If your business doesn’t already have a retirement plan, it might be a good time to take the plunge. Current retirement plan rules allow for significant tax-deductible contributions.

For example, if you’re self-employed and set up a SEP-IRA, you can contribute up to 20% of your self-employment earnings, with a maximum contribution of $69,000 for 2024 (up from $66,000 for 2023). If you’re employed by your own corporation, up to 25% of your salary can be contributed to your account, with a maximum contribution of $69,000. If you’re in the 32% federal income tax bracket, making a maximum contribution could cut what you owe Uncle Sam for 2024 by a whopping $22,080 (32% × $69,000).

Other Possibilities

There are more small business retirement plan options, including:

Depending on your situation, these plans may allow bigger or smaller deductible contributions than a SEP-IRA. For example, for 2024, a participant can contribute $23,000 to a 401(k) plan, plus a $7,500 “catch-up” contribution for those age 50 or older.

Watch the Calendar

Thanks to a change made by the 2019 SECURE Act, tax-favored qualified employee retirement plans, except for SIMPLE-IRA plans, can now be adopted by the due date (including any extension) of the employer’s federal income tax return for the adoption year. The plan can then receive deductible employer contributions that are made by the due date (including any extension), and the employer can deduct those contributions on the return for the adoption year.

Important: This provision didn’t change the deadline to establish a SIMPLE-IRA plan. It remains October 1 of the year for which the plan is to take effect. Also, the SECURE Act change doesn’t override rules that require certain plan provisions to be in effect during the plan year, such as the provisions that cover employee elective deferral contributions (salary-reduction contributions) under a 401(k) plan. The plan must be in existence before such employee elective deferral contributions can be made.

For example, the deadline for the 2023 tax year for setting up a SEP-IRA for a sole proprietorship business that uses the calendar year for tax purposes is October 15, 2024, if you extend your 2023 tax return. The deadline for making a contribution for the 2023 tax year is also October 15, 2024. For the 2024 tax year, the deadline for setting up a SEP and making a contribution is October 15, 2025, if you extend your 2024 tax return. However, to make a SIMPLE-IRA contribution for the 2023 tax year, you must have set up the plan by October 1, 2023. So, it’s too late to set up a plan for last year.

While you can delay until next year establishing a tax-favored retirement plan for this year (except for a SIMPLE-IRA plan), why wait? Get it done this year as part of your tax planning, and start saving for retirement. We can provide more information on small business retirement plan options. Be aware that if your business has employees, you may have to make contributions for them, too.

© 2024

If you operate a business, or you’re starting a new one, you know records of income and expenses need to be kept. Specifically, you should carefully record expenses to claim all the tax deductions to which you’re entitled. And you want to make sure you can defend the amounts reported on your tax returns in case you’re ever audited by the IRS.

Be aware that there’s no one way to keep business records. On its website, the IRS states: “You can choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses.” But there are strict rules when it comes to deducting legitimate expenses for tax purposes. And certain types of expenses, such as automobile, travel, meal and home office costs, require extra attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping requirements or limitations on deductibility.

Ordinary and Necessary

A business expense can be deducted if a taxpayer establishes that the primary objective of the activity is making a profit. To be deductible, a business expense must be “ordinary and necessary.” In one recent case, a married couple claimed business deductions that the IRS and the U.S. Tax Court mostly disallowed. The reasons: The expenses were found to be personal in nature and the taxpayers didn’t have adequate records for them.

In the case, the husband was a salaried executive. With his wife, he started a separate business as an S corporation. His sideline business identified new markets for chemical producers and connected them with potential customers. The couple’s two sons began working for the business when they were in high school.

The couple then formed a separate C corporation that engaged in marketing. For some of the years in question, the taxpayers reported the income and expenses of the businesses on their joint tax returns. The businesses conducted meetings at properties the family owned (and resided in) and paid the couple rent for the meetings.

The IRS selected the couple’s returns for audit. Among the deductions the IRS and the Tax Court disallowed:

Retirement Plan Deductions Allowed

The couple did prevail on deductions for contributions to 401(k) accounts for their sons. The IRS contended that the sons weren’t employees during one year in which contributions were made for them. However, the court found that 401(k) plan documents did mention the sons working in the business and the father “credibly recounted assigning them research tasks and overseeing their work while they were in school.” Thus, the court ruled the taxpayers were entitled to the retirement plan deductions. (TC Memo 2023-140)

Lessons Learned

As this case illustrates, a business can’t deduct personal expenses, and scrupulous records are critical. Make sure to use your business bank account for business purposes only. In addition, maintain meticulous records to help prepare your tax returns and prove deductible business expenses in the event of an IRS audit.

Contact us if you have questions about retaining adequate business records.

© 2024

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines that apply to businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2024. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

April 15

April 30

May 10

May 15

June 17

© 2024

In the landscape of financial planning and tax optimization, Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) stand out as a powerful mechanism for individuals looking to enhance their philanthropic impact while optimizing their tax situation. This article delves into the core of QCDs, providing insights into how they can serve as a strategic tool in your charitable giving and financial planning.

Understanding QCDs

Qualified Charitable Distributions allow individuals aged 70½ or older to directly donate up to $100,000 from their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to a qualified charity, tax-free. This unique provision supports your philanthropic endeavors and offers a tax-efficient way to meet Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), particularly for those aged 73 and above. QCDs differ from regular IRA distributions, which is typically taxable, by excluding these donations from your taxable income, thus achieving the dual objective of aiding charitable causes and reducing your tax liability.

Strategic Giving

QCDs embody the essence of strategic giving, allowing you to see the impact of your generosity firsthand. This proactive approach to philanthropy provides a more immediate and gratifying experience compared to traditional legacy giving. With the onset of charity-focused events early in the year, it’s an opportune time to consider QCDs as a key element of your giving strategy.

Enhancing Tax Efficiency

Effective tax planning is a crucial element of sound financial management. Utilizing QCDs can significantly improve the tax efficiency of your charitable contributions. By transferring funds directly from your IRA to a charity, the donation does not count as taxable income, therefore not only advancing your charitable objectives but also potentially reducing your overall tax burden. This can be especially beneficial in light of increased standard deductions, which may diminish the tax advantages of itemized deductions for many taxpayers.

Compliance and Limitations

To fully benefit from QCDs, accurately navigating associated regulations is essential. You must be at least 70½ years old at the time of the distribution and the donation must go directly to a qualifying charity, excluding private foundations and donor-advised funds. The annual limit for QCDs is $100,000 per individual, with recent updates allowing for inflation adjustments. Ensuring that your IRA trustee correctly processes the QCD is required for it to qualify for tax-free treatment.

Living Your Legacy

Opting to donate your RMD through a QCD enables you to embody your philanthropic values, creating a legacy of support and impact. This strategy provides the satisfaction of contributing to worthy causes and smartly aligns with your tax planning, potentially influencing various tax considerations such as Social Security taxation and Medicare premiums.

