit-sharing, SEP, and money purchase pension plans is the lesser of (1) 25% of the employee's compensation-limited to $255,000, an increase of $5,000 from 2012 or (2) $51,000, an increase of $1,000 from 2012.
The social security wage base, for computing the social security tax (OASDI), increases to $113,700 in 2013, up from $110,100 for 2012. The additional $3,600 for 2013 represents an increase of 3.3% in the wage base.
Finally, the annual exclusion for gifts increased by $1,000 and is $14,000 in 2013.
Filing Options for Your Final Form 1040
Although we can't escape death or taxes, we may be able to minimize the federal income taxes due on our final Form 1040. Filing a tax return after we die (we are then known as the "decedent") is probably not something most of us think much about. But, a final Form 1040 generally must be filed for the year of our death and, just as in life, is typically due by April 15th of the following year. Normal tax accounting rules regarding the recognition of income and deductions generally apply for this final return. And, as is the case during life, tax planning opportunities are available both when death is imminent and after death. For instance, several decisions can affect the income or deductions reported on that final return. However, as we will discuss below, a major decision for married individuals concerns whether to file a joint return for the year of death.
When a married taxpayer dies and the surviving spouse does not remarry during the year, the spouse may file a joint return with the decedent for the year of death, but is not required to do so. The joint return will include income and deductions for the decedent prior to the date of death and the surviving spouse's income and deductions for the entire year. If the surviving spouse remarries before the close of the tax year that includes the date of death, the spouse may not file jointly with the decedent. Instead, a separate return must be prepared for the decedent. Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages for joint filers to consider when filing that final return.
Advantages of Filing a Joint Return. Since the surviving spouse's tax year does not end upon the death of the decedent, it may be possible to reduce their combined income tax liability by accelerating or postponing income or deductions to maximize use of the joint tax rates. Some other benefits include, but are not limited to: (a) use of one spouse's excess deductions against the income of the other spouse (e.g., excess charitable contributions); (b) an increase in the IRA contribution limit (because of the spousal IRA rules); and (c) the ability of the decedent's net operating loss (NOL), capital loss, and passive activity loss (subject to the limitation) carryovers to offset income of the surviving spouse. Note that any NOL or capital loss carryover of the decedent that is not used on the final return (whether separate or joint) will expire unused.
Disadvantages of Filing a Joint Return. Filing a joint return with the surviving spouse is not always the best option. One disadvantage of filing a joint return for the decedent's final tax year is that the decedent's estate and the surviving spouse are jointly and severally liable for any tax, interest, and penalties due on the joint return. In addition, when the surviving spouse is not the sole beneficiary of the estate, the decedent's personal representative may not be willing to expose the estate to potential unknown liabilities (e.g., tax on the surviving spouse's unreported income). Potentially, this exposure may be avoided because of the innocent spouse rules. Also, filing a joint return can negatively impact the amount of the decedent's deductions that are subject to adjusted gross income (AGI) limitations (e.g., medical, casualty, miscellaneous itemized) since AGI is based on joint income rather than separate income. Finally, the surviving spouse must cooperate with the decedent's personal representative by sharing the information necessary to prepare the return and by signing the return once it is prepared.
Planning for that final 1040 is something we may not think much about, but it is a good idea all the same.
Maximizing the Deduction for Start-up Expenses
Individuals starting a new business or acquiring the assets of an existing business often incur start-up expenses, which can be considerable, in the investigation and acquisition phase before actual business operations begin. Most start-up expenditures can be segregated into two broad categories: (a) investigatory expenses and (b) business preopening costs.
Taxpayers can immediately deduct up to $5,000 of start-up expenses in the year when active conduct of a business begins. However, the $5,000 instant deduction allowance is reduced dollar for dollar by cumulative start-up expens-es in excess of $50,000 for the business in question. Start-up expenses that cannot be immediately deducted in the year a business begins must be capitalized and amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis. In many cases, start-up expenses for small businesses will be modest enough to qualify for immediate deduction under the $5,000 instant deduction allowance in the year when active conduct of business commences.
Example: Claiming the deduction for start-up expenses.
Suzie (a calendar-year taxpayer) incurs $4,200 of start-up expenses in 2012 before opening her new car wash in November of 2012. Suzie's 2012 deduction is $4,200. Since her start-up expenses did not exceed $50,000, she can deduct the entire $4,200 in 2012.
Note: A taxpayer is not considered to be engaged in carrying on a trade or business until the business has begun to function as a going concern and has performed the activities for which it was organized.
Substantiating Charitable Contributions
One of the most popular tax deductions for individuals is the one allowed for donations to charitable organizations - from the local church or synagogue to the Red Cross and various other national organizations. Unfortunately, this deduction has also been among the most abused. Thus, perhaps it is not surprising that Congress has responded to the problem by regularly enacting more rules around documenting donations.
What we're left with is a confusing array of rules that you must comply with in order to claim a deduction. For example, donors must obtain a written acknowledgment from the charity if the value of the contribution (cash or other property) is $250 or more - a canceled check is not sufficient proof. A recent court case illustrates how easy it is to run afoul of the documentation requirements.
In the case, the taxpayers donated $22,517 to their church during the tax year. Several individual donations were made by check, each of which was in excess of $250. Although the donations were made by check and the taxpayer provided canceled checks to document the gift, the IRS disallowed the deduction because the taxpayers failed to obtain a timely receipt from their church to support the donations. Such receipt (or receipts) must be received by the time you file your return for the year of the donation (or, if earlier, by when the return is due). In addition, it must include all of the following:
In the case at hand, the taxpayers had a receipt from their church, but it did not contain the required statement regarding whether goods or services were provided. They tried to correct this omission by getting a new receipt from their church after the IRS challenged the deduction. By then, of course, it was too late.
While this gives you a glimpse at the substantiation requirements for charitable donations, the rules can get much more complicated, especially when you make charitable donations of property rather than cash. Please contact us to discuss the requirements for specific types of donations or with questions on other tax compliance or planning issues.
Individual Year-end Tax Planning
The current federal income tax environment remains favorable through December 31st. Here are some tax planning ideas to consider as we approach year-end.
Leverage Standard Deduction by Bunching Deductible Expenditures. Are your 2012 itemized deductions likely to be just under or just over the standard deduction amount? If so, consider bunching expenditures for itemized deduction items every other year, while claiming the standard deduction in the intervening years. The 2012 standard deduction for married joint filers is $11,900; $5,950 for single and married filing separate filers; and $8,700 for heads of households.
For example, say you're a joint filer whose only itemized deductions are $4,000 of annual property taxes and $8,000 of home mortgage interest. If you prepay your 2013 property taxes by December 31st, you could claim $16,000 of itemized deductions on your 2012 return ($4,000 of 2012 property taxes, plus an-other $4,000 for the 2013 property tax bill, plus the $8,000 of mortgage interest). Next year, you would only have the $8,000 of interest, but you could claim the standard deduction. Following this strategy will cut your taxable income by a meaningful amount over the two-year period (this year and next). You can repeat the drill again in future years. Finally, check for any negative AMT implications before implementing this strategy.
Examples of other deductible items that can be bunched together every other year to lower your taxes include charitable donations and state income tax payments.
Caution: If you think you'll be in a higher tax bracket next year, you may want to claim the standard deduction this year and bunch your itemized deductions into 2013 when they can offset the higher taxed in-come. This will boost your overall tax savings for the two years combined.
Take Advantage of the 0% Rate on Investment Income. For 2012, the federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends is 0% when they fall within the 10% or 15% federal income tax rate brackets. This will be the case to the extent your taxable income (including long-term capital gains and qualified dividends) does not exceed $70,700 if you are married and file jointly ($35,350 if you are single). While your income may be too high to benefit from the 0% rate, you may have children, grandchildren, or other loved ones who will be in one of the bottom two brackets. If so, consider giving them some appreciated stock or mutual fund shares that they can then sell and pay 0% tax on the resulting long-term gains. Gains will be long-term as long as your ownership period plus the gift recipient's ownership period (before he or she sells) equals at least a year and a day.
Giving away stocks that pay dividends is another tax-smart idea. As long as the dividends fall within the gift recipient's 10% or 15% rate bracket, they will be federal-income-tax-free.
Caution: The Kiddie Tax rules could cause capital gains and dividends to be taxed at the parent's tax rate. Also, the gift tax exclusion is $13,000 in 2012.
Time Investment Gains and Losses. As you evaluate investments held in your taxable accounts, con-sider the impact of selling appreciated securities this year. The maximum federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains in 2012 is 15%. Therefore, it often makes sense to hold appreciated securities for at least a year and a day before selling. On the other hand, now may be a good time to cash in some long-term winners to benefit from today's historically low capital gains tax rates.
Biting the bullet and selling some loser securities (currently worth less than you paid for them) before year-end can also be a good idea. The resulting capital losses will offset capital gains from other sales this year, including short-term gains from securities owned for one year or less that would otherwise be taxed at ordinary income tax rates. The bottom line is that you don't have to worry about paying a higher tax rate on short-term gains if you have enough capital losses to shelter those short-term gains.
If capital losses for this year exceed capital gains, you will have a net capital loss for 2012. You can use that loss to shelter up to $3,000 of this year's ordinary income from salaries, bonuses, self-employment, and so forth ($1,500 if you're married and file separately). Any excess net capital loss is carried forward to next year.
For the Charitably Inclined. Say you want to make some gifts to favorite relatives (who may be hurting financially) and/or favorite charities. You can make gifts in conjunction with an overall revamping of your stock and equity mutual fund portfolio. Here's how to get the best tax results from your generosity:
Gifts to Relatives (nondeductible). Do not give away loser shares. Instead sell the shares, and take ad-vantage of the resulting capital losses. Then give the cash sales proceeds to the relative. Do give away winner shares to relatives. Most likely, they will pay less tax than you would pay if you sold the same shares. In fact, relatives who are in the 10% or 15% federal income tax brackets will generally pay a 0% federal tax rate on long-term gains from shares that were held for over a year before being sold in 2012. (For purposes of meeting the more-than-one-year rule for gifted shares, you get to count your ownership period plus the recipient relative's ownership period, however brief.) Even if the shares are held for one year or less before being sold, your relative will probably pay a lower tax rate than you would (typically only 10% or 15%). However, be aware that gains recognized by a relative who is under age 24 may be taxed at his or her parents' higher rates under the so-called Kiddie Tax rules.
Gifts to Charities (deductible). The strategies for gifts to relatives work equally well for gifts to IRS-approved charities. Sell loser shares and claim the resulting tax-saving capital loss on your return. Then, give the sales proceeds to the charity and claim the resulting charitable write-off (assuming you itemize deductions). This strategy results in a double tax benefit (tax-saving capital loss plus tax-saving charitable contribution deduction). Give away winner shares to charity instead of giving cash. Here's why. For publicly traded shares that you've owned over a year, your charitable deduction equals the full current market value at the time of the gift. Plus, when you give winner shares away, you walk away from the related capital gains tax. This idea is another double tax-saver (you avoid capital gains tax on the winner shares, and you get a tax-saving charitable contribution write-off). Because the charitable organization is tax-exempt, it can sell your donated shares without owing anything to the IRS.
This article should get you started thinking about tax planning moves for the rest of this year. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you want more details or would like to schedule a tax planning strategy session.
Noteworthy 2013 Healthcare Provisions
The 2010 Healthcare Act included several significant tax changes scheduled to take effect next year. Listed below is information on two provisions that could impact numerous taxpayers. We have also noted what you can do before year-end to minimize the negative impact of these provisions.
$2,500 Cap on Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Contributions. Before the Healthcare Act, there was no tax-law limit on the amount you could contribute each year to your employer's healthcare FSA plan. That said, many plans have always imposed their own annual limits. Amounts you contribute to the FSA plan are subtracted from your taxable salary. Then, you can use the FSA funds to reimburse yourself tax-free to cover qualified medical expenses. Good deal! Starting in 2013, however, the maximum annual FSA contribution for each employee will be capped at $2,500.
Note: An employee employed by two or more unrelated employers may elect up to $2,500 under each employer's health FSA.
Tax Planning Implications: If you have an FSA plan, your employer will ask you near the end of the year to decide how much you want to contribute to your healthcare FSA for 2013. At that point, the new $2,500 contribution limit may affect you. Other than that, just make sure you use up your 2012 contribution before the deadline for doing so.
Higher Threshold for Itemized Medical Expense Deductions. Before the Healthcare Act, the allowable itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses paid for you, your spouse, and your dependents equaled the excess of your qualified medical expenses over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Starting in 2013, the deduction threshold will be raised to 10% of AGI for most individuals. However, if either you or your spouse reaches age 65 by December 31, 2013, the new 10%-of-AGI threshold will not take effect until 2017 (in other words, the long-standing 7.5%-of-AGI threshold will continue to apply to those taxpayers for 2013-2016). Also, if you or your spouse turns age 65 in any year 2014-2016, the long-standing 7.5%-of-AGI threshold will apply for that year through 2016. Starting in 2017, the 10%-of-AGI threshold will apply to everyone.
Tax Planning Implications: If you will be affected by the new 10%-of-AGI threshold next year, consider accelerating elective qualifying unreimbursed medical expenses into 2012 so that your allowable medical expense deduction for this year will be based on the more taxpayer-friendly 7.5%-of-AGI threshold.
College Loan Repayment Plan Application Is Simplified
Federal college loan borrowers have several repayment plan options. One option-Income-Based Repayment (IBR)-is about to get simpler. Under IBR, required monthly payments are capped based on income and family size. Previously, applicants had to enter their income tax data onto the application. Now, the Department of Education is collaborating with the IRS so applicants can import their tax return data directly into the IBR application and submit it online. This will allow borrowers to complete the application in one sitting.
Visit this site for more information.
