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.

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Throughout the year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will designate incidents that adversely affect residents in the affected areas as disasters. This FEMA designation puts relief efforts in motion, both short and long-term.

While immediate needs like food, water, and shelter are at the top of the list, long-term efforts, like relief options through the IRS, aim to help those affected get back on their feet.

What Does the IRS Do in the Event of a Disaster?

In the past, the Senate was required to vote every time the IRS wanted to grant disaster relief provisions to FEMA-designated disaster areas. Now, the IRS can give disaster relief by extending deadlines for “certain time-sensitive acts.” This includes filing returns and paying taxes during the disaster period. For example, affected taxpayers usually receive a tax refund more quickly by “claiming losses related to the disaster on the tax return for the previous year.”

Preparing for a Disaster

While in some areas of the country, disaster preparedness feels more like a what-if scenario, other parts of the country are all-too-familiar with preparing for floods, wildfires, and tornados. The IRS recommends:

Recovering After a Disaster

Suppose you or your business have gone through a natural disaster, and you cannot access your original tax documents. In that case, the IRS recommends the following resources for obtaining important financial information when you are ready:

Current Disaster Areas

The IRS keeps a list of current and past disaster relief offered on its website. Some of the more recent disaster-related tax relief programs include:

We recommend talking with your tax advisor and visiting the IRS Disaster Relief Website for a comprehensive list.

The IRS recently released guidance providing the 2023 inflation-adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). High inflation rates will result in next year’s amounts being increased more than they have been in recent years.

HSA basics

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).

A high deductible health plan (HDHP) is generally a plan with an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,000 for self-only coverage and $2,000 for family coverage. In addition, the sum of the annual deductible and other annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid under the plan for covered benefits (but not for premiums) can’t exceed $5,000 for self-only coverage and $10,000 for family coverage.

Within specified dollar limits, an above-the-line tax deduction is allowed for an individual’s contribution 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 2022-24, the IRS released the 2023 inflation-adjusted figures for contributions to HSAs, which are as follows:

Annual contribution limitation. For calendar year 2023, the annual contribution limitation for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP will be $3,850. For an individual with family coverage, the amount will be $7,750. This is up from $3,650 and $7,300, respectively, for 2022.

In addition, for both 2022 and 2023, there’s a $1,000 catch-up contribution amount for those who are age 55 and older at the end of the tax year.

High deductible health plan defined. For calendar year 2023, an HDHP will be a health plan with an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,500 for self-only coverage or $3,000 for family coverage (these amounts are $1,400 and $2,800 for 2022). In addition, annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) won’t be able to exceed $7,500 for self-only coverage or $15,000 for family coverage (up from $7,050 and $14,100, respectively, for 2022).

Reap the rewards

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. If you have questions about HSAs at your business, contact your employee benefits and tax advisors.

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If your business doesn’t already have a retirement plan, now 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 $61,000 for 2022. 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 $61,000. If you’re in the 32% federal income tax bracket, making a maximum contribution could cut what you owe Uncle Sam for 2022 by a whopping $19,520 (32% times $61,000).

More options

Other small business retirement plan options include:

Depending on your circumstances, these other types of plans may allow bigger deductible contributions.

Deadlines to establish and contribute

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: The SECURE Act 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 2021 tax year for setting up a SEP-IRA for a sole proprietorship business that uses the calendar year for tax purposes is October 17, 2022, if you extend your 2021 tax return. The deadline for making the contribution for the 2021 tax year is also October 17, 2022. However, to make a SIMPLE-IRA contribution for the 2021 tax year, you must have set up the plan by October 1, 2021. 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 alternatives. Be aware that, if your business has employees, you may have to make contributions for them, too.

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Solana Beach, California – January 25, 2022 — Christina Tharp, Managing Partner and CFO of Hamilton Tharp LLP, is pleased to announce the promotion to Partner of Kim Spinardi effective January 1, 2022. Tina noted the significant contributions Kim has made as a senior staff accountant, manager, and senior manager at the firm. Kim has worked for the firm for more than 3.5 years; her election to partnership reflects her dedication to providing the tradition of service, technical expertise, and innovative thinking that has contributed to the firm’s growth.  

Kim graduated from San Diego State University (SDSU) in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in accounting. Kim began her career in the accounting profession with a firm in San Diego, where she spent eight years developing her technical and interpersonal abilities as a trusted advisor. Kim’s experience includes working with small business owners, high-net-worth individuals, professional athletes, and professional service firms. Her technical expertise includes helping clients with stock options, multi-state taxation and residency issues, advanced tax planning strategies, real estate sales and exchanges, taxation of income earned overseas, entity selection, strategies for a business sale, and retirement plan set up.   

Kim holds a Certified Public Accountant license, which she earned in March of 2014. Dedicated to serving the community and giving back through volunteerism, Kim is proud to serve on the Alumni Board and Intercollegiate Athletics Committee at her alma mater, SDSU. She also previously volunteered for Rebuilding Together San Diego and Home of Guiding Hands Audit Committee. Kim also plays an active role at Hamilton Tharp with recruiting for the firm and is part of the SDSU Aztec Mentoring program, acting as a mentor to students of all majors at the university.  

When she isn’t helping her clients achieve their financial goals, Kim can be found at sporting venues across the country and, most notably, at Aztec basketball and football games. You can find Kim riding her Peloton, on the golf course, or enjoying time with her wife, Michelle, and their two Labradoodles, Callie and Jax.  

Founded in 1980, Hamilton Tharp has been serving entrepreneurs, businesses, professional athletes, and high-net-worth individuals with specialized services to help them reach their financial and life goals. The partners are members of the AICPA, the California Society of Certified Public Accountants, and the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce. For more information about Hamilton Tharp, please call (858) 481-7702 or visit www.ht2cpa.com/.   

 

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Note: Congress is considering proposals that could expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for certain qualified groups. We will monitor this development and communicate updates as necessary.  

As a business, tax planning can help create increased cash flow that allows management to expand, increase wages, bring in new inventory, and achieve other goals that require more financial flexibility. Business owners often go to tax credits involved with normal business operations but sometimes overlook human resource tax credits. One such tax credit is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).  

This hiring-based tax credit was recently extended until Dec. 31, 2025, by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Keep reading to learn how to use the WOTC. 

What is the WOTC? 

The WOTC is an employment-based tax credit the federal government offers to employers who hire from qualified groups and is based on wages paid to qualified employees.  

While there is an extensive list of qualified groups a new employee may come from, they most often include groups that otherwise would be overlooked, including veterans, ex-felons, those graduating from rehabilitation programs, and individuals on certain state or federal government assistance programs. You can view the extended list here 

What credits can be taken? 

The WOTC allows employers who hire from qualified groups to receive a tax credit for wages paid up to the specified maximum amounts, as shown below.  

Employee Category  Credit Amount  Maximum Wages 
Qualified employees working 120+ hours a year  25% of first-year wages  $6,000 maximum wages used in calculation of credit 
Qualified employees working 400+ hours per year  40% of first-year wages  $6,000 maximum wages used in calculation of credit 
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients working 400+ hours per year  40% of first-year wages 

50% of second-year wages 

$6,000 maximum wages used in calculation of credit 
Qualified veterans  25% of first-year wages for employees working 120+ hours a year; 40% of first-year wages for employees working 400+ hours per year  $24,000 maximum wages used in calculation of credit 
Rehires  0%  Rehires are not eligible for the WOTC 

Claiming the WOTC 

There are several steps businesses need to take to claim the WOTC. Both employer and applicant must complete Form 8850 before or on the date an employment offer is made. That form must then be filed with the appropriate state workforce agency within 28 days of the start of work.  

The state workforce agency will confirm whether the employee is considered part of a qualified group for the WOTC. If so, the employee can then submit Form 5884 and Form 3800 with their income tax returns to take the appropriate credit amount. 

For assistance understanding the WOTC and the nuances involved in calculating the appropriate credit amounts, reach out to our team of tax professionals.  

 

The IRS recently released the 2022 mileage rates for businesses to use as guidance when reimbursing workers for applicable miles driven within the year. The rates tend to increase every year to account for rising fuel and vehicle and maintenance costs and insurance rate increases.  

Businesses can use the standard mileage rate to calculate the deductible costs of operating qualified automobiles for business, charitable, medical, or moving purposes. Keep reading for the updated mileage rates, as well as some reminders for mileage reimbursements and deductions.  

Standard mileage rates for cars, vans, pickups and panel trucks are as follows: 

Use Category  Mileage rate  

(as of Jan. 1, 2022) 

Change from previous year 
Business miles driven  $0.585 per mile  $0.025 increase from 2021 
Medical or moving miles driven*  $0.18 per mile  $0.02 increase from 2021 
Miles driven for charitable organizations  $0.14 per mile  Note: Only congress may adjust the mileage rate for service to a charitable organization by a Congress-passed statute.  

*Moving miles reimbursement for qualified active-duty members of the Armed Forces 

Important reminders and considerations 

When reimbursing employees for miles driven, keep in mind the following reminders and considerations: 

To review your organization’s mileage reimbursement policy and any alternate methods for calculating appropriate reimbursement amounts, reach out to our team of knowledgeable professionals today.  

After two years of no increases, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible cost of operating an automobile for business will be going up in 2022 by 2.5 cents per mile. The IRS recently announced that the cents-per-mile rate for the business use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck will be 58.5 cents (up from 56 cents for 2021).

The increased tax deduction partly reflects the price of gasoline. On December 21, 2021, the national average price of a gallon of regular gas was $3.29, compared with $2.22 a year earlier, according to AAA Gas Prices.

Don’t want to keep track of actual expenses? 

Businesses can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases, certain limits apply to depreciation write-offs on vehicles that don’t apply to other types of business assets.

The cents-per-mile rate is beneficial if you don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this method, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses. However, you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.

Using the cents-per-mile rate is also popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal vehicles. These reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who drive their personal vehicles a great deal for business purposes. Why? Under current law, employees can’t deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their own income tax returns.

If you do use the cents-per-mile rate, keep in mind that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t comply, the reimbursements could be considered taxable wages to the employees.

How is the rate calculated? 

The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It’s based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there’s a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the cents-per-mile rate midyear.

When can the cents-per-mile method not be used?

There are some cases when you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It partly depends on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past. In other situations, it depends on if the vehicle is new to your business this year or whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation tax breaks on it.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider in deciding whether to use the standard mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. We can help if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2022 — or claiming 2021 expenses on your 2021 income tax return.

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The use of a company vehicle is a valuable fringe benefit for owners and employees of small businesses. This perk results in tax deductions for the employer as well as tax breaks for the owners and employees using the cars. (And of course, they get the nontax benefit of getting a company car.) Plus, current tax law and IRS rules make the benefit even better than it was in the past.

The rules in action

Let’s say you’re the owner-employee of a corporation that’s going to provide you with a company car. You need the car to visit customers, meet with vendors and check on suppliers. You expect to drive the car 8,500 miles a year for business. You also expect to use the car for about 7,000 miles of personal driving, including commuting, running errands and weekend trips. Therefore, your usage of the vehicle will be approximately 55% for business and 45% for personal purposes. You want a nice car to reflect positively on your business, so the corporation buys a new $55,000 luxury sedan.

Your cost for personal use of the vehicle is equal to the tax you pay on the fringe benefit value of your 45% personal mileage. By contrast, if you bought the car yourself to be able to drive the personal miles, you’d be out-of-pocket for the entire purchase cost of the car.

Your personal use will be treated as fringe benefit income. For tax purposes, your corporation will treat the car much the same way it would any other business asset, subject to depreciation deduction restrictions if the auto is purchased. Out-of-pocket expenses related to the car (including insurance, gas, oil and maintenance) are deductible, including the portion that relates to your personal use. If the corporation finances the car, the interest it pays on the loan would be deductible as a business expense (unless the business is subject to the business interest expense deduction limitation under the tax code).

In contrast, if you bought the auto yourself, you wouldn’t be entitled to any deductions. Your outlays for the business-related portion of your driving would be unreimbursed employee business expenses that are nondeductible from 2018 to 2025 due to the suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. And if you financed the car yourself, the interest payments would be nondeductible.

And finally, the purchase of the car by your corporation will have no effect on your credit rating.

Necessary paperwork

Providing an auto for an owner’s or key employee’s business and personal use comes with complications and paperwork. Personal use will have to be tracked and valued under the fringe benefit tax rules and treated as income. This article only explains the basics.

Despite the necessary valuation and paperwork, a company-provided car is still a valuable fringe benefit for business owners and key employees. It can provide them with the use of a vehicle at a low tax cost while generating tax deductions for their businesses. We can help you stay in compliance with the rules and explain more about this prized perk.

© 2021

Has your company switched to a remote work or hybrid environment for employees? Government mandates and other health-related concerns at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic caused much of the workforce to transition from an office setting to a remote or hybrid work environment. As the pandemic stretched on and companies extended their remote work options, many employees started spreading out to find new locations to work from.  

While many employers have researched return-to-work strategies, they’ve decided to allow employees to continue to work remotely either full-time or part-time based on their roles and responsibilities. The benefit is considerable for employees who wish for more flexibility or less time spent commuting to the office, but it may pose tax-withholding complications for companies.   

Tax implications of remote workers 

Most state and local sales-and-use taxes and payroll taxes are triggered by what’s considered a nexus event, which establishes a presence in a particular state. While a physical building or warehouse is the most widely known nexus, meeting a sales threshold for sales in that state or having an employee residing in the state can also trigger the tax withholding requirements for that state.  