Conclusion

Leveraging Qualified Charitable Distributions within your philanthropic and financial strategy can offer substantial rewards. QCDs enable impactful contributions to the community and present an intelligent way to manage your tax obligations. Consulting with your financial advisor and tax professional is advised to ensure that your charitable giving initiatives are well integrated with your overall financial objectives. By incorporating QCDs into your planning, you can achieve a fulfilling balance between meaningful giving and prudent financial management.

To ensure that this strategy aligns with your overall financial goals and tax situation, it is crucial to seek the advice of your CPA or certified financial planner. They can provide personalized guidance to determine if QCDs are the right choice for you.

The newly approved Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024, symbolizing a legislative victory for taxpayers, especially small business owners and professionals, deserves a detailed look due to its retroactive provisions and potential to affect the upcoming tax season.

For Families: A More Generous Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) sees a notable expansion for individuals. This credit calculates the refundable portion per child once the taxpayer’s earned income exceeds $2,500 by 15%. For tax years 2023 through 2025, the credit increases to $1,800, $1,900, and $2,000, respectively, offering substantial savings for families. Additionally, for the tax years 2024 and 2025, taxpayers can calculate their CTC based on the previous year’s earned income, providing flexibility in fluctuating income.

For Businesses: Incentives to Sustain and Grow

Several key provisions have been introduced to support business growth and adaptability:

Research and Experimentation Costs:

The bill delays the onset of a five-year amortization rule for domestic research and experimental costs to tax years beginning after December 31, 2025, providing an incentive for innovation.

Business Interest Limitation:

For tax years starting after 2023 and before 2026, businesses can compute adjusted taxable income (ATI) for interest limitation with reinstated depreciation, amortization, and depletion deductions, enhancing cash flow.

Bonus Depreciation:

The Act extends the 100% bonus depreciation for qualifying property placed in service before January 1, 2026. This extension allows businesses to deduct the full cost of eligible property in the year of service, promoting investment in new assets.

Section 179 Deduction:

The deduction limit under Section 179 is increased for tax years starting after 2023, allowing businesses to expense up to $1.29 million and phase out thresholds starting at $3.22 million, indexed for inflation thereafter.

Combating Fraud and Ensuring Compliance:

The Act introduces stringent measures to curb fraudulent claims, specifically targeting the misuse of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC). It shortens the claim period for the ERTC to January 31, 2024, and amplifies penalties for incorrect or fraudulent claims.

International Relations: U.S. and Taiwan

In a significant move, the bill extends tax treaty-like benefits to Taiwan to avoid double taxation, which may impact businesses with operations or interests in Taiwan.

Disaster Relief: Continued Assistance

Disaster relief provisions from the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 are extended. This includes benefits for those affected by federally declared disasters between January 1, 2020, and 60 days post-enactment of the new bill.

Simplifying Tax Reporting:

The reporting threshold for Form 1099-NEC and 1099-MISC increases from $600 to $1,000 for payments made after December 31, 2023, easing the administrative load for small businesses.

Promoting Affordable Housing:

The bill boosts the 9% low-income housing tax credit ceiling by 12.5% for calendar years 2023 through 2025 and reduces the bond financing threshold to 30% for projects financed by bonds issued before 2026.

Practical Implications:

This Act presents a mosaic of opportunities and considerations. Small business owners and professionals must promptly assess how these changes impact their operations and tax strategies. As the provisions have retroactive effects, it’s crucial to consult with tax professionals to maximize benefits and navigate the complexities of the new law.

 

As the end of the tax year approaches, it’s essential to consider strategies to minimize your 2023 federal tax liability. The current landscape presents challenges with market volatility, persistent high-interest rates, and notable adjustments to retirement planning regulations. Despite this uncertainty, there is still an opportunity to implement year-end tax planning techniques to reduce your tax bill. Whether you are contemplating investment decisions, charitable contributions, or estate planning, there are practical strategies to optimize your tax plan.

Strategic Itemized Deductions

With a standard deduction of $13,850 for single filers, $27,700 for married couples filing jointly, and $20,800 for heads of households in 2023, assessing your itemized deductions is crucial. Consider strategically timing your itemized deduction items by “bunching” them to exceed the standard deduction every other year. This approach can help lower your tax bill this year, and in the following year, you can take advantage of the increased standard deduction to account for inflation.

Potential candidates for itemized deductions include:

It’s worth noting the possibility of future changes to the value of itemized deductions, emphasizing the importance of maximizing these deductions while current regulations permit.

Navigate Investment Gains and Losses

Effectively managing your investment portfolio can influence your tax liability. Consider the strategic sale of appreciated securities held for over 12 months in 2023, leveraging the favorable 15% federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains. It’s crucial to remember that this rate can increase to 20% for individuals with higher income levels. Equally important is evaluating stocks valued below your initial investment (tax basis). Realizing capital losses this year could offset various gains, including short-term capital gains taxed at ordinary income rates. Always be aware of the wash sale rules before reacquiring recently sold or purchased stocks. This approach allows you to navigate the complexities of the market while optimizing your tax position.

Strategic Philanthropy Options

Embrace unique avenues for philanthropy tailored to your preferences:

Roth IRA Conversions: 

Safeguard a portion or all of your retirement savings from potential tax rate increases by converting traditional IRAs into Roth accounts. While you’ll incur taxes on the conversion as if it were a traditional IRA distribution, this approach is most beneficial when anticipating remaining in the same or higher tax bracket during retirement. Notably, the current tax impact from conversion may be a small price to pay for evading potentially higher future tax rates on post-conversion earnings. Additionally, the flexibility exists to convert varying amounts over several years, allowing you to tailor the strategy to your circumstances.

Annual Gift Tax Exclusion:

If concerns arise about a potentially taxable estate, leverage the annual gift tax exclusion as an effortless method to reduce your taxable estate. In 2023, seize the opportunity to make annual exclusion gifts up to $17,000 per donee, with no limitations on the number of donees. The joint annual exclusion gift limit for couples reaches $34,000 per donee. These tax-free gifts don’t impact your lifetime gifting exemption, providing an effective means to manage your estate’s tax implications.

Energy Credits:

Homeowners investing in energy-efficient improvements can claim an Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit, covering up to 30% of qualified expenses, capped at $1,200 annually for energy property costs and an additional $2,000 for qualified heat pumps. Ensure compliance with energy.gov guidelines to include expenses related to doors, windows, air conditioning, and insulation materials. Additionally, explore Residential Clean Energy Credits for qualifying expenses related to solar and alternative energy sources, offering potential tax advantages for environmentally conscious choices.