New 3.8% Medicare Contribution Tax on Unearned Income
Beginning in 2013, the 2010 Health Care Act, as amended by the 2010 Health Care Reconciliation Act, imposes a Medicare contribution tax on unearned income (Medicare contribution tax) on individuals, estates, and trusts. The tax is generally levied on income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, rents, and capital gains, but can also be levied on home sale gains in excess of the applicable exclusion amount.
For individuals, the tax is 3.8% of the lesser of (a) net investment income or (b) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over the applicable threshold amount. Net investment income is investment income reduced by the deductions properly allocable to such income. Fortunately, qualified retirement plan distributions are not included in investment income. MAGI is adjusted gross income (AGI) increased by the amount excluded from income as foreign earned income, net of the deductions and exclusions disallowed with respect to the foreign earned income. The threshold amount for those subject to the tax is $250,000 for joint returns or surviving spouses, $125,000 for separate returns, and $200,000 in other cases.
Where possible, taxpayers can reduce their 2013 MAGI by receiving 2012 bonus, profit sharing, or other incentive payments in 2012 versus 2013. But recognize that doing so will accelerate into 2012 the regular income tax due on these payments. If 2013 MAGI is under the applicable threshold amount, there will be no Medicare contribution tax liability.
Example: Single taxpayer's MAGI exceeds the $200,000 threshold.
Carol, a single taxpayer, has net investment income of $100,000 and MAGI of $220,000 in 2013. She would pay a Medicare contribution tax on $20,000, the amount by which her MAGI exceeds the $200,000 threshold since this is less than her net investment income of $100,000. Carol's 2013 Medicare contribution tax would be $760 ($20,000 × 3.8%).
However, if a taxpayer's 2013 MAGI exceeds the threshold amount by at least the amount of the net investment in-come, the taxpayer will pay 3.8% on the full amount of his or her net investment income.
Example: Taxpayer's MAGI exceeds the threshold by more than net investment income.
Wesley, a single taxpayer, has 2013 net investment income of $110,000 and MAGI of $400,000. Because his MAGI exceeds the $200,000 threshold amount by more than his net investment income, he would pay a Medicare contribution tax on his full $110,000 net investment income. Wesley's 2013 Medicare contribution tax would be $4,180 ($110,000 × 3.8%).
A large home sale gain could be subjected to the Medicare contribution tax. However, any amount realized from the sale of a principal residence excluded from federal taxation (up to $250,000; $500,000 for certain married couples filing a joint return) is not subject to the Medicare contribution tax.
Example: Home sale gain in excess of the $500,000 exclusion.
The Clarks, a married couple, have 2013 AGI of $260,000. They sell their principal residence for $1.2 million, and realize a net gain of $700,000. Their 2013 MAGI is $460,000 ($260,000 AGI + $200,000 home sale gain in excess of $500,000). Because their MAGI exceeds the $250,000 threshold for joint filers, they would pay a Medicare contribution tax on $200,000 from the sale of their home. [The Medicare contribution tax is computed on the lesser of the $200,000 applicable home sale gain or $210,000 ($460,000 MAGI x the $250,000 threshold).] Their 2013 Medicare contribution tax would be $7,600 ($200,000 × 3.8%).
Planning Tip: If a taxpayer anticipates receiving large capital gains from the sale of a business, investments, a principal residence, real estate, etc., these transactions should be completed before 2013, if possible, to avoid the Medicare contribution tax in 2013.
Finally, the Medicare contribution tax is paid in addition to the 0.9% Medicare surtax on wages and self-employment income in excess of the applicable threshold amounts (see above). Taxpayers who have both high wages or self-employment income and high investment income may be hit with both taxes in 2013.
Cash Management Strategies for a Secure Retirement
For those of us looking forward to achieving a financially secure retirement, an overriding question is "how much will I need to live comfortably during retirement?" Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer; everyone has different goals and objectives. However, we have listed below some ideas to help build that retirement nest egg.
Budgeting. Develop a budget that minimizes nonessential current expenditures in the interest of saving for the de-sired standard of living during retirement. Developing a budget is also a good first step in accumulating some cash for emergencies.
Building a Cash Reserve. Develop and maintain a cash reserve to meet emergency needs. Building an adequate reserve can help avoid having to liquidate investments when the market is depressed or it is otherwise inadvisable to sell.
Forced Savings. Some people are less likely to spend money if they do not actually see the funds, and some need the discipline of having savings taken care of automatically. These individuals may find it easier to set funds aside if they arrange to have their bank automatically and systematically transfer funds from checking to savings or investment accounts. Also, they may have their employer take automatic payroll deductions to fund voluntary contributions to retirement [e.g., 401(k)], savings, or stock plans.
Allocating Less to Other Parts of Financial Plan. Consider allocating a lesser amount of funds to other parts of your financial plan. For example, education costs for children or grandchildren may need to be revised and less expensive institutions considered. Gifts to family members and preretirement travel and entertainment may need to be reduced.
Minimizing, Restructuring, or Eliminating Debt. Generally, debt should be minimized as retirement approaches. If borrowing is necessary, home equity loans or borrowing from a qualified retirement plan (if permitted) should be considered. Home equity loans are generally a relatively cheap source of financing (considering the after-tax borrowing rate), and the repayment terms often are more generous than those of unsecured loans. The interest on a home equity loan up to $100,000 is generally tax deductible on your federal return, regardless of how the loan proceeds are used. Loans from qualified plans generally carry relatively low interest rates, and the interest paid on the loan is an addition to your account balance.
Using a Reverse Mortgage. A reverse mortgage is a loan in the form of monthly payments or a lump-sum payment against the equity in your personal residence. If age 62 or above, you might consider a reverse mortgage for one or more of the following reasons: (a) paying off personal debts, (b) paying for medical care, (c) covering financial emergencies, (d) delaying withdrawals from a retirement plan, or (e) supplementing monthly income. The loan is not repaid until the homeowner permanently moves from the residence, the property is refinanced or sold, or the home-owner dies.
Delaying Retirement. Working for a longer period can make a significant difference in your retirement picture. For example, in addition to continuing earnings, working longer may provide continued fringe benefits and contributions to retirement plans. Extending the working period could also delay IRA or other retirement account withdrawals needed to cover living expenses, thus allowing them to grow longer on a tax-deferred basis. Delaying social security benefits can also result in a higher monthly benefit amount.
New Tax Rule for Local Lodging Expenses
The IRS recently issued long-awaited regulations that permit certain not-away-from-home lodging expenses to be deducted by workers if they are not reimbursed by their employer. Alternatively, if paid for by the employer, the expense can be treated as a tax-free working condition fringe benefit (WCFB) or tax-free accountable-plan reimbursement.
Thanks to prior IRS guidance, the value of an employer-provided WCFB is excluded from the recipient employee's gross income for federal income and employment tax purposes. A WCFB is defined as any property or service provided to an employee to the extent that, if the employee paid for the property or service, it would be deductible by the employee as an unreimbursed employee business expense. Employer-paid lodging for an employee who is out of town on the employer's business counts as a tax-free WCFB.
Prior regulations provide that the cost of an individual's lodging that is not incurred while traveling away from home on business is generally a personal expense and is therefore generally not deductible by the individual. An individual is not considered away from home unless he or she is away from home overnight, or at least long enough to require rest or sleep.
The new regulations stipulate that an individual's local lodging expenses can be deducted by the individual as business expenses if the applicable facts and circumstances dictate that such treatment is appropriate. In turn, expenses that would qualify for deductions if paid for by an employee will qualify as a tax-free WCFB if paid by the employer, or if advanced or reimbursed by the employer under an accountable plan. However, local lodging expenses will not qualify for the aforementioned tax-favored treatment if the lodging is lavish or extravagant, or if it is primarily to provide the individual with a social or personal benefit.
Safe Harbor Rule. Under the new regulations, local lodging expenses are automatically treated as ordinary and necessary business expenses if all of the following conditions are met: (1) the lodging is necessary for the individual to participate fully in or be available for a bona fide business meeting, conference, training activity, or other business function; (2) the lodging is for a period that does not exceed five calendar days and does not occur more frequently than once per calendar quarter; (3) in the case of an employee, the employer requires the employee to remain at the activity or function overnight; and (4) the lodging is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances and does not provide any significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or benefit.
Example: Tax-favored treatment allowed for employees.
Distant Corporation puts on periodic employee training sessions at a hotel near its main office. Distant requires all attending employees, including employees from the local area, to remain at the hotel overnight for the bona fide business purpose of maximizing the effectiveness of the training sessions.
If Distant directly pays the lodging costs for attending employees, the costs qualify as tax-free WCFBs for the attending employees, including those who live in the local area, and Distant can deduct the costs as business expenses. If Distant reimburses attending employees for the lodging costs under an accountable plan, the reimbursements are tax-free to the employees, including those who live in the local area, and Distant can deduct the reimbursements as business expenses.
Please contact us if you have questions concerning business travel expenses or any other tax compliance or planning issue.
Social Security Statements
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced that Social Security statements may now be viewed online at www.ssa.gov/mystatement. The statements provide workers with an estimate of benefits under current law and an earnings record with Social Security and Medicare for taxes paid over their working career. A printable version of the Social Security statement is available. To get an online statement, a person must be 18 or older and able to provide information that matches their SSA file. After verification, an account is created with a unique user name and password to access the online statement.
Boomer Alert: Approximately 3 million baby boomers are turning 65 each year. According to the Social Security Administration, social security was the major source of income for most beneficiaries.
2013 HSA Limitations
Health savings accounts (HSAs) were created as a tax-favored framework to provide health care benefits mainly for small business owners, the self-employed, and employees of small- to medium-sized companies who do not have access to health insurance.
The tax benefits of HSAs are quite favorable and substantial. Eligible individuals can make tax-deductible (as an adjustment to AGI) contributions into HSA accounts. The funds in the account may be invested (somewhat like an IRA), so there is an opportunity for growth. The earnings inside the HSA are free from federal income tax, and funds withdrawn to pay eligible health care costs are tax free.
The recently released 2013 inflation-adjusted deduction for individual self-only coverage under a high-deductible plan is $3,250, while the comparable amount for family coverage is $6,450. This is an increase of 4.8% and 3.2%, respectively, from 2012. For 2013, a high-deductible health plan is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,250 for self-only coverage and $2,500 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles and copayments, but not premiums) must not exceed $6,250 for self-only coverage or $12,500 for family coverage.
Kiddie Tax Update
In the good old days, highly taxed parents could shelter some of their investment income by attributing it to their lower taxed older children. No more. The kiddie tax captures that income at the parent's rate. Parents may not realize there are tax rules that could affect their child's investment income. Here's how it works. A child is subject to the kiddie tax if:
Note: The kiddie tax applies to children under age 18 regardless of their earned income level.
A child subject to the kiddie tax pays tax at his or her parents' highest marginal rate on the child's unearned income over $1,900 (for 2012) if that tax is higher than the tax the child would otherwise pay on it. The parents can instead elect to include on their own return the child's gross income in excess of $1,900 (for 2012).
An individual eligible to be claimed as a dependent on another taxpayer's return may not claim a personal exemption. Thus, a child cannot claim a personal exemption ($3,800 in 2012) if his or her parents can claim an exemption for him or her; whether they actually claim the exemption is irrelevant.
The 2012 standard deduction for a child claimed (or eligible to be claimed) as a dependent on another return is the greater of $950 or the sum of $300 plus earned income, but not to exceed the $5,950 (for 2012) standard deduction that would otherwise be allowable. For 2012, a child with no earned income (e.g., wages) may use a standard deduction to avoid tax on the first $950 of unearned income (e.g., dividends); the next $950 is taxed at the child's tax rate. Therefore, in 2012, the kiddie tax provision does not affect the child until unearned income exceeds $1,900 (or greater if the child itemizes deductions and deductible expenses directly connected to the unearned income exceed $950).
Example: Child with earned income.
Johnny, age 17, earns $2,000 delivering newspapers. He also had $1,300 of dividend income, for a total of $3,300. The earned income from the paper route ($2,000) is fully sheltered from tax by Johnny's standard deduction of $2,300 ($2,000 earned income plus $300; limited to $5,950 in 2012). So, the $1,000 excess ($3,300 - $2,300) will be taxed at a normal 10% tax rate. The kiddie tax does not apply because unearned income is less than $1,900.
"Dirty Dozen" Tax Scams
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman recently stated "taxpayers should be careful and avoid falling into a trap with the Dirty Dozen. Scam artists will tempt people in-person, on-line and by e-mail with misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. Don't be fooled by these scams."
The Dirty Dozen are the 12 most prevalent scams detected by the IRS. Taxpayers should take precautions to avoid these and other suspicious activities of scam artists. The following scams make up the IRS's 2012 "Dirty Dozen" listing.
Please contact us if you are concerned about these or any other questionable activity.
Use a Reverse Mortgage as a Cash Resource
When an older homeowner has significant equity in his or her residence and needs funds, but lacks the resources to make monthly payments on a conventional mortgage, a reverse mortgage might provide a solution. A reverse mortgage is so-called because the mortgage balance normally increases over the term of the loan, rather than decreasing as the balance of a conventional mortgage does. A reverse mortgage allows a homeowner to receive loan proceeds over a certain period (by borrowing against equity in the home) while continuing to live in the house. (Other loan distribution options are available.)
An older homeowner may be motivated to obtain a reverse mortgage for many reasons. These include paying off an existing mortgage; purchasing a new residence; paying taxes, medical expenses, insurance, and household upkeep costs; covering financial emergencies; supplementing monthly income; paying nursing home expenses; and providing rainy day funds.
The amount a lender will advance depends primarily on the borrower's age, equity in the home, and the interest rate. The older the homeowner, the larger the advances can be because there will probably be fewer advances than a younger homeowner would receive. Also, the more equity in the home, the larger the monthly advances can be. Finally, a lower interest rate can lead to larger advances.