This means, if a remote worker moves to another state, it can complicate your organization’s tax situation immensely. For companies who are located near state borders, employees who previously commuted across state lines but are now working from home can change payroll and sales tax liabilities.  

During COVID, many states granted exceptions for nexus events, while others loosened requirements. However, those requirements vary by state, sometimes overlap, and some are even coming to an end. This further complicates whether taxes should be withheld and filed in each state, and whether companies should collect and file sales-and-use taxes.  

If you have remote workers, consider implementing a policy that includes (at minimum): 

Remote workers who move without notifying their employer could open the company up to the consequences of misfiling tax payments. 

Consequences of misfiling tax payments 

Whether a remote worker moved without the company’s knowledge, or the company was unaware of the laws in place in the new state, the company remains liable for the payments and potential penalties. When payments are missed or misfiled, state and local jurisdictions may have fines and penalties in place.  

For companies that have a worker in a new state where they previously did not have to file sales-and-use taxes, their system may be set up to waive sales-and-use taxes for that state or local jurisdiction. In that case, they may find themselves paying out of their revenue for these taxes that were not collected from their customers.  

Solutions to manage taxes related to remote workers 

Companies should consider several approaches to minimize the risk of misfiling sales-and-use taxes, as well as payroll and income taxes with a remote workforce.  

Our team of accounting professionals can help you navigate the tax complexities associated with remote workers! Reach out to set up a consultation.  

Don’t let the holiday rush keep you from considering some important steps to reduce your 2021 tax liability. You still have time to execute a few strategies.

Purchase assets

Thinking about buying new or used equipment, machinery or office equipment in the new year? Buy them and place them in service by December 31, and you can deduct 100% of the cost as bonus depreciation. Contact us for details on the 100% bonus depreciation break and exactly what types of assets qualify.

Bonus depreciation is also available for certain building improvements. Before the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), bonus depreciation was available for two types of real property: land improvements other than buildings (for example fencing and parking lots), and “qualified improvement property,” a broad category of internal improvements made to nonresidential buildings after the buildings are placed in service. The TCJA inadvertently eliminated bonus depreciation for qualified improvement property. However, the 2020 CARES Act made a retroactive technical correction to the TCJA. The correction makes qualified improvement property placed in service after December 31, 2017, eligible for bonus depreciation.

Keep in mind that 100% bonus depreciation has reduced the importance of Section 179 expensing. If you’re a small business, you’ve probably benefited from Sec. 179. It’s an elective benefit that, subject to dollar limits, allows an immediate deduction of the cost of equipment, machinery, “off-the-shelf” computer software and some building improvements. Sec. 179 expensing was enhanced by the TCJA, but the availability of 100% bonus depreciation is economically equivalent and thus has greatly reduced the cases in which Sec. 179 expensing is useful.

Write off a heavy vehicle

The 100% bonus depreciation deal can have a major tax-saving impact on first-year depreciation deductions for new or used heavy vehicles used over 50% for business. That’s because heavy SUVs, pickups and vans are treated for federal income tax purposes as transportation equipment. In turn, that means they qualify for 100% bonus depreciation.

Specifically, 100% bonus depreciation is available when the SUV, pickup or van has a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s weight by looking at the manufacturer’s label, which is usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door. If you’re considering buying an eligible vehicle, placing one in service before year end could deliver a significant write-off on this year’s return.

Time deductions and income

If your business operates on a cash basis, you can significantly affect your amount of taxable income by accelerating your deductions into 2021 and deferring income into 2022 (assuming you expect to be taxed at the same or a lower rate next year).

For example, you could put recurring expenses normally paid early in the year on your credit card before January 1 — that way, you can claim the deduction for 2021 even though you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2022. In certain circumstances, you also can prepay some expenses, such as rent or insurance and claim them in 2021.

As for income, wait until close to year-end to send out invoices to customers with reliable payment histories. Accrual-basis businesses can take a similar approach, holding off on the delivery of goods and services until next year.

Consider all angles

Bear in mind that some of these tactics could adversely impact other factors affecting your tax liability, such as the qualified business income deduction. Contact us to make the most of your tax planning opportunities.

© 2021

The sheer amount of student loan debt individuals are graduating from higher education with has been increasingly covered in the news. While the government has been working to forgive student loan debt for certain people, there is something employers can do to help take the burden off employees and their tax liability. In addition to decreasing employee stress, it can also be used as an employee retention incentive.  

The CARES Act and student loan repayment 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 and its extensions include a provision that allows employers to provide relief to employees with outstanding student loan debt. This program allows employers to pay up to $5,250 toward the student loan debt for eligible employees. All monies paid are to be excluded from income and payroll taxes for both the employee and employer portion.  

This could be a significant principal decrease for employees with a national student loan average of more than $30,000.  

What student loan debit is qualified? 

Any amount an employer pays to a student loan held by an employee up to $5,250 is qualified for the income and payroll tax exclusion, if the payments are made before Dec. 31, 2025. This includes federal and private student loans and payments made directly to the employee or the loan servicer.  

It’s not too late to provide this benefit and take advantage of the tax incentives for the 2021 tax year. For assistance creating an education assistance program and establishing benefits with appropriate tax documentation steps in place, contact our team of knowledgeable tax professionals today.    

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) was a valuable tax credit that helped employers survive the COVID-19 pandemic. A new law has retroactively terminated it before it was scheduled to end. It now only applies through September 30, 2021 (rather than through December 31, 2021) — unless the employer is a “recovery startup business.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed by President Biden on November 15, doesn’t have many tax provisions but this one is important for some businesses.

If you anticipated receiving the ERC based on payroll taxes after September 30 and retained payroll taxes, consult with us to determine how and when to repay those taxes and address any other compliance issues.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is asking Congress to direct the IRS to waive payroll tax penalties imposed as a result of the ERC sunsetting. Some employers may face penalties because they retained payroll taxes believing they would receive the credit. Affected businesses will need to pay back the payroll taxes they retained for wages paid after September 30, the AICPA explained. Those employers may also be subject to a 10% penalty for failure to deposit payroll taxes withheld from employees unless the IRS waives the penalties.

The IRS is expected to issue guidance to assist employers in handling any compliance issues.

Credit basics

The ERC was originally enacted in March of 2020 as part of the CARES Act. The goal was to encourage employers to retain employees during the pandemic. Later, Congress passed other laws to extend and modify the credit and make it apply to wages paid before January 1, 2022.

An eligible employer could claim the refundable credit against its share of Medicare taxes (1.45% rate) equal to 70% of the qualified wages paid to each employee (up to a limit of $10,000 of qualified wages per employee per calendar quarter) in the third and fourth calendar quarters of 2021.

For the third and fourth quarters of 2021, a recovery startup business is an employer eligible to claim the ERC. Under previous law, a recovery startup business was defined as a business that:

However, recovery startup businesses are subject to a maximum total credit of $50,000 per quarter for a maximum credit of $100,000 for 2021.

Retroactive termination

The ERC was retroactively terminated by the new law to apply only to wages paid before October 1, 2021, unless the employer is a recovery startup business. Therefore, for wages paid in the fourth quarter of 2021, other employers can’t claim the credit.

In terms of the availability of the ERC for recovery startup businesses in the fourth quarter, the new law also modifies the recovery startup business definition. Now, a recovery startup business is one that began operating after February 15, 2020, and has average annual gross receipts of less than $1 million. Other changes to recovery startup businesses may also apply.

What to do now?

If you have questions about how to proceed now to minimize penalties, contact us. We can explain the options.

© 2021

The long-awaited $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) received the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval Friday, November 5, 2021, to provide funding for improvements to highways, bridges, and other road safety measures. The bill also offers plans to reconnect communities previously divided by highway building and expand national broadband networks.  

According to White House projections, investments outlined in the infrastructure act will add approximately 2 million jobs per year over the next decade. 

 A portion of the original bill was held back, and there were not as many tax provisions as originally expected, which could mean additional changes may be coming in a fiscal year 2022 budget reconciliation. 

What’s in the $1T Infrastructure Act?  

There are several key tax provisions found in the IIJA.  

Other Tax Provisions 

What Else is Included? 

Here’s a breakdown of what’s included: 

Where does the Build Back Better plan stand? 

The BBB is set to be the largest social policy bill brought to a vote in recent years, bringing funding to address issues such as climate change, health, education, and paid family and medical leave. 

House leaders hope to pass the Build Back Better plan later when they return November 15 after a weeklong recess.  

The Build Back Better plan and IIJA have many intricate details. We’ll continue to provide more information as it becomes available.  

If you need help understanding how the changes will impact your individual or business tax strategy, please reach out to our team of experts. We’ll help you navigate these changes and make any necessary adjustments to your plan.  

 

Are you planning to launch a business or thinking about changing your business entity? If so, you need to determine which entity will work best for you — a C corporation or a pass-through entity such as a sole-proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or S corporation. There are many factors to consider and proposed federal tax law changes being considered by Congress may affect your decision.

The corporate federal income tax is currently imposed at a flat 21% rate, while the current individual federal income tax rates begin at 10% and go up to 37%. The difference in rates can be mitigated by the qualified business income (QBI) deduction that’s available to eligible pass-through entity owners that are individuals, estates and trusts.

Note that noncorporate taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income above certain levels are subject to an additional 3.8% tax on net investment income.

Organizing a business as a C corporation instead of as a pass-through entity can reduce the current federal income tax on the business’s income. The corporation can still pay reasonable compensation to the shareholders and pay interest on loans from the shareholders. That income will be taxed at higher individual rates, but the overall rate on the corporation’s income can be lower than if the business was operated as a pass-through entity.

Other considerations

Other tax-related factors should also be considered. For example:

These are only some of the many factors involved in operating a business as a certain type of legal entity. For details about how to proceed in your situation, consult with us.

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With the increasing cost of employee health care benefits, your business may be interested in providing some of these benefits through an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account (HSA). For eligible individuals, an HSA offers a tax-advantaged way to set aside funds (or have their employers do so) to meet future medical needs. Here are the important tax benefits:

Eligibility rules

To be eligible for an HSA, an individual must be covered by a “high deductible health plan.” For 2021, a “high deductible health plan” is one with an annual deductible of at least $1,400 for self-only coverage, or at least $2,800 for family coverage. (These amounts will remain the same for 2022.) For self-only coverage, the 2021 limit on deductible contributions is $3,600 (increasing to $3,650 for 2022). For family coverage, the 2021 limit on deductible contributions is $7,200 (increasing to $7,300 for 2022). Additionally, annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits for 2021 cannot exceed $7,000 for self-only coverage or $14,000 for family coverage (increasing to $7,050 and $14,100, respectively, for 2022).

An individual (and the individual’s covered spouse, as well) who has reached age 55 before the close of the tax year (and is an eligible HSA contributor) may make additional “catch-up” contributions for 2021 and 2022 of up to $1,000.

Contributions from an employer

If an employer contributes to the HSA of an eligible individual, the employer’s contribution is treated as employer-provided coverage for medical expenses under an accident or health plan. It’s also excludable from an employee’s gross income up to the deduction limitation. Funds can be built up for years because there’s no “use-it-or-lose-it” provision. An employer that decides to make contributions on its employees’ behalf must generally make comparable contributions to the HSAs of all comparable participating employees for that calendar year. If the employer doesn’t make comparable contributions, the employer is subject to a 35% tax on the aggregate amount contributed by the employer to HSAs for that period.

Taking distributions

HSA distributions can be made to pay for qualified medical expenses, which generally means expenses that would qualify for the medical expense itemized deduction. Among these expenses are doctors’ visits, prescriptions, chiropractic care and premiums for long-term care insurance.

If funds are withdrawn from the HSA for other reasons, the withdrawal is taxable. Additionally, an extra 20% tax will apply to the withdrawal, unless it’s made after reaching age 65, or in the event of death or disability.

HSAs offer a flexible option for providing health care coverage and they may be an attractive benefit for your business. But the rules are somewhat complex. Contact us if you’d like to discuss offering HSAs to your employees.

© 2021

Tax compliance is an essential aspect of any business, with sales and use tax making up a large portion of overall tax requirements. However, sales and use tax can get complicated very quickly as each state and local tax has its own rules and nuances.  

With increased connectivity and remote capabilities, it has become easier than ever for a business to conduct interstate commerce. When a business’ operations expand across state lines, this opens the company to potential tax filing requirements in other cities and states.  

Keep reading to understand why sales and use tax compliance is important, how to determine if you have a presence in another state, and solutions for increasing your company’s compliance.  

Why is sales and use tax compliance important 

There is a heavy administrative burden to sales and use tax compliance. Consider every type of transaction to ensure you use the proper tax categories when calculating sales and use tax liabilitiesIn addition, you must meet deadlines when filing forms and paying taxes. Your company can be subject to additional filings, penalties, and interest on any underpaid amounts that could total an extra 40% paid on the tax liability.  

The costs associated with noncompliance can eat into your profits and affect your ability to pay additional obligations. All of the filings and tax calculations can get even more convoluted if your company has a presence, or nexus, in another state or locality. These days, a nexus is even easier to achieve than in the past.  