Pass-Through Entity (PTE) Regime:

Given the $10,000 limitation on state and local tax deductions for individuals, assess the advantages of participating in the Pass-Through Entity (PTE) tax regime. Many states allow pass-through entities to pay and deduct the full state taxes on behalf of partners/shareholders. If you receive substantial income from a partnership or S corporation, consider engaging in the PTE tax regime when recommended by the entity representative. Alternatively, if you hold a significant stake in a pass-through entity not currently electing this option, it’s worthwhile to explore whether participating makes sense for your overall tax strategy.

Retirement Account Contributions:

Strengthen your financial foundation and simultaneously impact your tax liabilities by directing funds into your 401(k) or IRA. Capitalize on valuable tax advantages, including tax-deferred growth and potential deductions. For the tax year 2023, individuals can contribute up to $22,500 to their 401(k), with an additional $7,500 catch-up contribution for those aged 50 or older. Traditional IRA contributions are capped at $6,500, with a $1,000 catch-up provision for individuals over 50. Remember to make contributions by April 15, 2024, to qualify for the 2023 tax year. This proactive approach allows you to fortify your financial future while making a meaningful impact on your tax obligations.

Taking a proactive approach to tax planning can yield significant benefits for your next tax bill. Strategically assessing your financial landscape and implementing these practical tips can help you navigate the complexities of the 2023 tax year.

Life insurance can provide peace of mind, but if your estate will be large enough that estate taxes will be a concern, it’s important to not own the policy at death. The policy’s proceeds will be included in your taxable estate and may be subject to estate tax. To avoid this result, a common estate planning strategy is to draft an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to hold the policy.

Avoiding incidents of ownership

Generally, the proceeds of a life insurance policy aren’t included in your taxable estate if you don’t own the policy. However, life insurance proceeds will be included if you possess any “incidents of ownership” over the policy. This goes beyond mere ownership. If you have the right to amend the policy — say, by changing the beneficiaries — or you can borrow against the cash value, it’s treated as an incident of ownership.

Avoiding incidents of ownership can be important because the top estate tax rate is currently 40%. Fortunately, with your gift and estate tax exemption, you can shelter up to $12.92 million (for 2023) of assets from federal gift and estate tax. But be aware that, without congressional action, after 2025 the exemption is scheduled to revert to $5 million (indexed for inflation).

Furthermore, you may have to contend with estate or inheritance tax at the state level. In any event, the estate tax treatment of life insurance policies is a prime consideration in estate planning, especially for wealthier individuals.

Turning to an ILIT

A common method for avoiding these estate tax complications is to use an ILIT. This may be accomplished by setting up a trust as the owner of the life insurance policy when the coverage is purchased or by transferring an existing policy to the trust.

The trust must be “irrevocable,” as the name states. In other words, you must relinquish any control over the ILIT, such as the right to revise beneficiaries or revoke the trust. Similarly, acting as the trustee of the ILIT will be treated as an incident of ownership that invalidates the trust.

You’ll designate the ILIT as the primary beneficiary of the life insurance policy. On your death, the proceeds are deposited into the ILIT and held for distribution to the trust’s beneficiaries, such as your spouse, children, grandchildren or other family members.

Naming your surviving spouse as the sole beneficiary can be problematic, however. It may merely delay estate tax liability until your spouse dies.

Avoiding ILIT red flags

There are several pitfalls to watch for when transferring an insurance policy to an ILIT. Significantly, if you transfer an existing policy to the ILIT and die within three years of the transfer, the proceeds will be included in your taxable estate. One way to avoid this is to have the ILIT purchase the policy on your life and then fund the trust with enough money over time to pay the premiums.

Also bear in mind that the transfer of an existing policy to an ILIT is considered a taxable gift. Further, subsequent transfers to the trust would also be treated as gifts. The gifts can be sheltered from tax by your available gift and estate tax exemption.

Creating wealth and liquidity

Life insurance is a powerful estate planning tool. It creates an instant source of wealth and liquidity to meet your family’s financial needs after you’re gone. To shield proceeds from estate tax, consider creating an ILIT to hold your policy. Contact your estate planning advisor to determine if an ILIT is right for your estate plan.

© 2023

If leaving a charitable legacy is important to you, you may be thinking about establishing a private foundation or other vehicle for managing your philanthropic activities. Private foundations can be highly effective, but they’re expensive to set up and operate. Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are popular alternatives, but they also have potential drawbacks.

Immediate deductions are possible

Why use a foundation or DAF? Can’t you just write checks to your charities of choice? Of course, but contributing funds to a private foundation or DAF allows you to enjoy immediate charitable tax deductions without needing to identify specific beneficiaries or make contributions right away. It gives you more time to research potential recipients or change the organizations you support from year to year.

These vehicles also allow you to involve your family in your charitable endeavors. You can name family members to the board of a private foundation or even hire loved ones to manage it. Many DAFs allow you to designate a successor advisor.

How they’re structured

A private foundation is a charitable organization, typically structured as a trust or corporation and designed to accept donations from a small group of people, such as you and your family. Private foundations usually make grants to other charitable organizations rather than provide charitable services themselves.

A DAF is an investment account, controlled by a sponsoring organization — usually, a public charity or community foundation — and often managed by an investment firm. The fund accepts tax-deductible contributions from investors, who advise the fund on how their charitable dollars should be spent.

Pros and cons

DAFs generally can be set up in a matter of days — or even hours. Setting up a private foundation, however, takes time, since it involves establishing a legal entity. Another advantage of DAFs is that they’re inexpensive (or free) to create, and minimum initial contributions can be as low as $5,000. In contrast, starting a private foundation involves significant legal and accounting fees. Foundations also require much larger initial contributions — typically hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars — to justify their start-up and ongoing administrative expenses.

Here are other ways the two vehicles compare:

Operating expenses. DAFs typically charge management and investment fees of around 1% to 2% of your account balance. Managing a private foundation is much more expensive since you’ll need to appoint a board, hold periodic meetings, keep minutes, file separate tax returns, and incur ongoing legal and accounting costs, in addition to paying investment fees. You’ll also need to hire a staff or engage a third-party administrator, and pay an excise tax on net investment income (currently 1.39%).

Distribution requirements. DAFs aren’t subject to required minimum distributions, so investments can grow tax-free indefinitely (subject to any rules of the sponsoring organization). But private foundations must distribute at least 5% of their net market value each year.

Charitable recipients. Distributions from DAFs must be made to public charities. Private foundations can make grants to a wider range of charitable recipients, including individuals (subject to certain restrictions).

Tax deductibility. Cash contributions to DAFs are tax deductible up to 50% of the donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI), while noncash contributions are generally deductible up to 30% of AGI. For private foundations, the deduction limits are 30% and 20%, respectively. Typically, you can deduct the market value of appreciated assets donated to a DAF. Deductions for donations to foundations are limited to your cost basis (except for publicly traded stock).

Privacy. DAFs are permitted to accept donations privately, so it’s possible for contributors to remain anonymous. Private foundations must publicly disclose the names of donors who give more than $5,000.

