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2 major tax law changes for individuals in 2019

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Jan 14 2019

While most provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) went into effect in 2018 and either apply through 2025 or are permanent, there are two major changes under the act for 2019. Here’s a closer look.

1. Medical expense deduction threshold

With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that was already difficult for many taxpayers to meet, and it may be even harder to meet this year.

The TCJA temporarily reduced the threshold from 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5% of AGI. Unfortunately, the reduction applies only to 2017 and 2018. So for 2019, the threshold returns to 10% — unless legislation is signed into law extending the 7.5% threshold. Only qualified, unreimbursed expenses exceeding the threshold can be deducted.

Also, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018 through 2025, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.

2. Tax treatment of alimony

Alimony has generally been deductible by the ex-spouse paying it and included in the taxable income of the ex-spouse receiving it. Child support, on the other hand, hasn’t been deductible by the payer or taxable income to the recipient.

Under the TCJA, for divorce agreements executed (or, in some cases, modified) after December 31, 2018, alimony payments won’t be deductible — and will be excluded from the recipient’s taxable income. So, essentially, alimony will be treated the same way as child support.

Because the recipient ex-spouse would typically pay income taxes at a rate lower than that of the paying ex-spouse, the overall tax bite will likely be larger under this new tax treatment. This change is permanent.

TCJA impact on 2018 and 2019

Most TCJA changes went into effect in 2018, but not all. Contact us if you have questions about the medical expense deduction or the tax treatment of alimony — or any other changes that might affect you in 2019. We can also help you assess the impact of the TCJA when you file your 2018 tax return.

© 2019

A review of significant TCJA provisions impacting individual taxpayers

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 31 2018

Now that 2019 has begun, there isn’t too much you can do to reduce your 2018 income tax liability. But it’s smart to begin preparing for filing your 2018 return. Because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which was signed into law at the end of 2017, likely will have a major impact on your 2018 taxes, it’s a good time to review the most significant provisions impacting individual taxpayers.

Rates and exemptions

Generally, taxpayers will be subject to lower tax rates for 2018. But a couple of rates stay the same, and changes to some of the brackets for certain types of filers (individuals and heads of households) could cause them to be subject to higher rates. Some exemptions are eliminated, while others increase. Here are some of the specific changes:

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%
  • Elimination of personal and dependent exemptions
  • AMT exemption increase, to $109,400 for joint filers, $70,300 for singles and heads of households, and $54,700 for separate filers for 2018
  • Approximate doubling of the gift and estate tax exemption, to $11.18 million for 2018

Credits and deductions

Generally, tax breaks are reduced for 2018. However, a few are enhanced. Here’s a closer look:

  • Doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 and other modifications intended to help more taxpayers benefit from the credit
  • Near doubling of the standard deduction, to $24,000 (married couples filing jointly), $18,000 (heads of households) and $12,000 (singles and married couples filing separately) for 2018
  • Reduction of the adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold for the medical expense deduction to 7.5% for regular and AMT purposes
  • New $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes (on a combined basis for property and income or sales taxes; $5,000 for separate filers)
  • Reduction of the mortgage debt limit for the home mortgage interest deduction to $750,000 ($375,000 for separate filers), with certain exceptions
  • Elimination of the deduction for interest on home equity debt
  • Elimination of the personal casualty and theft loss deduction (with an exception for federally declared disasters)
  • Elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor (such as certain investment expenses, professional fees and unreimbursed employee business expenses)
  • Elimination of the AGI-based reduction of certain itemized deductions
  • Elimination of the moving expense deduction (with an exception for members of the military in certain circumstances)
  • Expansion of tax-free Section 529 plan distributions to include those used to pay qualifying elementary and secondary school expenses, up to $10,000 per student per tax year

How are you affected?

As you can see, the TCJA changes for individuals are dramatic. Many rules and limits apply, so contact us to find out exactly how you’re affected. We can also tell you if any other provisions affect you, and help you begin preparing for your 2018 tax return filing and 2019 tax planning.

© 2019

You may be able to save more for retirement in 2019

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 31 2018

Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019, giving you opportunities to increase your retirement savings:

  • Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $19,000 (up from $18,500)
  • Contributions to defined contribution plans: $56,000 (up from $55,000)
  • Contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,000 (up from $12,500)
  • Contributions to IRAs: $6,000 (up from $5,500)

 

One exception is catch-up contributions for taxpayers age 50 or older, which remain at the same levels as for 2018:

  • Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $6,000
  • Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000
  • Catch-up contributions to IRAs: $1,000

 

Keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.

For more on how to make the most of your tax-advantaged retirement-saving opportunities in 2019, please contact us.

© 2018

Act soon to save 2018 taxes on your investments

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 22 2018

Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to shrink your 2018 tax bill by selling some investments ― you just need to carefully select which investments you sell.

Try balancing gains and losses

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

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

Review your potential tax rates

At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets.

For example, these are the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate for 2018:

  • Singles: $425,800
  • Heads of households: $452,400
  • Married couples filing jointly: $479,000

 

But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. The TCJA also retains the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

Don’t forget the netting rules

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

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

Time is running out

By reviewing your investment activity year-to-date and selling certain investments by year end, you may be able to substantially reduce your 2018 taxes. But act soon, because time is running out.

Keep in mind that tax considerations shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. You also need to consider other factors, such as your risk tolerance and investment goals.

We can help you determine what makes sense for you. Please contact us.

© 2018

Year-end tax and financial to-do list for individuals

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 13 2018

With the dawn of 2019 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2018 ends:

1.  Check your FSA balance. If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2-1/2-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.

2.  Max out tax-advantaged savings. Reduce your 2018 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2018 return if they’re made by April 15, 2019.)

3.  Take RMDs. If you’ve reached age 70-1/2, you generally must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2019, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year.

4.  Consider a QCD. If you’re 70-1/2 or older and charitably inclined, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).

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

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

7.  Review withholding. The IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to review your situation. If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholdings from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholdings, unlike estimated tax payments, are treated as if they were paid evenly over the year.)

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

© 2018

Check deductibility before making year-end charitable gifts

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 13 2018

As the holidays approach and the year draws to a close, many taxpayers make charitable gifts — both in the spirit of the season and as a year-end tax planning strategy. But with the tax law changes that go into effect in 2018 and the many rules that apply to the charitable deduction, it’s a good idea to check deductibility before making any year-end donations. 

Confirm you can still benefit from itemizing

Last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t put new limits on or suspend the charitable deduction, like it did to many other itemized deductions. Nevertheless, it will reduce or eliminate the tax benefits of charitable giving for many taxpayers this year. 

Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA significantly increases the standard deduction, to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of households, and $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately. 

The nearly doubled standard deduction combined with the new limits or suspensions of some common itemized deductions means you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction. And if that’s the case, your donations won’t save you tax. 

So before you make any year-end charitable gifts, total up your potential itemized deductions for the year, including the donations you’re considering. If the total is less than your standard deduction, your year-end donations won’t provide a tax benefit. 

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

Meet the delivery deadline

To be deductible on your 2018 return, a charitable gift must be made by Dec. 31, 2018. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it. 

Credit card. The date you make the charge. 

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Make sure the organization is “qualified”

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. 

The IRS’s online search tool, Tax Exempt Organization Search, can help you easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access this tool at
https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/.  Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly. Remember that political donations aren’t deductible.

Consider other rules

We’ve discussed only some of the rules for the charitable deduction; many others apply. We can answer any questions you have about the deductibility of donations or changes to the standard deduction and itemized deductions. 

© 2018

Does prepaying property taxes make sense anymore?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 27 2018

Prepaying property taxes related to the current year but due the following year has long been one of the most popular and effective year-end tax-planning strategies. But does it still make sense in 2018?

The answer, for some people, is yes — accelerating this expense will increase their itemized deductions, reducing their tax bills. But for many, particularly those in high-tax states, changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminate the benefits.

What’s changed?

The TCJA made two changes that affect the viability of this strategy. First, it nearly doubled the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, so fewer taxpayers will itemize. Second, it placed a $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, including property taxes plus income or sales taxes.

For property tax prepayment to make sense, two things must happen:

1. You must itemize (that is, your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction), and

2. Your other SALT expenses for the year must be less than $10,000.

If you don’t itemize, or you’ve already used up your $10,000 limit (on income or sales taxes or on previous property tax installments), accelerating your next property tax installment will provide no benefit.

Example

Joe and Mary, a married couple filing jointly, have incurred $5,000 in state income taxes, $5,000 in property taxes, $18,000 in qualified mortgage interest, and $4,000 in charitable donations, for itemized deductions totaling $32,000. Their next installment of 2018 property taxes, $5,000, is due in the spring of 2019. They’ve already reached the $10,000 SALT limit, so prepaying property taxes won’t reduce their tax bill.

Now suppose they live in a state with no income tax. In that case, prepayment would potentially make sense because it would be within the SALT limit and would increase their 2018 itemized deductions.

Look before you leap

Before you prepay property taxes, review your situation carefully to be sure it will provide a tax benefit. And keep in mind that, just because prepayment will increase your 2018 itemized deductions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best strategy. For example, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2019, paying property taxes when due will likely produce a greater benefit over the two-year period.

For help determining whether prepaying property taxes makes sense for you this year, contact us. We can also suggest other year-end tips for reducing your taxes.

© 2018

Catch-up retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous post-TCJA

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 27 2018

Will you be age 50 or older on December 31? Are you still working? Are you already contributing to your 401(k) plan or Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) up to the regular annual limit? Then you may want to make “catch-up” contributions by the end of the year. Increasing your retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous if your itemized deductions for 2018 will be smaller than in the past because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Catching up

Catch-up contributions are additional contributions beyond the regular annual limits that can be made to certain retirement accounts. They were designed to help taxpayers who didn’t save much for retirement earlier in their careers to “catch up.” But there’s no rule that limits catch-up contributions to such taxpayers.

So catch-up contributions can be a great option for anyone who is old enough to be eligible, has been maxing out their regular contribution limit and has sufficient earned income to contribute more. The contributions are generally pretax (except in the case of Roth accounts), so they can reduce your taxable income for the year.

More benefits now?

This additional reduction to taxable income might be especially beneficial in 2018 if in the past you had significant itemized deductions that now will be reduced or eliminated by the TCJA. For example, the TCJA eliminates miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor — such as unreimbursed employee expenses (including home-off expenses) and certain professional and investment fees.

If, say, in 2018 you have $5,000 of expenses that in the past would have qualified as miscellaneous itemized deductions, an additional $5,000 catch-up contribution can make up for the loss of those deductions. Plus, you benefit from adding to your retirement nest egg and potential tax-deferred growth.

Other deductions that are reduced or eliminated include state and local taxes, mortgage and home equity interest expenses, casualty and theft losses, and moving expenses. If these changes affect you, catch-up contributions can help make up for your reduced deductions.

2018 contribution limits

Under 2018 401(k) limits, if you’re age 50 or older and you have reached the $18,500 maximum limit for all employees, you can contribute an extra $6,000, for a total of $24,500. If your employer offers a SIMPLE instead, your regular contribution maxes out at $12,500 in 2018. If you’re 50 or older, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $3,000 — or $15,500 in total for the year.
But, check with your employer because, while most 401(k) plans and SIMPLEs offer catch-up contributions, not all do. Also keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply.

Additional options

Catch-up contributions are also available for IRAs, but the deadline for 2018 contributions is later: April 15, 2019. And whether your traditional IRA contributions will be deductible depends on your income and whether you or your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Please contact us for more information about catch-up contributions and other year-end tax planning strategies.

© 2018

Mutual funds: Handle with care at year end

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 27 2018

As we approach the end of 2018, it’s a good idea to review the mutual fund holdings in your taxable accounts and take steps to avoid potential tax traps. Here are some tips.

Avoid surprise capital gains

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

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

Buyer beware

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

In reality, the value of your shares is immediately reduced by the amount of the distribution. So you’ll owe taxes on the gain without actually making a profit.

Seller beware

If you plan to sell mutual fund shares that have appreciated in value, consider waiting until just after year end so you can defer the gain until 2019 — unless you expect to be subject to a higher rate next year. In that scenario, you’d likely be better off recognizing the gain and paying the tax this year.

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

Think beyond just taxes

Investment decisions shouldn’t be driven by tax considerations alone. For example, you need to keep in mind your overall financial goals and your risk tolerance.

But taxes are still an important factor to consider. Contact us to discuss these and other year-end strategies for minimizing the tax impact of your mutual fund holdings.

© 2018

Time for NQDC plan deferral elections

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 12 2018

If you’re an executive or other key employee, your employer may offer you a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan. As the name suggests, NQDC plans pay employees in the future for services currently performed. The plans allow deferral of the income tax associated with the compensation.  

But to receive this attractive tax treatment, NQDC plans must meet many requirements. One is that employees must make the deferral election before the year they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, if you wish to defer part of your 2019 compensation, you generally must make the election by the end of 2018.

NQDC plans vs. qualified plans

NQDC plans differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in that:

  • NQDC plans can favor highly compensated employees,
  • Although your income tax liability can be deferred, your employer can’t deduct the NQDC until you recognize it as income, and
  • Any NQDC plan funding isn’t protected from your employer’s creditors.

 

While some rules are looser for NQDC plans, there are also many rules that apply to them that don’t apply to qualified plans.

2 more NQDC rules

In addition to the requirement that deferral elections be made before the start of the year, there are two other important NQDC rules to be aware of:

1. Distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.

2. Elections to make certain changes. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.

Be aware that the penalties for noncompliance with NQDC rules can be severe: You can be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and interest charges also may apply. So if you’re receiving NQDC, check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues.

No deferral of employment tax

Another important NQDC tax issue is that employment taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even though the compensation isn’t actually paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years.

So your employer may withhold your portion of the tax from your salary or ask you to write a check for the liability. Or your employer might pay your portion, in which case you’ll have additional taxable income.

Next steps

Questions about NQDC — or other executive comp, such as incentive stock options or restricted stock? Contact us. We can answer them and help you determine what, if any, steps you need to take before year end to defer taxes and avoid interest and penalties.

© 2018

Donate appreciated stock for twice the tax benefits

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 12 2018

A tried-and-true year end tax strategy is to make charitable donations. As long as you itemize and your gift qualifies, you can claim a charitable deduction. But did you know that you can enjoy an additional tax benefit if you donate long-term appreciated stock instead of cash?

2 benefits from 1 gift

Appreciated publicly traded stock you’ve held more than one year is long-term capital gains property. If you donate it to a qualified charity, you may be able to enjoy two tax benefits:

  1. If you itemize deductions, you can claim a charitable deduction equal to the stock’s fair market value, and
  2. You can avoid the capital gains tax you’d pay if you sold the stock.

 

Donating appreciated stock can be especially beneficial to taxpayers facing the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the top 20% long-term capital gains rate this year.

Stock vs. cash

Let’s say you donate $10,000 of stock that you paid $3,000 for, your ordinary-income tax rate is 37% and your long-term capital gains rate is 20%. Let’s also say you itemize deductions.

If you sold the stock, you’d pay $1,400 in tax on the $7,000 gain. If you were also subject to the 3.8% NIIT, you’d pay another $266 in NIIT.

By instead donating the stock to charity, you save $5,366 in federal tax ($1,666 in capital gains tax and NIIT plus $3,700 from the $10,000 income tax deduction). If you donated $10,000 in cash, your federal tax savings would be only $3,700.

Watch your step

First, remember that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction, to $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. The charitable deduction will provide a tax benefit only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. Because the standard deduction is so much higher, even if you’ve itemized deductions in the past, you might not benefit from doing so for 2018.

Second, beware that donations of long-term capital gains property are subject to tighter deduction limits — 30% of your adjusted gross income for gifts to public charities, 20% for gifts to nonoperating private foundations (compared to 60% and 30%, respectively, for cash donations).

Finally, don’t donate stock that’s worth less than your basis. Instead, sell the stock so you can deduct the loss and then donate the cash proceeds to charity.

Minimizing tax and maximizing deductions

For charitably inclined taxpayers who own appreciated stock and who’ll have enough itemized deductions to benefit from itemizing on their 2018 tax returns, donating the stock to charity can be an excellent year-end tax planning strategy. This is especially true if the stock is highly appreciated and you’d like to sell it but are worried about the tax liability. Please contact us with any questions you have about minimizing capital gains tax or maximizing charitable deductions.

© 2018

Could “bunching” medical expenses into 2018 save you tax?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 24 2018

Some of your medical expenses may be tax deductible, but only if you itemize deductions and have enough expenses to exceed the applicable floor for deductibility. With proper planning, you may be able to time controllable medical expenses to your tax advantage. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) could make bunching such expenses into 2018 beneficial for some taxpayers. At the same time, certain taxpayers who’ve benefited from the deduction in previous years might no longer benefit because of the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction.

The changes

Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example is the medical expense deduction.

Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible medical expenses into a particular year where possible. The TCJA reduced the floor for the medical expense deduction for 2017 and 2018 from 10% to 7.5%. So, it might be beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2018.

Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible.

However, if your total itemized deductions won’t exceed your standard deduction, bunching medical expenses into 2018 won’t save tax. The TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction. For 2018, it’s $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.