How to determine if you owe taxes in another state 

You may find your business has tax responsibilities in other states without even realizing it. Businesses that have a nexus because of a presence in the state or local region are subject to certain sales and use taxes for that region. This can be established through a remote worker or affiliates living in the state or region, or because of a physical or economic presence in the state 

Keeping track of where your workers live and who your business partners are is important to determine tax liabilities 

Solutions for managing sales and use tax compliance 

Keeping abreast of the changing sales and use tax landscape can be time-consuming. While it may seem like hiring an individual internally to manage this process is a better plan, outsourcing the process to a knowledgeable tax professional can be cost-effective.  

Firms handling sales and use tax filings for other organizations can take advantage of several benefits 

Reach out today if your company would like to chat with our knowledgeable tax professionals to help your organization, whether through an audit of existing processes or by outsourcing your tax handling altogether. 

The Social Security Administration recently announced that the wage base for computing Social Security tax will increase to $147,000 for 2022 (up from $142,800 for 2021). Wages and self-employment income above this threshold aren’t subject to Social Security tax.

Background information

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) imposes two taxes on employers, employees and self-employed workers — one for Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance, which is commonly known as the Social Security tax, and the other for Hospital Insurance, which is commonly known as the Medicare tax.

There’s a maximum amount of compensation subject to the Social Security tax, but no maximum for Medicare tax. For 2022, the FICA tax rate for employers is 7.65% — 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare (the same as in 2021).

2022 updates

For 2022, an employee will pay:

For 2022, the self-employment tax imposed on self-employed people is:

More than one employer

What happens if an employee works for your business and has a second job? That employee would have taxes withheld from two different employers. Can the employee ask you to stop withholding Social Security tax once he or she reaches the wage base threshold? Unfortunately, no. Each employer must withhold Social Security taxes from the individual’s wages, even if the combined withholding exceeds the maximum amount that can be imposed for the year. Fortunately, the employee will get a credit on his or her tax return for any excess withheld.

We can help 

Contact us if you have questions about payroll tax filing or payments. We can help ensure you stay in compliance.

© 2021

If your business is depreciating over a 30-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation, you should consider a cost segregation study. It might allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Fundamentals of depreciation

Generally, business buildings have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Usually, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Classify property into the appropriate asset classes

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold improvement, retail improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

The savings can be substantial

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We can judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. Contact us to find out whether this would be worthwhile for you.

© 2021

Are employees at your business traveling again after months of virtual meetings? In Notice 2021-52, the IRS announced the fiscal 2022 “per diem” rates that became effective October 1, 2021. Taxpayers can use these rates to substantiate the amount of expenses for lodging, meals and incidental expenses when traveling away from home. (Taxpayers in the transportation industry can use a special transportation industry rate.)

Background information

A simplified alternative to tracking actual business travel expenses is to use the high-low per diem method. This method provides fixed travel per diems. The amounts are based on rates set by the IRS that vary from locality to locality.

Under the high-low method, the IRS establishes an annual flat rate for certain areas with higher costs of living. All locations within the continental United States that aren’t listed as “high-cost” are automatically considered “low-cost.” The high-low method may be used in lieu of the specific per diem rates for business destinations. Examples of high-cost areas include Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

Under some circumstances — for example, if an employer provides lodging or pays the hotel directly — employees may receive a per diem reimbursement only for their meals and incidental expenses. There’s also a $5 incidental-expenses-only rate for employees who don’t pay or incur meal expenses for a calendar day (or partial day) of travel.

Less recordkeeping

If your company uses per diem rates, employees don’t have to meet the usual recordkeeping rules required by the IRS. Receipts of expenses generally aren’t required under the per diem method. But employees still must substantiate the time, place and business purpose of the travel. Per diem reimbursements generally aren’t subject to income or payroll tax withholding or reported on an employee’s Form W-2.

The FY2022 rates

For travel after September 30, 2021, the per diem rate for all high-cost areas within the continental United States is $296. This consists of $222 for lodging and $74 for meals and incidental expenses. For all other areas within the continental United States, the per diem rate is $202 for travel after September 30, 2021 ($138 for lodging and $64 for meals and incidental expenses). Compared to the FY2021 per diems, both the high and low-cost area per diems increased $4.

Important: This method is subject to various rules and restrictions. For example, companies that use the high-low method for an employee must continue using it for all reimbursement of business travel expenses within the continental United States during the calendar year. However, the company may use any permissible method to reimburse that employee for any travel outside the continental United States.

For travel during the last three months of a calendar year, employers must continue to use the same method (per diem or high-low method) for an employee as they used during the first nine months of the calendar year. Also, note that per diem rates can’t be paid to individuals who own 10% or more of the business.

If your employees are traveling, it may be a good time to review the rates and consider switching to the high-low method. It can reduce the time and frustration associated with traditional travel reimbursement. Contact us for more information.

© 2021

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS expanded its electronic signatures program to include many more forms that historically needed a wet signature. The expansion is intended to make things easier for tax professionals and their clients, while in-person interactions may cause unnecessary risk.  

The IRS has recently extended the ability to accept e-signatures on many documents through December 2021, simplifying the process for tax professionals.  

What types of signatures are accepted? 

The IRS has provided the following acceptable types of electronic signatures: 

While there are additional ways to provide an e-signature, taxpayers are advised to stick to the outlined methods to prevent the possibility of the forms being returned or delayed during processing.  

What forms are included in the recent extension? 

While some forms can be electronically filed, others must be sent by mail and manually processed by the IRS. The forms in this electronic signature program all require the latter – a hardcopy sent to the IRS for processing. This includes: 

Our firm continues to monitor the ability to electronically sign and submit IRS forms. If you have any questions about tax filings, please reach out to our team of tax professionals for help.  

If you use an automobile in your trade or business, you may wonder 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.

Cents-per-mile vs. actual expenses

First, note 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 (56 cents per business mile driven for 2021), 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.

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.

After-tax cost is what counts

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.

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The week of September 13-17 has been declared National Small Business Week by the Small Business Administration. To commemorate the week, here are three tax breaks to consider.

1. Claim bonus depreciation or a Section 179 deduction for asset additions

Under current law, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service in calendar year 2021. That means your business might be able to write off the entire cost of some or all asset additions on this year’s return. Consider making acquisitions between now and December 31.

Note: It doesn’t always make sense to claim a 100% bonus depreciation deduction in the first year that qualifying property is placed in service. For example, if you think that tax rates will increase in the future — either due to tax law changes or a change in your income — it might be better to forgo bonus depreciation and instead depreciate your 2021 asset acquisitions over time.

There’s also a Section 179 deduction for eligible asset purchases. The maximum Section 179 deduction is $1.05 million for qualifying property placed in service in 2021. Recent tax laws have enhanced Section 179 and bonus depreciation but most businesses benefit more by claiming bonus depreciation. We can explain the details of these tax breaks and which is right for your business. You don’t have to decide until you file your tax return.

2. Claim bonus depreciation for a heavy vehicle 

The 100% first-year bonus depreciation provision can have a sizable, beneficial impact on first-year depreciation deductions for new and used heavy SUVs, pickups and vans used over 50% for business. For federal tax purposes, heavy vehicles are treated as transportation equipment so they qualify for 100% bonus depreciation.

This option is available only when the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s GVWR by looking at the manufacturer’s label, usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door.

Buying an eligible vehicle and placing it in service before the end of the year can deliver a big write-off on this year’s return. Before signing a sales contract, we can help evaluate what’s right for your business.

3. Maximize the QBI deduction for pass-through businesses 

A valuable deduction is the one based on qualified business income (QBI) from pass-through entities. For tax years through 2025, the deduction can be up to 20% of a pass-through entity owner’s QBI. This deduction is subject to restrictions that can apply at higher income levels and based on the owner’s taxable income.

For QBI deduction purposes, pass-through entities are defined as sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs that are treated as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, partnerships, LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes and S corporations. For these taxpayers, the deduction can also be claimed for up to 20% of income from qualified real estate investment trust dividends and 20% of qualified income from publicly traded partnerships.

Because of various limitations on the QBI deduction, tax planning moves can unexpectedly increase or decrease it. For example, strategies that reduce this year’s taxable income can have the negative side-effect of reducing your QBI deduction.

Plan ahead

These are only a few of the tax breaks your small business may be able to claim. Contact us to help evaluate your planning options and optimize your tax results.

© 2021

A business may be able to claim a federal income tax deduction for a theft loss. But does embezzlement count as theft? In most cases it does but you’ll have to substantiate the loss. A recent U.S. Tax Court decision illustrates how that’s sometimes difficult to do.

Basic rules for theft losses

The tax code allows a deduction for losses sustained during the taxable year and not compensated by insurance or other means. The term “theft” is broadly defined to include larceny, embezzlement and robbery. In general, a loss is regarded as arising from theft only if there’s a criminal element to the appropriation of a taxpayer’s property.

In order to claim a theft loss deduction, a taxpayer must prove:

Facts of the recent court case

Years ago, the taxpayer cofounded an S corporation with another shareholder. At the time of the alleged embezzlement, the other original shareholder was no longer a shareholder, and she wasn’t supposed to be compensated by the business. However, according to court records, she continued to manage the S corporation’s books and records.

The taxpayer suffered an illness that prevented him from working for most of the year in question. During this time, the former shareholder paid herself $166,494. Later, the taxpayer filed a civil suit in a California court alleging that the woman had misappropriated funds from the business.

On an amended tax return, the corporation reported a $166,494 theft loss due to the embezzlement. The IRS denied the deduction. After looking at the embezzlement definition under California state law, the Tax Court agreed with the IRS.

The Tax Court stated that the taxpayer didn’t offer evidence that the former shareholder “acted with the intent to defraud,” and the taxpayer didn’t show that the corporation “experienced a theft meeting the elements of embezzlement under California law.”

The IRS and the court also denied the taxpayer’s alternate argument that the corporation should be allowed to claim a compensation deduction for the amount of money the former shareholder paid herself. The court stated that the taxpayer didn’t provide evidence that the woman was entitled to be paid compensation from the corporation and therefore, the corporation wasn’t entitled to a compensation deduction. (TC Memo 2021-66)

How to proceed if you’re victimized

If your business is victimized by theft, embezzlement or internal fraud, you may be able to claim a tax deduction for the loss. Keep in mind that a deductible loss can only be claimed for the year in which the loss is discovered, and that you must meet other tax-law requirements. Keep records to substantiate the claimed theft loss, including when you discovered the loss. If you receive an insurance payment or other reimbursement for the loss, that amount must be subtracted when computing the deductible loss for tax purposes. Contact us with any questions you may have about theft and casualty loss deductions.

© 2021

In order to prepare for a business audit, an IRS examiner generally does research about the specific industry and issues on the taxpayer’s return. Examiners may use IRS “Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs).” A little-known secret is that these guides are available to the public on the IRS website. In other words, your business can use the same guides to gain insight into what the IRS is looking for in terms of compliance with tax laws and regulations.

Many ATGs target specific industries or businesses, such as construction, aerospace, art galleries, architecture and veterinary medicine. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation, passive activity losses and capitalization of tangible property.

Unique issues

IRS auditors need to examine different types of businesses, as well as individual taxpayers and tax-exempt organizations. Each type of return might have unique industry issues, business practices and terminology. Before meeting with taxpayers and their advisors, auditors do their homework to understand various industries or issues, the accounting methods commonly used, how income is received, and areas where taxpayers might not be in compliance.

By using a specific ATG, an auditor may be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the business is located.

Updates and revisions

Some guides were written several years ago and others are relatively new. There is not a guide for every industry. Here are some of the guide titles that have been revised or added this year:

Although ATGs were created to help IRS examiners uncover common methods of hiding income and inflating deductions, they also can help businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise audit red flags. For a complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website here: https://www.checkpointmarketing.net/newsletter/linkShimRadar.cfm?key=89521691G3971J9396851&l=72457

© 2021

If you’re a business owner and you’re getting a divorce, tax issues can complicate matters. Your business ownership interest is one of your biggest personal assets and in many cases, your marital property will include all or part of it.

Tax-free property transfers

You can generally divide most assets, including cash and business ownership interests, between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse without any federal income or gift tax consequences. When an asset falls under this tax-free transfer rule, the spouse who receives the asset takes over its existing tax basis (for tax gain or loss purposes) and its existing holding period (for short-term or long-term holding period purposes).

Let’s say that under the terms of your divorce agreement, you give your house to your spouse in exchange for keeping 100% of the stock in your business. That asset swap would be tax-free. And the existing basis and holding periods for the home and the stock would carry over to the person who receives them.

Tax-free transfers can occur before a divorce or at the time it becomes final. Tax-free treatment also applies to post-divorce transfers as long as they’re made “incident to divorce.” This means transfers that occur within:

  1. A year after the date the marriage ends, or
  2. Six years after the date the marriage ends if the transfers are made pursuant to your divorce agreement.

More tax issues

Later on, there will be tax implications for assets received tax-free in a divorce settlement. The ex-spouse who winds up owning an appreciated asset — when the fair market value exceeds the tax basis — generally must recognize taxable gain when it’s sold (unless an exception applies).

What if your ex-spouse receives 49% of your highly appreciated small business stock? Thanks to the tax-free transfer rule, there’s no tax impact when the shares are transferred. Your ex will continue to apply the same tax rules as if you had continued to own the shares, including carryover basis and carryover holding period. When your ex-spouse ultimately sells the shares, he or she will owe any capital gains taxes. You will owe nothing.