Control. This is an area where private foundations have a clear advantage. You and other board members retain full control over the foundation’s investments and distributions. DAF contributions become the sponsor’s property and your role in managing investments and distributions is strictly advisory. Practically speaking, however, sponsors almost always follow contributors’ advice.

Your philanthropic strategy

The right charitable giving vehicle for you depends on many factors, including your financial resources, the charities you wish to support and the level of control you desire. Talk to your advisors about designing a philanthropic strategy that meets your needs.

© 2023

Do you use an automobile in your trade or business? If so, you may question how depreciation tax deductions are determined. The rules are complicated, and special limitations that apply to vehicles classified as passenger autos (which include many pickups and SUVs) can result in it taking longer than expected to fully depreciate a vehicle.

Depreciation is built into the cents-per-mile rate

First, be aware that separate depreciation calculations for a passenger auto only come into play if you choose to use the actual expense method to calculate deductions. If, instead, you use the standard mileage rate (65.5 cents per business mile driven for 2023), a depreciation allowance is built into the rate.

If you use the actual expense method to determine your allowable deductions for a passenger auto, you must make a separate depreciation calculation for each year until the vehicle is fully depreciated. According to the general rule, you calculate depreciation over a six-year span as follows: Year 1, 20% of the cost; Year 2, 32%; Year 3, 19.2%; Years 4 and 5, 11.52%; and Year 6, 5.76%. If a vehicle is used 50% or less for business purposes, you must use the straight-line method to calculate depreciation deductions instead of the percentages listed above.

For a passenger auto that costs more than the applicable amount for the year the vehicle is placed in service, you’re limited to specified annual depreciation ceilings. These are indexed for inflation and may change annually. For example, for a passenger auto placed in service in 2023 that cost more than a certain amount, the Year 1 depreciation ceiling is $20,200 if you choose to deduct first-year bonus depreciation. The annual ceilings for later years are: Year 2, $19,500; Year 3, $11,700; and for all later years, $6,960 until the vehicle is fully depreciated.

These ceilings are proportionately reduced for any nonbusiness use. And if a vehicle is used 50% or less for business purposes, you must use the straight-line method to calculate depreciation deductions.

Reminder: Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, bonus depreciation is being phased down to zero in 2027, unless Congress acts to extend it. For 2023, the deduction is 80% of eligible property and for 2024, it’s scheduled to go down to 60%.

Heavy SUVs, pickups and vans

Much more favorable depreciation rules apply to heavy SUVs, pickups, and vans used over 50% for business, because they’re treated as transportation equipment for depreciation purposes. This means a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) above 6,000 pounds. Quite a few SUVs and pickups pass this test. You can usually find the GVWR on a label on the inside edge of the driver-side door.

What matters is the after-tax cost

What’s the impact of these depreciation limits on your business vehicle decisions? They change the after-tax cost of passenger autos used for business. That is, the true cost of a business asset is reduced by the tax savings from related depreciation deductions. To the extent depreciation deductions are reduced, and thereby deferred to future years, the value of the related tax savings is also reduced due to time-value-of-money considerations, and the true cost of the asset is therefore that much higher.

The rules are different if you lease an expensive passenger auto used for business. Contact us if you have questions or want more information.

© 2023

In an era of growing environmental awareness and the push for sustainable living, homeowners are more interested than ever in upgrading their living spaces to be energy-efficient. However, it’s not just about saving the planet—it’s also about saving money. The U.S. government, recognizing the importance of these measures, has provided an enticing incentive: The Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Credit. Here’s everything you need to know about this tax relief opportunity.

Unlocking Tax Savings: What is the Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Credit?

The Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Credit is an initiative by the IRS designed to encourage homeowners to make eco-friendly home upgrades. If you have made any qualifying energy-efficient improvements to your home since January 1, 2023, you may be eligible for this credit, where the savings could be substantial.

Breaking Down the Benefits: What Improvements Qualify?

The first step in determining eligibility is determining what improvements qualify. The following energy-efficient improvements, when in line with requirements set on energy.gov, can make you eligible for the credit:

Crunching the Numbers: How Much Can You Save?

Once you have determined which improvements qualify, you might wonder what the savings could be if you claimed the credit. The potential savings can be significant. Here’s a breakdown:

The silver lining? There is no lifetime dollar limit on this credit. If you make eligible improvements annually, you can claim the maximum amount every year until 2033.

If you use your home for business, there are special considerations where you could be eligible to claim a percentage of the credit, even 100%.

If this applies to you, it is best to talk with an accountant about the most beneficial use of this credit.

Claiming the Credit: Things to Remember

Here are some essential pointers to keep in mind:

Harnessing Energy Efficiency for Financial Efficiency

While making your home more energy-efficient is a commendable step toward sustainability, it also offers financial benefits. The Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Credit is an avenue worth exploring for homeowners. By staying informed and making timely upgrades, you can contribute to a greener planet and enjoy tangible tax savings.

Are you wondering if your energy-efficient choices will qualify for this tax credit? Hamilton Tharp is here to help. Reach out to us, and let’s map out a greener, cost-efficient future for your home.

For more details and regular updates, keep an eye on Hamilton Tharp’s insights on tax savings and financial strategies.

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2023. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

July 31 

August 10 

September 15

© 2023

The IRS recently released guidance providing the 2024 inflation-adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

HSA Fundamentals

An HSA is a trust created or organized exclusively for the purpose of paying the “qualified medical expenses” of an “account beneficiary.” An HSA can only be established for the benefit of an “eligible individual” who is covered under a “high-deductible health plan.” In addition, a participant can’t be enrolled in Medicare or have other health coverage (exceptions include dental, vision, long-term care, accident and specific disease insurance).

Within specified dollar limits, an above-the-line tax deduction is allowed for an individual’s contributions to an HSA. This annual contribution limitation and the annual deductible and out-of-pocket expenses under the tax code are adjusted annually for inflation.

Inflation Adjustments for Next Year

In Revenue Procedure 2023-23, the IRS released the 2024 inflation-adjusted figures for contributions to HSAs, which are as follows:

Annual contribution limitation. For calendar year 2024, the annual contribution limitation for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP will be $4,150. For an individual with family coverage, the amount will be $8,300. This is up from $3,850 and $7,750, respectively, in 2023.

There is an additional $1,000 “catch-up” contribution amount for those age 55 and older in 2024 (and 2023).

High-deductible health plan defined. For calendar year 2024, an HDHP will be a health plan with an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,600 for self-only coverage or $3,200 for family coverage (up from $1,500 and $3,000, respectively, in 2023). In addition, annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) won’t be able to exceed $8,050 for self-only coverage or $16,100 for family coverage (up from $7,500 and $15,000, respectively, in 2023).