If your total itemized deductions for 2018 will exceed your standard deduction, bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2018 may allow you to exceed the applicable floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.

Planning for uncertainty

Keep in mind that legislation could be signed into law that extends the 7.5% threshold for 2019 and even beyond. For help determining whether you could benefit from bunching medical expenses into 2018, please contact us.

© 2018

Consider all the tax consequences before making gifts to loved ones

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 24 2018

Many people choose to pass assets to the next generation during life, whether to reduce the size of their taxable estate, to help out family members or simply to see their loved ones enjoy the gifts. If you’re considering lifetime gifts, be aware that which assets you give can produce substantially different tax consequences.  

Multiple types of taxes

Federal gift and estate taxes generally apply at a rate of 40% to transfers in excess of your available gift and estate tax exemption. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the exemption has approximately doubled through 2025. For 2018, it’s $11.18 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).

Even if your estate isn’t large enough for gift and estate taxes to currently be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus, the gift and estate tax exemption is scheduled to drop back to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026.

Minimizing estate tax

If your estate is large enough that estate tax is a concern, consider gifting property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.

If estate tax isn’t a concern, your family may be better off tax-wise if you hold on to the property and let it appreciate in your hands. At your death, the property’s value for income tax purposes will be “stepped up” to fair market value. This means that, if your heirs sell the property, they won’t have to pay any income tax on the appreciation that occurred during your life.

Even if estate tax is a concern, you should compare the potential estate tax savings from gifting the property now to the potential income tax savings for your heirs if you hold on to the property.

Minimizing your beneficiary’s income tax

You can save income tax for your heirs by gifting property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.

On the other hand, hold on to property that has already appreciated significantly so that your heirs can enjoy the step-up in basis at your death. If they sell the property shortly after your death, before it’s had time to appreciate much more, they’ll owe no or minimal income tax on the sale.

Minimizing your own income tax

Don’t gift property that’s declined in value. A better option is generally to sell the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.

Capital losses can offset capital gains, and up to $3,000 of losses can offset other types of income, such as from salary, bonuses or retirement plan distributions. Excess losses can be carried forward until death.

Choose gifts wisely

No matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Please contact us to discuss the gift, estate and income tax consequences of any gifts you’d like to make.

© 2018

529 plans offer two tax-advantaged education funding options

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 09 2018

Section 529 plans are a popular education-funding tool because of tax and other benefits. Two types are available: 1) prepaid tuition plans, and 2) savings plans. And one of these plans got even better under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Enjoy valuable benefits

529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for qualifying education expenses. First and foremost, although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing in the form of deductions or credits.

But that’s not all. 529 plans also usually offer high contribution limits. And there are no income limits for contributing.

Lock in current tuition rates

With a 529 prepaid tuition plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.

One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.

Fund more than just college tuition

A 529 savings plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

In addition, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expands the definition of qualified expenses to generally include elementary and secondary school tuition. However, tax-free distributions used for such tuition are limited to $10,000 per year.

The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.

But each time you make a contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.

Picking your plan

Both prepaid tuition plans and savings plans offer attractive benefits. We can help you determine which one is a better fit for you or explore other tax-advantaged education-funding options.

© 2018

Charitable IRA rollovers may be especially beneficial in 2018

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 09 2018

If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions. This break may be especially beneficial now because of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes that affect who can benefit from the itemized deduction for charitable donations.

Counts toward your RMD

A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (Deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)

So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid to you.  

Doesn’t require itemizing

You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation.

And, with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction, fewer taxpayers will benefit from itemizing. Itemizing saves tax only when itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Doesn’t have other deduction downsides

Even if you have enough other itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction, taking your RMD and contributing that amount to charity has two more possible downsides.

First, the reported RMD income might increase your income to the point that you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket, certain additional taxes are triggered and/or the benefits of certain tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. It could even cause Social Security payments to become taxable or increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges.

Second, if your donation would equal a large portion of your income for the year, your deduction might be reduced due to the percentage-of-income limit. You generally can’t deduct cash donations that exceed 60% of your adjusted gross income for the year.  (The TCJA raised this limit from 50%, but if the cash donation is to a private nonoperating foundation, the limit is only 30%.) You can carry forward the excess up to five years, but if you make large donations every year, that won’t help you.

A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.

Have questions?

The considerations involved in deciding whether to make a direct IRA rollover have changed in light of the TCJA. So contact us to go over your particular situation and determine what’s right for you.

© 2018

Tax planning for investments gets more complicated

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 09 2018


For investors, fall is a good time to review year-to-date gains and losses. Not only can it help you assess your financial health, but it also can help you determine whether to buy or sell investments before year end to save taxes. This year, you also need to keep in mind the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). While the TCJA didn’t change long-term capital gains rates, it did change the tax brackets for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.

For 2018 through 2025, these brackets are no longer linked to the ordinary-income tax brackets for individuals. So, for example, you could be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate even if you aren’t subject to the top ordinary-income tax rate.

Old rules

For the last several years, individual taxpayers faced three federal income tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends: 0%, 15% and 20%. The rate brackets were tied to the ordinary-income rate brackets.

Specifically, if the long-term capital gains and/or dividends fell within the 10% or 15% ordinary-income brackets, no federal income tax was owed. If they fell within the 25%, 28%, 33% or 35% ordinary-income brackets, they were taxed at 15%. And, if they fell within the maximum 39.6% ordinary-income bracket, they were taxed at the maximum 20% rate.

In addition, higher-income individuals with long-term capital gains and dividends were also hit with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). It kicked in when modified adjusted gross income exceeded $200,000 for singles and heads of households and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. So, many people actually paid 18.8% (15% + 3.8%) or 23.8% (20% + 3.8%) on their long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.

New rules

The TCJA retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends for individual taxpayers. However, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets. Here are the 2018 brackets:

Singles:

  • 0%: $0 – $38,600
  • 15%: $38,601 – $425,800
  • 20%: $425,801 and up

 

Heads of households:

  • 0%: $0 – $51,700
  • 15%: $51,701 – $452,400
  • 20%: $452,401 and up

 

Married couples filing jointly:

  • 0%: $0 – $77,200
  • 15%: $77,201 – $479,000
  • 20%: $479,001 and up

 

For 2018, the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains and nonqualified dividends, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. (Both the long-term capital gains brackets and the ordinary-income brackets will be indexed for inflation for 2019 through 2025.) The new tax law also retains the 3.8% NIIT and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

More thresholds, more complexity

With more tax rate thresholds to keep in mind, year-end tax planning for investments is especially complicated in 2018. If you have questions, please contact us.

© 2018

The tax deduction ins and outs of donating artwork to charity

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 24 2018


If you’re charitably inclined and you collect art, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts from a tax perspective. In general, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property. The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.

Requirements

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

For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.

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

IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $20,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.

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

Maximizing your deduction

The charity you choose and how the charity will use the artwork can have a significant impact on your tax deduction. Donations of artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status, can entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, however, your deduction will be limited to your cost.

For your donation to a public charity to qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the donated artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. If, for example, you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university’s art history department for use in its research, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule. But if you donate it to, say, a children’s hospital to auction off at its annual fundraising gala, you won’t satisfy the rule.

Plan carefully

Donating artwork is a great way to share enjoyment of the work with others. But to reap the maximum tax benefit, too, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all of the applicable rules. Contact us to learn more.  

© 2018

You might save tax if your vacation home qualifies as a rental property

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 13 2018


Do you own a vacation home? If you both rent it out and use it personally, you might save tax by taking steps to ensure it qualifies as a rental property this year. Vacation home expenses that qualify as rental property expenses aren’t subject to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s (TCJA’s) new limit on the itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) or the lower debt limit for the itemized mortgage interest deduction.

Rental or personal property?

If you rent out your vacation home for 15 days or more, what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:

Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules.

Your deduction for property tax attributable to the rental use of the home isn’t subject to the TCJA’s new SALT deduction limit. And your deduction for mortgage interest on the home isn’t subject to the debt limit that applies to the itemized deduction for mortgage interest. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction (subject to the new SALT limit).

Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years.

If you itemize deductions, you also can deduct the personal portion of both property tax and mortgage interest, subject to the TCJA’s new limits on those deductions. The SALT deduction limit is $10,000 for the combined total of state and local property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). For mortgage interest debt incurred after December 15, 2017, the debt limit (with some limited exceptions) has been reduced to $750,000.

Be aware that many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing because of the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction. Itemizing saves tax only if total itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction for the taxpayer’s filing status.

Year-to-date review

Keep in mind that, if you rent out your vacation home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) won’t be deductible.

Now is a good time to review your vacation home use year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. By increasing the number of days you rent it out and/or reducing the number of days you use it personally between now and year end, you might be able to ensure it’s classified as a rental property and save some tax. But there also could be circumstances where personal property treatment would be beneficial. Please contact us to discuss your particular situation.

© 2018

Do you need to make an estimated tax payment by September 17?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 10 2018


To avoid interest and penalties, you must make sufficient federal income tax payments long before your April filing deadline through withholding, estimated tax payments, or a combination of the two. The third 2018 estimated tax payment deadline for individuals is September 17.

If you don’t have an employer withholding tax from your pay, you likely need to make estimated tax payments. But even if you do have withholding, you might need to pay estimated tax. It can be necessary if you have more than a nominal amount of income from sources such as self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent, prizes, awards or the sales of assets.

A two-prong test

Generally, you must pay estimated tax for 2018 if both of these statements apply:

1. You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding and credits, and

2. You expect withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90% of your tax for 2018 or 100% of the tax on your 2017 return — 110% if your 2017 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000 ($75,000 for married couples filing separately).

If you’re a sole proprietor, partner or S corporation shareholder, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe $1,000 or more in tax when you file your return.

Quarterly payments

Estimated tax payments are spaced through the year into four periods or due dates. Generally, the due dates are April 15, June 15 and September 15 of the tax year and January 15 of the next year, unless the date falls on a weekend or holiday (hence the September 17 deadline this year).

Estimated tax is calculated by factoring in expected gross income, taxable income, deductions and credits for the year. The easiest way to pay estimated tax is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can also pay estimated tax by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher or by credit or debit card.

Confirming withholding

If you determine you don’t need to make estimated tax payments for 2018, it’s a good idea to confirm that the appropriate amount is being withheld from your paycheck. To reflect changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the IRS updated the tables that indicate how much employers should withhold from their employees’ pay, generally reducing the amount withheld.

The new tables might cause some taxpayers to not have enough withheld to pay their ultimate tax liabilities under the TCJA. The IRS has updated its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to assist taxpayers in reviewing their situations.

Avoiding penalties

Keep in mind that, if you underpaid estimated taxes in earlier quarters, you generally can’t avoid penalties by making larger estimated payments in later quarters. But if you also have withholding, you may be able to avoid penalties by having the estimated tax shortfall withheld.

To learn more about estimated tax and withholding — and for help determining how much tax you should be paying during the year —  contact us.  

© 2018

Back-to-school time means a tax break for teachers

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 31 2018


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

The old miscellaneous itemized deduction

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

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

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

The above-the-line educator expense deduction

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

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

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

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

Many rules, many changes

Some additional rules apply to the educator expense deduction. Contact us for more details or to discuss other tax deductions that may be available to you this year. The TCJA has made significant changes to many deductions for individuals.

© 2018

Keep an eye out for extenders legislation

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 21 2018

The pieces of tax legislation garnering the most attention these days are the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) signed into law last December and the possible “Tax Reform 2.0” that Congress might pass this fall. But for certain individual taxpayers, what happens with “extenders” legislation is also important.

Recent history

Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The TCJA didn’t address these breaks, but they were retroactively extended through December 31, 2017, by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA), which was signed into law on February 9, 2018.

Now the question is whether Congress will extend them for 2018 and, if so, when. In July, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) released a broad outline of what Tax Reform 2.0 legislation may contain. And he indicated that it probably wouldn’t include the so-called “extenders” but that they would likely be addressed by separate legislation.  

Mortgage insurance and loan forgiveness

Under the BBA, through 2017, you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. This was an itemized deduction that phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.

The BBA likewise extended through 2017 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also allowed the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2018 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2017. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2018 income tax return.

Tuition and related expenses

Also available through 2017 under the BBA was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. It was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).

You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
 
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.  

Still time . . .

There’s still plenty of time for Congress to extend these breaks for 2018. And, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2017 income tax return yet, there’s even still time to take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended 2017 returns is October 15, 2018. Contact us with questions about these breaks and whether you can benefit.

© 2018

The TCJA prohibits undoing 2018 Roth IRA conversions, but 2017 conversions are still eligible

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 08 2018

Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement. But what if you convert your traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it?

Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), you could undo a Roth IRA conversion using a “recharacterization.” Effective with 2018 conversions, the TCJA prohibits recharacterizations — permanently. But if you executed a conversion in 2017, you may still be able to undo it.

Reasons to recharacterize

Generally, if you converted to a Roth IRA in 2017, you have until October 15, 2018, to undo it and avoid the tax hit.

Here are some reasons you might want to recharacterize a 2017 Roth IRA conversion:

 

  • The conversion combined with your other income pushed you into a higher tax bracket in 2017.
  • Your marginal income tax rate will be lower in 2018 than it was in 2017.
  • The value of your account has declined since the conversion, so you owe taxes partially on money you no longer have.

 

If you recharacterize your 2017 conversion but would still like to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you must wait until the 31st day after the recharacterization. If you undo a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period, causing you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.
 
Recharacterization in action

Sally had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000 when she converted it to a Roth IRA in 2017. Her 2017 tax rate was 33%, so she owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion.

However, by August 1, 2018, the value of her account had dropped to $80,000. So Sally recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and amends her 2017 tax return to exclude the $100,000 in income.

On September 1, she reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. She will report that amount when she files her 2018 tax return. The 33% rate has dropped to 32% under the TCJA. Assuming Sally is still in this bracket, this time she’ll owe $25,600 ($80,000 × 32%) — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $7,400.

(Be aware that the thresholds for the various brackets have changed for 2018, in some cases increasing but in others decreasing. This, combined with other TCJA provisions and changes in your income, could cause you to be in a higher or lower bracket in 2018.)

Know your options

If you converted a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2017, it’s worthwhile to see if you could save tax by undoing the conversion. If you’re considering a Roth conversion in 2018, keep in mind that you won’t have the option to recharacterize. We can help you assess whether recharacterizing a 2017 conversion or executing a 2018 conversion makes sense for you.

© 2018

Do you still need to worry about the AMT?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on July 31 2018


There was talk of repealing the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) as part of last year’s tax reform legislation. A repeal wasn’t included in the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers subject to the AMT.

Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the changes, assess your AMT risk and see if there are any steps you can take during the last several months of the year to avoid the AMT, or at least minimize any negative impact.

AMT vs. regular tax

The top AMT rate is 28%, compared to the top regular ordinary-income tax rate of 37%. But the AMT rate typically applies to a higher taxable income base and will result in a larger tax bill if you’re subject to it.

The TCJA reduced the number of taxpayers who’ll likely be subject to the AMT in part by increasing the AMT exemption and the income phaseout ranges for the exemption:

 

  • For 2018, the exemption is $70,300 for singles and heads of households (up from $54,300 for 2017), and $109,400 for married couples filing jointly (up from $84,500 for 2017).
  • The 2018 phaseout ranges are $500,000–$781,200 for singles and heads of households (up from $120,700–$337,900 for 2017) and $1,000,000–$1,437,600 for joint filers (up from $160,900–$498,900 for 2017).

You’ll be subject to the AMT if your AMT liability is greater than your regular tax liability.

AMT triggers

In the past, common triggers of the AMT were differences between deductions allowed for regular tax purposes and AMT purposes. Some popular deductions aren’t allowed under the AMT.

New limits on some of these deductions for regular tax purposes, such as on state and local income and property tax deductions, mean they’re less likely to trigger the AMT. And certain deductions not allowed for AMT purposes are now not allowed for regular tax purposes either, such as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor.

But deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. Some income items might do so, too, such as:

 

  • Long-term capital gains and dividend income, even though they’re taxed at the same rate for both regular tax and AMT purposes,
  • Accelerated depreciation adjustments and related gain or loss differences when assets are sold,
  • Tax-exempt interest on certain private-activity municipal bonds, and
  • The exercise of incentive stock options.

 

AMT planning tips

If it looks like you could be subject to the AMT in 2018, consider accelerating income into this year. Doing sosa may allow you to benefit from the lower maximum AMT rate. And deferring expenses you can’t deduct for AMT purposes may allow you to preserve those deductions. If you also defer expenses you can deduct for AMT purposes, the deductions may become more valuable because of the higher maximum regular tax rate.

Please contact us if you have questions about whether you could be subject to the AMT this year or about minimizing negative consequences from the AMT.

© 2018

Why the “kiddie tax” is more dangerous than ever

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on July 31 2018


Once upon a time, some parents and grandparents would attempt to save tax by putting investments in the names of their young children or grandchildren in lower income tax brackets. To discourage such strategies, Congress created the “kiddie” tax back in 1986. Since then, this tax has gradually become more far-reaching. Now, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the kiddie tax has become more dangerous than ever.  