Note that the person who winds up owning appreciated assets must pay the built-in tax liability that comes with them. From a net-of-tax perspective, appreciated assets are worth less than an equal amount of cash or other assets that haven’t appreciated. That’s why you should always take taxes into account when negotiating your divorce agreement.

In addition, the beneficial tax-free transfer rule is now extended to ordinary-income assets, not just to capital-gains assets. For example, if you transfer business receivables or inventory to your ex-spouse in a divorce, these types of ordinary-income assets can also be transferred tax-free. When the asset is later sold, converted to cash or exercised (in the case of nonqualified stock options), the person who owns the asset at that time must recognize the income and pay the tax liability.

Plan ahead to avoid surprises

Like many major life events, divorce can have major tax implications. For example, you may receive an unexpected tax bill if you don’t carefully handle the splitting up of qualified retirement plan accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) and IRAs. And if you own a business, the stakes are higher. We can help you minimize the adverse tax consequences of settling your divorce.

© 2021

Note: We are closely monitoring H.R. 3684, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Senate has approved the infrastructure bill and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration as of the publication. The infrastructure bill would terminate the employee retention credit early, making wages paid after September 30, 2021, ineligible for the credit. 

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) was introduced in 2020 to help businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its release, it has been expanded and modified to help more businesses. Despite all of this, many businesses that are eligible for the credit haven’t filed for it. Did the pandemic impact your business? Don’t assume your business is ineligible. Keep reading to learn more.  

What is the Employee Retention Credit? 

The ERC allows businesses to claim a refundable credit for qualified employee wages and related expenses if there was a significant disruption to business because of the pandemic. That disruption is measured in a quarterly reduction of gross revenues – 50% reduction in 2020 vs. 2019; and only 20% reduction in 2021 vs. 2019. In addition, there is a “safe harbor” test that allows you to look back a quarter. For example, if your 4th quarter 2020 revenues were down 20% compared to the 4th quarter 2019, you are eligible for the first quarter of 2021, regardless of the first quarter test outcome. 

The second disruption is a government shutdown – complete or temporary. For example, a restaurant limited to 75% seating capacity by the governor’s mandate has experienced a partial shutdown.  

If you experienced EITHER one of these disruptions, you might be eligible for the employee retention credit.  

Eligibility for 2020 includes businesses with 100 or fewer full-time equivalent employees in 2019, in which all wages qualify whether the business was open or (partially) closed because of governmental orders. For businesses with more than 100 employees, only wages paid to employees when they weren’t providing services because the pandemic are eligible.  

For 2021 the full-time equivalent threshold increased to 500 employees in 2019.  

For 2020 the credit is 50% of the first $10,000 of eligible employees’ earnings for the year – up to $5,000 per employee for the year.  

For 2021 the credit is 70% of the first $10,000 of eligible employee earnings per QUARTER – up to $28,000 per employee for the year. 

What new guidance was released? 

The IRS released Notice 2021-49  on August 4, 2021, which provided additional ERC guidance. 

Keep in mind, the ERC is a complex tax credit with ever-changing guidelines and requires interpretation. Reach out to our professional tax team, who are familiar with the credit and most up-to-date guidelines.  

What if I missed filing for the ERC? 

While some of the newer guidelines are retroactive, others only apply to wages paid more recently. In most cases, employers can file a correction to their quarterly tax documents to receive appropriate credit for qualified wages paid. Keep in mind that wages included in Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) forgiveness are not qualified (no double-dipping).  

We have noted a longer processing time for amended returns. This means you’ll see benefits of the credit faster by filing for it with your quarterly returns; however, it could take 90 to 120 days for amended returns.  

How can my business receive help? 

If you’re like many businesses and need help understanding the ERC and the recent changes, reach out to our team of qualified professionals for help! We can help you: 

 

We look forward to helping you! 

 

What if you decide to, or are asked to, guarantee a loan to your corporation? Before agreeing to act as a guarantor, endorser or indemnitor of a debt obligation of your closely held corporation, be aware of the possible tax consequences. If your corporation defaults on the loan and you’re required to pay principal or interest under the guarantee agreement, you don’t want to be blindsided.

Business vs. nonbusiness

If you’re compelled to make good on the obligation, the payment of principal or interest in discharge of the obligation generally results in a bad debt deduction. This may be either a business or a nonbusiness bad debt deduction. If it’s a business bad debt, it’s deductible against ordinary income. A business bad debt can be either totally or partly worthless. If it’s a nonbusiness bad debt, it’s deductible as a short-term capital loss, which is subject to certain limitations on deductions of capital losses. A nonbusiness bad debt is deductible only if it’s totally worthless.

In order to be treated as a business bad debt, the guarantee must be closely related to your trade or business. If the reason for guaranteeing the corporation loan is to protect your job, the guarantee is considered closely related to your trade or business as an employee. But employment must be the dominant motive. If your annual salary exceeds your investment in the corporation, this tends to show that the dominant motive for the guarantee was to protect your job. On the other hand, if your investment in the corporation substantially exceeds your annual salary, that’s evidence that the guarantee was primarily to protect your investment rather than your job.

Except in the case of job guarantees, it may be difficult to show the guarantee was closely related to your trade or business. You’d have to show that the guarantee was related to your business as a promoter, or that the guarantee was related to some other trade or business separately carried on by you.

If the reason for guaranteeing your corporation’s loan isn’t closely related to your trade or business and you’re required to pay off the loan, you can take a nonbusiness bad debt deduction if you show that your reason for the guarantee was to protect your investment, or you entered the guarantee transaction with a profit motive.

In addition to satisfying the above requirements, a business or nonbusiness bad debt is deductible only if:

  • You have a legal duty to make the guaranty payment, although there’s no requirement that a legal action be brought against you;
  • The guaranty agreement was entered into before the debt becomes worthless; and
  • You received reasonable consideration (not necessarily cash or property) for entering into the guaranty agreement.

Any payment you make on a loan you guaranteed is deductible as a bad debt in the year you make it, unless the agreement (or local law) provides for a right of subrogation against the corporation. If you have this right, or some other right to demand payment from the corporation, you can’t take a bad debt deduction until the rights become partly or totally worthless.

These are only a few of the possible tax consequences of guaranteeing a loan to your closely held corporation. Contact us to learn all the implications in your situation.

© 2021

Perhaps you operate your small business as a sole proprietorship and want to form a limited liability company (LLC) to protect your assets. Or maybe you are launching a new business and want to know your options for setting it up. Here are the basics of operating as an LLC and why it might be appropriate for your business.

An LLC is somewhat of a hybrid entity because it can be structured to resemble a corporation for owner liability purposes and a partnership for federal tax purposes. This duality may provide the owners with the best of both worlds.

Personal asset protection

Like the shareholders of a corporation, the owners of an LLC (called “members” rather than shareholders or partners) generally aren’t liable for the debts of the business except to the extent of their investment. Thus, the owners can operate the business with the security of knowing that their personal assets are protected from the entity’s creditors. This protection is far greater than that afforded by partnerships. In a partnership, the general partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. Even limited partners, if they actively participate in managing the business, can have personal liability.

Tax implications

The owners of an LLC can elect under the “check-the-box” rules to have the entity treated as a partnership for federal tax purposes. This can provide a number of important benefits to the owners. For example, partnership earnings aren’t subject to an entity-level tax. Instead, they “flow through” to the owners, in proportion to the owners’ respective interests in profits, and are reported on the owners’ individual returns and are taxed only once.

To the extent the income passed through to you is qualified business income, you’ll be eligible to take the Code Section 199A pass-through deduction, subject to various limitations. In addition, since you’re actively managing the business, you can deduct on your individual tax return your ratable shares of any losses the business generates. This, in effect, allows you to shelter other income that you and your spouse may have.

An LLC that’s taxable as a partnership can provide special allocations of tax benefits to specific partners. This can be an important reason for using an LLC over an S corporation (a form of business that provides tax treatment that’s similar to a partnership). Another reason for using an LLC over an S corporation is that LLCs aren’t subject to the restrictions the federal tax code imposes on S corporations regarding the number of owners and the types of ownership interests that may be issued.

Review your situation

In summary, an LLC can give you corporate-like protection from creditors while providing the benefits of taxation as a partnership. For these reasons, you should consider operating your business as an LLC. Contact us to discuss in more detail how an LLC might benefit you and the other owners.

© 2021

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials are seeing a large increase in the number of new businesses being launched. From June 2020 through June 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that business applications are up 18.6%. The Bureau measures this by the number of businesses applying for an Employer Identification Number.

Entrepreneurs often don’t know that many of the expenses incurred by start-ups can’t be currently deducted. You should be aware that the way you handle some of your initial expenses can make a large difference in your federal tax bill.

How to treat expenses for tax purposes

If you’re starting or planning to launch a new business, keep these three rules in mind:

  1. Start-up costs include those incurred or paid while creating an active trade or business — or investigating the creation or acquisition of one.
  2. Under the tax code, taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs in the year the business begins. As you know, $5,000 doesn’t go very far these days! And the $5,000 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount by which your total start-up or organizational costs exceed $50,000. Any remaining costs must be amortized over 180 months on a straight-line basis.
  3. No deductions or amortization deductions are allowed until the year when “active conduct” of your new business begins. Generally, that means the year when the business has all the pieces in place to start earning revenue. To determine if a taxpayer meets this test, the IRS and courts generally ask questions such as: Did the taxpayer undertake the activity intending to earn a profit? Was the taxpayer regularly and actively involved? Did the activity actually begin?

Eligible expenses

In general, start-up expenses are those you make to:

To qualify for the election, an expense also must be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after a business began. One example is money you spend analyzing potential markets for a new product or service.

To be eligible as an “organization expense,” an expense must be related to establishing a corporation or partnership. Some examples of organization expenses are legal and accounting fees for services related to organizing a new business and filing fees paid to the state of incorporation.

Plan now

If you have start-up expenses that you’d like to deduct this year, you need to decide whether to take the election described above. Recordkeeping is critical. Contact us about your start-up plans. We can help with the tax and other aspects of your new business.

© 2021

Are you eligible to take the deduction for qualified business income (QBI)? Here are 10 facts about this valuable tax break, referred to as the pass-through deduction, QBI deduction or Section 199A deduction.

  1. It’s available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships and S corporations. It may also be claimed by trusts and estates.
  2. The deduction is intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
  3. It’s taken “below the line.” That means it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income. But it’s available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.
  4. The deduction has two components: 20% of QBI from a domestic business operated as a sole proprietorship or through a partnership, S corporation, trust or estate; and 20% of the taxpayer’s combined qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership income.
  5. QBI is the net amount of a taxpayer’s qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss relating to any qualified trade or business. Items of income, gain, deduction and loss are qualified to the extent they’re effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business in the U.S. and included in computing taxable income.
  6. QBI doesn’t necessarily equal the net profit or loss from a business, even if it’s a qualified trade or business. In addition to the profit or loss from Schedule C, QBI must be adjusted by certain other gain or deduction items related to the business.
  7. A qualified trade or business is any trade or business other than a specified service trade or business (SSTB). But an SSTB is treated as a qualified trade or business for taxpayers whose taxable income is under a threshold amount.
  8. SSTBs include health, law, accounting, actuarial science, certain performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, investment, trading, dealing securities and any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of its employees or owners.
  9. There are limits based on W-2 wages. Inflation-adjusted threshold amounts also apply for purposes of applying the SSTB rules. For tax years beginning in 2021, the threshold amounts are $164,900 for singles and heads of household; $164,925 for married filing separately; and $329,800 for married filing jointly. The limits phase in over a $50,000 range ($100,000 for a joint return). This means that the deduction reduces ratably, so that by the time you reach the top of the range ($214,900 for singles and heads of household; $214,925 for married filing separately; and $429,800 for married filing jointly) the deduction is zero for income from an SSTB.
  10. For businesses conducted as a partnership or S corporation, the pass-through deduction is calculated at the partner or shareholder level.

As you can see, this substantial deduction is complex, especially if your taxable income exceeds the thresholds discussed above. Other rules apply. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.

© 2021

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) is a valuable tax break that was extended and modified by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted in March of 2021. Here’s a rundown of the rules.

Background

Back in March of 2020, Congress originally enacted the ERTC in the CARES Act to encourage employers to hire and retain employees during the pandemic. At that time, the ERTC applied to wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. However, Congress later modified and extended the ERTC to apply to wages paid before July 1, 2021.

The ARPA again extended and modified the ERTC to apply to wages paid after June 30, 2021, and before January 1, 2022. Thus, an eligible employer can claim the refundable ERTC against “applicable employment taxes” equal to 70% of the qualified wages it pays to employees in the third and fourth quarters of 2021. Except as discussed below, qualified wages are generally limited to $10,000 per employee per 2021 calendar quarter. Thus, the maximum ERTC amount available is generally $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter or $28,000 per employee in 2021.

For purposes of the ERTC, a qualified employer is eligible if it experiences a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of business due to a government order. Employers with up to 500 full-time employees can claim the credit without regard to whether the employees for whom the credit is claimed actually perform services. But, except as explained below, employers with more than 500 full-time employees can only claim the ERTC with respect to employees that don’t perform services.

Employers who got a Payroll Protection Program loan in 2020 can still claim the ERTC. But the same wages can’t be used both for seeking loan forgiveness or satisfying conditions of other COVID relief programs (such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program) in calculating the ERTC.