Advantages of HSAs

There are a variety of benefits to HSAs. Contributions to the accounts are made on a pre-tax basis. The money can accumulate tax-free year after year and can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for a variety of medical expenses such as doctor visits, prescriptions, chiropractic care and premiums for long-term care insurance. In addition, an HSA is “portable.” It stays with an account holder if he or she changes employers or leaves the workforce. Contact your employee benefits and tax advisors if you have questions about HSAs at your business.

© 2023

Many businesses use independent contractors to help keep their costs down — especially in these times of staff shortages and inflationary pressures. If you’re among them, be careful that these workers are properly classified for federal tax purposes. If the IRS reclassifies them as employees, it can be an expensive mistake.

The question of whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee for federal income and employment tax purposes is a complex one. If a worker is an employee, your company must withhold federal income and payroll taxes and pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes on the wages, plus FUTA tax. A business may also provide the worker with fringe benefits if it makes them available to other employees. In addition, there may be state tax obligations.

On the other hand, if a worker is an independent contractor, these obligations don’t apply. In that case, the business simply sends the contractor a Form 1099-NEC for the year showing the amount paid (if it’s $600 or more).

No One Definition

Who’s an “employee?” Unfortunately, there’s no uniform definition of the term.
The IRS and courts have generally ruled that individuals are employees if the organization they work for has the right to control and direct them in the jobs they’re performing. Otherwise, the individuals are generally independent contractors. But other factors are also taken into account including who provides tools and who pays expenses.

Some employers that have misclassified workers as independent contractors may get some relief from employment tax liabilities under Section 530. This protection generally applies only if an employer meets certain requirements. For example, the employer must file all federal returns consistent with its treatment of a worker as a contractor and it must treat all similarly situated workers as contractors.
Note: Section 530 doesn’t apply to certain types of workers.

You Can Ask the IRS but Think Twice

Be aware that you can ask the IRS (on Form SS-8) to rule on whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. However, you should also be aware that the IRS has a history of classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Businesses should consult with us before filing Form SS-8 because it may alert the IRS that your business has worker classification issues — and it may unintentionally trigger an employment tax audit.
It may be better to properly set up a relationship with workers to treat them as independent contractors so that your business complies with the tax rules.

Workers who want an official determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Dissatisfied independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to employee benefits and want to eliminate their self-employment tax liabilities.

If a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS will notify the business with a letter. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return the form to the IRS, which will render a classification decision.

These are the basic tax rules. Contact us if you’d like to discuss how to classify workers at your business. We can help make sure that your workers are properly classified.

© 2023

Fraud. Scam. Phishing. Regardless of what you call these illicit activities, it’s important to protect yourself against the bad players that take advantage of weaknesses for their gain. Not only is it inconvenient, but there’s often a financial cost when you’re a victim of fraud.

The IRS releases an annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ list featuring the top taxpayer scams for the coming year. The list is certainly not exhaustive of every potential pitfall out there, but it is an excellent place to start educating yourself (and your team if you’re a business owner). Here’s a summary of the 2023 IRS Dirty Dozen.

Employer Retention Credit Promoters: Businesses have been targeted by companies claiming to help them submit tax returns and adjustments to take maximum advantage of the Employee Retention Credit (ERC). These promoters collect a fee for preparation services, which is often tied to the value of the proposed credit. Usually, the targeted businesses don’t qualify for the credit, so when the adjustment claim is either rejected by the IRS or found to be incorrect during an audit, the business is out the funds paid to the promoter, as well as any monies received from the ERC they were not eligible for and potential IRS fees.

Phishing and Smishing Scams: Emails, texts, phone calls. These are all popular channels for scammers trying to obtain sensitive information from taxpayers by lying and saying they work for the IRS. Please remember that the IRS will always initiate contact with taxpayers by mail.

Online Account Assistance: The IRS Online Account tool provides helpful information to taxpayers. Scammers are using this as an opportunity to learn social security numbers and other sensitive information by calling and offering to help taxpayer set up their online accounts. This can lead to identity theft and a big headache for taxpayers trying to sort everything out.

Fuel Tax Credit Promoters: Like the Employee Retention Credit promotors, Fuel Tax Credit promoters claim that the taxpayer is qualified for the credit when they may not be. These scammers usually charge a big fee to assist the taxpayer in submitting these claims.

Fake Charity Scams: Major disasters like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires can lead to an increase in counterfeit charities to dupe taxpayers. When these disasters occur, people want to help those affected. Scammers take advantage of this generosity by using fake charities as a front for stealing money and private information. Be sure to take the time to thoroughly research any organization before donating.

Shady Tax Preparers: Common warning signs of a shady tax preparer include charging a fee based on the size of the refund or refusing to sign the form as a preparer as required by law. Make sure you’re using a trusted and knowledgeable tax preparer.

Social Media Trends: While this may seem unsurprising to most, it bears repeating – you can’t always trust what you hear on the internet. Social media can circulate misinformation quickly, including ‘hacks’ for getting a bigger tax refund. These trends usually involve lying on tax forms or creating false income. The IRS reminds taxpayers that falsifying tax documents is illegal and penalties are involved.

Spearphishing Email Scams: Bad players have been sending email requests to tax preparers, and payroll and human resources teams to try and gain sensitive client and employee data like W-2 information. These requests can look like they’re from a potential new client, and the scammers then use the data they collect to submit a series of false tax refund filings and collect on the tax returns. Businesses can protect themselves with these cybersecurity tips.

Offer in Compromise Mills: Promoters target taxpayers that owe the IRS money by offering to settle their debts with the IRS at a steep discount for a fee. Many times, the targeted taxpayers don’t meet the technical requirements to obtain an offer, meaning they still owe the IRS the same amount and are paying excessive fees to these companies. Taxpayers can check their eligibility for an Offer in Compromise using this free IRS tool.

Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust Schemes: Promoters can misuse Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts and monetized installment sales by misapplying the rules, leaving filers vulnerable. These types of schemes are often targeted at wealthy taxpayers.

Tax Avoidance Schemes: The IRS warns taxpayers to be wary of anyone claiming to reduce their taxes owed drastically or even to nothing. This could include micro-captive insurance arrangements, international accounts, and syndicated conservation easements.

Be diligent with your information, teach your employees how to recognize scams, and be sure to discuss any changes in tax strategy with your trusted tax professional. If anyone contacts you with a claim that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 

The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers are incredibly fortunate generations—and so might be their heirs. Cerulli’s U.S. High-Net-Worth and Ultra-High-Net-Worth Markets 2021 report predicts these generations will transfer $72.6 trillion in assets to heirs and $11.9 trillion to charities through 2045.

That’s a lot of money, and it presents a unique opportunity for Gen Xers and Millennials to secure their financial futures. But it’s important to remember that this wealth won’t just magically appear. It will take planning and communication between the generations to transfer it smoothly.

Get an Honest Assessment of How Much Wealth There is to Transfer

Managing expectations is one of the biggest challenges heirs face when inheriting wealth from their parents or grandparents. Many Gen Xers and Millennials believe they will inherit a large sum of money, but this may not be the case.