A short history

Years ago, the kiddie tax applied only to children under age 14 — which still provided families with ample opportunity to enjoy significant tax savings from income shifting. In 2006, the tax was expanded to children under age 18. And since 2008, the kiddie tax has generally applied to children under age 19 and to full-time students under age 24 (unless the students provide more than half of their own support from earned income).

What about the kiddie tax rate? Before the TCJA, for children subject to the kiddie tax, any unearned income beyond a certain amount ($2,100 for 2017) was taxed at their parents’ marginal rate (assuming it was higher), rather than their own likely low rate.

A fiercer kiddie tax

The TCJA doesn’t further expand who’s subject to the kiddie tax. But it will effectively increase the kiddie tax rate in many cases.

For 2018–2025, a child’s unearned income beyond the threshold ($2,100 again for 2018) will be taxed according to the tax brackets used for trusts and estates. For ordinary income (such as interest and short-term capital gains), trusts and estates are taxed at the highest marginal rate of 37% once 2018 taxable income exceeds $12,500. In contrast, for a married couple filing jointly, the highest rate doesn’t kick in until their 2018 taxable income tops $600,000.

Similarly, the 15% long-term capital gains rate takes effect at $77,201 for joint filers but at only $2,601 for trusts and estates. And the 20% rate kicks in at $479,001 and $12,701, respectively.

In other words, in many cases, children’s unearned income will be taxed at higher rates than their parents’ income. As a result, income shifting to children subject to the kiddie tax will not only not save tax, but it could actually increase a family’s overall tax liability.

The moral of the story

To avoid inadvertently increasing your family’s taxes, be sure to consider the big, bad kiddie tax before transferring income-producing or highly appreciated assets to a child or grandchild who’s a minor or college student. If you’d like to shift income and you have adult children or grandchildren who’re no longer subject to the kiddie tax but in a lower tax bracket, consider transferring such assets to them.

Please contact us for more information about the kiddie tax — or other TCJA changes that may affect your family.

© 2018

3 traditional midyear tax planning strategies for individuals that hold up post-TCJA

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on July 17 2018

With its many changes to individual tax rates, brackets and breaks, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) means taxpayers need to revisit their tax planning strategies. Certain strategies that were once tried-and-true will no longer save or defer tax. But there are some that will hold up for many taxpayers. And they’ll be more effective if you begin implementing them this summer, rather than waiting until year end. Take a look at these three ideas, and contact us to discuss what midyear strategies make sense for you.

1. Look at your bracket

Under the TCJA, the top income tax rate is now 37% (down from 39.6%) for taxpayers with taxable income over $500,000 (single and head-of-household filers) or $600,000 (married couples filing jointly). These thresholds are higher than for the top rate in 2017 ($418,400, $444,550 and $470,700, respectively). So the top rate might be less of a concern.

However, singles and heads of households in the middle and upper brackets could be pushed into a higher tax bracket much more quickly this year. For example, for 2017 the threshold for the 33% tax bracket was $191,650 for singles and $212,500 for heads of households. For 2018, the rate for this bracket has been reduced slightly to 32% — but the threshold for the bracket is now only $157,500 for both singles and heads of households.

So a lot more of these filers could find themselves in this bracket. (Fortunately for joint filers, their threshold for this bracket has increased from $233,350 to $315,000.)

If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold for a higher bracket, consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the next bracket. For example, you could take steps to accelerate deductible expenses.

But carefully consider the changes the TCJA has made to deductions. For example, you might no longer benefit from itemizing because of the nearly doubled standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of certain itemized deductions. For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for joint filers.

2. Incur medical expenses

One itemized deduction the TCJA has retained and — temporarily — enhanced is the medical expense deduction. If you expect to benefit from itemizing on your 2018 return, take a look at whether you can accelerate deductible medical expenses into this year.

You can deduct only expenses that exceed a floor based on your adjusted gross income (AGI). Under the TCJA, the floor has dropped from 10% of AGI to 7.5%. But it’s scheduled to return to 10% for 2019 and beyond.

Deductible expenses may include:

  • Health insurance premiums,
  • Long-term care insurance premiums,
  • Medical and dental services and prescription drugs, and
  • Mileage driven for health care purposes.

 

You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into 2018 and exceed the floor while it’s only 7.5%.
        
3. Review your investments

The TCJA didn’t make changes to the long-term capital gains rate, so the top rate remains at 20%. However, that rate now kicks in before the top ordinary-income tax rate. For 2018, the 20% rate applies to taxpayers with taxable income exceeding $425,800 (singles), $452,400 (heads of households), or $479,000 (joint filers).

If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.

You also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). It can affect taxpayers with modified AGI (MAGI) over $200,000 for singles and heads of households, $250,000 for joint filers. You may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.

© 2018

What you can deduct when volunteering

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on July 17 2018


Because donations to charity of cash or property generally are tax deductible (if you itemize), it only seems logical that the donation of something even more valuable to you — your time — would also be deductible. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Donations of time or services aren’t deductible. It doesn’t matter if it’s simple administrative work, such as checking in attendees at a fundraising event, or if it’s work requiring significant experience and expertise that would be much more costly to the charity if it had to pay for it, such as skilled carpentry or legal counsel.   

However, you potentially can deduct out-of-pocket costs associated with your volunteer work.

The basic rules

As with any charitable donation, for you to be able to deduct your volunteer expenses, the first requirement is that the organization be a qualified charity. You can use the IRS’s “Tax Exempt Organization Search” tool (formerly “Select Check”) at http://bit.ly/2KXWl5b to find out.

Assuming the charity is qualified, you may be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs that are:

  • Unreimbursed,
  • Directly connected with the services you’re providing,
  • Incurred only because of your charitable work, and
  • Not “personal, living or family” expenses.

 

Supplies, uniforms and transportation

A wide variety of expenses can qualify for the deduction. For example, supplies you use in the activity may be deductible. And the cost of a uniform you must wear during the activity may also be deductible (if it’s required and not something you’d wear when not volunteering).  

Transportation costs to and from the volunteer activity generally are deductible, either the actual cost or 14 cents per charitable mile driven. But you have to be the volunteer. If, say, you drive your elderly mother to the nature center where she’s volunteering, you can’t deduct the cost.

You also can’t deduct transportation costs you’d be incurring even if you weren’t volunteering. For example, if you take a commuter train downtown to work, then walk to a nearby volunteer event after work and take the train back home afterwards, you won’t be able to deduct your train fares. But if you take a cab from work to the volunteer event, then you potentially can deduct the cab fare for that leg of your transportation.

Volunteer travel

Transportation costs may also be deductible for out-of-town travel associated with volunteering. This can include air, rail and bus transportation; driving expenses; and taxi or other transportation costs between an airport or train station and wherever you’re staying. Lodging and meal costs also might be deductible.

The key to deductibility is that there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation in the travel. That said, according to the IRS, the deduction for travel expenses won’t be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. But you must be volunteering in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. If only a small portion of your trip involves volunteer work, your travel expenses generally won’t be deductible.

Keep careful records

The IRS may challenge charitable deductions for out-of-pocket costs, so it’s important to keep careful records. If you have questions about what volunteer expenses are and aren’t deductible, please contact us.

© 2018

Home green home: Save tax by saving energy

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on July 03 2018


"Going green” at home — whether it’s your principal residence or a second home — can reduce your tax bill in addition to your energy bill, all while helping the environment, too. The catch is that, to reap all three benefits, you need to buy and install certain types of renewable energy equipment in the home.

Invest in green and save green

For 2018 and 2019, you may be eligible for a tax credit of 30% of expenditures (including costs for site preparation, assembly, installation, piping, and wiring) for installing the following types of renewable energy equipment:

 

  • Qualified solar electricity generating equipment and solar water heating equipment,
  • Qualified wind energy equipment,
  • Qualified geothermal heat pump equipment, and
  • Qualified fuel cell electricity generating equipment (limited to $500 for each half kilowatt of fuel cell capacity).
  •  

Because these items can be expensive, the credits can be substantial. To qualify, the equipment must be installed at your U.S. residence, including a vacation home — except for fuel cell equipment, which must be installed at your principal residence. You can’t claim credits for equipment installed at a property that’s used exclusively as a rental.

To qualify for the credit for solar water heating equipment, at least 50% of the energy used to heat water for the property must be generated by the solar equipment. And no credit is allowed for solar water heating equipment unless it’s certified for performance by the nonprofit Solar Rating & Certification Corporation or a comparable entity endorsed by the state in which your residence is located. (Keep this certification with your tax records.)

The credit rate for these expenditures is scheduled to drop to 26% in 2020 and then to 22% in 2021. After that, the credits are scheduled to expire.

Document and explore

As with all tax breaks, documentation is key when claiming credits for green investments in your home. Keep proof of how much you spend on qualifying equipment, including any extra amounts for site preparation, assembly and installation. Also keep a record of when the installation is completed, because you can claim the credit only for the year when that occurs.

Be sure to look beyond the federal tax credits and explore other ways to save by going green. Your green home investments might also be eligible for state and local tax benefits, subsidized state and local financing deals, and utility company rebates.

To learn more about federal, state and local tax breaks available for green home investments, contact us.

© 2018

Do you know the ABCs of HSAs, FSAs and HRAs?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on June 26 2018


There continues to be much uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act and how such uncertainty will impact health care costs. So it’s critical to leverage all tax-advantaged ways to fund these expenses, including HSAs, FSAs and HRAs. Here’s how to make sense of this alphabet soup of health care accounts.

HSAs

If you’re covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account — or make deductible contributions to an HSA you set up yourself — up to $3,450 for self-only coverage and $6,900 for family coverage for 2018. Plus, if you’re age 55 or older, you may contribute an additional $1,000.

You own the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and you can carry over a balance from year to year.

FSAs

Regardless of whether you have an HDHP, you can redirect pretax income to an employer-sponsored Flexible Spending Account up to an employer-determined limit — not to exceed $2,650 in 2018. The plan pays or reimburses you for qualified medical expenses.

What you don’t use by the plan year’s end, you generally lose — though your plan might allow you to roll over up to $500 to the next year. Or it might give you a grace period of two and a half months to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If you have an HSA, your FSA is limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.

HRAs

A Health Reimbursement Account is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses you for medical expenses. Unlike an HSA, no HDHP is required. Unlike an FSA, any unused portion typically can be carried forward to the next year.

There’s no government-set limit on HRA contributions. But only your employer can contribute to an HRA; employees aren’t allowed to contribute.

Maximize the benefit

If you have one of these health care accounts, it’s important to understand the applicable rules so you can get the maximum benefit from it. But tax-advantaged accounts aren’t the only way to save taxes in relation to health care. If you have questions about tax planning and health care expenses, please contact us.

© 2018

Consider the tax advantages of investing in qualified small business stock

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on June 26 2018



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

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

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

QSB defined

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

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

2 tax advantages

QSBs offer investors two valuable tax advantages:

1. Up to a 100% exclusion of gain. Generally, taxpayers selling QSB stock are allowed to exclude a portion of their gain if they’ve held the stock for more than five years. The amount of the exclusion depends on the acquisition date. The exclusion is 100% for stock acquired on or after Sept. 28, 2010. So if you purchase QSB stock in 2018, you can enjoy a 100% exclusion if you hold it until sometime in 2023. (The specific date, of course, depends on the date you purchase the stock.)

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

More to think about

Additional requirements and limits apply to these breaks. For example, there are many types of business that don’t qualify as QSBs, ranging from various professional fields to financial services to hospitality and more.

Before investing, it’s important to also consider nontax factors, such as your risk tolerance, time horizon and overall investment goals. Contact us to learn more about QSB stock.

© 2018

The tax impact of the TCJA on estate planning

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on June 12 2018



The massive changes the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made to income taxes have garnered the most attention. But the new law also made major changes to gift and estate taxes. While the TCJA didn’t repeal these taxes, it did significantly reduce the number of taxpayers who’ll be subject to them, at least for the next several years. Nevertheless, factoring taxes into your estate planning is still important.

Exemption increases

The TCJA more than doubles the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption, from $5.49 million for 2017 to $11.18 million for 2018.

This amount will continue to be annually adjusted for inflation through 2025. Absent further congressional action, however, the exemptions will revert to their 2017 levels (adjusted for inflation) for 2026 and beyond.

The rate for all three taxes remains at 40% — only three percentage points higher than the top income tax rate.

The impact

Even before the TCJA, the vast majority of taxpayers didn’t have to worry about federal gift and estate taxes. While the TCJA protects even more taxpayers from these taxes, those with estates in the roughly $6 million to $11 million range (twice that for married couples) still need to keep potential post-2025 estate tax liability in mind in their estate planning. Although their estates would escape estate taxes if they were to die while the doubled exemption is in effect, they could face such taxes if they live beyond 2025.

Any taxpayer who could be subject to gift and estate taxes after 2025 may want to consider making gifts now to take advantage of the higher exemptions while they’re available.

Factoring taxes into your estate planning is also still important if you live in a state with an estate tax. Even before the TCJA, many states imposed estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government did. Now the differences in some states will be even greater.

Finally, income tax planning, which became more important in estate planning back when exemptions rose to $5 million more than 15 years ago, is now an even more important part of estate planning.

For example, holding assets until death may be advantageous if estate taxes aren’t a concern. When you give away an appreciated asset, the recipient takes over your tax basis in the asset, triggering capital gains tax should he or she turn around and sell it. When an appreciated asset is inherited, on the other hand, the recipient’s basis is “stepped up” to the asset’s fair market value on the date of death, erasing the built-in capital gain. So retaining appreciating assets until death can save significant income tax.

Review your estate plan

Whether or not you need to be concerned about federal gift and estate taxes, having an estate plan in place and reviewing it regularly is important. Contact us to discuss the potential tax impact of the TCJA on your estate plan.

© 2018

Factor in state and local taxes when deciding where to live in retirement

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on June 12 2018



Many Americans relocate to another state when they retire. If you’re thinking about such a move, state and local taxes should factor into your decision.  

Income, property and sales tax

Choosing a state that has no personal income tax may appear to be the best option. But that might not be the case once you consider property taxes and sales taxes.

For example, suppose you’ve narrowed your decision down to two states: State 1 has no individual income tax, and State 2 has a flat 5% individual income tax rate. At first glance, State 1 might appear to be much less expensive from a tax perspective. What happens when you factor in other state and local taxes?

Let’s say the property tax rate in your preferred locality in State 1 is 5%, while it’s only 1% in your preferred locality in State 2. That difference could potentially cancel out any savings in state income taxes in State 1, depending on your annual income and the assessed value of the home.

Also keep in mind that home values can vary dramatically from location to location. So if home values are higher in State 1, there’s an even greater chance that State 1’s overall tax cost could be higher than State 2’s, despite State 1’s lack of income tax.   

The potential impact of sales tax can be harder to estimate, but it’s a good idea at minimum to look at the applicable rates in the various retirement locations you’re considering.

More to think about

If states you’re considering have an income tax, also look at what types of income they tax. Some states, for example, don’t tax wages but do tax interest and dividends. Others offer tax breaks for retirement plan and Social Security income.  

In the past, the federal income tax deduction for state and local property and income or sales tax could help make up some of the difference between higher- and lower-tax states. But with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) limiting that deduction to $10,000 ($5,000 for married couples filing separately), this will be less help — at least through 2025, after which the limit is scheduled to expire.

There’s also estate tax to consider. Not all states have estate tax, but it can be expensive in states that do. While under the TJCA the federal estate tax exemption has more than doubled from the 2017 level to $11.18 million for 2018, states aren’t necessarily keeping pace with the federal exemption. So state estate tax could be levied after a much lower exemption.

Choose wisely

As you can see, it’s important to factor in state and local taxes as you decide where to live in retirement. You might ultimately decide on a state with higher taxes if other factors are more important to you. But at least you will have made an informed decision and avoid unpleasant tax surprises. Contact us to learn more.

© 2018

Saving tax on restricted stock awards with the Sec. 83(b) election

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on May 31 2018

Today many employees receive stock-based compensation from their employer as part of their compensation and benefits package. The tax consequences of such compensation can be complex — subject to ordinary-income, capital gains, employment and other taxes. But if you receive restricted stock awards, you might have a tax-saving opportunity in the form of the Section 83(b) election.

Convert ordinary income to long-term capital gains

Restricted stock is stock your employer grants you subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture. Income recognition is normally deferred until the stock is no longer subject to that risk (that is, it’s vested) or you sell it.

At that time, you pay taxes on the stock’s fair market value (FMV) at your ordinary-income rate. The FMV will be considered FICA income, so it also could trigger or increase your exposure to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax.

But you can instead make a Sec. 83(b) election to recognize ordinary income when you receive the stock. This election, which you must make within 30 days after receiving the stock, allows you to convert future appreciation from ordinary income to long-term capital gains income and defer it until the stock is sold.

The Sec. 83(b) election can be beneficial if the income at the grant date is negligible or the stock is likely to appreciate significantly. With ordinary-income rates now especially low under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), it might be a good time to recognize such income.