In a typical case, the house will be sold at some point (normally after the borrower dies) to pay off the mortgage. Since the loan typically defers all repayment until the house is sold or the borrower dies, lending decisions may be based primarily on the home's value rather than on the borrower's creditworthiness and ability to make monthly payments as in the typical loan underwriting process.
In most cases, to qualify for a reverse mortgage, the homeowner must be at least 62 years old. He or she must also own the home outright or be able to pay off any balance with a portion of the reverse mortgage proceeds. To avoid default, the homeowner must maintain the home, pay property taxes, and provide insurance.
Caution: The expenses associated with reverse mortgages are high. Homeowners could pay as much as 7% to 8% of their home's value in closing costs as well as a higher interest rate than with a regular mortgage or home equity loan.
Education Tax Credits
We continually hear and read reports on the escalating cost of higher education. However, two tax credits are available to provide some relief for taxpayers who are paying these education costs for themselves or family members. The American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit are available in 2012 to help students and parents cover the cost of higher education. Taxpayers will generally use the American Opportunity Tax Credit, as opposed to the Lifetime Learning Credit, since it will yield a greater monetary benefit.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit is a per student credit that may be claimed for each eligible student pursuing an undergraduate degree or other recognized education credential. The student must be enrolled at least half-time for one academic period to qualify for the credit.
The maximum American Opportunity Tax Credit is $2,500 per student in 2012 based on 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 of the qualified tuition and related expenses paid during the tax year for education furnished to an eligible student. Qualified expenses include tuition and fees and course-related books, supplies, and equipment. Forty percent of the credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000 even if you owe no taxes. This credit does phase out, but is generally available to eligible taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is less than $80,000, or $160,000 for married couples filing a joint return.
Unlike the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit is a per taxpayer (per return) credit, rather than a per student credit. It is available for all years of postsecondary education, including graduate level degree work, and for courses to acquire or improve job skills (e.g., work-related community college courses). The student does not have to be pursuing a degree or other recognized education credential to obtain the credit.
For 2012, the maximum Lifetime Learning Credit allowed is $2,000 (20% of up to $10,000 of the aggregate qualified tuition and related expenses paid during the tax year for education furnished to an eligible student during any academic period). Qualified expenses include tuition and fees and course-related books, supplies, and equipment, but only if required by the eligible education institution for enrollment. The maximum credit is limited to the tax you must pay on your return-the credit is nonrefundable. (Special rules apply for AMT.) This credit does phase out, but the full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is less than $52,000, or $104,000 for married couples filing a joint return in 2012.
Although several of the rules and requirements are the same for both education credits, taxpayers can elect to claim only one of these credits for the same student in a tax year. However, this does not prevent a taxpayer from claiming a different credit (or the same credit) for different students in the same tax year.
IRS's Information on Exempt Charitable Organizations
The IRS recently launched a new online search tool entitled "Exempt Organizations Select Check." This search tool can be found at www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=249767,00.html and allows users to search for:
A search for eligible organizations may now be done by Employer Identification Number (EIN). The Auto-Revocation List (#2) may be searched by EIN, name, city, state, ZIP code, country, and revocation posting date. Information is updated monthly.
If you have a child who works, consider encouraging the child to use some of the earnings for Roth IRA contributions. All that is required to make a Roth IRA contribution is having some earned income for the year. Age is irrelevant. Specifically, for 2012 your child can contribute the lesser of: (1) earned income or (2) $5,000.
By making Roth IRA contributions for just a few years now, your child can potentially accumulate quite a bit of money by retirement age. Realistically, however, most kids will not be willing to contribute the $5,000 annual maximum even when they have enough earnings to do so. Be satisfied if you can convince your child to contribute at least a meaningful amount each year. Remember, if you are so inclined, you can make the Roth IRA contribution for your child.
Here's what can happen. If your 15-year-old contributes $1,000 to a Roth IRA each year for four years starting now, in 45 years when your child is 60 years old, the Roth IRA would be worth about $33,000 if it earns a 5% annual return or $114,000 if it earns an 8% return. If your child contributes $1,500 for each of the four years, after 45 years the Roth IRA would be worth about $50,000 if it earns 5% or about $171,000 if it earns 8%. If the child contributes $2,500 for each of the four years, after 45 years the Roth IRA would be worth about $84,000 if it earns 5% or a whopping $285,000 if it earns 8%. You get the idea. With relatively modest annual contributions for just a few years, Roth IRAs can be worth eye-popping amounts by the time your child approaches retirement age.
For a child, contributing to a Roth IRA is usually a much better idea than contributing to a traditional IRA for several reasons. The child can withdraw all or part of the annual Roth contributions-without any federal income tax or penalty-to pay for college or for any other reason. (However, Roth earnings generally cannot be withdrawn tax-free before age 59 1/2.) In contrast, if your child makes deductible contributions to a traditional IRA, any subsequent withdrawals must be reported as income on his or her tax returns.
Even though a child can withdraw Roth IRA contributions without any adverse federal income tax consequences, the best strategy is to leave as much of the account balance as possible untouched until retirement age in order to accumulate a larger federal-income-tax-free sum.
What about tax deductions for traditional IRA contributions? Isn't that an advantage compared to Roth IRAs? Good questions. There are no write-offs for Roth IRA contributions, but your child probably will not get any meaningful write-offs from contributing to a traditional IRA either. That is because an unmarried dependent child's standard deduction will automatically shelter up to $5,950 of earned income (for 2012) from federal income tax. Any additional income will probably be taxed at very low rates. Unless your child has enough taxable income to owe a significant amount of tax (not very likely), the advantage of being able to deduct traditional IRA contributions is mostly or entirely worthless. Since that is the only advantage a traditional IRA has over a Roth IRA, the Roth option almost always comes out on top for kids.
By encouraging kids with earned income to make Roth IRA contributions, you're introducing the ideas of saving money and investing for the future. Plus, there are tax advantages. It's never too soon for children to learn about taxes and how to legally minimize or avoid them. Finally, if you can hire your child as an employee of your business, some additional tax advantages may be available.
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman announced a major expansion of the "Fresh Start" initiative in a press release dated March 7th, 2012. The Fresh Start initiative, first introduced in 2008 as a part of a larger program to help taxpayers address their tax liabilities, assists qualified taxpayers in three major areas: penalty relief, installment agreements, and offers in compromise.
Late-payment penalties (0.5% per month of the unpaid tax amount up to a maximum of 25%) are abated until October 15, 2012 as long as the tax, interest and any other penalties are paid by that date. Certain wage earners and self-employed individuals are given a six-month grace period for failure-to-pay penalties. The penalty relief will be available to wage earners who were unemployed for at least 30 consecutive days during 2011 or in 2012 (up to the April 15, 2012) and self-employed individuals who experienced a 25% or greater reduction in 2011 business income (compared to 2010) due to the economic downturn.
A qualifying taxpayer filing as single or head of household may not have Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) greater than $100,000. Married taxpayers who file jointly do not qualify if their AGI is more than $200,000. This penalty relief is restricted to taxpayers whose calendar year 2011 balance due (taxes owed less payments and withholding) does not exceed $50,000.
Tax returns must be filed timely. This means taxpayer(s) must file their returns by April 17, 2012 or file for an extension to October 15, 2012. Failure-to-file penalties will not be waived. New form 1127-A must be filed to qualify for relief.
The Fresh Start provisions also allow more taxpayers to qualify for installment agreements to pay taxes owed. Effective immediately, taxpayers owing taxes of $50,000 (double the previous threshold of $25,000) or less can begin an installment agreement without supplying the IRS with a financial statement. Qualified taxpayers who cannot pay the entire amounts owed by the due date may enter into a payment plan extending payments up to a maximum term of seventy-two months. Although penalties are reduced, interest continues to accrue on the outstanding balance. In addition, taxpayers must agree to monthly direct debit payments. Taxpayers can set up an agreement online at www.irs.gov by going to the online payment agreement (OPA) page and following the instructions.
Offers in Compromise
Liberalized rules for offers in compromise (agreements between taxpayers and the IRS to settle a taxpayer’s liability for less than the full amount owed) as set forth in the earlier Fresh Start remain in effect. Those changes allow more taxpayers to qualify and allow for some changes to the program to more closely reflect real-world situations.
According to Mr. Shulman, the changes to the Fresh Start initiative reflect the IRS’ obligation to assist taxpayers struggling to pay their bills. "Our goal is to help people meet their obligations at get back on their feet financially," Shulman said. If you have questions about the Fresh Start Initiative and how it may apply to your financial situation, please give us a call
In a press release from January 31, 2012, IRS commissioner Doug Shulman announced the results of a nationwide effort to cut down on identity theft and refund fraud. The IRS worked in conjunction with the Justice Department's Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys' offices to target more than one hundred people across twenty-three states. The sweep resulted in 939 criminal charges against would-be tax frauds.
In addition to the sweep, IRS auditors and investigators visited approximately 150 money-service businesses to conduct extensive compliance visits and insure these businesses aren't engaged in practices which may facilitate refund fraud and identity theft.
Taxpayer identity theft normally occurs when a thief uses a legitimate taxpayer's identity to falsely file a tax return and claim a refund. A victim of identity theft is rarely aware their identity has been stolen until he or she attempts to file a legitimate return later in the tax season and discovers that another return has already been filed using their Social Security Number.
If you receive an IRS notification for any of the following reasons, you should take immediate action:
Immediately respond to the name and number printed on the letter if you receive such notification.
The IRS advises you to minimize your risk of identity theft by:
By taking action against tax fraud criminals, Commissioner Shulman sends a clear message to anyone considering participation in a tax fraud scheme. He said "We are aggressively pursuing cases across the nation with the Justice Department, and people will be going to jail". The IRS is taking additional steps to prevent identity theft and detect fraud by using new identity-theft screening filters and placing identity-theft indicators on taxpayer accounts to track and manage incidents of identity theft. Despite these advances, you should always be vigilant in protecting your Social Security number and financial information.
Happy New Year! Tax returns for 2011 are barely begun but it is not too early to start thinking about tax planning strategies for 2012. This is by no means an all-encompassing list, so be sure to discuss your specific situation with your tax professional. Some important tax code changes for 2012 are:
Please keep in mind this is not a complete list of changes for tax year 2012 - and there likely will be further changes as the year progresses. Due to current economic conditions - and the fact that this is an election year - it is more important than ever to keep in contact with your CPA. Income tax planning is only one of the many ways to increase your wealth potential!
To assist taxpayers with the ever-increasing costs of higher education, there are a variety of tax advantages available. For the 2011 tax year, there are two tax credits (reduce the amount of tax owed) available, the American Opportunity Credit, and the Lifetime Learning Credit. In addition, some taxpayers may be able to deduct tuition and fees (to reduce the amount of taxable income). Lastly, both parents and student should consider whether opening tax-advantaged savings accounts to help pay for education may yield some benefit. Additional education-related benefits exist (interest deductions for student loans and work-related education expenses) - be certain to address any questions you have with your tax professional soon so you can take the necessary actions before December 31, 2011.
The American Opportunity Credit is available as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The American Opportunity Credit was originally set to expire in 2010 but was extended with a few small changes. In 2011 and 2012, the American Opportunity Credit applies to a broader range of taxpayers, the credit can be applied towards four years of post-secondary education instead of two years, and adds required reading materials to the list of qualified expenses.
The maximum annual credit allowed is $2,500 per student. The full credit is available to taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less for individuals and $160,000 or less for married couples filing jointly. Expenses such as tuition, course materials, and supplies necessary for enrollment or attendance are considered qualified expenses. A computer may qualify as a qualified expense if it is needed as a condition of enrollment or attendance at the educational institution. If you have questions about what does or does not qualify, be sure to contact your tax advisor for guidance.
The Lifetime Learning Credit could reduce taxes up to $2,000 per year for qualified educational expenses. It is most useful for graduate students, part time students, and those who are not pursuing a degree because there is no limit on the number of years the lifetime learning credit can be claimed for each student. A taxpayer may not take both the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning credit for the same student in the same year. But, if you pay for qualified educational expenses for more than one student in the same year, you can choose to take credits on a per-student, per-year basis. The American Opportunity Credit may be available for one student and the Lifetime Learning Credit for another.
If your income is too high to claim the American Opportunity Credit, you may be able to deduct qualified education expenses paid during the year for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. The tuition and fees deductions can reduce the amount of income subject to tax by up to $4,000. The tuition and fees deduction is not allowed if any of the below conditions are true:
Section 529 of the IRS Code allows taxpayers to prepay or contribute to certain specified savings accounts to pay for a student's qualified higher education expenses. Distributions from 529 plans are tax-free if they are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses including tuition, required fees, books and supplies. If the designated student attends school at least half-time, room and board expenses also qualify. These plans offer significant flexibility if a student's education plans change - be sure to discuss these options with your tax professional.
Coverdell Education Savings Accounts were also created to incentivize both parents and students to pay for both primary and secondary education. Total contributions for the beneficiary of a Coverdell Education Savings Account cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established so it is important that all contributors to these accounts for a child communicate with one another. Contributions to a Coverdell Education Savings Account are not deductible. However, the principal grows tax-free until distributed. When distributed, the beneficiary is not required to pay tax on these funds provided the amount distributed is less than the qualified education expenses incurred in the year distribution occurs.
Our office would like to make you aware that, for tax year 2012, personal exemptions and standard deductions will rise and tax brackets will widen due to inflation. Please read further to see which inflationary measures may affect your return next year:
By law, the dollar amounts for a variety of tax provisions, affecting virtually every taxpayer, must be revised each year to keep pace with inflation. New dollar amounts affecting 2012 returns, filed by most taxpayers in early 2013, include the following:
The value of each personal and dependent exemption, available to most taxpayers, is $3,800, up $100 from 2011.
The new standard deduction is $11,900 for married couples filing a joint return, up $300, $5,950 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $150, and $8,700 for heads of household, up $200. Nearly two out of three taxpayers take the standard deduction, rather than itemizing deductions, such as mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes.
Tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. For a married couple filing a joint return, for example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $70,700, up from $69,000 in 2011.
For tax year 2012, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low- and moderate- income workers and working families rises to $5,891, up from $5,751 in 2011. The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $50,270, up from $49,078 in 2011.The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.
The foreign earned income deduction rises to $95,100, an increase of $2,200 from the maximum deduction for tax year 2011.
The modified adjusted gross income threshold at which the lifetime learning credit begins to phase out is $104,000 for joint filers, up from $102,000, and $52,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $51,000.
For 2012, annual deductible amounts for Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) increased from the tax year 2011 amounts; please see the table below:
|Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs)||Self-only coverage||Family coverage|
|Minimum annual deductible||$2,100||$4,200|
|Maximum annual deductible||$3,150||$6,300|
|Maximum annual out-of-pocket expenses||$4,200||$7,650|
The $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on student loans begins to phase out for a married taxpayers filing a joint returns at $125,000 and phases out completely at $155,000, an increase of $5,000 from the phase out limits for tax year 2011. For single taxpayers, the phase out ranges remain at the 2011 levels.
For an estate of any decedent dying during calendar year 2012, the basic exclusion from estate tax amount is $5,120,000, up from $5,000,000 for calendar year 2011. Also, if the executor chooses to use the special use valuation method for qualified real property, the aggregate decrease in the value of the property resulting from the choice cannot exceed $1,040,000, up from $1,020,000 for 2011.
The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $13,000.
The monthly limit on the value of qualified transportation benefits exclusion for qualified parking provided by an employer to its employees for 2012 rises to $240, up $10 from the limit in 2011. However, the temporary increase in the monthly limit on the value of the qualified transportation benefits exclusion for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle and transit pass provided by an employer to its employees expires and reverts to $125 for 2012.
Several tax benefits are unchanged in 2012. For example, the additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens remains $1,150 for married individuals and $1,450 for singles and heads of household.
Please feel free to reach out to our firm via phone or email anytime to talk about your personal tax situation. We are always here for you!
Benjamin Franklin once said: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." When it comes to record keeping, the 18th century inventor could not have been more correct. In the event that a natural disaster strikes your home or office, being well organized and redundant in your record keeping can save you or your loved ones considerable time and effort getting life back to normal when the dust settles. Here are a few useful tips any taxpayer can use to help minimize potential damage:Utilize Electronic Recordkeeping
Talk to your bank about paperless bank statements so that you will always have access to them. Instead of receiving them in the mail, they can be sent to your email or you can access your account online with a username and password.
Important documents you receive regarding finances and taxes, such as W-2s and tax returns, can be scanned to your computer and stored on an external hard drive or CD for safekeeping. You should keep these external storage devices in secure locations with important documents like your medical directives and powers of attorney, wills and trusts, birth and marriage certificates.
You also might consider using an online service to back up your computer's hard drive. These services will store all of the information on your computer on their servers. That way, all of your files are backed up and can be easily recovered if your computer is lost or damaged.
Whether or not you choose to utilize paperless recordkeeping, you should keep physical copies of documents which are difficult to replace in at least one secure location. Secure locations include household safes, fireproof boxes, or safe deposit boxes. You should also consider storing a second set of those documents in a secure location as well.Keep Evidence of Valuable Belongings
In order to ensure that you can claim your valuable lost property if it is lost or damaged, you should make lists of the objects in each room of your house and be sure to note their value. You should also take digital photos or videos of the belongings in your home. Just be sure to store copies of those files in a secure place. Business owners should create lists to record your possessions by category, such as office furniture and fixtures, information systems, motor vehicles, equipment, etc. Again, be sure to store the pictures, videos, or lists you make in a secure location so that they cannot be stolen or damaged by water and/or fire.Have a Plan
It is important to have a way to receive information about extreme weather conditions before and after they occur. NOAA Weather Radios send out warnings and post-messages in the event of earthquakes, avalanches, oil spills, floods, and more. Be sure to keep working batteries in yours at all times. Also, be ready to take action if a disaster were to hit; have an emergency plan that you go over annually. Communicate this to your family, employees, or customers, and practice it if necessary.
As the upcoming filing extension tax deadlines approach, the Internal Revenue Service, in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, is announcing a new round of outreach to small employers and the professional service providers they rely on to encourage them to review the new Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to see if they are eligible.
The small business health care tax credit was included in the Affordable Care Act enacted last year. Small employers that pay at least half of the premiums for employee health insurance coverage under a qualifying arrangement may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit. The credit is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ 25 or fewer workers with average income of $50,000 or less.
Small employers face two important tax filing deadlines in coming weeks:
In addition, tax-exempt organizations that file on a calendar year basis and requested an extension to file to November 15 can use Form 8941 and then claim the credit on Form 990-T, Line 44f, a task with which our office can assist you!
As these 2010 deadlines approach and businesses begin planning for the end of 2011 and 2012, the IRS's new outreach campaign is focusing on working with us, the small business and tax practitioner community, to provide this information to you. Information will also be available through social media and other venues, including IRS YouTube videos in English, Spanish and American Sign Language.
We want to remind employers about the upcoming extension deadlines and will also provide details on other important information about the credit, including:
In addition to this month's newsletter, please do not hesitate to call our office for any assistance, help, or other inquiries about your personal and business situation! We look forward to hearing from you!
Congress approved a bill on August 2 increasing the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion, averting default and limiting the downgrade of the federal government's AAA bond rating.
The legislative package not only raised the debt limit enough to keep the government operational through 2012, it also established an ambitious and complicated deficit reduction plan that includes spending cuts, a special "super committee" that will recommend further cuts in spending, enforcement triggers, and a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Below is a summary of most of the agreement's major components (as of August 4, 2011):
The current $14.3 trillion ceiling on federal borrowing would be increased by an amount between $2.1 trillion and $2.4 trillion - a sum presumed sufficient to allow the Treasury Department to operate beyond the 2012 election and into 2013.
The increase would come in two steps. The debt limit would be increased by $900 billion immediately. Of that first $900 billion, $500 billion would be subject to a congressional resolution of disapproval. To block the increase, such a resolution would presumably have to be enacted over the president's veto, a step that requires two-thirds majority votes in both chambers.
A second increase of $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion would be available later. The size of the second increase would be determined by actions Congress takes to curtail growth in the debt.
If by early 2012 a joint congressional committee created by the legislation has recommended, and Congress has enacted, $1.5 trillion in additional savings for fiscal 2012-2021, the second increase in the debt limit would be $1.5 trillion. Alternatively, the debt limit would be increased by $1.5 trillion if a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget is sent to the states for ratification.
If the joint committee recommends, and Congress enacts, savings of less than $1.5 trillion, or if no additional savings are enacted, the second debt limit increase would be $1.2 trillion. The second debt limit increase would also be subject to a congressional resolution of disapproval, which could be vetoed.
An immediate reduction in the deficit would be achieved by placing statutory caps on discretionary appropriations for fiscal years 2012 through 2021. The savings would amount to $935 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, when compared with spending levels estimated in January, or $756 billion when compared with CBO's March estimate that took into account savings enacted as part of fiscal 2011 appropriations (PL 112-10).
The discretionary spending cap for fiscal 2012 would be $1.043 trillion, which is about $24 billion more than the amount set by the House-adopted budget resolution (H Con Res 34). The cap for fiscal 2013 would be $1.047 trillion. For both years, a "firewall" would be erected between security (national defense, homeland security, and related activities) and non-security accounts - meaning domestic programs could not be targeted to provide more security spending.
The caps for fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2021 would not segregate security and non-security spending.
If lawmakers did not adhere to the discretionary appropriations caps, a process for imposing across-the-board, automatic spending cuts from discretionary accounts would take effect after Congress adjourns for the year.
The automatic mechanism would be similar to the system of spending "sequesters" enacted as part of the 1985 Gramm-Rudman anti-deficit law (PL 99-177). Some spending, including military pay, would be exempt from the automatic cuts.
The new joint committee could recommend specific ways to reduce the deficit by an additional $1.5 trillion by 2021. The panel would be required to consider recommendations from regular legislative committees, and to report its recommendations to both chambers, subject to up-or-down votes without amendment.
The committee would be required to report by Nov. 23, and the House and Senate would be required to act by Dec. 23.
All of the federal budget would presumably be on the table, including entitlement cuts and revenue increases.
Should the enacted recommendations from the joint committee not produce at least $1.2 trillion in savings, a process for automatic spending cuts would be triggered to achieve the desired savings and spread spending cuts equally across nine fiscal years.
Any sequester would be equal to the portion of the $1.2 trillion savings target that was not achieved. The first automatic cuts would take effect Jan. 2, 2013, and would fall equally on defense and non-defense accounts, including both discretionary spending and some entitlement spending.
Programs targeting low-income individuals and families would largely be exempt from the sequester, as they were under Gramm-Rudman. Medicare cuts would be restricted to no more than 2 percent of the program's outlays, and would only affect payments to providers, not beneficiaries.
The special joint committee would be likely to look closely at entitlement spending to achieve its deficit reduction goals. The spending cuts would be subject to tough negotiations over the next four or five months.
If a sequester was triggered, some restricted automatic cuts in Medicare spending might occur. It is unclear what other entitlement spending might be subject to a sequester.
The proposal does not include immediate increases in revenue, although the joint deficit-reduction committee might consider revenue increases.
Earlier in the negotiations, Boehner proposed an increase of $800 billion in revenue. Such an increase might come either from elimination of tax breaks for individuals or corporations, or a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code might be structured to yield a net revenue increase.
The plan requires both the House and the Senate to vote on a proposed balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution by the end of the year. If two-thirds of both chambers voted to adopt this amendment - and send it to the states for ratification - the second debt limit increase would be $1.5 trillion.
On June 23rd , the IRS announced that it will raise the optional standard mileage rates for the final six months of 2011. From July 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011, taxpayers can deduct 55.5 cents per mile for business miles, and 23.5 cents per mile for medical and moving expenses. These rates are up from fifty-one cents and nineteen cents respectively, while the per-mile deduction for charitable expenses remains fixed at fourteen cents.
If you use your vehicle for business-related purposes, and you do not want to keep track of every vehicle-related expense, like your gas, oil, and tires, you can use an IRS shortcut and deduct a standard amount per mile. Most taxpayers qualify for the standard mileage rate, but there are some exceptions. Also, you should keep in mind that the standard mileage rate does not excuse you from keeping detailed records. Should you decide to use the standard deduction, although you do not need to keep records of your expenses, you do need to record the date, destination, names and relationships of business parties, and mileage driven for each business trip.
It is not typical for the IRS to change the per-mile deductions in the middle of the year. Normally the IRS sets the standard deductible rate for the year, and it is not adjusted. "This year's increased gas prices are having a major impact on individual Americans. The IRS is adjusting the standard mileage rates to better reflect the increase in gas prices," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. "We are taking this step so the reimbursement rate will be fair to taxpayers."
With summer right around the corner, many people have been doing some spring cleaning around the house. Instead of bringing old clothes, sporting equipment, and household items to the dump, you should consider donating them to a local charity or thrift store. Someone will find a use for your unwanted items and you could potentially lower your taxable income if you qualify for itemized deductions. You can qualify for itemized deductions if you exceed the allowable standard deduction, which in 2011 is $5,800 for singles and $11,600 for married couples filing jointly.
In order to maximize the tax benefits of your donations, you must first make sure that you are donating the items to an accredited organization. The IRS specifically defines a qualified organization, but the organization must, in general, operate for religious, charitable, educational, scientific, anti-animal or child abuse, and/or literary purposes. Note that donations made to specific individuals or political organizations and their candidates never qualify. However, donations to an entity which performs a substantial government function, like a donation to your local police department, can be deducted. If you have questions about whether or not a specific organization qualifies, please see IRS publication 526, or give us a call here in the office.
Secondly, if you're donating clothing or household items to charity, the items must be in good condition and you are only allowed to deduct the fair market value of the item. In general, the fair market value is the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and seller. This is sometimes referred to as the “thrift market” cost of an item. Moreover, if your contribution recently appreciated in value, this would mean more money in your pocket. Remember that you'll need to collect a signed receipt from the organization as proof of your donation. Furthermore, for contributions equal to or greater than $250 in value, you must obtain written acknowledgement from the organization showing the amount of cash or a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the contributions. If you are feeling especially generous and plan to donate an item or group of items worth more than $5,000, you might want to consider having it appraised. In today's digital age, you might even consider taking a pictures or a video of your non-cash charitable contribution as further documentation of your donation. If you receive a benefit from donating—like tickets to a baseball game for instance—you may only deduct the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received. So, if you are planning on doing some spring cleaning, be sure to follow these simple guidelines. There are many other ways to leverage the tax benefits of your deductible charitable contributions. If you have any questions, be sure to contact this firm.
You probably don't think of the phrase "taxpayer rights" in conjunction with the IRS. But income tax obligations are not a one-way street. The IRS itself spells out your rights, and it is charged with reminding you of them during any interaction.
You have the right to:
Make sure the IRS does not violate your rights as a taxpayer. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please give us a call at the office. Remember that dealing with the IRS can be a daunting process, but we are here to help.
The IRS recently released final regulations for mandatory E-filing requirements. Beginning January 1, 2011, all tax preparers who expect to file 100 or more returns for individuals, trusts, and estates are required to e-file. Next year, beginning January 1, 2012, preparers who expect to file 10 or more tax returns will be required to e-file their returns.
Although the IRS is encouraging E-filing, there are still some forms which they are unable to process electronically. As of right now, the IRS cannot process Form 990-T, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return; Form 1040-NR, Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return; and Form 1041-QFT, U.S. Income Tax Return for Qualified Funeral Trusts. So if your return requires any of these forms, it will need to be filed through the mail.