Older generations are living longer and may spend a large percentage of their estate before it can be passed on. Others might give away too much money now and need financial support from their adult children later.

The first step in any estate planning discussion is getting honest about what heirs hope to receive and what the older generation can afford to give.

Decide Who Needs to be Involved in the Planning Process

Older generations can find it difficult to talk about their death. They may feel like they are losing control over their life and finances. Or they may be afraid that their heirs won’t be able to handle the responsibility of inheriting wealth.

However, it’s essential for members of different generations to have open communication about estate planning. That way, everyone is on the same page when the time comes to hand over the reins.

Involving a third party—a CPA, financial advisor, or attorney—in these conversations can help. These professionals do more than ensure the estate planning documents are in order and help navigate tax issues. They can also help facilitate difficult conversations between family members and negotiate any conflicts that might arise during the process. By working with these professionals, families can avoid costly legal disputes and ensure that their wealth is transferred seamlessly from one generation to the next.

Incorporate Education into Your Estate Planning

Even if the younger generation has a good idea of how much they’ll inherit, there may be some surprises. For example, they may inherit assets that must be managed carefully, such as a business or real estate. Or they may be expected to take over their parent or grandparents’ philanthropic activities.

Members of the younger generation who were kept in the dark about these decisions often struggle to live up to expectations.

If you plan on leaving a legacy for your heirs, start educating them about your intentions. Make sure they understand the role you expect them to play in managing and using the wealth you leave behind.

Start the Process Early

Every estate plan is unique, but with a long runway and proper planning, most estate tax is avoidable. The key is to start right away—as soon as it’s clear that are assets you want to transfer.

Some simple strategies you can start implementing now include:

When transferring wealth from one generation to the next, specific strategies will vary depending on whether you own a business, have philanthropic inclinations, and who your heirs are. However, what doesn’t change from one estate plan to the next is the need for communication.

For any generational wealth transfer to be successful, heirs need to understand why the wealth is being transferred, how it will be managed, and their role in the process.

Failure to communicate effectively can lead to many problems, including family feuds and lost money. So, families need to have open discussions about generational wealth transfer early on—before any decisions are made. Managing expectations and having honest conversations can help your family avoid misunderstandings and ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

An Alternate Valuation Date can Reduce Estate Tax Liability

If you have money invested in the stock market, you’re well aware of potential volatility. Needless to say, this volatility can affect your net worth, thus affecting your lifestyle. Something you might not think about is the potential effect on your estate tax liability. Specifically, if the value of stocks or other assets drops precipitously soon after your death, estate tax could be owed on value that has disappeared. One strategy to ease estate tax liability in this situation is for the estate’s executor to elect to use an alternate valuation date.

Alternative Valuation Date Eligibility

Typically, assets owned by the deceased are included in his or her taxable estate based on their value on the date of death. For instance, if an individual owned stocks valued at $1 million on the day when he or she died, the stocks would be included in the estate at a value of $1 million.

Despite today’s favorable rules that allow a federal gift and estate tax exemption of $12.06 million, a small percentage of families still must contend with the federal estate tax. However, the tax law provides some relief to estates that are negatively affected by fluctuating market conditions. Instead of using the value of assets on the date of death for estate tax purposes, the executor may elect an “alternate valuation” date of six months after the date of death. This election could effectively lower a federal estate tax bill.

The election is permissible only if the total value of the gross estate is lower on the alternate valuation date than it was on the date of death. Of course, the election generally wouldn’t be made otherwise. If assets are sold after death, the date of the disposition controls. The value doesn’t automatically revert to the date of death.

Furthermore, the ensuing estate tax must be lower by using the alternate valuation date than it would have been using the date-of-death valuation. This would also seem to be obvious, but that’s not necessarily true for estates passing under the unlimited marital deduction or for other times when the estate tax equals zero on the date of death.

Note that the election to use the alternate valuation date generally must be made with the estate tax return. There is, however, a provision that allows for a late-filed election.

All Assets Fall Under Alternate Valuation Date

The alternate valuation date election can save estate tax, but there’s one potential drawback: The election must be made for the entire estate. In other words, the executor can’t cherry-pick stocks to be valued six months after the date of death and retain the original valuation date for other stocks or assets. It’s all or nothing.

This could be a key consideration if an estate has, for example, sizable real estate holdings in addition to securities. If the real estate has been appreciating in value, making the election may not be the best approach. The executor must conduct a thorough inventory and accounting of the value of all assets.

Estate Plan Flexibility

If your estate includes assets that can fluctuate in value, such as stocks, be sure your executor knows about the option of choosing an alternate valuation date. This option allows flexibility to reduce the chances of estate tax liability. Contact your estate planning advisor for additional information.

© 2022

 

How much can you and your employees contribute to your 401(k)s next year — or other retirement plans? In Notice 2022-55, the IRS recently announced cost-of-living adjustments that apply to the dollar limitations for pensions, as well as other qualified retirement plans for 2023. The amounts increased more than they have in recent years due to inflation.

401(k) Plans

The 2023 contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k) plans will increase to $22,500 (up from $20,500 in 2022). This contribution amount also applies to 403(b) plans, most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan.

The catch-up contribution limit for employees age 50 and over who participate in 401(k) plans and the other plans mentioned above will increase to $7,500 (up from $6,500 in 2022). Therefore, participants in 401(k) plans (and the others listed above) who are 50 and older can contribute up to $30,000 in 2023.

SEP Plans and Defined Contribution Plans

The limitation for defined contribution plans, including a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan, will increase from $61,000 to $66,000. To participate in a SEP, an eligible employee must receive at least a certain amount of compensation for the year. That amount will increase in 2023 to $750 (from $650 for 2022).

SIMPLE Plans

Deferrals to a SIMPLE plan will increase to $15,500 in 2023 (up from $14,000 in 2022). The catch-up contribution limit for employees age 50 and over who participate in SIMPLE plans will increase to $3,500 in 2023, up from $3,000.

Other Plan Limits

The IRS also announced that in 2023:

IRA Contributions

The 2023 limit on annual contributions to an individual IRA will increase to $6,500 (up from $6,000 for 2022). The IRA catch-up contribution limit for individuals age 50 and older isn’t subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and will remain $1,000.

Plan Ahead

Current high inflation rates will make it easier for you and your employees to save much more in your retirement plans in 2023. The contribution amounts will be a great deal higher next year than they’ve been in recent years. Contact us if you have questions about your tax-advantaged retirement plan or if you want to explore other retirement plan options.

© 2022

What makes Roth IRAs so appealing? Primarily, it’s the ability to withdraw money from them tax-free. But to enjoy this benefit, there are a few rules you must follow, including the widely misunderstood five-year rule.

3 Types of Withdrawals

To understand the five-year rule, you first need to understand the three types of funds that may be withdrawn from a Roth IRA:

Contributed principal. This is your after-tax contributions to the account.