Modifications

Beginning in the third quarter of 2021, the following modifications apply to the ERTC:

Contact us if you have any questions related to your business claiming the ERTC.

© 2021

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the third quarter of 2021. 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.

Monday, August 2

Tuesday, August 10

Wednesday, September 15

© 2021

If you’re claiming deductions for business meals or auto expenses, expect the IRS to closely review them. In some cases, taxpayers have incomplete documentation or try to create records months (or years) later. In doing so, they fail to meet the strict substantiation requirements set forth under tax law. Tax auditors are adept at rooting out inconsistencies, omissions and errors in taxpayers’ records, as illustrated by one recent U.S. Tax Court case.

Facts of the case

In the case, the taxpayer ran a notary and paralegal business. She deducted business meals and vehicle expenses that she allegedly incurred in connection with her business.

The deductions were denied by the IRS and the court. Tax law “establishes higher substantiation requirements” for these and certain other expenses, the court noted. No deduction is generally allowed “unless the taxpayer substantiates the amount, time and place, business purpose, and business relationship to the taxpayer of the person receiving the benefit” for each expense with adequate records or sufficient evidence.

The taxpayer in this case didn’t provide adequate records or other sufficient evidence to prove the business purpose of her meal expenses. She gave vague testimony that she deducted expenses for meals where she “talked strategies” with people who “wanted her to do some work.” The court found this was insufficient to show the connection between the meals and her business.

When it came to the taxpayer’s vehicle expense deductions, she failed to offer credible evidence showing where she drove her vehicle, the purpose of each trip and her business relationship to the places visited. She also conceded that she used her car for both business and personal activities. (TC Memo 2021-50)

Best practices for business expenses

This case is an example of why it’s critical to maintain meticulous records to support business expenses for meals and vehicle deductions. Here’s a list of “DOs and DON’Ts” to help meet the strict IRS and tax law substantiation requirements for these items:

DO keep detailed, accurate records. For each expense, record the amount, the time and place, the business purpose, and the business relationship of any person to whom you provided a meal. If you have employees who you reimburse for meals and auto expenses, make sure they’re complying with all the rules.

 

DON’T reconstruct expense logs at year end or wait until you receive a notice from the IRS. Take a moment to record the details in a log or diary or on a receipt at the time of the event or soon after. Require employees to submit monthly expense reports.

 

DO respect the fine line between personal and business expenses. Be careful about combining business and pleasure. Your business checking account shouldn’t be used for personal expenses.

DON’T be surprised if the IRS asks you to prove your deductions. Meal and auto expenses are a magnet for attention. Be prepared for a challenge.

With organization and guidance from us, your tax records can stand up to scrutiny from the IRS. There may be ways to substantiate your deductions that you haven’t thought of, and there may be a way to estimate certain deductions (“the Cohan rule”), if your records are lost due to a fire, theft, flood or other disaster.

© 2021

Most industries came to a halt last year when the pandemic shut down businesses around the world. When manufacturers adjusted operations, taking necessary precautions to protect employees, it created a ripple effect of shortages in other areas,  including lumbar, tile, and other supplies used to build houses. Amidst all the uncertainty, it may seem easier to ignore performance metrics. In this climate, however, they are more important than ever before.  

Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) can help business owners keep their operations running smoothly. KPIs are essentially prioritized metrics that owners and managers need regular access to make decisions. When determining which KPIs are important to track, know that it varies by industry. Keep reading to discover some key metrics to help leaders in the construction industry understand your firm’s performance.  

Here are a few KPIs to consider:  

In addition to these more traditional KPIs, the following also impact profitability.  

While there are many other KPIs that construction firms can choose from, we find that these are often the top indicators of financial health and areas of opportunity. If you would like a second look at your KPIs or help establish some, give our team of professionals a call today. 

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many businesses and entire industries to move their operations remotely in the interest of employee and customer safety, and this has caused these businesses to change the way they think about their operations. During this time, businesses have had to quickly adapt and implement new technology and processes in order to meet customer and employee demands that did not exist previously. These disruptions can be a source of headache or opportunity for businesses who choose to embrace the virtual business model.   

One process that is in the limelight more than ever is virtual outsourced accounting. Virtual outsourced accounting simply means working with an accounting firm that provides services virtually through cloud-based platforms. While many businesses have already made the move the cloud-based accounting platforms, some have resisted or have kept operations in-house due to the lack of incentive to change. However, the pandemic has created an incentive and highlights many of the reasons why a business would want to consider a virtual outsourced accounting option.  

The benefits of virtual outsourced accounting 

Safety  First and foremost is the safety of yourself and your employees. Virtual outsourced accounting allows you to conduct these financial operations remotely keeping you and your employees safe. When we return to our workplaces and safety is less of an issue, you continue to receive the other benefits of virtual accounting.  

Security – Virtual accounting allows for heavy encryption of your sensitive and confidential data and frequent backups of information across multiple locations, keeping your records safe in the event of any number of physical or digital threats. Physical filing cabinets or local servers are at increased risk of physical or digital hacking because they often do not have the heavy encryption necessary for protection, nor the multiple back-ups in case of a data breach or natural disaster  

Consistency – Businesses are likely in this for the long-haul with many industries not anticipating a return to workplaces for several more months. When you outsource your accounting to a firm with virtual capabilities, you never have to worry about lost time due to illness or employee turnover. Accounting firms have adapted their workplaces to virtual as well, providing as uninterrupted service as possible. 

Knowledge – Outsourcing your accounting provides you with greater access to a deeper bench of highly-skilled and knowledgeable accounting teams to help you bust through roadblocks or troubleshoot issues you are likely facing during the pandemic. When you’re encountering especially difficult and unforeseen challenges, a knowledgeable third-party adviser can help you stay on top of regulatory changes, financing opportunities, and provide guidance on forecasting and budgeting during unpredictable times. 

Flexibility – As the pandemic increasingly throws new challenges at businesses, having access to virtual outsourced accountants allows you the flexibility to bring in help where and when you need it. Outsourced accounting teams can serve as a fill-in for your in-house accounting staff where needed due to illness, long-term leave, furloughs/layoffs, or employee turnover. 

Remote Access – Working with a virtual accounting team that operates in the cloud allows you greater flexibility to perform tasks and access your numbers. Because data is updated in real time between you and your accountant, you can get a more accurate picture of your business’s financials – crucial during a turbulent time like the pandemic. 

Cost Savings – Outsourcing your accounting to a firm that conducts operations virtually provides you with significant cost savings including salary/compensation, employee benefits, and overhead that you would experience by hiring and in-house employee. Furthermore, you never have to worry about turnover costs such as recruiting, hiring, and training a new staff member.   

If you haven’t considered virtual accounting, now is the time. You do not have to face these pandemic challenges alone, and your financial processes shouldn’t be stifled due to inadequate operations that fail to consider the virtual world to which we’ve been forced to adapt. Contact us for more information on virtual accounting.   

With all of the curveballs 2020 has thrown at the nation, the economy, and businesses, there’s never been a better time to get an early jump on year-end planning for your business. While all the usual year-end tasks are still on the docket, you’ll want to consider implications related to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), any disaster loan assistance you received, and changes made by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act 

We’ve put together a checklist of what you need to do now to prepare for a great year-end that includes annual tasks as well as 2020-specific tasks. Keep reading for assistance getting your financials organized, reviewing your tax strategy, and preparing for next year. 

Get organized 

1. Bring order to your books – Now is the time to collect, organize, and file all of your receipts for the year if you haven’t been staying on top of it. Get with your CPA to ensure everything is clean and in order before the end of the year to help avoid surprises come tax time.  

2. Examine your finances – This includes having your balance sheet, income statement, and cash-flow statements prepared and up to date. Reviewing this information allows you to see where your money went for the year so you can properly prepare for next year. 

3. Work with your CPA on your PPP loan forgiveness application – We are currently awaiting further guidance on the PPP’s impact to taxes, but it’s important to work with your CPA on your PPP loan forgiveness application. Knowing where your PPP loan lies can help determine how to spread out your cash flow for the remainder of the year. 

4. Organize all disaster loan assistance documentation – This includes your Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) documentation if you received an advance grantEIDL advances must be added to your taxable income (unless different guidance is released), but you’ll be able to deduct any expenses paid with this grant  

Review your tax strategy 

5. Review your taxes with your CPA – Do not put off your tax planning meeting with your CPA. Especially after the year you’ve had and any potential federal state aid your business received, your tax plan needs a review. Getting a jump on this earlywell before the new year, can help you plan for what’s to come on Tax Day. It’s even more imperative to plan early for any tax obligations you may have at tax time as it’s likely the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to create a volatile environment for many industries’ revenue projections.  

6. Execute on year-end tax strategy adjustments such as: 

7. Prepare your tax documents – Once you’ve met with your CPA, it’s time to line up all the info you need to prepare your final tax documents or have your CPA take care of it. Be sure not to put this off to the last minute as it will be a complicated year for everyone. 

8. Automate your tax function – Instead of spending valuable time and energy on manual tasks and repetitive processes this year, consider investing in data analytics and automation tools to optimize and streamline your in-house accounting and tax functions. There’s never been a better time to invest in technology that will help you become more efficient and accurate. 

Plan for the future  

9. Evaluate your goals – There’s no doubt that 2020 likely threw a wrench in many of your goals for the year. However, you should still review the goals you set last year and see if you’ve met or made progress on any of them. This will help with 2021 business planning. 

10. Set goals for the new year – No one knows how 2021 will play out, and it’s unlikely the market or business will return to normal in the first part of the year. Take into consideration the challenges you’ve faced so far in the pandemic as you plan for 2021. Work with your trusted advisor to determine several back-up plans for what if scenarios in case of any state or national lockdowns.  

In a year like no other, it’s crucial to prepare like no other so you’re not met with any surprises or devastating fees. Contact us today to set up your tax and business planning appointment.  

If a relative needs financial help, offering an intrafamily loan might seem like a good idea because they allow you to take advantage of low interest rates for wealth transfer purposes. But if not properly executed, such loans can carry negative tax consequences — such as unexpected taxable income, gift tax or both. Here are five tips to help avoid any unwelcome tax surprises:

1. Create a paper trail. In general, to avoid undesirable tax consequences, you need to be able to show that the loan was bona fide. To do so, document evidence of:

Be sure to make your intentions clear — and help avoid loan-related misunderstandings — by also documenting the loan payments received.

2. Demonstrate an intention to collect. Even if you think you may eventually forgive the loan, ensure the borrower makes at least a few payments. By having some repayment history, you’ll make it harder for the IRS to argue that the loan was really an outright gift. And if a would-be borrower has no realistic chance of repaying a loan, don’t make it. If you’re audited, the IRS is sure to treat such a loan as a gift.

3. Charge interest if the loan exceeds $10,000. If you lend more than $10,000 to a relative, charge at least the applicable federal interest rate (AFR). Be aware that interest on the loan will be taxable income to you. If no or below-AFR interest is charged, taxable interest is calculated under the complicated below-market-rate loan rules. In addition, all of the forgone interest over the term of the loan may have to be treated as a gift in the year the loan is made. This will increase your chances of having to use some of your lifetime exemption.

4. Use the annual gift tax exclusion. If you want to, say, help your daughter buy a house but don’t want to use up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption, you can make the loan and charge interest and then forgive the interest, the principal payments or both each year under the annual gift tax exclusion. For 2020, you can forgive up to $15,000 per borrower ($30,000 if your spouse joins in the gift) without paying gift taxes or using any of your lifetime exemption. But you will still have interest income in the year of forgiveness.

Here is an example of how an intrafamily loan can save on taxes:

A $2 million interest-only loan is made from parent to child at an interest rate of 0.38%. If the loan proceeds are invested and grow at a rate of 5%, after repayment of interest and principal in year 5, the child is left with approximately $510,000 estate and gift tax-free. This arrangement also offers the flexibility to utilize the gift tax exemption at any time.

5. Forgive or file suit. If an intrafamily loan that you intended to collect is in default, don’t let it sit too long. To prove this was a legitimate loan that soured, you’ll need to take appropriate legal steps toward collection. If you know you’ll never collect and don’t want to file suit, begin forgiving the loan using the annual gift tax exclusion, if possible.

© 2020

If you haven’t converted to cloud-based accounting, it’s likely that COVID-19 may prompt you to make the switch. With more and more businesses and industries operating virtually, cloud access and real-time data has become more important than ever for making the best business decisions possible in uncertain times. With so much up in the air, you don’t want to be caught with a static accounting system that cannot keep up and provide the answers you need.

If you’re on the fence, we’ve put together the top 11 benefits of cloud-based accounting and the real-time data it provides.

1. Drill down on business performance – Real-time data through cloud-based accounting allows you to drill down on the key components of your business’s performance. You can get global or granular on factors such as location, project, customer, vendor, or department and see how each part is impacting your business in real-time. Additionally, you can use snapshots of your cash flow, revenue, expenses, and more to see how they compare year-over-year and how they are measuring up to your goals for this year.

2. Make better data-driven, real-time decisions – You’ve likely experience that last year’s or even last month’s data is irrelevant during these uncertain times. With real-time data, you can see clearly what’s holding you back now, or what’s working, and adjust accordingly. Without the real, hard data, these decisions can feel like a guessing game with a wait-and-see outcome, which is something most businesses cannot afford right now.