According to www.irs.gov, more than 100 million returns were e-filed last year, and they have securely transmitted more than 800 million returns since 1990. The IRS advertises that e-filing is the safest, fastest, and easiest way to file your taxes. They promise faster refunds, greater accuracy, secure and confidential submission, and 24/7 access.
April 18th is around the corner, so be sure to submit all necessary information promptly, if you haven't already. For tax tips and other information, visit our website below and as always, feel free to get in touch with us through our website. We look forward to successfully weathering another tax season with you!
Did you file a tax return in 2007? Last week, the IRS announced that it has a surplus of $1.1 billion from 2007 that was never returned because a tax return was not filed. About 1.1 million people are affected. It is estimated that more than half of these potential 2007 refunds are $640 or more. In order to collect your refund you must file a tax return no later than this year’s tax return deadline, April 18th.
You might be wondering how it is possible that the IRS has a $1.1 billion surplus from 2007. It is speculated that some of this surplus is a result of the fact that many people may not have filed because they had too little income to require filing a tax return, even though they had taxes withheld from their wages. The tax law provides these people with a three-year window to claim their refund, and if the refund is not claimed, the money becomes a part of the US treasury.
However, the IRS reminded taxpayers who file for a tax return from 2007 that their check will be withheld if they have not filed tax returns for 2008 and 2009. Furthermore, the refund amount will be applied to any outstanding federal debts, including student loans or unpaid child support. In addition to the tax refund, low income earners are also foregoing monetary assistance from the Earned Income Tax Credit. In 2007, if you had 2 or more children, you were eligible for this tax credit if your income was less than $39,783, $35,241 for people with one child, and $14,590 for people with no children.
But this brings up a larger point about the IRS in general. While it is certainly noble that the IRS is publicly announcing this $1.1 billion surplus to give taxpayers the opportunity to recoup the return they are owed, they are not making public announcements about the deductions people miss when they attempt to file taxes on their own. To be fair, it would be impossible to expect the IRS to inform individuals about the deductions they miss. In fact, it would be a large intrusion on your privacy for the IRS to keep track of your individual expenditures. Therefore, it is your responsibility to ensure that you pay the proper amount of taxes. The US tax code is extremely complicated, so you want to be sure to take advantage of all the deductions applicable to your return or you will end up paying more than your fair share of taxes.
The Internal Revenue Service today unveiled IRS2Go, its first smartphone application that lets taxpayers check on their status of their tax refund and obtain helpful tax information.
The IRS2Go phone app gives people a convenient way of checking on their federal refund. It also gives people a quick way of obtaining easy-to-understand tax tips.
Apple users can download the free IRS2Go application by visiting the Apple App Store. Android users can visit the Android Marketplace to download the free IRS2Go app.
The phone app is a first step for the IRS. They will look for additional ways to expand and refine their use of smartphones and other new technologies to help meet the needs of taxpayers.
The mobile app, among a handful in the federal government, offers a number of safe and secure ways to help taxpayers. Features of the first release of the IRS2Go app include:
Taxpayers can check the status of their federal refund through the new phone app with a few basic pieces of information. First, taxpayers enter a Social Security number, which is masked and encrypted for security purposes. Next, taxpayers pick the filing status they used on their tax return. Finally, taxpayers enter the amount of the refund they expect from their 2010 tax return.
For people who e-file, the refund function of the phone app will work within about 72 hours after taxpayers receive an e-mail acknowledgement saying the IRS received their tax return.
For people filing paper tax returns, longer processing times mean they will need to wait three to four weeks before they can check their refund status.
About 70 percent of the 142 million individual tax returns were filed electronically last year.
Phone app users enter their e-mail address to automatically get daily tax tips. Tax Tips are simple, straightforward tips and reminders to help with tax planning and preparation. Tax Tips are issued daily during the tax filing season and periodically during the rest of the year. The plain English updates cover topics such as free tax help, child tax credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, education credits and other topics.
Taxpayers can sign up to follow the IRS Twitter news feed, @IRSnews. IRSnews provides the latest federal tax news and information for taxpayers. The IRSnews tweets provide easy-to-use information, including tax law changes and important IRS programs.
IRS2Go is the latest IRS effort to provide information to taxpayers beyond traditional channels. The IRS also uses tools such as YouTube and Twitter to share the latest information on tax changes, initiatives, products and services through social media channels. For more information on IRS2Go and other new media products, visit www.IRS.gov or please do give us a call here at the office!
Following late December’s tax law changes, the Internal Revenue Service announced recently the upcoming tax season will start on time for most people, but taxpayers affected by three recently reinstated deductions need to wait until mid- to late February to file their individual tax returns. In addition, taxpayers who itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A will need to wait until mid- to late February to file as well.
The start of the 2011 filing season began in January for the majority of taxpayers. However, December’s changes in the law mean that the IRS will need to reprogram its processing systems for three provisions that were extended in the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 that became law on Dec. 17.
People claiming any of these three items - involving the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction and educator expenses deduction as well as those taxpayers who itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A - will need to wait to file their tax returns until tax processing systems are ready, which the IRS estimates will be in mid- to late February.
The IRS will announce a specific date in the near future when it can start processing tax returns impacted by the late tax law changes. In the interim, people in the affected categories can start working on their tax returns, but they should not submit their returns until IRS systems are ready to process the new tax law changes.
The IRS urged taxpayers to use e-file instead of paper tax forms to minimize confusion over the recent tax changes and ensure accurate tax returns.
Taxpayers will need to wait to file if they are within any of the following three categories:
For those falling into any of these three categories, the delay affects both paper filers and electronic filers. Please give us a call or email if you have further questions about this delay.
The IRS emphasized that e-file is the fastest, best way for those affected by the delay to get their refunds. Those who use tax-preparation software can easily download updates from their software provider. The IRS Free File program also will be updated.
Updated information will be posted on IRS.gov and you can of course call our firm for help and clarification. In addition, our firm would like to remind employers about the new withholding tables released last week for 2011. Employers should implement the 2011 withholding tables as soon as possible, but not later than Jan. 31, 2011. We also remind employers that Publication 15, (Circular E), Employer’s Tax Guide, containing the extensive wage bracket tables that some employers use, should now be available on IRS.gov.
Though there has already been legislation with major tax changes this year, more legislation is almost certainly on the way. Looking into the future is especially important here in 2010 because of the increase in individual income tax rates that may come in 2011. Therefore, it is important to examine some traditional tax strategies with more than just 2010 tax implications in mind, because potential tax changes have the possibility of changing your short-term tax outlook.
Traditional Strategy of Deferring Income for 2010, and Possible 2011 Tax Rate Increases
Generally the time value of money says that it is better to pay taxes later rather than sooner. However, be careful when considering the time-honored strategy of deferring taxable income from 2010 into 2011. If you believe that you will remain in the same or lower tax bracket next year the strategy holds. If you believe you might be in a higher tax bracket in 2011, you might want to reverse traditional thinking and accelerate income into this year in order to take advantage of this year’s lower rates. Please give us a call here at the firm if you have questions about these ideas.
Investment StrategyRemember that, currently, the max federal income tax rate for long-term capital gains in 2010 is 15%. If the Bush Tax Cuts are allowed to expire in 2011, the maximum rate on long-term capital gains is scheduled to increase to 20%. This is one point to keep in mind with long-term securities you are holding and might consider redeeming before the turn of the year. Our firm would be happy to assist you in planning for capital gains now or in the future.
Convert Traditional IRA into Roth IRA?Starting in 2010, all taxpayers are eligible to convert their traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. For 2010 conversions only, you are allowed to elect to recognize all the income in 2010 or spread the income ratably over two years, 2011 and 2012. The decision to pick up the income in 2010 or in the following years is based not only on the tax bracket you will be in for each of those years, but also the time value of money. This may be a hard decision to make right now with the uncertainty of the 2011 tax rates. The decision to convert a traditional IRA account to a Roth IRA account is complicated for these reasons, so please do consult with our firm before you decide (or do not decide) to make the conversion.
Qualifying small employers may claim a new tax credit of up to 35% of the employer paid portion of the premium for providing health insurance coverage for their employees. A qualifying small employer: (A) has no more than 25 Full-time Equivalent (FTE) workers, (B) pays an average FTE wage of less than $50,000, and (C) has established a qualifying healthcare arrangement.
Employers may also claim a new tax credit of up to $1,000 for wages paid to each qualified new employee (certain definitions apply). Additional requirements are thus: You must keep the worker on the payroll for at least 52 consecutive weeks, and wages during the second 26 weeks must equal at least 80% of wages paid during the first 26 weeks. Please contact our office to learn more about this credit.
Q. Are my benefits figured on my last five years of earnings?
A. No. Retirement benefit calculations are based on your average earnings during a lifetime of work under the Social Security system. For most current and future retirees, we will average your 35 highest years of earnings. Years in which you have low earnings or no earnings may be counted to bring the total years of earnings up to 35.
Q. I stopped work at the end of last year at age 52. I don't expect to work again before I start my Social Security benefits when I turn 62. Will I still get the same benefit amount the SSA shown for age 62 on the Social Security Statement that they recently sent me?
A. Probably not. When they averaged out your 35 highest years of earnings to estimate your benefits on your Statement, they assumed you would continue to work up to age 62, making the same earnings you made last year. If, instead, you have $0 earnings each year over the next 10 years, your average earnings will probably be less and so will your benefit. You can use our Retirement Calculator or Benefit Calculators on our Financial Tools page to see how this will affect your monthly benefit amount.
Q. Will my retirement pension from my job reduce the amount of my Social Security benefit?
A. If your pension is from work where you also paid Social Security taxes, it will not affect your Social Security benefit. However, pensions based on work that is not covered by Social Security (for example, the federal civil service and some state, local, or foreign government systems) probably will reduce the amount of your Social Security benefit. For more information, read the following fact sheets:
Q. My wife and I both worked under Social Security. Her Social Security Statement says she can get $850 a month at full retirement age and mine says I would get $1450. Do we each get our own amount? Someone told me we could only get my amount, plus one-half of that amount for my wife.
A. Since your wife's own benefit is more than one-half of your amount, you will each get your own benefit. If your wife's own benefit were less than half of yours (that is, less than $725), she would receive her amount plus enough on your record to bring it up to the $725 amount.
Q. If I work after I start receiving Social Security retirement benefits, will I still need to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on my earnings?
A. Yes. Any time you work in a job that is covered by Social Security--even if you are already receiving Social Security benefits--you and your employer must pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes on your earnings. The same is true if you are self-employed. You are still subject to the Social Security and Medicare taxes on your net profit.
Q. I have Medicare, but I didn't apply for retirement benefits because I'm under full retirement age and still working. How do I decide when to start receiving retirement benefits?
A. Deciding when to start receiving benefits is an important decision that needs to be made carefully. You can:
Oct. 15 is fast approaching and is a key deadline for millions of individual taxpayers who requested an extension to file their 2009 tax returns. It is also a crucial due date for thousands of small nonprofit organizations at risk of losing their tax-exempt status because they have not filed the required forms in the last three years.
"The Oct. 15 deadline is particularly important this year because it’s the last chance for many small charities to comply with the law under the one-time relief program the IRS announced in July," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. "And as always, it’s an important deadline for taxpayers who took an extension to file their returns."
Don’t Miss Your 1040 Deadline
The IRS expects to receive as many as 10 million tax returns from taxpayers who used Form 4868 to request a six-month extension to file their returns. Some taxpayers can wait until after Oct. 15 to file, including those serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or other combat zone localities and people affected by recent natural disasters.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to e-file. E-file with direct deposit results in a faster refund than by using a paper return. Electronic returns also have fewer errors than paper returns. Oct. 15 is the last day to take advantage of e-file and the Free File program.
Free File is a fast, easy and free way to prepare and e-file federal taxes online. The Free File program provides free federal income tax preparation and electronic filing for eligible taxpayers through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance LLC, a group of private sector tax software companies.
File If You Are Tax Exempt
Small nonprofit organizations at risk of losing their tax-exempt status because they failed to file the required returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009 can preserve their status by filing returns by Oct. 15 under the one-time relief program.
The IRS has posted on a special page of IRS.gov the names and last-known addresses of these at-risk organizations, along with guidance about how to come back into compliance. The organizations on the list have return due dates between May 17 and Oct. 15, 2010, but the IRS has no record that they filed the required returns for any of the past three years.
Two types of relief are available for small exempt organizations - a filing extension for the smallest organizations required to file Form 990-N, Electronic Notice (e-Postcard) , and a voluntary compliance program (VCP) for small organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ, Short Form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.
Small organizations required to file Form 990-N simply need to go to the IRS website, supply the eight information items called for on the form, and electronically file it by Oct. 15. That will bring them back into compliance.
Under the VCP, tax-exempt organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ must file their delinquent annual information returns by Oct. 15 and pay a compliance fee. Details about the VCP are on the IRS website, along with frequently asked questions.
Check Your Withholding
With little more than three months remaining in the calendar year, individual taxpayers are encouraged to double check their federal withholding now to make sure they are having enough taxes taken out of their pay.
"Now is a good time to make sure your employer is withholding the proper amount," Shulman said. If you face a shortfall in your federal withholding, there is still time left in the year to make up the difference."
The average refund for 2009 was $2,887, up 8 percent from 2008. Even though the Making Work Pay Tax Credit lowered tax withholding rates in 2009 and 2010 for millions of American households, some workers and retirees still need to take steps to be sure enough tax is being taken out of their checks.
Those who should pay particular attention to their withholding include:
Retirees who receive pension payments may also need to check their federal withholding.
As was the case in 2009, taxpayers who wind up owing tax because too little was taken out of their paychecks during 2010, may qualify for special relief on a penalty that sometimes applies. Depending on their personal situation, some people could have less withheld from their paychecks than they need or want. Failure to adjust withholding could result in potentially smaller refunds or in limited instances may cause a taxpayer to owe tax rather than receive a refund next year.