Converted principal. This consists of funds that had been in a traditional IRA but that you converted to a Roth IRA (paying tax on the conversion).

Earnings. This includes the (untaxed) returns generated from the contributed or converted principal.

Generally, you can withdraw contributed principal at any time without taxes or early withdrawal penalties, regardless of your age or how long the funds have been held in the Roth IRA. But to avoid taxes and penalties on withdrawals of earnings, you must meet two requirements:

The withdrawal must not be made before you turn 59½, die, become disabled or qualify for an exception to early withdrawal penalties (such as withdrawals for qualified first-time homebuyer expenses), and

You must satisfy the five-year rule.

Withdrawals of converted principal aren’t taxable because you were taxed at the time of the conversion. But they’re subject to early withdrawal penalties if you fail to satisfy the five-year rule.

Five-Year Rule

As the name suggests, the five-year rule requires you to satisfy a five-year holding period before you can withdraw Roth IRA earnings tax-free or converted principal penalty-free. But the rule works differently depending on the type of funds you’re withdrawing.

If you’re withdrawing earnings, the five-year period begins on January 1 of the tax year for which you made your first contribution to any Roth IRA. For example, if you opened your first Roth IRA on April 1, 2018, and treated your initial contribution as one for the 2017 tax year, then the five-year period started on January 1, 2017. That means you were able to withdraw earnings from any Roth IRA tax- and penalty-free beginning on January 1, 2022 (assuming you were at least 59½ or otherwise exempt from early withdrawal penalties).

Note: If you’re not subject to early withdrawal penalties (because, for example, you’re 59½ or older), failure to satisfy the five-year rule won’t trigger a penalty, but earnings will be taxable.

If you’re withdrawing converted principal, the five-year holding period begins on January 1 of the tax year in which you do the conversion. For instance, if you converted a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA at any time during 2017, the five-year period began January 1, 2017, and ended December 31, 2021.

Unlike earnings, however, each Roth IRA conversion is subject to a separate five-year holding period. If you do several conversions over the years, you’ll need to track each five-year period carefully to avoid triggering unexpected penalties.

Keep in mind that the five-year rule only comes into play if you’re otherwise subject to early withdrawal penalties. If you’ve reached age 59½, or a penalty exception applies, then you can withdraw converted principal penalty-free even if the five-year period hasn’t expired.

You may be wondering why the five-year rule applies to withdrawals of funds that have already been taxed. The reason is that the tax benefits of Roth and traditional IRAs are intended to promote long-term saving for retirement. Without the five-year rule, a traditional IRA owner could circumvent the penalty for early withdrawals simply by converting it to a Roth IRA, paying the tax, and immediately withdrawing it penalty-free.

Note, however, that while the five-year rule prevents this, it’s still possible to use a conversion to withdraw funds penalty-free before age 59½. For example, you could convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at age 45, pay the tax, wait five years and then withdraw the converted principal penalty-free.

What About Inherited Roth IRAs?

Generally, one who inherits a Roth IRA may withdraw the funds immediately without fear of taxes or penalties, with one exception: The five-year rule may still apply to withdrawals of earnings if the original owner of the Roth IRA hadn’t satisfied the five-year rule at the time of his or her death.

For instance, suppose you inherited a Roth IRA from your grandfather on July 1, 2021. If he made his first Roth IRA contribution on December 1, 2018, you’ll have to wait until January 1, 2023, before you can withdraw earnings tax-free.

Handle With Care

Many people are accustomed to withdrawing retirement savings freely once they reach age 59½. But care must be taken when withdrawing funds from a Roth IRA to avoid running afoul of the five-year rule and inadvertently triggering unexpected taxes or penalties. The rule is complex — so when in doubt, consult a tax professional before making a withdrawal.

Sidebar: Ordering Rules May Help Avoid Costly Mistakes

The consequences of violating the five-year rule can be costly, but fortunately, there are ordering rules that help you avoid inadvertent mistakes. Under these rules, withdrawals from a Roth IRA are presumed to come from after-tax contributions first, converted principal second, and earnings third.

So, if contributions are large enough to cover the amount you wish to withdraw, you will avoid taxes and penalties even if the five-year rule hasn’t been satisfied for converted principal or earnings. Of course, if you withdraw the entire account balance, the ordering rules won’t help you.

© 2022

On October 21, 2022, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced the updated contribution limits to retirement plans in Notice 2022-55. The new limits are valid beginning in tax year 2023. These limits are important, as they cap the tax benefits that can be realized from retirement plan savings contributions each year and are adjusted to account for annual inflation.

Employer Contribution Plan Limits

There are several options available under the ‘Employer Contribution Plans’ category. These plans are typically funded through an employer and may or may not have contributions paid for by the employer. For 401(k), 403(b), the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, and most 457 plans, the contribution limit will increase from $20,500 in 2022 to $22,500 in 2023.

Individuals aged 50 years and above can contribute additional funds, called ‘Catch Up Contributions.’ The catch-up contribution limit or the employer-sponsored plans mentioned above will increase from $6,500 in 2022 to $7,500 in 2023. This means those with a qualifying employer-sponsored plan who are 50 or older can contribute up to $30,000 to tax-beneficial retirement plans.

Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) Accounts

Depending on income, the IRS provides tax benefits to non-employer-sponsored retirement accounts called Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). The traditional IRA offers a deduction for the income in the tax year the contribution is made, while a Roth IRA offers tax benefits when the funds are withdrawn after the qualifying retirement age.

The IRS has increased the contribution limit to these types of accounts to $6,500 in 2023 from $6,000 in 2022. For individuals eligible for a catch-up contribution, the additional contribution amount remains at $1,000.

Keep in mind that there is an income limit on both Traditional IRA and Roth IRA accounts before the tax benefits start to phase out. These limits are:

Traditional IRA

Single Filers/Heads of Household $73,000 to $83,000*
Married Filing Jointly (spouse contributing covered by employer plan) $116,000 to $136,000*
Married Filing Jointly (contributor not covered by employer plan, but spouse is) $218,000 to $228,000*
Married Filing Separate (contributor covered by an employer plan) $0 to $10,000*

Roth IRA

Single Filers/Heads of Household $138,000 to $153,000*
Married Filing Jointly $218,000 to $228,000*
Married Filing Separate $0 to $10,000*

Retirement Savings Contributions Credit

Single Filers/Married Filing Separate $36,500
Married Filing Jointly $73,000
Heads of Household $54,750

*Note: Contribution limits to Traditional IRA and Roth IRA accounts phase out over the noted income range.

Need assistance understanding the tax benefits and contribution limits attached to the different tax-beneficial retirement accounts? Our team of knowledgeable professionals is here to help. Give us a call to discuss your tax strategy for retirement savings today.