3. Make accurate predictions and forecasts – This accurate, up-to-date data allows you to feel more confident in the forecasting for the future your business. You have the facts in front of you to make more strategic predictions over the course of the year. Through the real-time data and historical facts, you can assess past performance, identify trends, and set goals and plans, making adjustments as needed along the way.

4. Automate processes – More and more, businesses are focused on automation, and there’s no better place to start than with your accounting. With cloud-based solutions, you can create automated workflows that handle much of the busy work for you like invoicing and paying vendors. This all funnels back into your real-time data so you can stay on top of your revenue and expenses.

5. Mitigate fraud and reduce errors – Mistakes and fraudulent activity can be more quickly and easily identified when you can see the transactions in real-time. The simplification of the software means less memorization of accounting practices, formulas, and Excel shortcuts – all of which can contribute to errors. And, the automatic reconciliation can help you detect fraud early. Being able to take timely action on errors and fraud can save your business big in the long run.

6. Simplify your reporting and EOY – Have you ever scrambled when a stakeholder asked for an up-to-date report on your business? Cloud-based accounting allows you to present an accurate, timely report in no time, simplifying the process for you and your stakeholders. Additionally, you avoid the end-of-year rush because you’ve been entering your information and tracking all year long, so tax bills aren’t as much of a surprise.

7. Simplify GST compliance – If you have general sales tax to track and monitor, you know it can be a challenge to assemble and file your GST returns. Cloud-based accounting tracks and applies GST automatically for you and allows you to pull a quick report when you’re ready to file.

8. Get access from anywhere – One of the best benefits of cloud-based accounting is that you can access your data from anywhere at any time. In the age of COVID-19 and working from home, this is especially beneficial for you and your team so everyone can stay on track and on task.

9. Collaborate with your accountant – Cloud-based accounting has simplified the transfer process of client information to accountant and saved both sides time and energy in equal measure. Gone are the days of having to download everything to a CD or flash drive and delivering it to your accountant. Now, you can collaborate together virtually and trust you’re both on the same page.

10. Simplify your technology – Cloud-based accounting eliminates hard downloads across multiple computers and saves your IT department (or you) the headache of making sure everyone is up-to-date across the company. Thanks to online hosting, IT doesn’t have to worry about updating the software either, so they can focus on other projects.

11. Get the tech support you need – Most cloud-based accounting platforms offer regular tech support to help you any hour of the day. You’ll also have access to forums of thousands of other users so you can discuss issues and share best practices. Keeping your program up and running and optimized contributes to better real-time data.

For assistance with choosing the right cloud-based accounting platform for your business, contact us today.

The unprecedented global pandemic and record unemployment has resulted in a dramatic drop in interest rates. Many people focus on the Fed rate and mortgage rates, and rightfully so, but for some, the focal point should be on the historically low IRS interest rates.

The IRS posts various interest rates, generally on a monthly basis. The Applicable Federal Rate (“AFR”) and the Internal Revenue Code Section 7520 Rate (“7520 Rate”) are among the most important. Many tax strategies are a function of calculations driven by the AFR and 7520 rates. Some strategies work best in high rate environments while other work best in low rate environments. Accordingly, any time the IRS rates dramatically rise or fall, we should take notice and consider tax planning.

The May 2020 IRS Rates include:

Short-Term AFR: 0.25%

Mid-Term AFR: 0.58%

Long-Term AFR: 1.15%

7520 Rate: 0.80%

These rates are exceptionally low. To provide some context for comparison, the May 2019 Rates were: Short-Term AFR 2.39%, Mid-Term AFR 2.37%, and Long Term AFR 2.74%. Viewing this from a historical perspective, the May 2019 rates were low in their own right, but clearly the rates today, just one year later, are materially lower.

The remainder of this paper outlines three strategies that work particularly well in low interest rate environments. Although we have elected to highlight three strategies specifically, low interest rate tax strategies are not limited to just these three. Accordingly, we encourage you to contact our office to discuss your specific set of circumstances.

Charitable Lead Trusts

A Charitable Lead Trust (“CLT”) is a split interest trust, meaning there are two categories of beneficiaries: (1) a current beneficiary and (2) a remainder beneficiary. The current beneficiary receives distributions from the CLT for a period of time (the “Term”) and must be a charitable organization, such as a public charity, a church, most schools and universities, and even a private foundation operated by the donor. The remainder beneficiary receives all the assets remaining in the CLT after the Term expires and is generally the donor or the donor’s children. Depending on the design of the CLT, the donor may receive an income tax deduction in the tax year the CLT is established in an amount equal to the present value of all payments that will go to charity during the CLT’s term. Accordingly, it can generate a substantial income tax deduction for gifts that have not yet gone to the charity. This gives the donor the ability to continue investing and growing the CLT assets, thereby ultimately benefiting the donor who will receive the assets back upon expiration of the CLT term.

Why CLTs during low interest rates?

The donor’s income tax deduction is a present-value calculation. We take the sum of all scheduled future charitable distributions and discount that number to present value using a calculation based on the 7520 Rate. The lower the 7520 Rate, the lower the discount. The lower the discount, the greater the deduction. Accordingly, in today’s environment, all other factors being exactly the same (i.e. same growth rate, same amount to charity, etc.), a CLT today will generate a significantly higher income tax deduction, than the same CLT when interest rates are higher.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (“GRATs”) are estate planning trusts that provide a tremendous opportunity to transfer wealth from one generation (“Generation 1”) to the next (“Generation 2”), often without incurring gift or estate taxes. GRATs are established with Generation 1 assets for a period of time (the “Term”). During the Term, the GRAT makes distributions to Generation 1. At the end of the Term, if designed properly, the assets remaining in the GRAT transfer to Generation 2 free of gift, estate, or transfer taxes. Many individuals will establish a series of GRATs in order to provide necessary lifetime cash flow to Generation 1.

Why GRATs during low interest rates?

Payments made from the GRAT to Generation 1 are based on the IRS rates. The donor makes the “bet” that the assets inside the GRAT will grow at a rate higher than the IRS rates. Lower rates mean a lower hurdle, a lower hurdle means more wealth can transfer to Generation 2 tax-free.

Sales to Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts

Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (“IDGTs”), are irrevocable estate planning trusts that are generally utilized by high net worth business owners and those with assets likely to significantly increase in value (such as stock and real estate). The IDGT will purchase the asset from the individual primarily in exchange for a promissory note (there are no income taxes due on the sale because the IDGT is disregarded for income tax purposes). The IDGT will make installment payments to the individual for the term of the promissory note. The assets in the IDGT are outside of the individual’s estate, therefore any growth in the asset from the time it is sold remains outside of the individual’s estate for estate tax purposes.

Why IDGTs during low interest rates?

Similar to any traditional lending arrangement, the IDGT promissory note must yield interest. Because this is a related-party transaction, the IRS mandates a certain minimum interest rate, which is based on the AFR. The lower the AFR, the lower the required monthly payments, and thus more taxable wealth remains outside of the Grantor’s estate.

Next Steps?

Don’t let this exceptionally low interest rate environment get away. Please contact your Heritage financial advisor, CPA, or attorney to schedule a planning session.

This article has been edited by Hamilton Tharp LLP. This article originally appeared on the HWM newsletter.

When the Tax Cut and Jobs Act went into effect in January 2018, many taxpayers stopped itemizing their returns. The reality, however, is that unique tax situations require a unique approach, and there may be some room for improvement in yours. Now that 2020 is in full focus, it is a great time to look at your giving strategy. If you are not sure you made the most of your charitable deductions in 2019, consider these incentives when setting your charitable contribution plan in 2020.

Although taxpayers that fall just below the standard threshold no longer need to itemize, those who hover around a higher tax bracket or well-exceed the standard deduction threshold should consider their situation with a professional to determine if they could benefit from a better plan. Consider the following incentives,

Deciding which charity to support in 2020?

The key to making your donations count is ensuring the organization you choose is an eligible charity. The Tax-Exempt Organization Search engine and the Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help you choose organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.

If you’re worried that making a large gift this year will harm your estate after 2025, you can rest assured. In November 2019, the Treasury Department and IRS issued final regulations confirming that taxpayers who make significant contributions between 2018 and 2025 can take advantage of the increased gift and estate tax exclusion amounts without concern over losing the benefit in 2026 and beyond.

The professionals in our office are well-versed in charitable contribution strategies, call us today to discuss how to make sure your donations count in 2020.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently debuted a new Form W-4 to the public. The new design aims to simplify the withholding system, replacing complicated worksheets with questions designed for the layman. The hope is that the form will help employees report more accurate amounts, allowing the IRS a better assessment of taxes paid.

One thing you might notice on the new Form is the absence of the word, allowance. The title of Form W-4 is now the Employee’s Withholding Certificate.

To help further your understanding of the redesign and its impact on employers, we have provided clarification around frequently asked questions regarding Form W-4 below.

As a reminder, the new forms go into effect in tax year 2020. Additional guidance is expected regarding payroll calculations needed based on the data fields on the new and old forms, as well as guidance surrounding employees that fail to submit a Form W-4 after 2019. If you have any questions about the new form, please give the professionals in our office a call today.

View the new Form W-4.

The United States saw some of the most sweeping changes in December 2017 with the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).  Many of the amendments to the Internal Revenue Code are temporary in nature, set to expire at the end of 2025. For example, the basic exclusion amount (BEA), which doubled from $5 million to $10 million prior to being adjusted for inflation, will return to pre-2018 levels when the TCJA is set to expire. One major concern, raised by public comments, is what will happen to individuals taking advantage of the increased gift and estate tax exclusion amounts when the exclusion amounts drop to pre-2018 levels? Will they be adversely impacted?

For example, what would happen if a taxpayer chose to gift their entire $11.4 million (adjusted for inflation) lifetime exclusion amount during the TCJA? Rather than using up their basic exclusion amount at their time of death, a taxpayer may choose to use their basic exclusion amount during their lifetime by making large gifts.  Any unused portion would be used to offset or possibly eliminate estate taxes when a taxpayer perishes. 

Those concerns were laid to rest last month when the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service issued final regulations confirming that individuals who plan to take advantage of the TCJA-increased basic exclusion amount will not be adversely impacted after 2025 when the exclusion amount is scheduled to drop to pre-2018 levels. The final regulations also provide a special rule that allows the estate to compute its estate tax credit using the higher of the BEA applicable to gifts made during life or the BEA applicable on the date of death.

For 2019, the inflation-adjusted BEA is $11.4 million. If you are considering making a large gift within the next few years it is important to understand how these changes will impact your personal or business operations. The professionals in our office can answer your questions, call us today!

Americans share at least one dilemma when it comes to retirement planning. From the worker to the employer to the policymaker, everyone is living longer. On May 23, 2019, the House passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. This legislation, receiving almost unanimous bipartisan support, offers the most significant shift to retirement plans and opportunities since the Pension Protection Act of 2006. In the bill, there are over 25 changes and provisions that expressly aim to encourage retirement savings among all workers. This bill, along with the Senate’s Retirement Enhancement Securities Act (RESA), addresses the apparent need for a worker’s wealth to run (and finish) the race with them. These documents may face modification before being signed into law, but one thing is clear: change is coming. Below we have prepared a synopsis of the changes that present the most opportunity. 

Pooled Employer Plans

Many businesses are without affiliation and are too small to offer a savings retirement plan on their own. The new bill will reduce fiduciary responsibility and lower the overall costs associated with providing 401(k) plans by expanding the option to run multi-employer plans through a plan administrator. Sec. 106 goes a step further to incentivize smaller businesses to offer a retirement savings plan. The Act introduces a $500 tax credit for automatic enrollment into their retirement plan.

Annuities

The SECURE Act eases the liability concern over offering annuities. Most businesses have shied away from annuity providers because of their inherent risk. Section 204 updates safe harbor provisions, thus opening the door for employees to take advantage of converting their 401(k) balances to a pension-like payout plan. Another provision of the bill will allow workers to transfer a defunct annuity contract to an IRA while maintaining contributions. The only criticism on this update is the broad guidelines surrounding annuity providers. Some fear that ambiguity will lead to insurance companies offering shoddy plans.

Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Age

The current law requires that most individuals begin withdrawing a minimum distribution from their retirement savings at the age of 70.5. Six-months-past-70 has invited an unnecessary amount of confusion since its inception in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The SECURE Act seeks to simplify matters by raising the RMD age to 72. If the RESA Act passes in the Senate, the age requirement will be raised even higher to 75.

IRA Contributions

One of the most confounding retirement rules is the age limitation on IRA contributions, currently set at 70.5. The SECURE Act repeals the age limitation for traditional IRA contributions.

Benefit to Parents

Section 113 removes the 10 percent penalty tax from qualified early retirement plan withdrawals. Parents will be able to take an aggregate amount of $5,000 within one year of the adoption or birth of a child, penalty free. Section 302 expands section 529 plans by allowing withdrawals of as much as $10,000 for repayments of some student loans.

Stretch Provisions

Currently, beneficiaries of inherited retirement plans like 401(k), traditional IRAs, and Roth IRAs can spread the distributions until their dying breath. The new revenue provisions (Section 401) changes the rules, requiring most beneficiaries to distribute the account over a 10-year period and pay any taxes due. The tax-generating change will accelerate the depletion of many inherited accounts but will not affect surviving spouses and minor children.  

Disclosures

Another administrative improvement provided in the Act requires employers to provide a lifetime income disclosure once every 12 months. The disclosures are meant to show the amount of monthly payments the participant or beneficiary would receive based on the total accrued benefit. 