Weigh the potential disadvantages

There are some potential disadvantages, however:

  • You must prepay tax in the current year — which also could push you into a higher income tax bracket or trigger or increase the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. But if your company is in the earlier stages of development, the income recognized may be relatively small.
  • Any taxes you pay because of the election can’t be refunded if you eventually forfeit the stock or sell it at a decreased value. However, you’d have a capital loss in those situations.
  • When you sell the shares, any gain will be included in net investment income and could trigger or increase your liability for the 3.8% net investment income tax.

 

It’s complicated

As you can see, tax planning for restricted stock is complicated. Let us know if you’ve recently been awarded restricted stock or expect to be awarded such stock this year. We can help you determine whether the Sec. 83(b) election makes sense in your specific situation.

© 2018

Sending your kids to day camp may provide a tax break

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on May 31 2018

When school lets out, kids participate in a wide variety of summer activities. If one of the activities your child is involved with is day camp, you might be eligible for a tax credit!

Dollar-for-dollar savings

Day camp (but not overnight camp) is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit, which is worth 20% of qualifying expenses (more if your adjusted gross income is less than $43,000), subject to a cap. For 2018, the maximum expenses allowed for the credit are $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more.

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

Qualifying for the credit

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

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

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

Determining eligibility

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

© 2018

Be aware of the tax consequences before selling your home

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on May 16 2018

In many parts of the country, summer is peak season for selling a home. If you’re planning to put your home on the market soon, you’re probably thinking about things like how quickly it will sell and how much you’ll get for it. But don’t neglect to consider the tax consequences.

Home sale gain exclusion

The U.S. House of Representatives’ original version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act included a provision tightening the rules for the home sale gain exclusion. Fortunately, that provision didn’t make it into the final version that was signed into law.

As a result, if you’re selling your principal residence, there’s still a good chance you’ll be able to exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain. Gain that qualifies for exclusion also is excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax.

To qualify for the exclusion, you must meet certain tests. For example, you generally must own and use the home as your principal residence for at least two years during the five-year period preceding the sale. (Gain allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.) In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.

More tax considerations

Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, as long as you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short-term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.

Here are some additional tax considerations when selling a home:

Tax basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain thorough records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use.

Losses. A loss on the sale of your principal residence generally isn’t deductible. But if part of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that portion may be deductible.

Second homes. If you’re selling a second home, be aware that it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 exchange. Or you may be able to deduct a loss.

A big investment

Your home is likely one of your biggest investments, so it’s important to consider the tax consequences before selling it. If you’re planning to put your home on the market, we can help you assess the potential tax impact. Contact us to learn more.

© 2018

Do you need to adjust your withholding?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on May 16 2018

If you received a large refund after filing your 2017 income tax return, you’re probably enjoying the influx of cash. But a large refund isn’t all positive. It also means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan.

That’s why a large refund for the previous tax year would usually indicate that you should consider reducing the amounts you’re having withheld (and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making) for the current year. But 2018 is a little different.

TCJA and withholding

To reflect changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — such as the increase in the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions and changes in tax rates and brackets —the IRS updated the withholding tables that indicate how much employers should hold back from their employees’ paychecks, generally reducing the amount withheld.

The new tables may provide the correct amount of tax withholding for individuals with simple tax situations, but they might cause other taxpayers to not have enough withheld to pay their ultimate tax liabilities under the TCJA. So even if you received a large refund this year, you could end up owing a significant amount of tax when you file your 2018 return next year.

Perils of the new tables

The IRS itself cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld. If, for example, you itemize deductions, have dependents age 17 or older, are in a two-income household or have more than one job, you should review your tax situation and adjust your withholding if appropriate.

The IRS has updated its withholding calculator (available at irs.gov) to assist taxpayers in reviewing their situations. The calculator reflects changes in available itemized deductions, the increased child tax credit, the new dependent credit and repeal of dependent exemptions.

More considerations

Tax law changes aren’t the only reason to check your withholding. Additional reviews during the year are a good idea if:

  • You get married or divorced,
  • You add or lose a dependent,
  • You purchase a home,
  • You start or lose a job, or
  • Your investment income changes significantly.

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even multiple times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. (For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.)

The TCJA and your tax situation

If you rely solely on the new withholding tables, you could run the risk of significantly underwithholding your federal income taxes. As a result, you might face an unexpectedly high tax bill when you file your 2018 tax return next year. Contact us for help determining whether you should adjust your withholding. We can also answer any questions you have about how the TCJA may affect your particular situation.  

© 2018

Get started on 2018 tax planning now!

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on May 16 2018

With the April 17 individual income tax filing deadline behind you (or with your 2017 tax return on the back burner if you filed for an extension), you may be hoping to not think about taxes for the next several months. But for maximum tax savings, now is the time to start tax planning for 2018. It’s especially critical to get an early start this year because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has substantially changed the tax environment.

Many variables

A tremendous number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. Looking at these variables early in the year can give you more opportunities to reduce your 2018 tax bill.
For example, the timing of income and deductible expenses can affect both the rate you pay and when you pay. By regularly reviewing your year-to-date income, expenses and potential tax, you may be able to time income and expenses in a way that reduces, or at least defers, your tax liability.

In other words, tax planning shouldn’t be just a year-end activity.

Certainty vs. uncertainty

Last year, planning early was a challenge because it was uncertain whether tax reform legislation would be signed into law, when it would go into effect and what it would include. This year, the TCJA tax reform legislation is in place, with most of the provisions affecting individuals in effect for 2018–2025. And additional major tax law changes aren’t expected in 2018. So there’s no need to hold off on tax planning.

But while there’s more certainty about the tax law that will be in effect this year and next, there’s still much uncertainty on exactly what the impact of the TCJA changes will be on each taxpayer. The new law generally reduces individual tax rates, and it expands some tax breaks. However, it reduces or eliminates many other breaks.

The total impact of these changes is what will ultimately determine which tax strategies will make sense for you this year, such as the best way to time income and expenses. You may need to deviate from strategies that worked for you in previous years and implement some new strategies.
Getting started sooner will help ensure you don’t take actions that you think will save taxes but that actually will be costly under the new tax regime. It will also allow you to take full advantage of new tax-saving opportunities.

Now and throughout the year

To get started on your 2018 tax planning, contact us. We can help you determine how the TCJA affects you and what strategies you should implement now and throughout the year to minimize your tax liability.  

© 2018

Tax record retention guidelines for individuals

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Apr 26 2018

What 2017 tax records can you toss once you’ve filed your 2017 return? The answer is simple: none. You need to hold on to all of your 2017 tax records for now. But it’s the perfect time to go through old tax records and see what you can discard.

The 3-year and 6-year rules

At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you potentially can get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2014 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2014 return, hold on to your records at least until the three-year anniversary of when you filed your extended return.)

However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%. What constitutes an understatement may go beyond simply not reporting items of income. So a common rule of thumb is to save tax records for six years from filing, just to be safe.

What to keep longer

You’ll need to hang on to certain tax-related records beyond the statute of limitations:

 

  • Keep tax returns themselves forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed a legitimate return. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.
  • Hold on to W-2 forms until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Questions might arise regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year, and your W-2 could provide the documentation needed.
  • Retain records related to real estate or investments as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return (or six years if you want to be extra safe).
  • Keep records associated with retirement accounts until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years.

 

Other documents

We’ve covered retention guidelines for some of the most common tax-related records. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.

© 2018

Individual tax calendar: Important deadlines for the remainder of 2018

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Apr 19 2018

While April 15 (April 17 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that you also need to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2018 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.

Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.  

June 15

  • File a 2017 individual income tax return (Form 1040) or file for a four-month extension (Form 4868), and pay any tax and interest due, if you live outside the United States.
  • Pay the second installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

September 17   

  • Pay the third installment of 2018 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).

October 1   

  • If you’re the trustee of a trust or the executor of an estate, file an income tax return for the 2017 calendar year (Form 1041) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic five-and-a-half month extension was filed.

October 15   

  • File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed (or if an automatic four-month extension was filed by a taxpayer living outside the United States).
  • Make contributions for 2017 to certain retirement plans or establish a SEP for 2017, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
  • File a 2017 gift tax return (Form 709) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.

December 31   

  • Make 2018 contributions to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
  • Make 2018 annual exclusion gifts (up to $15,000 per recipient).
  • Incur various expenses that potentially can be claimed as itemized deductions on your 2018 tax return. Examples include charitable donations, medical expenses and property tax payments.

But remember that some types of expenses that were deductible on 2017 returns won’t be deductible on 2018 returns under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, such as unreimbursed work-related expenses, certain professional fees, and investment expenses. In addition, some deductions will be subject to new limits. Finally, with the nearly doubled standard deduction, you may no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

© 2018

Haven’t filed your 2017 income tax return yet? Beware of these pitfalls

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Apr 13 2018

The federal income tax filing deadline is slightly later than usual this year — April 17 — but it’s now nearly upon us. So, if you haven’t filed your individual return yet, you may be thinking about an extension. Or you may just be concerned about meeting the deadline in the eyes of the IRS. Whatever you do, don’t get tripped up by one of these potential pitfalls.

Filing for an extension

Filing for an extension allows you to delay filing your return until the applicable extension deadline, which for 2017 individual tax returns is October 15, 2018.

While filing for an extension can provide relief from April 17 deadline stress and avoid failure-to-file penalties, there are some possible pitfalls:

  • If you expect to owe tax, to avoid potential interest and penalties you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by April 17.
  • If you expect a refund, remember that you’re simply extending the amount of time your money is in the government’s pockets rather than your own. (If you’re owed a refund and file late, you won’t be charged a failure-to-file penalty. However, filing for an extension may still be a good idea.)

 

Meeting the April 17 deadline

The IRS considers a paper return that’s due April 17 to be timely filed if it’s postmarked by midnight. Sounds straightforward, but here’s a potential pitfall: Let’s say you mail your return with a payment on April 17, but the envelope gets lost. You don’t figure this out until a couple of months later when you notice that the check still hasn’t cleared. You then refile and send a new check. Despite your efforts to timely file and pay, you can still be hit with both failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties.

To avoid this risk, use certified or registered mail or one of the private delivery services designated by the IRS to comply with the timely filing rule, such as:

  • DHL Express 9:00, Express 10:30, Express 12:00 or Express Envelope
  • FedEx First Overnight, Priority Overnight, Standard Overnight or 2Day, or
  • UPS Next Day Air Early A.M., Next Day Air, Next Day Air Saver, 2nd Day Air A.M. or 2nd Day Air.

 

Beware: If you use an unauthorized delivery service, your return isn’t “filed” until the IRS receives it. See IRS.gov for a complete list of authorized services.

Avoiding interest and penalties

Despite the potential pitfalls, filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting sufficient time to your return right now. We can help you estimate whether you owe tax and how much you should pay by April 17. Please contact us if you need help or have questions about avoiding interest and penalties.  

© 2018

You still have time to make 2017 IRA contributions

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Apr 06 2018

Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. The deadline for 2017 contributions is April 17, 2018. Deductible contributions will lower your 2017 tax bill, but even nondeductible contributions can be beneficial.

Don’t lose the opportunity

The 2017 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2017). But any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.

This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So to maximize your potential for tax-deferred or tax-free savings, it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.

3 types of contributions

If you haven’t already maxed out your 2017 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 17:

1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2017 tax return. If you or your spouse does participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phaseout range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:                                                                                                                                          - - For a spouse who participates: $99,000–$119,000.                                                               - - For a spouse who doesn’t participate: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan: $62,000–$72,000.

Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution; those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.

2. Roth. With Roth IRAs, contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly: $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers: $118,000–$133,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth.

Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.

Maximize your tax-advantaged savings

Traditional and Roth IRAs provide a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more about making 2017 contributions and making the most of IRAs in 2018 and beyond.

© 2018

Can you claim your elderly parent as a dependent on your tax return?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Apr 06 2018

Perhaps. It depends on several factors, such as your parent’s income and how much financial support you provided. If you qualify for the adult-dependent exemption on your 2017 income tax return, you can deduct up to $4,050 per qualifying adult dependent. However, for 2018, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the dependency exemption is eliminated.

Income and support

For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Generally Social Security is excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.

In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with a sibling and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption.

Keep in mind that, even though Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.

Housing

Don’t forget about your home. If your parent lived with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence.
If the parent lived elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contributed to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.

Other savings opportunities

Sometimes caregivers fall just short of qualifying for the exemption. Should this happen, you may still be able to claim an itemized deduction for the medical expenses that you pay for the parent. To receive a tax benefit on your 2017 (or 2018) return, you must itemize deductions and the combined medical expenses paid for you, your dependents and your parent for the year must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

The adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ to ease the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent. For 2018 through 2025, while the exemption is suspended, you might be eligible for a $500 “family” tax credit for your adult dependent. We’d be happy to provide additional information. Contact us to learn more.

© 2018

Home-related tax breaks are valuable on 2017 returns, will be less so for 2018

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Mar 20 2018

Home ownership is a key element of the American dream for many, and the U.S. tax code includes many tax breaks that help support this dream. If you own a home, you may be eligible for several valuable breaks when you file your 2017 return. But under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, your home-related breaks may not be as valuable when you file your 2018 return next year.

2017 vs. 2018

Here’s a look at various home-related tax breaks for 2017 vs. 2018:

Property tax deduction. For 2017, property tax is generally fully deductible — unless you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). For 2018, your total deduction for all state and local taxes, including both property taxes and either income taxes or sales taxes, is capped at $10,000.

Mortgage interest deduction. For 2017, you generally can deduct interest on up to a combined total of $1 million of mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. However, for 2018, if the mortgage debt was incurred on or after December 15, 2017, the debt limit generally is $750,000.

Home equity debt interest deduction. For 2017, interest on home equity debt used for any purpose (debt limit of $100,000) may be deductible. (If home equity debt isn’t used for home improvements, the interest isn’t deductible for AMT purposes). For 2018, the TCJA suspends the home equity interest deduction. But the IRS has clarified that such interest generally still will be deductible if used for home improvements.

Mortgage insurance premium deduction. This break expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.

Home office deduction. For 2017, if your home office use meets certain tests, you may be able to deduct associated expenses or use a simplified method for claiming the deduction. Employees claim this as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which means there will be tax savings only to the extent that the home office deduction plus other miscellaneous itemized deductions exceeds 2% of adjusted gross income. The self-employed can deduct home office expenses from self-employment income. For 2018, miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor are suspended, so only the self-employed can deduct home office expenses.

Home sale gain exclusion. When you sell your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gain if you meet certain tests. Changes to this break had been proposed, but they weren’t included in the final TCJA that was signed into law.

Debt forgiveness exclusion. This break for homeowners who received debt forgiveness in a foreclosure, short sale or mortgage workout for a principal residence expired December 31, 2017, but Congress might extend it.

Additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. To learn more, contact us. We can help you determine which home-related breaks you’re eligible to claim on your 2017 return and how your 2018 tax situation may be affected by the TCJA.

© 2018

Casualty losses can provide a 2017 deduction, but rules tighten for 2018

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Mar 16 2018

If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2017 federal income tax return. For 2018 through 2025, however, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends this deduction except for losses due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.

What is a casualty? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses on your 2017 return:

When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.

Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)

$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.

Note that special relief has been provided to certain victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and California wildfires that affects some of these rules. For details on this relief or other questions about casualty losses, please contact us.

© 2018

Size of charitable deductions depends on many factors

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Mar 06 2018

Whether you’re claiming charitable deductions on your 2017 return or planning your donations for 2018, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.

Type of gift

One of the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give:

Cash. You may deduct 100% gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction.

Ordinary-income property. For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.

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

Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation:

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

 

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

Use of property. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift.

Services. You may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.

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

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

2018 planning

While December’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) preserves the charitable deduction, it temporarily makes itemizing less attractive for many taxpayers, reducing the tax benefits of charitable giving for them.

Itemizing saves tax only if itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction ? plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions. As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax.

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

Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2017 return or what your charitable giving strategy should be going forward, in light of the TCJA.

© 2018

What’s your mileage deduction?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Mar 02 2018

Individuals can deduct some vehicle-related expenses in certain circumstances. Rather than keeping track of the actual costs, you can use a standard mileage rate to compute your deductions. For 2017, you might be able to deduct miles driven for business, medical, moving and charitable purposes. For 2018, there are significant changes to some of these deductions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Mileage rates vary

The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:

Business: 53.5 cents (2017), 54.5 cents (2018)

Medical: 17 cents (2017), 18 cents (2018)

Moving: 17 cents (2017), 18 cents (2018)

Charitable: 14 cents (2017 and 2018)

The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the medical, moving and charitable rates because the business rate contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the medical, moving or charitable use of a vehicle. The charitable rate is lower than the medical and moving rate because it isn’t adjusted for inflation.

In addition to deductions based on the standard mileage rate, you may deduct related parking fees and tolls.

2017 and 2018 limits

The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify.

For example, if you’re an employee, only business mileage not reimbursed by your employer is deductible. It’s a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. For 2017, this means mileage is deductible only to the extent that your total miscellaneous itemized deductions for the year exceed 2% of your AGI. For 2018, it means that you can’t deduct the mileage, because the TCJA suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for 2018 through 2025.

If you’re self-employed, business mileage can be deducted against self-employment income. Therefore, it’s not subject to the 2% floor and is still deductible for 2018 through 2025, as long as it otherwise qualifies.

Miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense deduction. And an AGI floor applies. Under the TCJA, for 2017 and 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. For 2019, the floor will return to 10%, unless Congress extends the 7.5% floor.

And while miles driven related to moving can be deductible on your 2017 return, the move must be work-related and meet other tests. For 2018 through 2025, under the TCJA, moving expenses are deductible only for certain military families.

Substantiation and more

There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates.

We can help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2017 tax return but don’t risk back taxes and penalties later for deducting more than allowed. Contact us for assistance and to learn how your mileage deduction for 2018 might be affected by the TCJA.

© 2018

Tax deduction for moving costs: 2017 vs. 2018

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Feb 26 2018

If you moved for work-related reasons in 2017, you might be able to deduct some of the costs on your 2017 return — even if you don’t itemize deductions. (Or, if your employer reimbursed you for moving expenses, that reimbursement might be excludable from your income.) The bad news is that, if you move in 2018, the costs likely won’t be deductible, and any employer reimbursements will probably be included in your taxable income.

Suspension for 2018–2025

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, suspends the moving expense deduction for the same period as when lower individual income tax rates generally apply: 2018 through 2025. For this period it also suspends the exclusion from income of qualified employer reimbursements of moving expenses.

The TCJA does provide an exception to both suspensions for active-duty members of the Armed Forces (and their spouses and dependents) who move because of a military order that calls for a permanent change of station.

Tests for 2017

If you moved in 2017 and would like to claim a deduction on your 2017 return, the first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.

The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would have increased your commute significantly.

Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)

Deductible expenses

The moving expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means it’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your adjusted gross income. It’s not an itemized deduction, so you don’t have to itemize to benefit.

Generally, you can deduct:

  • Transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving,
  • The cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property,
  • The expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit, and
  • Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities.

 

But don’t expect to deduct everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible - nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.

Please contact us if you have questions about whether you can deduct moving expenses on your 2017 return or about what other tax breaks won’t be available for 2018 under the TCJA.

© 2018

Families with college students may save tax on their 2017 returns with one of these breaks

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Feb 13 2018

Whether you had a child in college (or graduate school) last year or were a student yourself, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2017 return. One such break that had expired December 31, 2016, was just extended under the recently passed Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018: the tuition and fees deduction.

But a couple of tax credits are also available. Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed.

Higher education breaks 101

While multiple higher-education breaks are available, a taxpayer isn’t allowed to claim all of them. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return. So first you need to see which breaks you’re eligible for. Then you need to determine which one will provide the greatest benefit.

Also keep in mind that you generally can’t claim deductions or credits for expenses that were paid for with distributions from tax-advantaged accounts, such as 529 plans or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.

Credits

Two credits are available for higher education expenses:

1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.

But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.

If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, consider claiming the Lifetime Learning credit. But first determine if the tuition and fees deduction might provide more tax savings.

Deductions

Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.

Be aware that the tuition and fees deduction was extended only through December 31, 2017. So it won’t be available on your 2018 return unless Congress extends it again or makes it permanent.

Maximizing your savings

If you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2017 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.

© 2018

TCJA temporarily lowers medical expense deduction threshold

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Feb 08 2018

With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that may be hard to meet. Fortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has temporarily reduced the threshold.

What expenses are eligible?

Medical expenses may be deductible if they’re “qualified.” Qualified medical expenses involve the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. Examples include payments to physicians, dentists and other medical practitioners, as well as equipment, supplies, diagnostic devices and prescription drugs.

Mileage driven for health-care-related purposes is also deductible at a rate of 17 cents per mile for 2017 and 18 cents per mile for 2018. Health insurance and long-term care insurance premiums can also qualify, with certain limits.

Expenses reimbursed by insurance or paid with funds from a tax-advantaged account such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account can’t be deducted. Likewise, health insurance premiums aren’t deductible if they’re taken out of your paycheck pretax.

The AGI threshold

Before 2013, you could claim an itemized deduction for qualified unreimbursed medical expenses paid for you, your spouse and your dependents, to the extent those expenses exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). AGI includes all of your taxable income items reduced by certain  “above-the-line” deductions, such as those for deductible IRA contributions and student loan interest.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, a higher deduction threshold of 10% of AGI went into effect in 2014 for most taxpayers and was scheduled to go into effect in 2017 for taxpayers age 65 or older. But under the TCJA, the 7.5%-of-AGI deduction threshold now applies to all taxpayers for 2017 and 2018.

However, this lower threshold is temporary. Beginning January 1, 2019, the 10% threshold will apply to all taxpayers, including those over age 65, unless Congress takes additional action.

Consider “bunching” expenses into 2018

Because the threshold is scheduled to increase to 10% in 2019, you might benefit from accelerating deductible medical expenses into 2018, to the extent they’re within your control.

However, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.

Contact us if you have questions about what expenses are eligible and whether you can qualify for a deduction on your 2017 tax return. We can also help you determine whether bunching medical expenses into 2018 will likely save you tax.

© 2018

State and local sales tax deduction remains, but subject to a new limit

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Jan 31 2018

Individual taxpayers who itemize their deductions can deduct either state and local income taxes or state and local sales taxes. The ability to deduct state and local taxes — including income or sales taxes, as well as property taxes — had been on the tax reform chopping block, but it ultimately survived. However, for 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act imposes a new limit on the state and local tax deduction. Will you benefit from the sales tax deduction on your 2017 or 2018 tax return?

Your 2017 return

The sales tax deduction can be valuable if you reside in a state with no or low income tax or purchased a major item in 2017, such as a car or boat. How do you determine whether you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2017 return? Compare your potential deduction for state and local income tax to your potential deduction for state and local sales tax.

This isn’t as difficult as you might think: You don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases (for which you will need substantiation).

Your 2018 return

Under the TCJA, for 2018 through 2025, your total deduction for all state and local taxes combined — including property tax — is limited to $10,000. You still must choose between deducting income and sales tax; you can’t deduct both, even if your total state and local tax deduction wouldn’t exceed $10,000.

Also keep in mind that the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction. So even if itemizing has typically benefited you in the past, you could end up being better off taking the standard deduction when you file your 2018 return.

So if you’re considering making a large purchase in 2018, you shouldn’t necessarily count on the sales tax deduction providing you significant tax savings. You need to look at what your total state and local tax liability likely will be, as well as whether your total itemized deductions are likely to exceed the standard deduction.

Questions?

Let us know if you have questions about whether you can benefit from the sales tax deduction on your 2017 return or about the impact of the TCJA on your 2018 tax planning. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2018

Can you deduct home office expenses?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Jan 23 2018

Working from home has become commonplace. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it. And for 2018, even fewer taxpayers will be eligible for a home office deduction.

Changes under the TCJA

For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. For 2017, this means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses (such as unreimbursed work-related travel, certain professional fees and investment expenses) exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

For 2018 through 2025, this means that, if you’re an employee, you won’t be able to deduct any home office expenses. Why? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for this period.

If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income. Therefore, the deduction will still be available to you for 2018 through 2025.  

Other eligibility requirements

If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.

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

2 deduction options

If you’re eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You have two options for the deduction:

  1.  
  2. Deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.
  3.  
  4. Take the “safe harbor” deduction. Only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 × the number of square feet of the office space. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.

 

More rules and limits

Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction on your 2017 return or would like to know if there’s anything additional you need to do to be eligible on your 2018 return, contact us.

© 2018

Personal exemptions and standard deductions and tax credits, oh my!

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Jan 23 2018

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), individual income tax rates generally go down for 2018 through 2025. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your income tax liability will go down. The TCJA also makes a lot of changes to tax breaks for individuals, reducing or eliminating some while expanding others. The total impact of all of these changes is what will ultimately determine whether you see reduced taxes. One interrelated group of changes affecting many taxpayers are those to personal exemptions, standard deductions and the child credit.

Personal exemptions

For 2017, taxpayers can claim a personal exemption of $4,050 each for themselves, their spouses and any dependents. For families with children and/or other dependents, such as elderly parents, these exemptions can really add up.

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

Standard deduction

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

For 2017, the standard deductions are $6,350 for singles and separate filers, $9,350 for head of household filers, and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly.

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

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

Child credit

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

The new law also makes the child credit available to more families than in the past. For 2018 through 2025, the credit doesn’t begin to phase out until adjusted gross income exceeds $400,000 for joint filers or $200,000 for all other filers, compared with the 2017 phaseout thresholds of $110,000 and $75,000, respectively.

The TCJA also includes, for 2018 through 2025, a $500 credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children.

Tip of the iceberg

Many factors will influence the impact of the TCJA on your tax liability for 2018 and beyond. And what’s discussed here is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, the TCJA also makes many changes to itemized deductions. For help assessing the impact on your tax situation, please contact us.

© 2018

Don’t be a victim of tax identity theft: File your 2017 return early

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Jan 15 2018

The IRS has just announced that it will begin accepting 2017 income tax returns on January 29. You may be more concerned about the April 17 filing deadline, or even the extended deadline of October 15 (if you file for an extension by April 17). After all, why go through the hassle of filing your return earlier than you have to?

But it can be a good idea to file as close to January 29 as possible: Doing so helps protect you from tax identity theft.

All-too-common scam

Here’s why early filing helps: In an all-too-common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.

A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.

Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

The IRS is working with the tax industry and states to improve safeguards to protect taxpayers from tax identity theft. But filing early may be your best defense.

W-2s and 1099s

Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2017 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2017 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.

If you don’t receive a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If by mid-February you still haven’t received it, you can contact the IRS for help.

Earlier refunds

Of course, if you’ll be getting a refund, another good thing about filing early is that you’ll get your refund sooner. The IRS expects over 90% of refunds to be issued within 21 days.

E-filing and requesting a direct deposit refund generally will result in a quicker refund and also can be more secure. If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2017 return early, please contact us.

© 2018

Most individual tax rates go down under the TCJA

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Jan 05 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduces individual tax rates for 2018 through 2025. It maintains seven individual income tax brackets but reduces the rates for all brackets except 10% and 35%, which remain the same.

It also makes some adjustments to the income ranges each bracket covers. For example, the 2017 top rate of 39.6% kicks in at $418,401 of taxable income for single filers and $470,701 for joint filers, but the reduced 2018 top rate of 37% takes effect at $500,001 and $600,001, respectively.

Below is a look at the 2018 brackets under the TCJA. Keep in mind that the elimination of the personal exemption, changes to the standard and many itemized deductions, and other changes under the new law could affect the amount of your income that’s subject to tax. Contact us for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2018.

Single individuals



Heads of households



Married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses


Married individuals filing separate returns


© 2018

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Key provisions affecting individuals

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 28 2017

On December 20, Congress completed passage of the largest federal tax reform law in more than 30 years. Commonly called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), the new law means substantial changes for individual taxpayers.

The following is a brief overview of some of the most significant provisions. Except where noted, these changes are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.

 

  • Drops of individual income tax rates ranging from 0 to 4 percentage points (depending on the bracket) to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%
  • Near doubling of the standard deduction to $24,000 (married couples filing jointly), $18,000 (heads of households), and $12,000 (singles and married couples filing separately)
  • Elimination of personal exemptions
  •  Doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 and other modifications intended to help more taxpayers benefit from the credit
  • Elimination of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act requiring taxpayers not covered by a qualifying health plan to pay a penalty — effective for months beginning after December 31, 2018, and permanent
  • Reduction of the adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold for the medical expense deduction to 7.5% for regular and AMT purposes — for 2017 and 2018
  • New $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes (on a combined basis for property and income taxes; $5,000 for separate filers)
  • Reduction of the mortgage debt limit for the home mortgage interest deduction to $750,000 ($375,000 for separate filers), with certain exceptions
  • Elimination of the deduction for interest on home equity debt
  • Elimination of the personal casualty and theft loss deduction (with an exception for federally declared disasters)
  • Elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor (such as certain investment expenses, professional fees and unreimbursed employee business expenses)
  • Elimination of the AGI-based reduction of certain itemized deductions
  • Elimination of the moving expense deduction (with an exception for members of the military in certain circumstances)
  • Expansion of tax-free Section 529 plan distributions to include those used to pay qualifying elementary and secondary school expenses, up to $10,000 per student per tax year — permanent
  • AMT exemption increase, to $109,400 for joint filers, $70,300 for singles and heads of households, and $54,700 for separate filers
  • Doubling of the gift and estate tax exemptions, to $10 million (expected to be $11.2 million for 2018 with inflation indexing)

 

Be aware that additional rules and limits apply. Also, there are many more changes in the TCJA that will impact individuals. If you have questions or would like to discuss how you might be affected, please contact us.

© 2017

401(k) retirement plan contribution limit increases for 2018; most other limits are stagnant

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 28 2017

Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, most of the limits remain unchanged for 2018. But one piece of good news for taxpayers who’re already maxing out their contributions is that the 401(k) limit has gone up by $500. The only other limit that has increased from the 2017 level is for contributions to defined contribution plans, which has gone up by $1,000.

2018 contribution limits


If you’re not already maxing out your contributions to other plans, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2018. And if you turn age 50 in 2018, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.

Higher-income taxpayers should also be pleased that some limits on their retirement plan contributions that had been discussed as part of tax reform didn’t make it into the final legislation.

However, keep in mind that there are still additional factors that may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.

If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2018, check with us.  

© 2017

What you need to know about year-end charitable giving in 2017

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 19 2017

Charitable giving can be a powerful tax-saving strategy: Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and you have complete control over when and how much you give. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind this year to ensure you receive the tax benefits you desire.

Delivery date

To be deductible on your 2017 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2017. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it.

Credit card. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Qualified charity status

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://bit.ly/2gFacut Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Potential impact of tax reform

The charitable donation deduction isn’t among the deductions that have been proposed for elimination or reduction under tax reform. In fact, income-based limits on how much can be deducted in a particular year might be expanded, which will benefit higher-income taxpayers who make substantial charitable gifts.

However, for many taxpayers, accelerating into this year donations that they might normally give next year may make sense for a couple of tax-reform-related reasons:

1. If your tax rate goes down for 2018, then 2017 donations will save you more tax because deductions are more powerful when rates are higher.
2. If the standard deduction is raised significantly and many itemized deductions are eliminated or reduced, then it may not make sense for you to itemize deductions in 2018, in which case you wouldn’t benefit from charitable donation deduction next year.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making — or the potential impact of tax reform on your charitable giving plans.

© 2017

7 last-minute tax-saving tips

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 11 2017

The year is quickly drawing to a close, but there’s still time to take steps to reduce your 2017 tax liability — you just must act by December 31:


 

  1. Pay your 2017 property tax bill that’s due in early 2018.
  2. Make your January 1 mortgage payment.
  3. Incur deductible medical expenses (if your deductible medical expenses for the year already exceed the 10% of adjusted gross income floor).
  4. Pay tuition for academic periods that will begin in January, February or March of 2018 (if it will make you eligible for a tax credit on your 2017 return).
  5. Donate to your favorite charities.
  6. Sell investments at a loss to offset capital gains you’ve recognized this year.
  7. Ask your employer if your bonus can be deferred until January.
  8.  

Many of these strategies could be particularly beneficial if tax reform is signed into law this year that reduces tax rates and limits or eliminates certain deductions (such as property tax, mortgage interest and medical expense deductions) beginning in 2018.

Keep in mind, however, that in certain situations these strategies might not make sense. For example, if you’ll be subject to the alternative minimum tax this year or be in a higher tax bracket next year, taking some of these steps could have undesirable results. (Even with tax reform legislation, some taxpayers might find themselves in higher brackets next year.)

If you’re unsure whether these steps are right for you, consult us before taking action.

© 2017

Even if your income is high, your family may be able to benefit from the 0% long-term capital gains rate

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 05 2017

We’re entering the giving season, and if making financial gifts to your loved ones is part of your plans — or if you’d simply like to reduce your capital gains tax — consider giving appreciated stock instead of cash this year. Doing so might allow you to eliminate all federal tax liability on the appreciation, or at least significantly reduce it.

Leveraging lower rates

Investors generally are subject to a 15% tax rate on their long-term capital gains (20% if they’re in the top ordinary income tax bracket of 39.6%). But the long-term capital gains rate is 0% for gain that would be taxed at 10% or 15% based on the taxpayer’s ordinary-income rate.

In addition, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately) may owe the net investment income tax (NIIT). The NIIT equals 3.8% of the lesser of your net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the applicable threshold.

If you have loved ones in the 0% bracket, you may be able to take advantage of it by transferring appreciated assets to them. The recipients can then sell the assets at no or a low federal tax cost.

The strategy in action

Faced with a long-term capital gains tax rate of 23.8% (20% for the top tax bracket, plus the 3.8% NIIT), Rick and Sara decide to transfer some appreciated stock to their adult daughter, Maia. Just out of college and making only enough from her entry-level job to leave her with $25,000 in taxable income, Maia falls into the 15% income tax bracket. Therefore, she qualifies for the 0% long-term capital gains rate.

However, the 0% rate applies only to the extent that capital gains “fill up” the gap between Maia’s taxable income and the top end of the 15% bracket. In 2017, the 15% bracket for singles tops out at $37,950.