If you’re thinking about selling your home, it’s important to determine whether you qualify for the home sale gain exclusion. The exclusion is one of the most generous tax breaks in the tax code, so be sure to review its requirements before you sell.

Exclusion Requirements

Ordinarily, when you sell real estate or other capital assets that you’ve owned for more than one year, your profit is taxable at long-term capital gains rates of 15% or 20%, depending on your tax bracket. High-income taxpayers may also be subject to an additional 3.8% net investment income (NII) tax. If you’re selling your principal residence, however, the home sale gain exclusion may allow you to avoid tax on up to $250,000 in profit for single filers and up to $500,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Don’t assume that you’re eligible for this tax break just because you’re selling your principal residence. If you’re a single filer, to qualify for the exclusion, you must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for at least 24 months of the five-year period ending on the sale date.

If you’re married filing jointly, then both you and your spouse must have lived in the home as your principal residence for 24 months of the preceding five years and at least one of you must have owned it for 24 months of the preceding five years. Special eligibility rules apply to people who become unable to care for themselves, couples who divorce or separate, military personnel, and widowed taxpayers.

Limitations Apply

You can’t use the exclusion more than once in a two-year period, even if you otherwise meet the requirements. Also, if you convert an ineligible residence into a principal residence and live in it for 24 months or more, only a portion of your gain will qualify for the exclusion.

For example, John is single and has owned a home for five years, using it as a vacation home for the first three years and as his principal residence for the last two. If he sells the home for a $300,000 gain, only 40% of his gain ($120,000) qualifies for the exclusion, and the remaining $180,000 is taxable. (Note: Nonqualified use prior to 2009 doesn’t reduce the exclusion).

Partial Exclusion

What if you sell your home before you meet the 24-month threshold due to a work- or health-related move, or certain other unforeseen circumstances? You may qualify for a partial exclusion.

For example, Paul and Linda bought a home in California for $1 million. One year later, Paul’s employer transferred him to its New York office, so the couple sold the home for $1.2 million. Paul and Linda didn’t meet the 24-month threshold but, because they sold the home due to a work-related move, they qualified for a partial exclusion of 12 months/24 months, or 50%.

Note that the 50% reduction applied to the exclusion, not to the couple’s gain. Thus, their exclusion was reduced to 50% of $500,000, or $250,000, which shielded their entire $200,000 gain from tax.

Crunch the Numbers

Before you sell your principal residence, determine the amount of your home sale gain exclusion and your expected gain (selling price less adjusted cost basis). Keep in mind that your cost basis is increased by the cost of certain improvements and other expenses, which in turn reduces your gain. Also, be aware that capital gains attributable to depreciation deductions (for a home office, for example) will be taxable regardless of the home sale gain exclusion.

© 2022

IRS audit rates are historically low, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, but that’s little consolation if your return is among those selected to be examined. Plus, the IRS recently received additional funding in the Inflation Reduction Act to improve customer service, upgrade technology and increase audits of high-income taxpayers. But with proper preparation and planning, you should fare well.

From tax years 2010 to 2019, audit rates of individual tax returns decreased for all income levels, according to the GAO. On average, the audit rate for all returns decreased from 0.9% to 0.25%. IRS officials attribute this to reduced staffing as a result of decreased funding. Businesses, large corporations, and high-income individuals are more likely to be audited, but overall, all types of audits are being conducted less frequently than they were a decade ago.

There’s no 100% guarantee that you won’t be picked for an audit because some tax returns are chosen randomly. However, the best way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare in advance. On an ongoing basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items to be reported on your tax returns. Keep all records in one place.

Audit Targets

It also helps to know what might catch the attention of the IRS. Certain types of tax-return entries are known to involve inaccuracies, so they may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:

Certain types of deductions may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements for them — for example, auto and travel expense deductions. In addition, an owner-employee’s salary that’s much higher or lower than those at similar companies in his or her location may catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.

If You Receive a Letter

If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS doesn’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.

Many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve claimed. Only the strictest version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors. (Note: Ignore unsolicited emails or text messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner. These are scams.)

The tax agency doesn’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. Collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If anything is missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.

If you’re audited, our firm can help you:

The IRS normally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and an audit probably won’t begin until a year or more after you file a return. Don’t panic if the IRS contacts you. Many audits are routine. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to tracking, documenting and filing your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit less painful and even decrease the chances you’ll be chosen in the first place.

© 2022

Does your business need real estate to conduct operations? Or does it otherwise hold property and put the title in the name of the business? You may want to rethink this approach. Any short-term benefits may be outweighed by the tax, liability, and estate planning advantages of separating real estate ownership from the business.

Tax Implications

Businesses that are formed as C corporations treat real estate assets as they do equipment, inventory and other business assets. Any expenses related to owning the assets appear as ordinary expenses on their income statements and are generally tax deductible in the year they’re incurred.

However, when the business sells the real estate, the profits are taxed twice — at the corporate level and at the owner’s individual level when a distribution is made. Double taxation is avoidable, though. If ownership of the real estate were transferred to a pass-through entity instead, the profit upon sale would be taxed only at the individual level.

Protectin Assets

Separating your business ownership from its real estate also provides an effective way to protect it from creditors and other claimants. For example, if your business is sued and found liable, a plaintiff may go after all of its assets, including real estate held in its name. But plaintiffs can’t touch property owned by another entity.

The strategy also can pay off if your business is forced to file for bankruptcy. Creditors generally can’t recover real estate owned separately unless it’s been pledged as collateral for credit taken out by the business.

Estate Planning Options

Separating real estate from a business may give you some estate planning options, too. For example, if the company is a family business but some members of the next generation aren’t interested in actively participating, separating property gives you an extra asset to distribute. You could bequest the business to one heir and the real estate to another family member who doesn’t work in the business.

Handling the Transaction

The business simply transfers ownership of the real estate and the transferee leases it back to the company. Who should own the real estate? One option: The business owner could purchase the real estate from the business and hold title in his or her name. One concern is that it’s not only the property that’ll transfer to the owner, but also any liabilities related to it.

Moreover, any liability related to the property itself could inadvertently put the business at risk. If, for example, a client suffers an injury on the property and a lawsuit ensues, the property owner’s other assets (including the interest in the business) could be in jeopardy.

An alternative is to transfer the property to a separate legal entity formed to hold the title, typically a limited liability company (LLC) or limited liability partnership (LLP). With a pass-through structure, any expenses related to the real estate will flow through to your individual tax return and offset the rental income.

An LLC is more commonly used to transfer real estate. It’s simple to set up and requires only one member. LLPs require at least two partners and aren’t permitted in every state. Some states restrict them to certain types of businesses and impose other restrictions.

Proceed Cautiously

Separating the ownership of a business’s real estate isn’t always advisable. If it’s worthwhile, the right approach will depend on your individual circumstances. Contact us to help determine the best approach to minimize your transfer costs and capital gains taxes while maximizing other potential benefits.

© 2022