Kiddie Tax

Under the current law, the unearned income of children would be taxed at their parent’s marginal tax rate. Section 501 repeals the “kiddie tax” measures that were added by the 2017 Tax Act. The new provision states that unearned income of children would not be taxed at trust rates. Taxpayers can retroactively elect to not pay the taxes. The bill benefits many Americans, including families of deceased active-duty service members, survivors of first responders, children who receive certain tribal payments, and college students receiving scholarships.

Other changes proposed in bill include increased penalties for failures to file and the portability of lifetime income options. The SECURE Act is as likely to pass as it is to undergo slight modifications. We will keep an eye on the state of the bill and keep you abreast of its status. In the meantime, our professionals are standing by to answer your questions and address your concerns.

What does your tax return say about your financial situation? The fact is, the paperwork you file each year offers excellent information about how you are managing your money—and highlights areas where it might be wise to make changes in your financial habits. If you have questions about your financial situation, we can help. Our firm is made up of highly qualified and educated professionals who serve as trusted business advisors to clients all year long.

Whether you are concerned about budgeting; saving for college, retirement or another goal; understanding your investments, cutting your tax bite, starting a business, or managing your debt, you can turn to us for objective answers to all your tax and financial questions.

We Can Help You Address the Issues that Keep You Up at Night

Where will your business be in five years? Would strategic budget cuts improve your company’s health? Are there ways you can boost revenue? If you are nearing retirement, do you have a buyer or successor in the wings? These are the kinds of questions that keep many business owners up at night. Fortunately, we can help you find financial peace.

Be Confident that You’re Making Tax-Advantageous Decisions

It’s tough to be proactive when tax laws are constantly changing. But it can be done! Our experienced team of CPAs can help you navigate the tax complexities affecting your business.

We review financial situations and develop creative strategies to minimize tax liabilities so you can meet your financial goals. Contact one of our professionals today.

Catch Kim Spinardi, CPA, Michael Frost, and Ralph Nelson, JD, CPA discussing the new tax laws and how working with one firm that can handle your tax, financial planning and investing needs may be your greatest asset.

To watch, click here!

Hamilton Tharp, LLP is proud to have been asked to be a part of this discussion on Real Talk San Diego’s “Your Wealth Hour” segment! 

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service recently issued final regulations and guidance addressing implementation of the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction (section 199A deduction). The guidance is an attempt to simplify this complicated deduction.Although one of the more complex changes in TCJA, this deduction has the potential to cut tax bills by up to one-fourth for eligible businesses. Below we have highlighted the major takeaways from the 247-page document released by the IRS last month.

If you are unfamiliar with this new deduction, which was created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), it allows entrepreneurs, self-employed individuals, and certain investors to deduct 20 percent of their business income from their taxable income. This is considered a “below-the-line” deduction, meaning it will not reduce your adjusted gross income.

Determining eligibility for this deduction depends on whether your business is considered a specified trade or business and is above or below the required threshold. The structure of your business also determines eligibility. Eligible structures include trust and estates, individuals, partnerships, s corporations and sole proprietors. The QBI deduction is not available for wage income or business income earned by a C corporation.

Calculating the QBI deduction also depends on whether a business is considered a “specified service.” A Specified Service Trade or Business (SSTB) includes services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, or businesses in which the principal asset is the reputation of one or more employee (endorsements or appearance fees). It is important to note that the rules change if your business is not considered a specified service.

Understanding the Final Ruling Around 199A

Below we have listed the most pertinent details issued last month by the IRS:

Safe Harbor for Rental Real Estate Enterprises

Also included in the final regulations, the IRS issued a proposed revenue procedure that provides a safe harbor for rental real estate enterprises to be considered a trade or business and qualify for the deduction. A rental real estate enterprise is defined as an interest in real property held for the production of rents and may consist of an interest in multiple properties.

According to Notice 2019-7, a rental real estate enterprise will be treated as a trade or business if the following requirements are satisfied during the tax year:

There are exceptions and exclusions to consider, including:

While this deduction will make the rules more manageable for some businesses, these rules will require more planning and additional complexities for others, including larger pass-through entities.

There are still many questions left unanswered, such as:

The deduction is available for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026. There is speculation whether a future Congress will uphold individual provisions. To discuss your future options regarding the QBI deduction and your eligibility to take advantage of the real estate safe harbor, contact our office.

Tax audit. These two simple words are enough to strike fear and loathing into the hearts of many business owners. But, in reality, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) won’t arbitrarily make your company the subject of an audit investigation. In fact, according to IRS.gov, out of the 196 million returns filed in 2016, only 1.1 million (0.5%) came under examination in 2017.  You are more likely to be summoned for jury duty (1 in 10) this year.

Unless you’re operating below the board or completely ignoring best practices, you have little to fear. However, even the most prudent sometimes miss a step. From managing the filing cabinet to the people who hold the keys, ensuring your business doesn’t catch unnecessary attention from the government comes down to good habits. Here are a few ways you can minimize the likelihood that you’ll be audited or ensure a more positive experience should you be audited.

If the IRS contacts you about an audit, CPAs advise that you don’t panic. Remember, you are not going on trial, you’re simply being asked to verify some of the claims you made on your tax return. It’s best to remain calm and cooperative when dealing with the IRS.

It’s also a good idea to contact your local CPA for advice and assistance in case you are audited. He or she can help you understand the process and work with you to try to achieve the best resolution.

The recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is a sweeping tax package. Here’s a look at some of the more important elements of the new law that have an impact on individuals.

IMPORTANT: California does not conform to the TCJA, therefore, we will still be requesting all of the information that we have in the past in order to properly prepare your federal and California tax returns. Unless otherwise noted, the changes are effective for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.

TAX RATES
The new law imposes a new tax rate structure with seven tax brackets: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%. The top rate applies to taxable income above $500,000 for single taxpayers, and $600,000 for married couples filing jointly. The rates applicable to net capital gains and qualified dividends were not changed. The “kiddie tax” rules were simplified. The net unearned income of a child subject to the rules will be taxed at the capital gain and ordinary income rates that apply to trusts and estates. Thus, the child’s tax is unaffected by the parent’s tax situation or the unearned income of any siblings.

STANDARD DEDUCTION
The new law increases the standard deduction to $24,000 for joint filers, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for singles and married taxpayers filing separately. Given these increases, many taxpayers will no longer be itemizing deductions or may benefit from “bunching” deductions in alternate years.

EXEMPTIONS
The new law suspends the deduction for personal exemptions. Thus, starting in 2018, taxpayers can no longer claim personal or dependency exemptions.

NEW DEDUCTION FOR “QUALIFIED BUSINESS INCOME”
Starting in 2018, taxpayers may be allowed a deduction up to 20 percent of “qualified business income,” otherwise known as “pass-through” income, i.e., income from partnerships, S corporations, LLCs, and sole proprietorships. The income must be from a trade or business within the U.S. Investment income does not qualify, nor do amounts received from an S corporation as reasonable compensation or from a partnership as a guaranteed payment for services provided to the trade or business. The deduction is not used in computing adjusted gross income, just taxable income. For taxpayers with taxable income above $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), (1) a limitation based on W-2 wages paid by the business and depreciable tangible property used in the business is phased in, and (2) income from the following trades or businesses is phased out of qualified business income: health, law, consulting, athletics, financial or brokerage services, or where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more employees or owners.

CHILD AND FAMILY TAX CREDIT
The new law increases the credit for qualifying children (i.e., children under 17) to $2,000 from $1,000, and increases to $1,400 the refundable portion of the credit. It also introduces a new (nonrefundable) $500 credit for a taxpayer’s dependents who are not qualifying children. The adjusted gross income level at which the credits begin to be phased out has been increased to $200,000 ($400,000 for joint filers).

STATE AND LOCAL TAXES
The itemized deduction for state and local income and property taxes is limited to a total of $10,000 starting in 2018. Therefore, prepaying your state and property taxes before the end of the calendar year may not provide a tax benefit.

MORTGAGE INTEREST
Under the new law, mortgage interest on loans used to acquire a principal residence and a second home is only deductible on debt up to $750,000 (down from $1 million), starting with loans taken out in 2018. And there is no longer any deduction for interest on home equity loans, regardless of when the debt was incurred.

MISCELLANEOUS ITEMIZED DEDUCTIONS
There is no longer a deduction for miscellaneous itemized deductions which were formerly deductible to the extent they exceeded 2 percent of adjusted gross income. This category included items such as tax preparation costs, investment expenses, union dues, and unreimbursed employee expenses.

MEDICAL EXPENSES
Under the new law, for 2017 and 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income for all taxpayers. Previously, the AGI “floor” was 10% for most taxpayers.

MOVING EXPENSES
The deduction for job-related moving expenses has been eliminated, except for certain military personnel. The exclusion for moving expense reimbursements has also been suspended.

ALIMONY
For post-2018 divorce decrees and separation agreements, alimony will not be deductible by the paying spouse and will not be taxable to the receiving spouse.

HEALTH CARE “INDIVIDUAL MANDATE”
Starting in 2019, there is no longer a penalty for individuals who fail to obtain minimum essential health coverage.

ESTATE AND GIFT TAX EXEMPTION
Effective for decedents dying, and gifts made, in 2018, the estate and gift tax exemption has been increased to roughly $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples).

ALTERNATIVE MINIMUM TAX (AMT) EXEMPTION
The AMT has been retained for individuals by the new law but the exemption has been increased to $109,400 for joint filers ($54,700 for married taxpayers filing separately), and $70,300 for unmarried taxpayers. The exemption is phased out for taxpayers with alternative minimum taxable income over $1 million for joint filers, and over $500,000 for all others.

As you can see from this overview, the new law affects many areas of taxation. Since the Treasury has not issued final regulations in many areas of the TCJA we anticipate extending several returns in order to avoid possible amendments after additional guidance is issued. Keep in mind that extending your return does not increase your chances of an audit but an amended return might! If you wish to discuss the impact of the law on your particular situation, please give us a call.

Listen to Lana Pflaum, CPA (around minute 6) provide insight on this very important topic. Hamilton Tharp, LLP is proud to have been asked to be a part of this discussion. Congratulations Lana!

https://www.facebook.com/YourWealthHour/videos/1835003159924259/

Taxpayers who are victims of a disaster might need to reconstruct records to prove their loss. Doing this may be essential for tax purposes, getting federal assistance, or insurance reimbursement.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, there are 12 things taxpayers can do to help reconstruct their records after a disaster:

With hurricane season in progress, we would like to remind individuals and businesses to safeguard their records against natural disasters with four simple steps.

Taxpayers should keep a set of backup records in a safe place. The backup should be stored away from the original set.

Keeping a backup set of records –– including, for example, bank statements, tax returns, insurance policies, etc. –– is easier now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, and much financial information is available on the Internet. Even if the original records are provided only on paper, they can be scanned into an electronic format. With documents in electronic form, taxpayers can save them to the cloud, download them to a backup storage device, like an external hard drive or USB flash drive, or burn them to a CD or DVD.

Another step a taxpayer can take to prepare for disaster is to photograph or videotape the contents of his or her home, especially items of higher value. It may be a good idea to compile a room-by-room list of belongings.

A photographic record can help an individual prove the market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Photos should be stored with a friend or family member who lives outside the area.

Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. Personal and business situations change over time as do preparedness needs. When employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.

Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

We are Ready to Help

Don’t wait until disaster strikes. If you have questions about safeguarding your records, speak to one of our team members today. We can help individuals and businesses prepare for disaster-related issues.

One of the most difficult things for a family to deal with after a loved one’s death is sorting through the endless paperwork needed to get the estate in order. Of course, this can be avoided by creating a “family file” containing all of your important documents needed in the event of your death. This file can make an already difficult process easier on your loved ones. Additionally, it is important that your documents are in order to ensure prompt payout on any life insurance policies on which your family may be depending.

The first step in assembling this file is to determine its contents. Generally, you will want copies of all of your financial and legal documents. Your financial adviser should be able to assist you in identifying files and developing a list specific to your situation, but the following paragraphs provide some general insight.

The most important document to keep a copy of is your will. Making sure that your loved ones know where this document is kept can be vital to ensuring that your final wishes are carried out. Your will should be kept at an attorney’s office or in a safety deposit box at a bank. Be sure that your family is aware of its location. You may also want to keep a letter of instruction in your home. This letter is not legally binding but oftentimes contains instructions for your funeral arrangements and the names and contact information for people listed in your will.

Documents establishing ownership of your financial assets, properties and any business interests should be kept in one location. Oftentimes family members are not aware of – or cannot remember – all of your assets. This could lead to them remaining unclaimed after your death. You also should ensure that any log-in information for online access to the accounts is kept on file, as well as information related to any safety deposit boxes you have. This information can help your family contact the bank in the event of your death. You might also want to keep a copy of your tax return with this information as it can help identify your assets in case any are missing.

In addition, you will want to keep copies of any life insurance policies you have, as well as documentation for your retirement accounts such as a pension or 401(k). This information should include the policy name, number and an agent to contact. If you have life insurance through your employer, make sure that it is included. Employer-provided policies are often overlooked.

Finally, you should keep your healthcare documentation in a file known to your family. For example, if you have a durable power of attorney – a document that lets your family make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated – this, too, should be in that file. You should also be sure to update this document as healthcare and privacy laws may render your documentation obsolete.

The professionals in our firm can help you identify the documentation you need to help your family in the event of a death. Call us today.