Provided nothing is done by Congress on tax policy from now through the end of the year, massive tax changes will take place. The odds of Congress amending nothing are small, but our firm feels it is worth considering why Congress is highly likely to address the tax code this year: Many key provisions are scheduled to change when the year turns on January 1, 2011.
Most of the key provisions that expire at the end of 2010 originated with early 2001-03 tax breaks, often referred to as the \"Bush tax cuts.\" There were other tax changes that took place further into Bush\'s term, and President Obama has also pushed through some changes in tax law that are set to expire at the end of 2010.
The table below presents a partial list of the most relevant tax provisions scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. Note that there were some key tax provisions that technically \"expired\" at the end of 2009, but which will likely be retroactively put back into law such as the AMT patch for 2010 and the list of \"tax extenders.\" Our firm asks that you peruse the list compiled below, and call us with any questions about how this pertains to your filing for the upcoming tax year.
Bush Tax Cut (2001 and 2003) Provisions Scheduled to Expire on December 31, 2010
Major Individual Income Tax Provisions
Estate Tax Provisions
Obama Stimulus Provisions Scheduled to Expire on December 31, 2010
Major Individual Income Tax Provisions
Small nonprofit organizations at risk of losing their tax-exempt status because they failed to file required returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009 can preserve their status by filing returns by October 15, 2010, under a one-time relief program, the Internal Revenue Service announced today.
The IRS today posted on a special page of IRS.gov the names and last-known addresses of these at-risk organizations, along with guidance about how to come back into compliance. The organizations on the list have return due dates between May 17 and October 15, 2010, but the IRS has no record that they filed the required returns for any of the past three years.
“We are doing everything we can to help organizations comply with the law and keep their valuable tax exemption,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “So if you do not have your filings up to date, now’s the time to take action and get back on track.”
Two types of relief are available for small exempt organizations — a filing extension for the smallest organizations required to file Form 990-N, Electronic Notice, and a voluntary compliance program (VCP) for small organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ, Short Form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.
Small organizations required to file Form 990-N simply need to go to the IRS website, supply the eight information items called for on the form, and electronically file it by October 15. That will bring them back into compliance.
Under the VCP, tax-exempt organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ must file their delinquent annual information returns by October 15 and pay a compliance fee. Details about the VCP are on the IRS website, along with frequently asked questions.
The relief announced today is not available to larger organizations required to file the Form 990 or to private foundations that file the Form 990-PF.
The IRS will keep today’s list of at-risk organizations on IRS.gov until October 15, 2010 which can be found by Clicking Here. Please note that this is an incomplete list, as there may be entities out there that need to comply but are not found at that link. Organizations that have not filed the required information returns by that date will have their tax-exempt status revoked, and the IRS will publish a list of these revoked organizations in early 2011. Donors who contribute to at-risk organizations are protected until the final revocation list is published.
The Pension Protection Act of 2006 made two important changes affecting tax-exempt organizations, effective the beginning of 2007. First, it mandated that all tax-exempt organizations, other than churches and church-related organizations, must file an annual return with the IRS. The Form 990-N was created for small tax-exempt organizations that had not previously had a filing requirement. Second, the law also required that any tax-exempt organization that fails to file for three consecutive years automatically loses its federal tax-exempt status. The IRS conducted an extensive outreach effort about this new legal requirement but, even so, many organizations have not filed returns on time.
If an organization loses its exemption, it will have to reapply with the IRS to regain its tax-exempt status. Any income received between the revocation date and renewed exemption may be taxable.
Taxpayers who qualify for the first-time homebuyer credit or the long-time resident homebuyer credit who buy a home in 2010 don't have to wait to claim the credit when filing their 2010 returns. They can instead amend their 2009 tax returns to claim the credit and receive it sooner.
Buyers who purchased in 2009 and didn't claim the credit on their 2009 returns can also amend those returns to get the credit. Recently we have been asked which documents our clients must prepare in order to claim the credit on either an original 2009 return or on an amended 2009 return:
Long-time homebuyers claiming the credit for buying a new principal residence must show that they lived in their old homes for a five-consecutive-year period during the eight-year period ending on the purchase date of the new home. The IRS has stepped up compliance checks involving the homebuyer credit, and it encourages homebuyers claiming this part of the credit to avoid refund delays by attaching documentation covering the five-consecutive-year period:
The IRS says it's not necessary to have five years of the same documentation. Any combination of these documents verifying that you owned and lived in your home as a principal residence for at least five consecutive years is acceptable.
For example, suppose you owned and lived in your previous home from Nov. 1, 2004, to Oct. 31, 2009. You could send a copy of Form 1098 showing the mortgage interest you paid for the part of 2004 during which you owned and lived in the home, as well as the Form 1098s for 2005, 2006 and 2007, proof of homeowners insurance for 2008 and a property tax statement for the part of 2009 when you owned and lived in the home.
Here are some tips from the IRS that may help you lower your taxes and avoid tax problems:
1. Make sure summer employer classifies you correctly. Summer workers sometimes are misclassified as independent contractors (self-employed) rather than as employees. Employers who do this usually fail to withhold taxes from the worker's wages, often leaving the worker responsible at tax time for paying income taxes plus Social Security and Medicare taxes. Workers can avoid higher tax bills and lost benefits if they know their proper work status.
2. Summer workers, students may be exempt from tax withholding. If you got a refund of all withheld income taxes for 2009 and you expect the same for 2010, you may claim "exempt" on your Form W-4 when you're hired. That can increase your paycheck and possibly let you avoid having to file a 2010 federal tax return. If you claim exempt status, your employer should withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from your wages but no federal income tax.
3. Getting married? Newlyweds can help make the wedded bliss last longer by doing a few things now to avoid problems at tax time. First, report any name change to the Social Security Administration before you file your next tax return. Next, report any address change to the Postal Service, your employer and the IRS to make sure you get tax-related items. Finally, use the Withholding Calculator at IRS.gov to make sure your withholding is correct now that there are two of you to consider.
4. Clean out, donate, deduct. Those long-unused items you find during spring or summer cleaning can probably be donated to a qualified charity and may garner you a tax deduction as long as they're in good condition. You must itemize deductions to qualify to deduct charitable contributions and you must have proof of all donations.
5. Help with service project, deduct mileage. While there's no tax deduction for time donated toward a charitable cause, driving your personal vehicle while donating your services on a trip sponsored by a qualified charity could get you a tax break. Itemizers can deduct 14 cents per mile for charitable mileage driven in 2010. Keep good records of your mileage.
6. Get tax credit for summer day camp expenses. Many working parents must arrange for care of their younger children under 13 years of age during the school vacation period. A popular solution - with favorable tax consequences - is a day camp program. Unlike overnight camps, the cost of day camp may count as an expense towards the Child and Dependent Care Credit.
7. Owner of vacation home may get two tax breaks. First, mortgage interest and real estate taxes paid on a second home are usually deductible if you itemize. Second, if you rent your vacation home out fewer than 15 days per year, that rental income is typically not taxable.
8. Report winnings, possibly deduct losses. If Lady Luck smiles on you during your vacation, remember that gambling winnings must be reported on your tax return. Losses are deductible only if you itemize and have winnings that equal or exceed your losses. Good records are a must.
9. Deduct job-related moving expenses. Relocating due to a job? A tax break may be coming your way and you won't have to itemize deductions to get this one. If you can satisfy the distance and time tests, job-related moving expenses are deductible. Other requirements apply if you are self-employed. Members of the armed forces do not have to meet these tests if the move was due to a permanent change of station.
10. Deduct storm damage losses. You may be able to claim a casualty loss for the reduction in value of property damaged by floods, storms, fire or other disasters. And if your county was declared a federal disaster area, you may be able to file a tax return immediately to claim that loss. And if you're repairing storm damage, remember the energy tax credit is available when you purchase things like insulation or certain heating and cooling systems, water heaters, windows or doors.
More parents and students can use a federal education credit to offset part of the cost of college under the new American Opportunity Credit. This credit modifies the existing Hope credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers. Income guidelines are expanded and required course materials are added to the list of qualified expenses. Many of those eligible will qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student.
In many cases, the American Opportunity Credit offers greater tax savings than existing education tax breaks. Here are some of its key features:
Though most taxpayers who pay for post-secondary education qualify for the American Opportunity Credit, some do not. The limitations include a married person filing a separate return, regardless of income, joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and, finally, single taxpayers, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
There are some post-secondary education expenses that do not qualify for the American Opportunity Credit. They include expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college. That's because the credit is only allowed for the first four years of a post-secondary education.
Students with more than four years of post-secondary education still qualify for the lifetime learning credit and the tuition and fees deduction.
For details on these and other education-related tax benefits, please give us a call at the firm, or see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
The new health reform law gives a tax credit to certain small employers that provide health care coverage to their employees, effective with tax years beginning in 2010. The following questions and answers provide information on the credit as it applies for 2010-2013, including information on transition relief for 2010. An enhanced version of the credit will be effective beginning in 2014. The new law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was passed by Congress and was signed by President Obama on March 23, 2010.
1. Which employers are eligible for the small employer health care tax credit?
A. Small employers that provide health care coverage to their employees and that meet certain requirements ("qualified employers") generally are eligible for a Federal income tax credit for health insurance premiums they pay for certain employees. In order to be a qualified employer, (1) the employer must have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees ("FTEs") for the tax year, (2) the average annual wages of its employees for the year must be less than $50,000 per FTE, and (3) the employer must pay the premiums under a "qualifying arrangement" described in Q/A-3. See Q/A-9 through 15 for further information on calculating FTEs and average annual wages.
2. Can a tax-exempt organization be a qualified employer?
A. Yes. The same definition of qualified employer applies to an organization described in Code section 501(c) that is exempt from tax under Code section 501(a). However, special rules apply in calculating the credit for a tax-exempt qualified employer. See Q/A-6.
3. What expenses are counted in calculating the credit?
A. Only premiums paid by the employer under an arrangement meeting certain requirements (a "qualifying arrangement") are counted in calculating the credit. Under a qualifying arrangement, the employer pays premiums for each employee enrolled in health care coverage offered by the employer in an amount equal to a uniform percentage (not less than 50 percent) of the premium cost of the coverage.
If an employer pays only a portion of the premiums for the coverage provided to employees under the arrangement (with employees paying the rest), the amount of premiums counted in calculating the credit is only the portion paid by the employer. For example, if an employer pays 80 percent of the premiums for employees? coverage (with employees paying the other 20 percent), the 80 percent premium amount paid by the employer counts in calculating the credit. For purposes of the credit (including the 50-percent requirement), any premium paid pursuant to a salary reduction arrangement under a section 125 cafeteria plan is not treated as paid by the employer.
In addition, the amount of an employer's premium payments that counts for purposes of the credit is capped by the premium payments the employer would have made under the same arrangement if the average premium for the small group market in the State (or an area within the State) in which the employer offers coverage were substituted for the actual premium. If the employer pays only a portion of the premium for the coverage provided to employees (for example, under the terms of the plan the employer pays 80 percent of the premiums and the employees pay the other 20 percent), the premium amount that counts for purposes of the credit is the same portion (80 percent in the example) of the premiums that would have been paid for the coverage if the average premium for the small group market in the State were substituted for the actual premium.
4. What is the average premium for the small group market in a State (or an area within the State)?
A. The average premium for the small group market in a State (or an area within the State) will be determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and published by the IRS. Publication of the average premium for the small group market on a State-by-State basis is expected to be posted on the IRS website by the end of April.
5. What is the maximum credit for a qualified employer (other than a tax-exempt employer)?
A. For tax years beginning in 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent of the employer's premium expenses that count towards the credit, as described in Q/A-3.
Example. For the 2010 tax year, a qualified employer has 9 FTEs with average annual wages of $23,000 per FTE. The employer pays $72,000 in health care premiums for those employees (which does not exceed the average premium for the small group market in the employer's State) and otherwise meets the requirements for the credit. The credit for 2010 equals $25,200 (35% x $72,000).
6. What is the maximum credit for a tax-exempt qualified employer?
A. For tax years beginning in 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit for a tax-exempt qualified employer is 25 percent of the employer's premium expenses that count towards the credit, as described in Q/A-3. However, the amount of the credit cannot exceed the total amount of income and Medicare (i.e., Hospital Insurance) tax the employer is required to withhold from employees? wages for the year and the employer share of Medicare tax on employees? wages.
Example. For the 2010 tax year, a qualified tax-exempt employer has 10 FTEs with average annual wages of $21,000 per FTE. The employer pays $80,000 in health care premiums for those employees (which does not exceed the average premium for the small group market in the employer's State) and otherwise meets the requirements for the credit. The total amount of the employer's income tax and Medicare tax withholding plus the employer's share of the Medicare tax equals $30,000 in 2010.
The credit is calculated as follows:
(1) Initial amount of credit determined before any reduction: (25% x $80,000) = $20,000
(2) Employer's withholding and Medicare taxes: $30,000
(3) Total 2010 tax credit is $20,000 (the lesser of $20,000 and $30,000).
7. How is the credit reduced if the number of FTEs exceeds 10 or average annual wages exceed $25,000?
A. If the number of FTEs exceeds 10 or if average annual wages exceed $25,000, the amount of the credit is reduced as follows (but not below zero). If the number of FTEs exceeds 10, the reduction is determined by multiplying the otherwise applicable credit amount by a fraction, the numerator of which is the number of FTEs in excess of 10 and the denominator of which is 15. If average annual wages exceed $25,000, the reduction is determined by multiplying the otherwise applicable credit amount by a fraction, the numerator of which is the amount by which average annual wages exceed $25,000 and the denominator of which is $25,000. In both cases, the result of the calculation is subtracted from the otherwise applicable credit to determine the credit to which the employer is entitled. For an employer with both more than 10 FTEs and average annual wages exceeding $25,000, the reduction is the sum of the amount of the two reductions. This sum may reduce the credit to zero for some employers with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $50,000.