When Maia sells the stock her parents transferred to her, her capital gains are $20,000. Of that amount $12,950 qualifies for the 0% rate and the remaining $7,050 is taxed at 15%. Maia pays only $1,057.50 of federal tax on the sale vs. the $4,760 her parents would have owed had they sold the stock themselves.

Additional considerations

Before acting, make sure the recipients won’t be subject to the “kiddie tax.” Also consider any gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax consequences.

For more information on transfer taxes, the kiddie tax or capital gains planning, please contact us. We can help you find the strategies that will best achieve your goals.  

© 2017

You may need to add RMDs to your year-end to-do list

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 27 2017

As the end of the year approaches, most of us have a lot of things on our to-do lists, from gift shopping to donating to our favorite charities to making New Year’s Eve plans. For taxpayers “of a certain age” with a tax-advantaged retirement account, as well as younger taxpayers who’ve inherited such an account, there may be one more thing that’s critical to check off the to-do list before year end: Take required minimum distributions (RMDs).

A huge penalty

After you reach age 70½, you generally must take annual RMDs from your:

  • IRAs (except Roth IRAs), and
  • Defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans (unless you’re still an employee and not a 5%-or-greater shareholder of the employer sponsoring the plan).

 

An RMD deferral is available in the initial year, but then you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year. The RMD rule can be avoided for Roth 401(k) accounts by rolling the balance into a Roth IRA.

For taxpayers who inherit a retirement plan, the RMD rules generally apply to defined-contribution plans and both traditional and Roth IRAs. (Special rules apply when the account is inherited from a spouse.)

RMDs usually must be taken by December 31. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t.

Should you withdraw more than the RMD?

Taking only RMDs generally is advantageous because of tax-deferred compounding. But a larger distribution in a year your tax bracket is low may save tax.

Be sure, however, to consider the lost future tax-deferred growth and, if applicable, whether the distribution could: 1) cause Social Security payments to become taxable, 2) increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges, or 3) affect other tax breaks with income-based limits.

Also keep in mind that, while retirement plan distributions aren’t subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), they are included in your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That means they could trigger or increase the NIIT, because the thresholds for that tax are based on MAGI.

For more information on RMDs or tax-savings strategies for your retirement plan distributions, please contact us.

© 2017

Why you may want to accelerate your property tax payment into 2017

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 22 2017

Accelerating deductible expenses, such as property tax on your home, into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? It will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. Prepaying property tax may be especially beneficial this year, because proposed tax legislation might reduce or eliminate the benefit of the property tax deduction beginning in 2018.

Proposed changes

The initial version of the House tax bill would cap the property tax deduction for individuals at $10,000. The initial version of the Senate tax bill would eliminate the property tax deduction for individuals altogether.

In addition, tax rates under both bills would go down for many taxpayers, making deductions less valuable. And because the standard deduction would increase significantly under both bills, some taxpayers might no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

2017 year-end planning

You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2017 but that are due in 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return. But you generally can’t prepay property tax that relates to 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return.

Prepaying property tax will in most cases be beneficial if the property tax deduction is eliminated beginning in 2018. But even if the property tax deduction is retained, prepaying could still be beneficial. Here’s why:

  • If your property tax bill is very large, prepaying is likely a good idea in case the property tax deduction is capped beginning in 2018.
  • If you could be subject to a lower tax rate in 2018 or won’t have enough itemized deductions overall in 2018 to exceed a higher standard deduction, prepaying is also likely tax-smart because a property tax deduction next year would have less or no benefit.

However, there are a few caveats:

  • If you’re subject to the AMT in 2017, you won’t get any benefit from prepaying your property tax. And if the property tax deduction is retained for 2018, the prepayment could cost you a tax-saving opportunity next year.
  • If your income is high enough that the income-based itemized deduction reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment may be reduced.
  • While the initial versions of both the House and Senate bills generally lower tax rates, some taxpayers might still end up being subject to higher tax rates in 2018, either because of tax law changes or simply because their income goes up next year. If you’re among them and the property tax deduction is retained, you may save more tax by holding off on paying property tax until it’s due next year.

 

It’s still uncertain what the final legislation will contain and whether it will be passed and signed into law this year. We can help you make the best decision based on tax law change developments and your specific situation.

© 2017

Could the AMT boost your 2017 tax bill?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 14 2017

A fundamental tax planning strategy is to accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. This typically will defer (and in some cases permanently reduce) your taxes. But there are exceptions. One is if the additional deductions this year trigger the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Complicating matters for 2017 is the fact that tax legislation might be signed into law between now and year end that could affect year-end tax planning. For example, as released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would repeal the AMT for 2018 and beyond. But the bill would also limit the benefit of some deductions and eliminate others.

The AMT and deductions

Some deductions that currently are allowed for regular tax purposes can trigger the AMT because they aren’t allowed for AMT purposes:

  • State and local income tax deductions,
  • Property tax deductions, and
  • Miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor, such as investment expenses, tax return preparation expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses.

 

Under traditional AMT strategies, if you expected to be subject to the AMT this year but not next year, to the extent possible, you’d try to defer these expenses until next year. If you ended up not being subject to the AMT this year, in the long-term you generally wouldn’t be any worse off because you could enjoy the tax benefits of these deferred expenses next year.

But under the November 2 version of the House bill, the state and local income tax deduction and certain miscellaneous itemized deductions would be eliminated beginning in 2018. And the property tax deduction would be limited. So if you were to defer such expenses to next year, you might permanently lose some or all of their tax benefit.

Income-related AMT triggers

Deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. So can certain income-related items, such as:

  • Incentive stock option exercises,
  • Tax-exempt interest on certain private activity bonds, and
  • Accelerated depreciation adjustments and related gain or loss differences when assets are sold.

 

If you could be subject to the AMT this year, you may want to avoid exercising stock options. And before executing any asset sales that could involve depreciation adjustments, carefully consider the AMT implications.

Uncertainty complicates planning

It’s still uncertain whether the AMT will be repealed and whether various deductions will be eliminated or limited. The House bill will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and the Senate is releasing its own tax reform bill. It’s also possible Congress won’t be able to pass tax legislation this year.

With proper planning, you may be able to avoid the AMT, reduce its impact or even take advantage of its lower maximum rate (28% vs. 39.6%). But AMT planning is more complicated this year because of tax law uncertainty. We can help you determine the best strategies for your situation.

© 2017

The ins and outs of tax on “income investments”

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Nov 02 2017

Many investors, especially more risk-averse ones, hold much of their portfolios in “income investments” — those that pay interest or dividends, with less emphasis on growth in value. But all income investments aren’t alike when it comes to taxes. So it’s important to be aware of the different tax treatments when managing your income investments.

Varying tax treatment

The tax treatment of investment income varies partly based on whether the income is in the form of dividends or interest. Qualified dividends are taxed at your favorable long-term capital gains tax rate (currently 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your tax bracket) rather than at your ordinary-income tax rate (which might be as high as 39.6%). Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary-income rates. So stocks that pay dividends might be more attractive tax-wise than interest-paying income investments, such as CDs and bonds.

But there are exceptions. For example, some dividends aren’t qualified and therefore are subject to ordinary-income rates, such as certain dividends from:

  • Real estate investment trusts (REITs),
  • Regulated investment companies (RICs),
  •  Money market mutual funds, and
  • Certain foreign investments.
  •  

Also, the tax treatment of bond interest varies. For example:

  • Interest on U.S. government bonds is taxable on federal returns but exempt on state and local returns.
  •  Interest on state and local government bonds is excludable on federal returns. If the bonds were issued in your home state, interest also might be excludable on your state return.
  •  Corporate bond interest is fully taxable for federal and state purposes.

 

One of many factors

Keep in mind that tax reform legislation could affect the tax considerations for income investments. For example, if your ordinary rate goes down under tax reform, there could be less of a difference between the tax rate you’d pay on qualified vs. nonqualified dividends.

While tax treatment shouldn’t drive investment decisions, it’s one factor to consider — especially when it comes to income investments. For help factoring taxes into your investment strategy, contact us.

© 2017

2 ACA taxes that may apply to your exec comp

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 23 2017

If you’re an executive or other key employee, you might be rewarded for your contributions to your company’s success with compensation such as restricted stock, stock options or nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC). Tax planning for these forms of “exec comp,” however, is generally more complicated than for salaries, bonuses and traditional employee benefits.

And planning gets even more complicated if you could potentially be subject to two taxes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): 1) the additional 0.9% Medicare tax, and 2) the net investment income tax (NIIT). These taxes apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

Additional Medicare tax

The following types of exec comp could be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Fair market value (FMV) of restricted stock once the stock is no longer subject to risk of forfeiture or it’s sold,
  • FMV of restricted stock when it’s awarded if you make a Section 83(b) election,
  • Bargain element of nonqualified stock options when exercised, and
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation once the services have been performed and there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture.

NIIT

The following types of gains from stock acquired through exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Gain on the sale of restricted stock if you’ve made the Sec. 83(b) election, and
  • Gain on the sale of stock from an incentive stock option exercise if you meet the holding requirements.

Keep in mind that the additional Medicare tax and the NIIT could possibly be eliminated under tax reform or ACA-related legislation. If you’re concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed, please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.

© 2017

“Bunching” medical expenses will be a tax-smart strategy for many in 2017

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 16 2017

Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only if they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example is the medical expense deduction.

Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible medical expenses into a particular year where possible. If tax reform legislation is signed into law, it might be especially beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017.

The deduction

Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. The 10% floor applies for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.

Beginning in 2017, even taxpayers age 65 and older are subject to the 10% floor. Previously, they generally enjoyed a 7.5% floor, except for AMT purposes, where they were also subject to the 10% floor.

Benefits of bunching

By bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.

Normally, if it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in the current year, it’s tax-smart to consider accelerating controllable expenses into the current year. But if you’re
far from exceeding the floor, the traditional strategy is, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), to put off medical expenses until the next year, in case you have enough expenses in that year to exceed the floor.

However, in 2017, sticking to these traditional strategies might not make sense.

Possible elimination?

The nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27 proposes a variety of tax law changes. Among other things, the framework calls for increasing the standard deduction and eliminating “most” itemized deductions. While the framework doesn’t specifically mention the medical expense deduction, the only itemized deductions that it specifically states would be retained are those for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

If an elimination of the medical expense deduction were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for individuals to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017. Even if you’re not close to exceeding the floor now, it could be beneficial to see if you can accelerate enough qualifying expense into 2017 to do so.

Keep in mind that tax reform legislation must be drafted, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President. It’s still uncertain exactly what will be included in any legislation, whether it will be passed and signed into law this year, and, if it is, when its provisions would go into effect. For more information on how to bunch deductions, exactly what expenses are deductible, or other ways tax reform legislation could affect your 2017 year-end tax planning, please contact us.

© 2017

Don’t ignore the Oct. 16 extended filing deadline just because you can’t pay your tax bill

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 12 2017

The extended deadline for filing 2016 individual federal income tax returns is October 16. If you extended your return and know you owe tax but can’t pay the bill, you may be wondering what to do next.

File by October 16

First and foremost, file your return by October 16. Filing by the extended deadline will allow you to avoid the 5%-per-month failure-to-file penalty.

The only cost for failing to pay what you owe is an interest charge. Because an extension of time to file isn’t an extension of time to pay, generally the interest will begin to accrue after the April 18 filing deadline even if you filed for an extension. If you still can’t pay when you file by the extended October 16 due date, interest will continue to accrue until you pay the tax.

Consider your payment options

So when must you pay the balance due? As soon as possible, if you want to halt the IRS interest charges. Here are a few options:

Pay with a credit card. You can pay your federal tax bill with American Express, Discover,  MasterCard or Visa. But before pursuing this option, ask about the one-time fee your credit card company will charge (which might be deductible) and the interest rate.

Take out a loan. If you can borrow at a reasonable rate, this may be a good option.

Arrange an IRS installment agreement. You can request permission from the IRS to pay off your bill in installments. Approval of your installment payment request is automatic if you:

  • Owe $10,000 or less (not counting interest or penalties),
  • Propose a repayment period of 36 months or less,
  • Haven’t entered into an earlier installment agreement within the preceding five years, and
  • Have filed returns and paid taxes for the preceding five tax years.

As long as you have an unpaid balance, you’ll be charged interest. But this may be at a much lower rate than what you’d pay on a credit card or could arrange with a commercial lender.
Be aware that, when you enter into an installment agreement, you must pledge to stay current on your future taxes.

Act soon

Filing a 2016 federal income tax return is important even if you can’t pay the tax due right now. If you need assistance or would like more information, please contact us.

© 2017

Investors: Beware of the wash sale rule

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 04 2017

A tried-and-true tax-saving strategy for investors is to sell assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year. So if you’ve cashed in some big gains this year, consider looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio and selling those investments before year end to offset your gains. This can reduce your 2017 tax liability.

But what if you expect an investment that would produce a loss if sold now to not only recover but thrive in the future? Or perhaps you simply want to minimize the impact on your asset allocation. You might think you can simply sell the investment at a loss and then immediately buy it back. Not so fast: You need to beware of the wash sale rule.

The rule up close

The wash sale rule prevents you from taking a loss on a security if you buy a substantially identical security (or an option to buy such a security) within 30 days before or after you sell the security that created the loss. You can recognize the loss only when you sell the replacement security.

Keep in mind that the rule applies even if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA.

Achieving your goals

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the wash sale rule and still achieve your goals:

  • Sell the security and immediately buy shares of a security of a different company in the same industry or shares in a mutual fund that holds securities much like the ones you sold.
  • Sell the security and wait 31 days to repurchase the same security.
  • Before selling the security, purchase additional shares of that security equal to the number you want to sell at a loss. Then wait 31 days to sell the original portion.

 

If you have a bond that would generate a loss if sold, you can do a bond swap, where you sell a bond, take a loss and then immediately buy another bond of similar quality and duration from a different issuer. Generally, the wash sale rule doesn’t apply because the bonds aren’t considered substantially identical. Thus, you can achieve a tax loss with virtually no change in economic position.

For more ideas on saving taxes on your investments, please contact us.

© 2017

Why you should boost your 401(k) contribution rate between now and year end

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 22 2017

One important step to both reducing taxes and saving for retirement is to contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contributing to that is likely your best first step.

If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate between now and year end. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.

Traditional 401(k)

A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits:

  • Contributions are pretax, reducing your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can also help you reduce or avoid exposure to the 3.8% net investment income tax.
  • Plan assets can grow tax-deferred — meaning you pay no income tax until you take distributions.
  • Your employer may match some or all of your contributions pretax.

 

For 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000. So if your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, try to increase your contribution rate through the end of the year to get as close to that limit as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pre-tax so income tax isn’t withheld.

If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2017). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding.

Roth 401(k)

Employers can include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your plan offers this, you can designate some or all of your contribution as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.

Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. On the other hand, if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, you may be better off sticking with traditional 401(k) contributions.

Finally, keep in mind that any employer matches to Roth 401(k) contributions will be pretax and go into your traditional 401(k) account.

How much and which type

Have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth contributions? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you.

© 2017

Save more for college through the tax advantages of a 529 savings plan

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 15 2017

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

Tax-deferred compounding

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

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

More pluses

529 plans offer other benefits as well:

  •  They usually have high contribution limits.
  •  There are no income-based phaseouts further limiting contributions.
  •  There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions.
  • You can control the account, even after the child is a legal adult.
  • You can make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions, which means you can make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse) in 2017. In the case of grandparents, this also can avoid generation-skipping transfer taxes.

Minimal minuses

One negative of a 529 plan is that your investment options are limited. Another is that you can make changes to your options only twice a year or if you change the beneficiary.
 
But whenever you make a new contribution, you can choose a different option for that contribution, no matter how many times you contribute during the year. Also, you can make a tax-free rollover to another 529 plan for the same child every 12 months.

We’ve focused on 529 savings plans here; a prepaid tuition version of 529 plans is also available. If you’d like to learn more about either type of 529 plan, please contact us. We can also tell you about other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.

© 2017

Watch out for potential tax pitfalls of donating real estate to charity

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 06 2017


Charitable giving allows you to help an organization you care about and, in most cases, enjoy a valuable income tax deduction. If you’re considering a large gift, a noncash donation such as appreciated real estate can provide additional benefits. For example, if you’ve held the property for more than one year, you generally will be able to deduct its full fair market value and avoid any capital gains tax you’d owe if you sold the property. There are, however, potential tax pitfalls you must watch out for:

Donation to a private foundation. While real estate donations to a public charity generally can be deducted at the property’s fair market value, your deduction for such a donation to a private foundation is limited to the lower of fair market value or your cost basis in the property.

Property subject to a mortgage. In this case, you may recognize taxable income for all or a portion of the loan’s value. And charities might not accept mortgaged property because it may trigger unrelated business income tax. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to pay off the mortgage before you donate the property or ask the lender to accept another property as collateral for the loan.

Failure to properly substantiate your donation. This can result in loss of the deduction and overvaluation penalties. Generally, real estate donations require a qualified appraisal. You’ll also need to complete Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions,” have your appraiser sign it and file it with your federal tax return. If the property is valued at more than $500,000, you’ll generally need to include the appraisal report as well.