Example. For the 2010 tax year, a qualified employer has 12 FTEs and average annual wages of $30,000. The employer pays $96,000 in health care premiums for those employees (which does not exceed the average premium for the small group market in the employer's State) and otherwise meets the requirements for the credit.
The credit is calculated as follows:
(1) Initial amount of credit determined before any reduction: (35% x $96,000) = $33,600
(2) Credit reduction for FTEs in excess of 10: ($33,600 x 2/15) = $4,480
(3) Credit reduction for average annual wages in excess of $25,000: ($33,600 x $5,000/$25,000) = $6,720
(4) Total credit reduction: ($4,480 + $6,720) = $11,200
(5) Total 2010 tax credit: ($33,600 ? $11,200) = $22,400.
8. Can premiums paid by the employer in 2010, but before the new health reform legislation was enacted, be counted in calculating the credit?
A. Yes. In computing the credit for a tax year beginning in 2010, employers may count all premiums described in Q/A-3 for that tax year.
9. How is the number of FTEs determined for purposes of the credit?
A. The number of an employer's FTEs is determined by dividing (1) the total hours for which the employer pays wages to employees during the year (but not more than 2,080 hours for any employee) by (2) 2,080. The result, if not a whole number, is then rounded to the next lowest whole number. See Q/A-12 through 14 for information on which employees are not counted for purposes of determining FTEs.
Example. For the 2010 tax year, an employer pays 5 employees wages for 2,080 hours each, 3 employees wages for 1,040 hours each, and 1 employee wages for 2,300 hours.
The employer's FTEs would be calculated as follows:
(1) Total hours not exceeding 2,080 per employee is the sum of:
a. 10,400 hours for the 5 employees paid for 2,080 hours each (5 x 2,080)
b. 3,120 hours for the 3 employees paid for 1,040 hours each (3 x 1,040)
c. 2,080 hours for the 1 employee paid for 2,300 hours (lesser of 2,300 and 2,080)
These add up to 15,600 hours
(2) FTEs: 7 (15,600 divided by 2,080 = 7.5, rounded to the next lowest whole number)
10. How is the amount of average annual wages determined?
A. The amount of average annual wages is determined by first dividing (1) the total wages paid by the employer to employees during the employer's tax year by (2) the number of the employer's FTEs for the year. The result is then rounded down to the nearest $1,000 (if not otherwise a multiple of $1,000). For this purpose, wages means wages as defined for FICA purposes (without regard to the wage base limitation). See Q/A-12 through 14 for information on which employees are not counted as employees for purposes of determining the amount of average annual wages.
Example. For the 2010 tax year, an employer pays $224,000 in wages and has 10 FTEs.
The employer's average annual wages would be: $22,000 ($224,000 divided by 10 = $22,400, rounded down to the nearest $1,000)
11. Can an employer with 25 or more employees qualify for the credit if some of its employees are part-time?
A. Yes. Because the limitation on the number of employees is based on FTEs, an employer with 25 or more employees could qualify for the credit if some of its employees work part-time. For example, an employer with 46 half-time employees (meaning they are paid wages for 1,040 hours) has 23 FTEs and therefore may qualify for the credit.
12. Are seasonal workers counted in determining the number of FTEs and the amount of average annual wages?
A. Generally, no. Seasonal workers are disregarded in determining FTEs and average annual wages unless the seasonal worker works for the employer on more than 120 days during the tax year.
13. If an owner of a business also provides services to it, does the owner count as an employee?
A. Generally, no. A sole proprietor, a partner in a partnership, a shareholder owning more than two percent of an S corporation, and any owner of more than five percent of other businesses are not considered employees for purposes of the credit. Thus, the wages or hours of these business owners and partners are not counted in determining either the number of FTEs or the amount of average annual wages, and premiums paid on their behalf are not counted in determining the amount of the credit.
14. Do family members of a business owner who work for the business count as employees?
A. Generally, no. A family member of any of the business owners or partners listed in Q/A-13, or a member of such a business owner's or partner's household, is not considered an employee for purposes of the credit. Thus, neither their wages nor their hours are counted in determining the number of FTEs or the amount of average annual wages, and premiums paid on their behalf are not counted in determining the amount of the credit. For this purpose, a family member is defined as a child (or descendant of a child); a sibling or step-sibling; a parent (or ancestor of a parent); a step-parent; a niece or nephew; an aunt or uncle; or a son-in-law, daughter- in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.
15. How is eligibility for the credit determined if the employer is a member of a controlled group or an affiliated service group?
A. Members of a controlled group (e.g., businesses with the same owners) or an affiliated service group (e.g., related businesses of which one performs services for the other) are treated as a single employer for purposes of the credit. Thus, for example, all employees of the controlled group or affiliated service group, and all wages paid to employees by the controlled group or affiliated service group, are counted in determining whether any member of the controlled group or affiliated service group is a qualified employer. Rules for determining whether an employer is a member of a controlled group or an affiliated service group are provided under Code section 414(b), (c), (m), and (o).
Check Your Withholding
How will the Making Work Pay tax credit affect you?
Most wage earners will benefit from larger paychecks in 2009 and 2010 as a result of the changes made to the federal income tax withholding tables to implement the Making Work Pay tax credit. However, some people may find that the changes built into the withholding tables result in less tax being withheld than they prefer.
If you're not eligible for the Making Work Pay tax credit, withholding changes could mean a smaller refund next spring. A limited number of people, including those who usually receive very small refunds, could in some situations owe a small amount rather than receiving a refund. Those who should pay particular attention to their withholding include:
The Making Work Pay tax credit, normally a maximum of $400 for working individuals and $800 for working married couples, is reduced by the amount of any Economic Recovery Payment ($250 per eligible recipient of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement or Veteran's benefits) or Special Credit for Certain Government Retirees ($250 per eligible federal or state retiree) that you receive. If you are affected by this reduction, you should review your withholding to ensure that sufficient funds have been withheld to meet your tax obligation.
If you wind up owing tax because too little was taken out of your paychecks during 2009, you may qualify for special relief on a penalty that sometimes applies.
If you believe your current withholding is not appropriate for your personal situation, you can perform a quick check using the IRS withholding calculator. If you are not familiar with the withholding calculator, watch this IRS how-to video for instructions. When you have determined your correct withholding, make any adjustments by filing a revised Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer.
Pensioners do not qualify for the Making Work Pay credit, unless they receive earned income. However, because the 2009 and the 2010 withholding tables also apply to pensioners, the IRS has provided pension plans with an optional adjustment procedure. If you are a pensioner with questions about your withholding, contact your pension plan administrator.
If desired, pensioners can adjust their withholding by filing Form W-4P, Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments.
Self-employed individuals can also benefit now from the Making Work Pay tax credit by evaluating their expected income tax liability, allowing for this tax credit if they are eligible, and making the appropriate adjustment in the amount of their regularly scheduled estimated tax payments.
Your 2009 Tax Return
Information on completing your tax return if you're claiming the tax credit is available.
If you have questions, please contact our office for more information or to check your eligibility. Additionally, these questions and answers might help.
In 2009, numerous new and expanded deductions and credits came into being for a broad cross-section of taxpayers: College tax benefits for parents and students; energy credits for homeowners who are going green; and even tax breaks for home buyers and car buyers.
Following is a summary of these and other key changes taxpayers will find when they start preparing their 2009 federal income tax returns.
American Opportunity Credit Helps Pay for First Four Years of College
More parents and students can use a federal education credit to offset part of the cost of college under the new American Opportunity Credit. This credit modifies the existing Hope credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers. Income guidelines are expanded and required course materials are added to the list of qualified expenses. Many of those eligible will qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student.
In many cases, the American Opportunity Credit offers greater tax savings than existing education tax breaks. Here are some of its key features:
Though most taxpayers who pay for post-secondary education qualify for the American Opportunity Credit, some do not. The limitations include a married person filing a separate return, regardless of income, joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and, finally, single taxpayers, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
There are some post-secondary education expenses that do not qualify for the American Opportunity Credit. They include expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college. That\'s because the credit is only allowed for the first four years of a post-secondary education.
Students with more than four years of post-secondary education still qualify for the lifetime learning credit and the tuition and fees deduction.
For details on these and other education-related tax benefits, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
Many Energy Improvements Qualify for Expanded Tax Credits
People who weatherize their homes or purchase alternative energy equipment may qualify for either of two expanded home energy tax credits: the non-business energy property credit and the residential energy efficient property credit.
Non-business Energy Property Credit: This credit equals 30 percent of what a homeowner spends on eligible energy-saving improvements, up to a maximum tax credit of $1,500 for the combined 2009 and 2010 tax years. This means that a homeowner can get the maximum credit by spending at least $5,000 on qualifying improvements. Homeowners must make the improvements to an existing principal residence; this tax credit is not available for new construction. Due to limits based on tax liability, other credits claimed by a particular taxpayer and other factors, actual tax savings will vary. The cost of certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass all qualify, along with labor costs for installing these items. In addition, the cost of energy-efficient windows and skylights, energy-efficient doors, qualifying insulation and certain roofs are also eligible for the credit, though the cost of installing these items does not count.
Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit: Homeowners going green should also check out a second tax credit designed to spur investment in alternative energy equipment. The residential energy efficient property credit, equals 30 percent of what a homeowner spends on qualifying property such as solar electric systems, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines, and fuel cell property. Qualifying property purchased for new construction or an existing home is eligible for the credit. Generally, labor costs are included when calculating this credit. Also, no cap exists on the amount of credit available except in the case of fuel cell property.
Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify for these tax credits. For that reason, homeowners should check the manufacturer\'s tax credit certification statement before purchasing or installing any of these improvements. The certification statement can usually be found on the manufacturer\'s Web site or the product packaging. Normally, a homeowner can rely on this certification. The IRS cautions that the manufacturer\'s certification is different from the Department of Energy\'s Energy Star label, and not all Energy Star labeled products qualify for the tax credits. Use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits, to figure and claim these credits.
New Vehicle Purchase Incentive
New car buyers can deduct the state or local sales or excise taxes paid on the purchase of new cars, light trucks, motor homes and motorcycles. There is no limit on the number of vehicles that may be purchased, and eligible taxpayers may claim the deduction for taxes paid on multiple purchases. However, the deduction is limited to the tax on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of each qualifying new vehicle. Qualifying new vehicles must be purchased, not leased, after Feb. 16, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2010.
Taxpayers who buy a new vehicle may deduct state or local fees or taxes that are similar to a sales tax whether or not their state imposes a sales tax. To qualify, the fees or taxes must be assessed on the purchase of the vehicle and must be based on the vehicle\'s sales price or as a per-unit fee.
The amount of the deduction is reduced for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is between $125,000 and $135,000 for individual filers and between $250,000 and $260,000 for joint filers. This deduction is available regardless of whether a taxpayer itemizes deductions on Schedule A. Itemizers claim the deduction on either Line 5 or Line 7 of Schedule A. See the Schedule A instructions for details. Non-itemizers claim the deduction on new Schedule L, Standard Deduction for Certain Filers.
Tax Credits Increased for Low and Moderate Income Workers
More workers and working families are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In particular, expanded benefits are now available for those with three or more qualifying children and married couples. The EITC helps taxpayers whose incomes are below certain income thresholds, which in 2009 rise to:
One in six taxpayers can claim the EITC, which, unlike most tax breaks, is refundable, meaning that individuals can get it even if they owe no tax and even if no tax is withheld from their paychecks.
In addition, the earned income formula for the additional child tax credit is revised for tax years 2009 and 2010. As a result, more low and moderate income families qualify for the full $1,000 child tax credit. See Form 8812 for more information.
Standard Deduction Increases for Most Taxpayers
Nearly two out of three taxpayers choose to take the standard deduction rather than itemizing deductions such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions. The basic standard deduction is:
Higher amounts apply to blind people and senior citizens. The standard deduction is often reduced for a taxpayer who qualifies as someone else\'s dependent.
In addition, eligible taxpayers can further increase their standard deduction by any of the following three deductions:
Use new Schedule L, Standard Deduction for Certain Filers, to claim these additional deductions.
AMT Exemption Increased for One Year
For tax-year 2009, Congress raised the alternative minimum tax exemption to the following levels:
Under current law, these exemption amounts will drop to $45,000, $22,500 and $33,750, respectively, in 2010. Form 6251 and the AMT calculator provide more information.
The standard mileage rate for business use of a car, van, pick-up or panel truck is 55 cents for each mile driven. The standard mileage rate for the cost of operating a vehicle for medical reasons or as part of a deductible move is 24 cents per mile. The rate for using a car to provide services to charitable organizations is set by law and remains at 14 cents a mile.
The value of each personal and dependency exemption is $3,650, up $150 from 2008. Most taxpayers can take personal exemptions for themselves and an additional exemption for each eligible dependent. This is one of more than three dozen individual and business tax provisions that are adjusted each year to keep pace with inflation. A complete rundown of these changes can be found in 2009 Inflation Adjustments Widen Tax Brackets, Change Tax Benefits.
The amount of taxable investment income a child can have without it being taxed at the parent\'s rate is $1,900, up $100 from 2008. For details, see Form 8615.
There are several modifications to the definition of a qualifying child. For example, the child must be younger than the taxpayer, unless the child is totally and permanently disabled. These changes affect who can claim various tax benefits including the dependency exemption, child tax credit, credit for child and dependent care expenses, head of household filing status and the EITC. See the instructions for Forms 1040 or 1040a for more information.
A new rule applies to the noncustodial parent in situations where a couple is divorced or legally separated after 2008. To claim a child as a dependent, the noncustodial parent must attach Form 8332 or a similar statement to his or her tax return. For pre-2009 divorces and separations, the noncustodial spouse still has the option of attaching certain pages from the divorce decree or separation agreement, instead of Form 8332. See Form 8332 for further details.
A $3,500 or $4,500 voucher or payment made for such a voucher under the CARS \'cash for clunkers\' program is not taxable to the consumer buying or leasing a new car.
Unemployment benefits up to $2,400 received in 2009 are tax free for unemployed workers. Every person who receives unemployment benefits can exclude the first $2,400 of these benefits on their return. Unemployment benefit amounts over $2,400 are taxed.
A new law that went into effect Nov. 6 extends the first-time homebuyer credit five months and expands the eligibility requirements for purchasers.
The Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extends the deadline for qualifying home purchases from Nov. 30, 2009, to April 30, 2010. Additionally, if a buyer enters into a binding contract by April 30, 2010, the buyer has until June 30, 2010, to settle on the purchase.
The maximum credit amount remains at $8,000 for a first-time homebuyer -- that is, a buyer who has not owned a primary residence during the three years up to the date of purchase.
But the new law also provides a \"long-time resident\" credit of up to $6,500 to others who do not qualify as first-time homebuyers. To qualify this way, a buyer must have owned and used the same home as a principal or primary residence for at least five consecutive years of the eight-year period ending on the date of purchase of a new home as a primary residence.
For all qualifying purchases in 2010, taxpayers have the option of claiming the credit on either their 2009 or 2010 tax returns.
A new version of Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit, will be available in the next few weeks. A taxpayer who purchases a home after Nov. 6 must use this new version of the form to claim the credit. Likewise, taxpayers claiming the credit on their 2009 returns, no matter when the house was purchased, must also use the new version of Form 5405. Taxpayers who claim the credit on their 2009 tax return will not be able to file electronically but instead will need to file a paper return.
A taxpayer who purchased a home on or before Nov. 6 and chooses to claim the credit on an original or amended 2008 return may continue to use the current version of Form 5405.
Income Limits Rise
The new law raises the income limits for people who purchase homes after Nov. 6. The full
credit will be available to taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI) up to $125,000,
or $225,000 for joint filers. Those with MAGI between $125,000 and $145,000, or $225,000 and $245,000
for joint filers, are eligible for a reduced credit. Those with higher incomes do not qualify.
For homes purchased prior to Nov. 7, 2009, existing MAGI limits remain in place. The full credit is available to taxpayers with MAGI up to $75,000, or $150,000 for joint filers. Those with MAGI between $75,000 and $95,000, or $150,000 and $170,000 for joint filers, are eligible for a reduced credit. Those with higher incomes do not qualify.
Several new restrictions on purchases that occur after Nov. 6 go into effect with the new law:
For Members of the Military
Members of the Armed Forces and certain federal employees serving outside the U.S. have an extra year to buy a principal residence in the U.S. and still qualify for the credit. An eligible taxpayer must buy or enter into a binding contract to buy a home by April 30, 2011, and settle on the purchase by June 30, 2011.
For more details on the credit, visit the First-Time Homebuyer Credit page on IRS.gov
November 2009 News Update
Tax Credits Help Homeowners Winterize Their Homes and Save Energy
People can now weatherize their homes and be rewarded for their efforts. According to the Internal Revenue Service, homeowners making energy-saving improvements this fall can cut their winter heating bills and lower their 2009 tax bill as well.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), enacted earlier this year, expanded two home energy tax credits: the nonbusiness energy property credit and the residential energy efficient property credit.
Non-business Energy Property Credit
This credit equals 30 percent of what a homeowner spends on eligible energy-saving improvements, up to a maximum tax credit of $1,500 for the combined 2009 and 2010 tax years. The cost of certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass all qualify, along with labor costs for installing these items. In addition, the cost of energy-efficient windows and skylights, energy-efficient doors, qualifying insulation and certain roofs also qualify for the credit, though the cost of installing these items does not count.
By spending as little as $5,000 before the end of the year on eligible energy-saving improvements, a homeowner can save as much as $1,500 on his or her 2009 federal income tax return. Due to limits based on tax liability, other credits claimed by a particular taxpayer and other factors, actual tax savings will vary. These tax savings are on top of any energy savings that may result.
Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit
Homeowners going green should also check out a second tax credit designed to spur investment in alternative energy equipment. The residential energy efficient property credit, equals 30 percent of what a homeowner spends on qualifying property such as solar electric systems, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines, and fuel cell property. Generally, labor costs are included when calculating this credit. Also, no cap exists on the amount of credit available except in the case of fuel cell property.
Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify for these tax credits. For that reason, homeowners should check the manufacturer's tax credit certification statement before purchasing or installing any of these improvements. The certification statement can usually be found on the manufacturer's website or with the product packaging. Normally, a homeowner can rely on this certification. The IRS cautions that the manufacturer's certification is different from the Department of Energy's Energy Star label, and not all Energy Star labeled products qualify for the tax credits.
Eligible homeowners can claim both of these credits when they file their 2009 federal income tax return. Because these are credits, not deductions, they increase a taxpayer's refund or reduce the tax he or she owes. An eligible taxpayer can claim these credits, regardless of whether he or she itemizes deductions on Schedule A. Use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits, to figure and claim these credits. A draft version of this form is available now by searching www.IRS.gov.
October 2009 News Update
IRS Issues Guidance on 2009 Required Minimum Distribution Waiver
The Internal Revenue Service today provided guidance for retirement plan administrators, plan participants and retirees regarding recent legislation affecting required minimum distributions. The Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 waives required minimum distributions for 2009 from certain retirement plans.
Generally, a required minimum distribution is the smallest annual amount that must be withdrawn from an IRA or an employerâ€™s plan beginning with the year the account owner reaches age 70Â½. The 2008 law waives required minimum distributions for 2009 for IRS and defined contribution plans (such as 401(k)s) and allows certain amounts distributed as 2009 required minimum distributions to be rolled over into an IRA or another retirement plan.
Notice 2009-82 provides relief for people who have already received a 2009 required minimum distribution this year. Individuals generally have until the later of Nov. 30, 2009, or 60 days after the date the distribution was received, to roll over the distribution.
The notice also provides guidance for retirement plan sponsors. It contains two sample plan amendments that plan sponsors may adopt or use to amend their plans to either stop or continue 2009 required minimum distributions. Both sample amendments provide that participants and beneficiaries can choose to receive or not to receive 2009 required minimum distributions. Also, both sample amendments allow the employer to offer direct rollover options of certain 2009 required minimum distributions.
Plan sponsors may need to tailor the sample amendment to their planâ€™s particular terms and administration procedures and must adopt the amendment no later than the last day of the first plan year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2011 (Jan. 1, 2012 for governmental plans).
You may need to adjust your withholding or make quarterly estimated tax payments to ensure you are not under-withheld.
However, some exceptions apply to the repayment rule. They include:
|2007 Federal Estate and Trust Tax Rates|
|If taxable income is:||The tax is:|
|Not over $2,150||15% of the taxable income||Over $2,150 but not over $5,000||$322.50 plus 25% of the excess over $2,150|
|Over $5,000 but not over $7,650||$1,035.00 plus 28% of the excess over $5,000|
|Over $7,650 but not over $10,450||$1,777.00 plus 33% of the excess over $7,650|
|Over $10,450||$2,701.00 plus 35% of the excess over $10,450|
|Applicable Exclusion Amounts|
|2007 and 2008||$2,000,000|
Personal exemptions and standard deductions will rise, tax brackets will widen and income limits for IRAs will increase in 2007, thanks to inflation adjustments announced today by the Internal Revenue Service.
By law, the dollar amounts for a variety of tax provisions must be revised each year to keep pace with inflation. As a result, more than three dozen tax benefits, affecting virtually every taxpayer, are being adjusted for 2007. Key changes affecting 2007 returns, filed by most taxpayers in early 2008, include the following:
In 2007, for the first time, inflation adjustments will raise the income limits that apply to the retirement savings contributions credit, contributions to a Roth IRA and deductible contributions to a traditional IRA where the taxpayer or the taxpayerâ€™s spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work.
Businesses and Tax-Exempts Can Use Formula for Telephone Tax Refund
The Internal Revenue Service today announced a formula that will allow businesses and tax-exempt organizations to estimate their federal telephone excise tax refunds.
â€œThe formula will provide a less burdensome option than gathering up to 41 months of old phone records,â€� said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson.
In May 2006, the IRS announced that individuals, businesses and tax-exempt organizations who paid the long-distance telephone excise tax can request the refund on their 2006 federal income tax returns.
â€œBusinesses and tax-exempt organizations generally have more varied phone usage patterns than individuals,â€� Everson said. â€œThe IRS has met with a number of businesses and tax-exempt organizations to understand their concerns. We believe we have developed a reasonable method for estimating telephone excise tax refund amounts while reducing burden.â€�
To request a refund, businesses (including sole proprietors, corporations and partnerships) and tax-exempt organizations must complete Form 8913, Credit for Federal Telephone Excise Tax Paid. To complete this form, businesses and tax-exempt organizations may determine the actual amount of refundable long-distance telephone excise taxes they paid for the 41 months from March 2003 through July 2006, or use the formula to figure their refunds. Businesses should attach Form 8913 to their regular 2006 income tax returns. Tax-exempt organizations must attach it to Form 990-T.
Businesses and tax-exempt organizations can figure their refund amounts by comparing two telephone bills from this year to determine the percentage of their telephone expenses attributable to the long-distance excise tax. The bills they should use are the bill with a statement date in April 2006 and the bill with a statement date in September 2006. They must first figure the telephone tax as a percentage of their April 2006 telephone bills (which included the excise tax for both local and long-distance service) and their September 2006 telephone bills (which only included the tax on local service). The difference between these two percentages should then be applied to the quarterly or annual telephone expenses to determine the amount of their refunds.
The refund is capped at 2 percent of the total telephone expenses for businesses and tax-exempt organizations with 250 or fewer employees â€” which covers more than 99 percent of all businesses. The refund is capped at 1 percent for those with more than 250 employees. Most organizations in this category typically are able to figure the actual amount they paid in long-distance excise tax. However, the formula provides a more limited, but simpler, approach for those large employers who wish to use it.
For example, if a business has an April 2006 telephone bill of $1,000, which includes federal telephone excise tax of $28, the tax percentage is 2.8 percent. If the September 2006 bill is $1,100 including federal telephone excise tax of $16.50, the tax percentage is 1.5 percent. The businessâ€™ long-distance excise tax percentage is 1.3 percent (2.8 percent for April minus 1.5 percent for September). The business multiplies 1.3 percent by its total phone expenses over the 41-month period to arrive at the amount of its refund. If this business had more than 250 employees, its refund would be limited to 1 percent of its total phone expenses for the period. If the business had 250 or fewer employees, the 2-percent cap would apply and would not limit the amount of the refund.
The IRS developed the formula after receiving public input and discussing the issue with business organizations, the Small Business Administration and representatives from the tax-exempt community.
The IRS already has provided individual taxpayers with the option to use standard amounts based on the number of exemptions allowed to that taxpayer. Individual taxpayers can request a $30 refund with one exemption, $40 for two exemptions, $50 for three exemptions and $60 for four or more exemptions.
Options for requesting this refund vary for sole proprietors, who file a Schedule C with the Form 1040, depending on the gross income reported on the Schedule C. Sole proprietors who report gross income of $25,000 or less on their Schedule C may use the standard amounts or request a refund based on their actual expenses. Sole proprietors reporting more than $25,000 of gross income have three options: they can use the standard amounts which cover both personal and business expenses, they can use the formula for their business expenses and actual for their personal ones, or they can choose to use actual amounts for both business and personal.
Similar rules depending on the amount of gross income reported on Schedule F or Schedule E apply to farmers and individual owners of rental property.
Trusts and fiduciaries may not use the standard amount available to individuals. They should use the formula to figure their refunds, or request the actual amount paid.
The Treasury Department announced in May that the government would stop collecting the federal excise tax on long-distance telephone service beginning Aug. 1, 2006, and provide refunds for taxes billed after Feb. 28, 2003.
Details on the telephone tax refund will be included in 2006 tax return materials and on this Web site.
|If taxable income is over--||But not over--||The tax is:|
|$0||$7,300||10% of the amount over $0|
|$7,300||$29,700||$730 plus 15% of the amount over 7,300|
|$29,700||$71,950||$4,090.00 plus 25% of the amount over 29,700|
|$71,950||$150,150||$14,652.50 plus 28% of the amount over 71,950|
|$150,150||$326,450||$36,548.50 plus 33% of the amount over 150,150|
|$326,450||no limit||$94,727.50 plus 35% of the amount over 326,450|
|If taxable income is over--||But not over--||The tax is:|
|$0||$14,600||10% of the amount over $0|
|$14,600||$59,400||$1,460.00 plus 15% of the amount over 14,600|
|$59,400||$119,950||$8,180 plus 25% of the amount over 59,400|
|$119,950||$182,800||$23,317.50 plus 28% of the amount over 119,950|
|$182,800||$326,450||$40,915.50 plus 33% of the amount over 182,800|
|$326,450||no limit||$88,320.00 plus 35% of the amount over 326,450|
|If taxable income is over--||But not over--||The tax is:|
|$0||$7,300||10% of the amount over $0|
|$7,300||$29,700||$730 plus 15% of the amount over 7,300|
|$29,700||$59,975||$4,090 plus 25% of the amount over 29,700|
|$59,975||$91,400||$11,658.75 plus 28% of the amount over 59,975|
|$91,400||$163,225||$20,457.75 plus 33% of the amount over 91,400|
|$163,225||no limit||$44,160.00 plus 35% of the amount over 163,225|
|If taxable income is over--||But not over--||The tax is:|
|$0||$10,450||10% of the amount over $0|
|$10,450||$39,800||$1,045 plus 15% of the amount over 10,450|
|$39,800||$102,800||$5,447.50 plus 25% of the amount over 39,800|
|$102,800||$166,450||$21,197.50 plus 28% of the amount over 102,800|
|$166,450||$326,450||$39,019.50 plus 33% of the amount over 166,450|
|$326,450||no limit||$91,819.50 plus 35% of the amount over 326,450|