Sale of the property within three years. The charity must report the sale to the IRS, and if the price is substantially less than the amount you claimed as a tax deduction, the IRS may challenge your deduction. To avoid this result, be sure your initial appraisal is accurate and well documented.

Sale of the property to someone related to you. If the charity sells the property you donated to your relative (or to someone with whom you negotiated a potential sale), the IRS may argue that the sale was prearranged and tax you on any capital gain.

If you’re considering a real estate donation, plan carefully and contact us for help ensuring that you avoid these pitfalls.

© 2017

The ABCs of the tax deduction for educator expenses

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 30 2017

At back-to-school time, much of the focus is on the students returning to the classroom — and on their parents buying them school supplies, backpacks, clothes, etc., for the new school year. But let’s not forget about the teachers. It’s common for teachers to pay for some classroom supplies out of pocket, and the tax code provides a special break that makes it a little easier for these educators to deduct some of their expenses.

The miscellaneous itemized deduction

Generally, your employee expenses are deductible if they’re unreimbursed by your employer and ordinary and necessary to your business of being an employee. An expense is ordinary if it is common and accepted in your business. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to your business.

These expenses must be claimed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction and are subject to a 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if all your deductions subject to the floor, combined, exceed 2% of your AGI. For many taxpayers, including teachers, this can be a difficult threshold to meet.

The educator expense deduction

Congress created the educator expense deduction to allow more teachers and other educators to receive a tax benefit from some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The break was made permanent under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Since 2016, the deduction has been annually indexed for inflation (though because of low inflation it hasn’t increased yet) and has included professional development expenses.

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

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

An added benefit

The educator expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means you don’t have to itemize and it reduces your AGI, which has an added benefit: Because AGI-based limits affect a variety of tax breaks (such as the previously mentioned miscellaneous itemized deductions), lowering your AGI might help you maximize your tax breaks overall.  

Contact us for more details about the educator expense deduction or tax breaks available for other work-related expenses.

© 2017

Yes, you can undo a Roth IRA conversion

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 30 2017

Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can provide tax-free growth and the ability to withdraw funds tax-free in retirement. But what if you convert a traditional IRA — subject to income taxes on all earnings and deductible contributions — and then discover that you would have been better off if you hadn’t converted it? Fortunately, it’s possible to undo a Roth IRA conversion, using a “recharacterization.”

Reasons to recharacterize

There are several possible reasons to undo a Roth IRA conversion. For example:

  • You lack sufficient liquid funds to pay the tax liability.
  • The conversion combined with your other income has pushed you into a higher tax bracket.
  • You expect your tax rate to go down either in the near future or in retirement.
  • The value of your account has declined since the conversion, which means you would owe taxes partially on money you no longer have.

Generally, when you convert to a Roth IRA, if you extend your tax return, you have until October 15 of the following year to undo it. (For 2016 returns, the extended deadline is October 16 because the 15th falls on a weekend in 2017.)

In some cases it can make sense to undo a Roth IRA conversion and then redo it. If you want to redo the conversion, you must wait until the later of 1) the first day of the year following the year of the original conversion, or 2) the 31st day after the recharacterization.

Keep in mind that, if you reversed a conversion because your IRA’s value declined, there’s a risk that your investments will bounce back during the waiting period. This could cause you to reconvert at a higher tax cost.

Recharacterization in action

Nick had a traditional IRA with a balance of $100,000. In 2016, he converted it to a Roth IRA, which, combined with his other income for the year, put him in the 33% tax bracket. So normally he’d have owed $33,000 in federal income taxes on the conversion in April 2017. However, Nick extended his return and, by September 2017, the value of his account drops to $80,000.

On October 1, Nick recharacterizes the account as a traditional IRA and files his return to
exclude the $100,000 in income. On November 1, he reconverts the traditional IRA, whose value remains at $80,000, to a Roth IRA. He’ll report that amount on his 2017 tax return. This time, he’ll owe $26,400 — deferred for a year and resulting in a tax savings of $6,600. If the $20,000 difference in income keeps him in the 28% tax bracket or tax reform legislation is signed into law that retroactively reduces rates for 2017, he could save even more.

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, monitor your financial situation. If the advantages of the conversion diminish, we can help you assess your options.

© 2017

How to determine if you need to worry about estate taxes

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 24 2017

Among the taxes that are being considered for repeal as part of tax reform legislation is the estate tax. This tax applies to transfers of wealth at death, hence why it’s commonly referred to as the “death tax.” Its sibling, the gift tax — also being considered for repeal — applies to transfers during life. Yet most taxpayers won’t face these taxes even if the taxes remain in place.

Exclusions and exemptions

For 2017, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, then no federal estate tax will be due.

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

  • Gifts to your U.S. citizen spouse are tax-free under the marital deduction. (So are transfers at death — that is, bequests.)  
  • Gifts and bequests to qualified charities aren’t subject to gift and estate taxes.
  • Payments of another person’s health care or tuition expenses aren’t subject to gift tax if paid directly to the provider.
  •  Each year you can make gifts up to the annual exclusion amount ($14,000 per recipient for 2017) tax-free without using up any of your lifetime exemption.

What’s your estate tax exposure?  

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us. We also can keep you up to date on any estate tax law changes.

© 2017

Will Congress revive expired tax breaks?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 10 2017

Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.

Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.

An education break

One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).

You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.  
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.  

Mortgage-related tax breaks

Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.

The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.

Act now

Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.


© 2017

A refresher on the ACA’s tax penalty on individuals without health insurance

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 03 2017

Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”

Penalty exemptions

Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:

  • Their household income is below the federal income tax return filing threshold.
  • They lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage.
  • They suffered a hardship in obtaining coverage.
  • They have only a short-term coverage gap.
  • They qualify for an exception on religious grounds or have coverage through a health care sharing ministry.
  • They’re not a U.S. citizen or national.
  • They’re incarcerated.
  • They’re a member of a Native American tribe.


Calculating the tax

So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:

 

1. The applicable percentage of your household income above the applicable federal income tax return filing threshold, or
2. The applicable dollar amount times the number of uninsured individuals in your household, limited to 300% of the applicable dollar amount.
 

In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.

In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).

The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.

If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.

Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.

© 2017

3 midyear tax planning strategies for individuals

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 02 2017

In the quest to reduce your tax bill, year end planning can only go so far. Tax-saving strategies take time to implement, so review your options now. Here are three strategies that can be more effective if you begin executing them midyear:

1. Consider your bracket

The top income tax rate is 39.6% for taxpayers with taxable income over $418,400 (singles), $444,550 (heads of households) and $470,700 (married filing jointly; half that amount for married filing separately). If you expect this year’s income to be near the threshold , consider strategies for reducing your taxable income and staying out of the top bracket. For example, you could take steps to defer income and accelerate deductible expenses. (This strategy can save tax even if you’re not at risk for the 39.6% bracket or you can’t avoid the bracket.)

You could also shift income to family members in lower tax brackets by giving them income-producing assets. This strategy won’t work, however, if the recipient is subject to the “kiddie tax.” Generally, this tax applies the parents’ marginal rate to unearned income (including investment income) received by a dependent child under the age of 19 (24 for full-time students) in excess of a specified threshold ($2,100 for 2017).

2. Look at investment income

This year, the capital gains rate for taxpayers in the top bracket is 20%. If you’ve realized, or expect to realize, significant capital gains, consider selling some depreciated investments to generate losses you can use to offset those gains. It may be possible to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.

Depending on what happens with health care and tax reform legislation, you also may need to plan for the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). Under the Affordable Care Act, this tax can affect taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). The NIIT applies to net investment income for the year or the excess of MAGI over the threshold, whichever is less. So, if the NIIT remains in effect (check back with us for the latest information), you may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.

3. Plan for medical expenses

The threshold for deducting medical expenses is 10% of AGI. You can deduct only expenses that exceed that floor. (The threshold could be affected by health care legislation. Again, check back with us for the latest information.)

Deductible expenses may include health insurance premiums (if not deducted from your wages pretax); long-term care insurance premiums (age-based limits apply); medical and dental services and prescription drugs (if not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account); and mileage driven for health care purposes (17 cents per mile driven in 2017). You may be able to control the timing of some of these expenses so you can bunch them into every other year and exceed the applicable floor.  
      
These are just a few ideas for slashing your 2017 tax bill. To benefit from midyear tax planning, consult us now. If you wait until the end of the year, it may be too late to execute the strategies that would save you the most tax.

© 2017

Own a vacation home? Adjusting rental vs. personal use might save taxes

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on July 17 2017

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Now that we’ve hit midsummer, if you own a vacation home that you both rent out and use personally, it’s a good time to review the potential tax consequences:

If you rent it out for less than 15 days: You don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) won’t be deductible.

If you rent it out for 15 days or more: You must report the income. But what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:

  • Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction.
  • Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence, but you will still have to report the rental income. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years. You also can take an itemized deduction for the personal portion of both mortgage interest and property tax.

 

Look at the use of your vacation home year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. Adjusting the number of days you rent it out and/or use it personally between now and year end might allow the home to be classified in a more beneficial way.

For assistance, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2017

Summer is a good time to start your 2017 tax planning and organize your tax records

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on July 12 2017

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You may be tempted to forget all about taxes during summertime, when “the livin’ is easy,” as the Gershwin song goes. But if you start your tax planning now, you may avoid an unpleasant tax surprise when you file next year. Summer is also a good time to set up a storage system for your tax records. Here are some tips:

Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you owe. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.

Keep records accessible but safe. Put your 2016 tax return and supporting records together in a place where you can easily find them if you need them, such as if you’re ever audited by the IRS. You also may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid. Although accessibility is important, so is safety.

A good storage medium for hard copies of important personal documents like tax returns is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. You may want to maintain a duplicate set of records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You can also store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to an external storage device (which you can keep in your home safe or bank safety deposit box). If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.

Stay organized. Make tax time easier by putting records you’ll need when you file in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records next February or March. Some examples include substantiation of charitable donations, receipts from work-related travel not reimbursed by your employer, and documentation of medical expenses not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account.

For more information on summertime tax planning or organizing your tax-related information, contact us.

© 2017

Claiming a federal tax deduction for moving costs

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on June 28 2017

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Summer is a popular time to move, whether it’s so the kids don’t have to change schools mid-school-year, to avoid having to move in bad weather or simply because it can be an easier time to sell a home. Unfortunately, moving can be expensive. The good news is that you might be eligible for a federal tax deduction for your moving costs.

Pass the tests

The first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.

The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would increase your commute significantly.

Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)

What’s deductible

So which expenses can be written off? Generally, you can deduct transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving.

In addition, you can likely deduct the cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property. And you may be able to deduct the expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit. Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities are usually deductible, too.

But don’t expect to write off everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible. Nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.

Questions about whether your moving expenses are deductible? Or what you can deduct? Contact us.

© 2017

Donating a vehicle might not provide the tax deduction you expect

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on June 06 2017

All charitable donations aren’t created equal — some provide larger deductions than others. And it isn’t necessarily just how much or even what you donate that matters. How the charity uses your donation might also affect your deduction.


Take vehicle donations, for example. If you donate your vehicle, the value of your deduction can vary greatly depending on what the charity does with it.


Determining your deduction


You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) if the charity:

  • Uses the vehicle for a significant charitable purpose (such as delivering meals-on-wheels to the elderly),
  • Sells the vehicle for substantially less than FMV in furtherance of a charitable purpose (such as a sale to a low-income person needing transportation), or
  • Makes “material improvements” to the vehicle.

But in most other circumstances, if the charity sells the vehicle, your deduction is limited to the amount of the sales proceeds.

Getting proper substantiation

You also must obtain proper substantiation from the charity, including a written acknowledgment that:

 

  • Certifies whether the charity sold the vehicle or retained it for use for a charitable purpose,
  •  Includes your name and tax identification number and the vehicle identification number, and
  • Reports, if applicable, details concerning the sale of the vehicle within 30 days of the sale.

 

For more information on these and other rules that apply to vehicle donation deductions — or deductions for other charitable gifts — please contact us.

© 2017

US Government Says Benchmark 2017 Healthcare.gov Premiums are up 25%

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Oct 25 2016

In an news article By Dan Grebler, Toni Clarke; Washington, Caroline Humer, Toni Clarke and Caroline Humer; New York, they report that the average premium for benchmark 2017 Obamacare insurance plans sold on Healthcare.gov rose 25 percent compared with 2016, the U.S. government said on Monday, the biggest increase since the insurance first went on sale in 2013 for the following year.

The average monthly premium for the benchmark plan is rising to $302 from $242 in 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services said. The agency attributed the large increase to insurers adjusting their premiums to reflect two years of cost data that became available.

Large national insurers, including Aetna Inc, UnitedHealth Group Inc, and Anthem Inc, have said they are losing money on the exchanges, created under President Barack Obama's national healthcare reform law, because patient costs are higher than anticipated. Both UnitedHealth and Aetna have pulled out of the exchanges for 2017.

Premium increases have become fodder for the presidential race, as Republican candidate Donald Trump calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act if he is elected and Democrat Hillary Clinton calls for expanding it.

The government agency said the 2017 premium increase comes after two years of very low increases in the marketplace for the second-lowest cost "silver" plan, the benchmark plan used to calculate cost-sharing subsidies. The "silver" plan sits in the bottom half in terms of how many costs are covered, between bronze and gold. There is also a platinum plan.

Average premiums for the silver plan increased 2 percent in 2015 and were up 7 percent in 2016, the agency said.

The figure reflects premiums on Healthcare.gov, the federally run website that sells plans for about two-thirds of the states. Including four states and the District of Columbia, which run their own insurance marketplaces, and those that have reported data, the average premium rose 22 percent, the agency said.

Eight other states have not yet reported their premiums, it said.

The annual report was prepared by the health department's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

Why you might want to not claim your child as a dependent

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 29 2016

Understandably, many parents get in the habit of claiming their children as dependents on their federal tax returns. You generally may do so as long as your child is either under age 19 (nonstudents) or under age 24 (students). But there is a reason to not claim your child as a dependent — and it has everything to do with higher education.

Credits and phaseouts

The two primary college-funding tax credits available are the American Opportunity credit and the Lifetime Learning credit. Thanks to recently passed legislation, the American Opportunity credit now permanently allows eligible taxpayers to take an annual credit of up to $2,500 for the first four years of postsecondary education. Meanwhile, the Lifetime Learning credit provides up to $2,000 in relief to those eligible. (You can’t claim both credits in the same year for the same student.)

But these credits are subject to “phaseouts” that limit eligibility for higher-income taxpayers. For example, for 2015, eligibility for the American Opportunity credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGIs) beyond $80,000 (single filers) or $160,000 (married couples filing jointly). Similarly, eligibility for the Lifetime Learning Credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with MAGIs beyond $55,000 (singles) or $110,000 (joint filers).

Good reasons

If your income disqualifies you from claiming these credits, your child’s income probably doesn’t disqualify him or her. Therefore, your child may be able to report payment of education expenses for tax purposes and then claim one of the credits — but only if you don’t claim him or her as a dependent.

Under this scenario, the child’s tax benefit typically outweighs the value of the dependency exemption to the parents. Why? First, a credit reduces taxes dollar-for-dollar, while an exemption reduces only the amount of taxable income. Second, an income-based phaseout may reduce or eliminate the benefit of the exemption even if you did claim your child as a dependent. For 2015, the phaseout starting points for the exemption are adjusted gross incomes of $258,250 (singles) and $309,900 (joint filers).

The right call

If your dependency exemption is phased out, it will probably make sense not to claim your child as a dependent so he or she can grab a tax credit. But if your exemption isn’t phased out or is only partially phased out, the decision becomes trickier. We can help you make the right call.

Reacquainting yourself with the Roth IRA

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 15 2016

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.

Free withdrawals

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.

Limited contributions

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.

Conversion question

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.

Retirement radar

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.

Documentation is the key to business expense deductions

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 12 2016

If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.

Case 1: Insufficient records

In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.

The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred “caring for his business.” That isn’t enough. “The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,” the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce “records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.” (TC Memo 2016-158)

Case 2: Documents destroyed

In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.

The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.

There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to “undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.”

The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)

Be prepared

Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.

5 things to know about substantiating donations

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Sept 09 2016

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Miscellaneous expenses can add up

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 25 2016

Did you know that you can deduct work-related expenses, professional advisor fees and even job search costs on your federal tax return? Possibly, but there’s a catch: Miscellaneous expenses must first add up to more than 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) or you can’t deduct any of them. Fortunately, with a little planning, you may be able to itemize and deduct more than you think.

The “other” category

Expenses in the miscellaneous category are a mix of items that don’t fit elsewhere — for example, safe deposit box rent, tax preparation software, investment advisor fees and legal costs incurred while attempting to collect or preserve income. You may even be able to deduct costs associated with claiming a refund from the IRS.

For most taxpayers, however, the largest miscellaneous expenses are work related. These include unreimbursed employee business expenses such as union dues and professional and civic organization memberships, uniforms necessary for the job (professional office attire such as suits doesn’t count), and tuition for education requested by an employer.

Employees’ home office costs may also be considered miscellaneous expenses as long as the home office meets the IRS’s definition. (Among other requirements, a home office must be used regularly and exclusively for business.) Note that, if you’re self-employed, home office expenses aren’t subject to the 2% miscellaneous itemized deduction rule: You can deduct them directly from your self-employment income.

Finally, if you’re looking for a job, your employment agency, transportation and other job-hunting costs may be deductible. For them to qualify, you must be seeking a position in the field or profession you currently work or recently worked in. So if you’re looking to leap from insurance to marine biology, you’re probably out of luck — at least from a tax perspective.

Rare and nondeductible expenses

There’s actually a second category of miscellaneous expenses that aren’t subject to the 2% rule, but they generally relate to less-common scenarios. For example, you might be able to deduct:

  • Casualty and theft losses from income-producing properties,

  • Income received as the beneficiary of an estate,

  • Losses from participation in a fraudulent investment scheme, and

  • Gambling losses up to the amount of gambling winnings.

Then there are the miscellaneous expenses you can’t deduct under any circumstances, including adoption fees, funeral expenses, personal legal bills and commuting costs. And if you want to donate to the campaign of a political candidate this election season, go ahead. Just don’t deduct it on your tax return. For a longer list of deduction no-nos, see IRS publication 529.

Better in bunches

Not surprisingly, most taxpayers can’t deduct miscellaneous expenses subject to the 2% floor every year. But even if you don’t deduct them in the 2015 tax year, you may be able to accelerate or defer certain expenses and bunch them in a year when they’re more likely to add up to over 2% of your AGI. Your tax advisor can help explain this, as well as how the alternative minimum tax could affect the benefits of itemized miscellaneous deductions.

Have a household employee? Be sure to follow the tax rules

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Aug 04 2016

Many families hire people to work in their homes, such as nannies, housekeepers, cooks, gardeners and health care workers. If you employ a domestic worker, make sure you know the tax rules.

Important distinction

Not everyone who works at your home is considered a household employee for tax purposes. To understand your obligations, determine whether your workers are employees or independent contractors. Independent contractors are responsible for their own employment taxes, while household employers and employees share the responsibility.

Workers are generally considered employees if you control what they do and how they do it. It makes no difference whether you employ them full time or part time, or pay them a salary or an hourly wage.

Social Security and Medicare taxes

If a household worker’s cash wages exceed the domestic employee coverage threshold of $2,000 in 2016, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes — 15.3% of wages, which you can either pay entirely or split with the worker. (If you and the worker share the expense, you must withhold his or her share.) But don’t count wages you pay to:

  • Your spouse,

  • Your children under age 21,

  • Your parents (with some exceptions), and

  • Household workers under age 18 (unless working for you is their principal occupation).

The domestic employee coverage threshold is adjusted annually for inflation, and there’s a wage limit on Social Security tax ($118,500 for 2016, adjusted annually for inflation).

Social Security and Medicare taxes apply only to cash wages, which don’t include the value of food, clothing, lodging and other noncash benefits you provide to household employees. You can also exclude reimbursements to employees for certain parking or commuting costs. One way to provide a valuable benefit to household workers while minimizing employment taxes is to provide them with health insurance.

Unemployment and federal income taxes

If you pay total cash wages to household employees of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter in the current or preceding calendar year, you must pay federal unemployment tax (FUTA). Wages you pay to your spouse, children under age 21 and parents are excluded.

The tax is 6% of each household employee’s cash wages up to $7,000 per year. You may also owe state unemployment contributions, but you’re entitled to a FUTA credit for those contributions, up to 5.4% of wages.

You don’t have to withhold federal income tax — or, usually, state income tax — unless the worker requests it and you agree. In these instances, you must withhold federal income taxes on both cash and noncash wages, except for meals you provide employees for your convenience, lodging you provide in your home for your convenience and as a condition of employment, and certain reimbursed commuting and parking costs (including transit passes, tokens, fare cards, qualifying vanpool transportation and qualified parking at or near the workplace).

Other obligations

As an employer, you have a variety of tax and other legal obligations. This includes obtaining a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) and having each household employee complete Forms W-4 (for withholding) and I-9 (which documents that he or she is eligible to work in the United States).

After year end, you must file Form W-2 for each household employee to whom you paid more than $2,000 in Social Security and Medicare wages or for whom you withheld federal income tax. And you must comply with federal and state minimum wage and overtime requirements. In some states, you may also have to provide workers’ compensation or disability coverage and fulfill other tax, insurance and reporting requirements.

The details

Having a household employee can make family life easier. Unfortunately, it can also make your tax return a bit more complicated. Let us help you with the details.

© 2016

 

Are you Ready for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 12 2014

In just a couple of months, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), i.e. Obamacare, will kick in for businesses with 100 or more employees. Under the law, businesses with 100 or more employees on their payroll will need to start providing health benefits to at least 70 percent of their full-time workers in 2015, and to 95 percent by 2016. Companies that fail to meet these targets will be subject to penalties that start at $2,000 per employee. Businesses with 50 to 99 full-time employees will need to start insuring workers by 2016.

One area of that business owners need to be clear about, is the Affordable Care Act definition of a full-time employee which is 30 hours a week or more. Obamacare requires employers to collect signed waivers from their employees who opt not to sign on to a company insurance plan. Even if an employer opts not to offer insurance, they are still required to file forms to substantiate the number of full-time and part-time workers they employ.

The required documentation means that businesses need to be prepared to monitor their employees’ hours—especially part-time employees—to make sure that they don't average more than 30 hours a week. Employers must have a process in place to document that they have offered insurance coverage to their full-time workers.

The penalties for non-compliance are severe. For 2015, companies with 100 or more employees that don't offer coverage may be liable for fines of $2,000 and $3,000 per worker next year. In 2016, the employee threshold will drop to 50 or more employees.

Businesses that fall under the new mandate should also be aware that if any one of their employees receives a premium tax credit from the Obamacare insurance marketplace because the coverage they offer is deemed unaffordable or does not cover 60 percent of total costs, the employer must pay a Shared Responsibility Payment of either $3,000 for each employee getting a credit or $750 for each of their full-time employees, whichever is less. Under the ACA, insurance is considered unaffordable if an employee's share of the premium costs for employee-only coverage is more than 9.5 percent of their yearly household income.

As you can see, the next phase of the ACA law brings with it considerable new responsibilities for business owners.


New Direct Deposits Limits for Tax Refunds

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 12 2014

The IRS has released new rules regarding the Direct Deposit of tax refunds.

In an effort to combat fraud and identity theft, new IRS procedures effective January 2015 will limit the number of refunds electronically deposited into a single financial account or pre-paid debit card to three.

The fourth and subsequent refunds automatically will convert to a paper refund check and be mailed to the taxpayer.

Taxpayers also will receive a notice informing them that the account has exceeded the direct deposit limits and that they will receive a paper refund check in approximately four weeks if there are no other issues with the return. Taxpayers can track their refunds at Where’s My Refund?

The vast majority of taxpayers will not be affected by this limitation, and we would encourage taxpayers and tax preparers to continue to use direct deposit. It is the fastest, safest way for taxpayers to receive refunds.

The direct deposit limit will prevent criminals from easily obtaining multiple refunds. The limit applies to financial accounts, such as bank savings or checking accounts, and to prepaid, reloadable cards or debit cards.

However, the limitation may affect some taxpayers, such as families in which the parent’s and children’s refunds are deposited into a family-held bank account. Taxpayers in this situation should make other deposit arrangements or expect to receive paper refund checks.

The new limitation also will protect taxpayers from preparers who obtain payment for their tax preparation services by depositing part or all of their clients’ refunds into the preparers’ own bank accounts. The new direct deposit limits will help eliminate this type of abuse.

Direct deposit must only be made to accounts bearing the taxpayer’s name. Preparer fees cannot be recovered by using Form 8888 to split the refund or by preparers opening a joint bank account with taxpayers. These actions by preparers are subject to penalty under the Internal Revenue Code and to discipline under Treasury Circular 230 (also, see Circular 230 Tax Professionals page).


Conflicting Court Rulings Involving ACA Tax Subsidies

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 12 2014

In a web blog by Val Oveson, he breaks down the recent court decisions involving the Affordable Care Act.

Two new court decisions reached opposite conclusions about whether individuals in states that do not operate their own health insurance exchanges are eligible for the premium assistance tax credit under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Here is what you need to know about the controversy.

 

Premium Assistance Tax Credit Basics

According to the statutory language, the premium assistance credit (which is new for 2014) is available to eligible individuals who obtain health coverage in a qualifying plan by enrolling through a state insurance exchange or an exchange operated in partnership between a state and the federal government. (Internal Revenue Code Section 36B)

In general, you are potentially eligible for the credit if your household income is between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line and you do not have access to employer-sponsored affordable coverage. The allowable credit amount can vary widely depending on your specific circumstances.This credit is also sometimes described as the federal health insurance subsidy.

The credit can be paid by the government directly to the insurance company to lower your monthly premiums or it can be claimed when you file your Form 1040. You may not know the exact amount of your allowable credit until you file your return.

Any differences between what you receive in the form of reduced insurance premiums and the credit you are actually entitled to for the year will be reconciled when you file your tax return. In other words, if you collect too much, you will have to pay back the excess with your return.

The credit is refundable. That means you can collect the full credit amount even if it exceeds your federal income tax liability for the year. More specifically, the credit is first used to reduce your federal income tax bill. After your tax bill for the year has been reduced to zero, any remaining credit can be either refunded to you in cash or used to make estimated tax payments for the following year.

Conflicting Court Opinions

In late July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stated that the premium tax credit is not allowed to individuals who obtain coverage through the federal exchange. (Halbig v. Burwell) On the very same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reached the exact opposite conclusion. (King v. Burwell)

The D.C. Circuit opinion was a 2-to-1 decision by three judges rather than a decision by the full court. The federal government will now ask for reconsideration by the full court. If the full court reaches the same conclusion, the issue will probably go to the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the conflict between the D.C. Circuit and Fourth Circuit.

The issue is important because only 14 states currently operate their own health insurance exchanges. The many people in the other 36 states who enrolled for ACA health insurance through the federal exchange were promised — and are relying on — the premium tax credit to help offset the cost.

Observation: Individuals who fail to obtain qualifying health coverage can be subject to a penalty. The threat of the penalty is often called the individual mandate. Wider availability of the premium tax credit presumably means more individuals would obtain qualifying health coverage and thereby avoid being penalized.

Source of the Controversy

The statutory language establishing the premium assistance tax credit refers to monthly premiums for qualified health plans in which individuals enroll through an exchange established by the state or an exchange operated in partnership between the state and the federal government. However, IRS regulations contain more liberal language. The regulations say the credit can also be claimed by individuals who enroll through the federal exchange, which was created with many well publicized bumps in the road by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enroll people in the 36 states that do not operate their own exchanges. (Treasury Regulation 1.36B-1(k))

The federal D.C. Circuit Court found that the liberalized IRS interpretation conflicts with the plain language of the statute, and that the regulation is therefore invalid. So, according to the D.C. Circuit Court, the premium tax credit can only be claimed by individuals who enroll in qualifying health coverage through one of the 14 state-operated exchanges. That could leave people in the other 36 states out of luck.

In contrast, the Fourth Circuit Court opined that the statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit decided that the liberalized interpretation in the IRS regulations was consistent with what Congress intended in passing the Affordable Care Act, and was a permissible exercise of the agency’s rule-making powers.

Stay Tuned

This controversy is not over. As mentioned earlier, the federal D.C. Court of Appeals decision could be reversed upon reconsideration by the full court. If the decision stands, the Supreme Court will probably get involved to resolve the conflict between the D.C. Circuit and the Fourth Circuit. We will keep you posted on developments.


The Importance of Taking RMDs on Time with Taxes, Penalties Looming

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 12 2014

There are several ways you can end up with a missed required distribution and a pile of penalties and tax-time confusion.

  • take RMDs on time to avoid penalties
  • There is a required minimum distribution (RMD) that was not taken by the account owner
  • There is a required minimum distribution that was not taken by a beneficiary of an inherited account, including an inherited Roth IRA
  • The account owner is using a substantially equal payment plan (72(t) plan) to avoid the 10% early distribution penalty and did not take the full amount for the year

 

RMDs that are not taken each year by the account owner or beneficiary get hit with a penalty of 50% of the amount not taken. The penalty is reported on IRS Form 5329. The penalty can be waived for good cause. To have the best chance of getting the penalty waived, an IRA owner (or beneficiary) should immediately take the missed distribution(s), file the form for each year there was a missed distribution or shortfall, and attach a letter requesting the waiver.

 

When an account owner uses the 72(t) plan, the required distribution is not subject to the 50% penalty. Instead, if all or part of the total amount due for the year is missed, then the account owner will be subject to the 10% early distribution penalty retroactively on all 72(t) distributions taken from the IRA prior to age 59 ½. Again the penalty is reported on Form 5329. Unlike the 50% penalty, there is no waiver of the 10% penalty.

These three items are the same in the income tax treatment of the distributions. Retirement income is taxable in the year in which it leaves the retirement account – not in the year in which it was supposed to be taken. You don’t go back and amend a tax return for a missed distribution. It is taxable in the current year.

For example, Forgetful Fran did not take her RMDs for 2012 and 2013. Her tax preparer, Alert Archie, notices that there is no 1099-R for 2013 when he does her taxes in 2014. He figures out that she has missed two years of RMDs. He has her take those distributions now in 2014. He will not amend Fran’s return for 2012 to add in the forgotten RMD. He also will not include the 2013 RMD on her 2013 return when he prepares it. The distributions will be included in her 2014 income because that is the year she took the distributions. In certain circumstances, that can be a second penalty on a missed distribution. You might pay more in income tax because you have to lump all those distributions into one year. This could also affect other income sensitive items on the tax return such as deductions, credits, phase outs, etc.

So be careful out there. Avoid unnecessary pain and tax bills. Take your RMDs on time.

This article is from Ed Slott and Company. The authors are Beverly DeVeny and Jared Trexler.


The Individual Shared Responsibility Provision

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 12 2014

On May 27, 2014, the IRS released clarifying information on how the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision is to work under the Affordable Care Act. The individual shared responsibility provision requires you and each member of your family have either of the following:

 

  • Have minimum essential coverage, or
  • Have an exemption from the responsibility to have minimum essential coverage, or
  • Make a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2014 federal income tax return. (This is the penalty for not having minimum essential coverage health insurance. For 2014, the penalty is the greater of $95.00 or 1% of your household income.)

The Top 10 Changes in the ACA Law - (Obamacare)

Posted by Matt Evans Posted on Dec 12 2014

Ken Berry, who is a CPA Practice Advisor Tax Correspondant, wrote an article about the top ten changes to the Afforadable Care Act.

With about a month to go before the open enrollment period for Obamacare ends – the official deadline is March 31, 2014 – the federal government continues to tweak the rules for the landmark healthcare legislation.

Notably, new final regulations governing the employer mandate provide guidance on numerous issues.

Number 10. The look-back rule. The employer mandate to provide coverage only applies to firms with 50 or more full-time employees. Incorporating earlier proposed regulations, the new final regulations allow employers to look back to the prior year to determine employee status.

Number 9. Definition of part-time employee. Previously there was no definitive definition of a part-time employee in the law. The latest regs define a “part-timer” as someone who is reasonably expected to be employed on average less than 30 hours of service per week during the initial measurement period.

Number 8. Definition of “seasonal” worker. If seasonal workers are counted as full-time workers, they might push an employer past the 50-worker threshold. Now the IRS says employers don’t have to count someone who customarily works for six months or less during the year.

Number 7. Definition of dependent. Obamacare generally requires coverage of an employee’s dependent children until the child reaches age 26. The new regulations exclude stepchildren and foster children.

Number 6. Volunteer service hours. The proposed regulations didn’t address the inclusion of hours provided by volunteers to tax-exempt entities. Under the final regs, time spent by volunteers -- such as firefighters and emergency first responders—won’t cause them to be treated as full-time employees.

Number 5. Rules for 90-day waiting period. Obamacare imposes a 90-day waiting period limit on health insurance coverage. New regulations explain how the countdown begins once the employee is eligible for coverage.

Number 4. Out-of-pocket maximums. There are limits on an individual‘s annual out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance. For 2014, the limits are $6,350 per year for individuals and $12,700 per year for families.

Number 3. Penalties for individuals. The law imposes penalties on individuals failing to obtain minimal coverage after the grace period ending March 31. The penalty for 2014 is the greater of $95 per individual ($47.50 per child under 18), up to a family maximum of $285, or 1 percent of household income.

Number 2. Liberalization for large employers. Initially, employers with 100 or more full-time employees were required to provide coverage to at least 95 percent of those workers. The requirement has been reduced to 70 percent for 2015 before increasing to 95 percent in 2016.

And the Number 1 change in Obamacare is… The mandate for employers with 50 to 99 full-time workers has been postponed to January 1, 2016. Following the earlier one-year delay, this gives mid-sized firms yet another entire year to put their house in order.


This blog is published to provide you with an informative summary of current business, financial, and tax planning opportunities.  Do not apply this general information to your specific situation without additional details.  Be aware that the tax laws contain varying effective dates and numerous limitations and exceptions that can not be summarized easily.  For details and guidance in applying the tax rules to your specific circumstances, please contact us.