What does your tax return say about your financial situation? The paperwork you file each year offers excellent information about how you are managing your money—and the areas where it might be wise to make changes in your financial habits.

By taking the proper steps, your tax return will be transformed from a passive bag of receipts to proactive tax planning to help you reach your goals. As we prepare to file your taxes, we often identify common planning mistakes and missed opportunities. Below are five red flags that may present problems.

Mistake 1: Holding Title to Your Assets

One of the most common financial planning mistakes we see is a failure to make a transfer on death (TOD) designation. How you title your assets matters. Consider an asset held in joint name. In the event of your passing, this asset will automatically become owned by whomever the joint owner is through rights of survivorship. If you wish to appoint this asset to someone else, the asset may need to pass through probate before the transfer can be made. Probate, the courts process of gathering and distributing a deceased person’s assets, can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to complete. You can avoid probate by making a transfer on death election. We suggest speaking with an attorney to determine if your state has probate laws.

Mistake 2: Holding Too Many Accounts

We often accumulate accounts as we do our financial planning. Changing jobs or advisors or diversifying your portfolio can result in a multitude of assets. If your pile of 1099’s is growing, it may be time to reevaluate your strategy. While it may have worked in the past, holding too many accounts can lead to recordkeeping problems. Consolidating accounts will not only reduce your bookkeeping but also make overseeing and monitoring your accounts more manageable.

Mistake 3: Capital Loss Carryforwards

Capital losses can be used to offset other gains, but only $3,000 of that loss can be deducted from all other income, per year. Losses exceeding this threshold can be carried forward and applied to future tax years. When we see losses carried over year after year, it often indicates a lack of coordination between a tax plan and investments. Your tax plan should harmonize with your investments. One approach is to create gains to utilize your carryforward losses.

Mistake 4: Not Understanding Your Trust Benefits

Beneficiaries of trusts will receive a K-1 form to report their share of income and losses. If you are the beneficiary of a trust, find out who is in control of these assets and determine what authority, if any, you have to make changes. We encourage the beneficiary of any trusts to be proactive by asking questions and learning more about what they have control over, especially since it will ultimately impact their financial situation.

Mistake 5: Pass-Through Income Considerations

Businesses with pass-through income status don’t have to pay business taxes at the entity level. Instead, all income passes through the owner’s individual tax return and is taxed by the IRS at the personal tax rate. Under the new tax code, owners, partners and shareholders of S-corporations, LLCs and partnerships will receive a tax break. As long as they aren’t part of the carve-out group, those who pay their share of the business’ taxes through their individual tax returns will have a 20 percent deduction starting in 2018.

This deduction is a great financial planning opportunity, but there are exceptions. Qualifying for the deduction depends on your income threshold and what field your business is in. High-earning professionals that exceed the income threshold, such as physicians and attorneys, will likely not qualify. Likewise, those who hold occupations that provide a personal service, except engineering and architecture, are prohibited from taking the deduction. These industries include health, law, accounting and financial and brokerage services.

We can help you determine if you are eligible for this deduction and whether the business is equipped to financially handle the death or disability of an owner. It is essential that businesses with a pass-through income structure have a formal succession plan and updated buy-sell agreement with partners.

If you have questions about your financial situation, remember that we can help. Our firm is made up of highly qualified and educated professionals who serve as trusted business advisors and who work with clients like you all year long. We can review your financial situation and develop creative strategies to minimize your tax liability and help you meet your financial goals. Contact one of our professionals today.

Taxpayers might be eligible for a tax refund and don’t even know it!  Below are four tax credits that can mean a refund for eligible taxpayers:

  1. Earned Income Tax Credit. A taxpayer who worked and earned less than $53,930 last year could receive the EITC as a tax refund. They must qualify for the credit, and may do so with or without a qualifying child. They may be eligible for up to $6,318.
  2. Premium Tax Credit.Taxpayers who chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit sent directly to their insurer during 2017 must file a federal tax return to reconcile any advance payments with the allowable premium tax credit. In addition, taxpayers who enrolled in health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2017 and did not receive the benefit of advance credit payments may be eligible to claim the premium tax credit when they file.
  3. Additional Child Tax Credit. If a taxpayer has at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit, they might be eligible for the ACTC. This credit is for certain individuals who get less than the full amount of the child tax credit.
  4. American Opportunity Tax Credit. To claim the AOTC, the taxpayer, their spouse or their dependent must have been a student who was enrolled at least half time for one academic period. The credit is available for four years of post-secondary education. It can be worth up to $2,500 per eligible student. Even if the taxpayer doesn’t owe any taxes, they may still qualify. They are required to have Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, to be eligible for an education benefit. Students receive this form from the school they attended. There are exceptions for some students.

Taxpayers need to file a 2017 tax return to claim these credits. If you are unsure of your eligibility to claim the tax credits mentioned in this article, the professionals in our office can help. Call us today.

We know identity theft is a frustrating process for victims. The IRS is taking this issue very seriously and continues to expand on their robust screening process to stop fraudulent returns.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses personal information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes, such as claiming a fraudulent refund.

How do you know if your tax records have been affected?

Usually, an identity thief uses a legitimate taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund. Generally, the identity thief will use a stolen SSN to file a forged tax return and attempt to get a fraudulent refund early in the filing season.

You may only become aware this has happened to you if you file your return later in the filing season and discover that two returns have been filed using the same SSN.

Be alert to possible identity theft if you receive an IRS notice or letter that states that:

What should you do if your tax records are affected by identity theft?

If you receive a notice from the IRS, contact us immediately. If you believe someone may have used your SSN fraudulently, we will notify the IRS immediately by completing the appropriate paperwork.

If you are a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you

If your SSN number is compromised, the IRS recommends that you

How can you protect your tax records?

If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost/stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, please let us know. We can assist you in contacting the IRS and other agencies to ensure your identity is safe.

How can you minimize the chance of becoming a victim?

If you become a victim of identity theft, the professionals in our office can assist you in dealing with the IRS and any other agencies with which you must communicate. Call us today.

The new tax reform legislation that was signed into law today was the largest change to the tax system in over 3 decades. The last time the U.S. tax code saw significant reforms was under President Reagan in 1986. Those reforms sought to simplify income tax, broaden the tax base and eliminate many tax shelters.

Under this new legislation, substantial changes have been made to both individual and corporate tax rates. While most of the corporate provisions are permanent, individual provisions technically expire by the end of 2025. This expiration date is causing speculation on whether a future Congress will uphold the Individual provisions.

The new tax code contains many provisions that will affect individual, estate, and corporate taxpayers. To help you prepare, we have highlighted a few of the most pertinent details below. Please keep in mind, the purpose of this article is to summarize the key provisions.

Much more detail can be found here

What’s Changing?

Tax Bracket Rates. While taxpayers will still fall into one of seven tax brackets based on their income, the rates have changed. Some of the brackets have been lowered. The new rates are: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%.

Standard Deduction. The standard deduction has nearly doubled. For single filers, it has increased from $6,350 to $12,000; for married couples filing jointly, it’s increased from $12,700 to $24,000.

Personal Exemption. Under the prior tax code, a taxpayer could claim a $4,050 personal exemption for themselves, their spouse and each of their dependents, thus lowering their taxable income. Under the new tax code, the personal exemption has been eliminated. For some families, this will reduce or counter the tax relief they receive from other parts of the reform package.

State and Local Tax Deduction. The state and local tax deduction, or SALT, now has a cap. While it remains in place for those who itemize their taxes, it now has a $10,000 limit. This is a significant change, as filers could previously deduct an unlimited amount for state and local property taxes, plus income or sales taxes.

The Child Tax Credit. The child tax credit has been expanded, doubling to $2,000 for children under 17. It’s also available to more people. Single parents who make up to $200,000 and married couples who make up to $400,000 can claim the entire credit, in full.

Non-Child Dependents. A new tax credit is available for non-child dependents. Taxpayers, such as elderly parents, can claim a $500 temporary credit for non-child dependents. This can apply to a number of people adults support, such as children over age 17, elderly parents or adult children with a disability.

Alternative Minimum Tax. Fewer taxpayers will be affected by the alternative minimum tax. The purpose of the AMT is to ensure those who receive a lot of tax breaks are still paying some level of federal income taxes. The exemption will rise to $70,300 for singles, and to $109,400 for married couples.

Mortgage Interest Deduction. Going forward, anyone purchasing a home will only be able to deduct the first $750,000 of their mortgage debt. Down from $1 million, this will likely only affect people buying homes in more expensive regions. Current homeowners will likely be unaffected.

529 Savings Accounts. In the past, 529 savings accounts were untaxed and could only be applied towards college expenses.  Under the new tax code, up to $10,000 can be distributed annually to cover the cost of sending a child to a public, private or religious elementary or secondary school.

Alimony Payment Tax Deduction. The tax deduction for alimony payments will be eliminated for couples who sign divorce or separation paperwork after December 31, 2018.

Moving Expenses Deduction. The tax deduction for moving expenses is also gone, but there may be exceptions for members of the military.

Tax Preparation Deduction. Taxpayers can no longer deduct the cost of having their taxes prepared by a professional or the money they may have spent on tax preparation software.

Disaster Deduction.  Under the prior tax code, losses sustained due to a fire, storm, shipwreck or theft that insurance did not cover and exceeded 10% of their adjusted gross income, were deductible. Effective under the new tax code, taxpayers can only claim the disaster deduction if they are affected by an official national disaster.

Estate Tax. Prior to the tax reform, a limited number of estates were subject to the estate tax, a tax which applies to the transfer of property after someone dies. Now, even fewer taxpayers will be affected. The amount of money exempt from the tax — previously set at $5.49 million for individuals, and at $10.98 million for married couples — has been doubled.

Health Insurance Mandate. The failure to repeal Obamacare earlier this year afforded the Republicans the opportunity to eliminate one of the health law’s key provisions with tax reform. Effective in 2019, the individual mandate, which penalized people who did not have health care coverage, was eliminated.

Corporate Tax Rate. Beginning in 2018, the corporate tax rate will be cut from 35% to 21%.

Pass-through Entities. The owners, partners, and shareholders of S-corporations, LLCs and partnerships will receive a tax break. Those who pay their share of the business’ taxes through their individual tax returns will have a 20% deduction.

To ensure business owners do not abuse the provision, the legislation has included additional terms to this provision.

Multinational Corporations. The new tax bill is a shift towards globalization, changing the way multinational corporations are taxed. Companies will no longer pay federal taxes on income they make overseas. These companies will be required to pay a one-time fee, 15.5% on cash assets and 8% on non-cash assets, on any existing offshore profits.

Nonprofit Organizations. There is a new 21% excise tax on nonprofit employers for salaries they pay out above $1 million.

Sexual Harassment Settlements. Companies can no longer deduct any settlements, payouts or attorney’s fees related to sexual harassment if the payments are subject to non-disclosure agreements.

Bonus Depreciation. The Bonus depreciation will increase from 50% to 100% for property placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, when a 20% phase-down schedule will begin. The previous rule that made bonus depreciation available only for new properties was also removed.

Vehicle Depreciation. The new tax bill raises the cap placed on depreciation write-offs of business-use vehicles. $10,000 for the first year a vehicle is placed in service; $16,000 for the second year; $9,600 for the third year; and $5,760 for each subsequent year until costs are fully recovered. The new limits only apply to vehicles placed in service after December 31, 2017.

 

What’s Staying the Same?

Student Loan Interest. You can still deduct Student Loan Interest – the deduction for this will remain max $2,500.

Medical Expenses. The deduction for medical expense was untouched. Rather, it was expanded by two years. Filers can deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of their adjusted gross income.

Teachers. Teachers will continue to deduct up to $250 to offset what they spend on resources for the classroom.

Electric Car Credit. If you drive a plug-in electric vehicle, you can still claim a credit of up to $7,500.

Home Sellers. Homeowners that sell their house and make a profit can exclude up to $500,000 (or $250,000 for single filers) from capital gains. This still requires that it is their primary home and they have lived there for at least two of the past five years.

Tuition Waivers. Tuition Waivers, typically awarded to teaching and research assistants will remain tax free.

 

What Does All This Mean?

Although doubling the standard deduction will arguably simplify the process of filing taxes for individuals, it’s not true for all cases. There are still deductions and credits to consider. More so, filing for small businesses can potentially become more complicated. Each client scenario will be different and this has to be taken into account. The purpose of this article is to summarize the key provisions, much more detail can be found here. Depending on your situation, it may be beneficial to review your filing status as part of an overall tax planning strategy.

Again, please keep in mind that most of the items are effective January 1, 2018. The professionals in our office can answer questions you may have regarding the individual, estate and corporate tax provisions outlined in the Republican’s tax reform bill, contact your tax professional at Hamilton Tharp with any questions or email us at info@ht2cpa.com.

The IRS recently announced the 2018 cost-of-living adjustments for various retirement plan dollar limits.

The indexed amounts, and other commonly used limits, are listed below:

2018 2017 2016

IRAs

IRA Contribution Limit $5,500 $5,500 $5,500
IRA Catch-Up Contributions 1,000 1,000 1,000

IRA AGI Deduction Phase-out Starting at

Joint Return 101,000 99,000 98,000
Single or Head of Household 63,000 62,000 61,000

SEP

SEP Minimum Compensation 600 600 600
SEP Maximum Contribution 55,000 54,000 53,000
SEP Maximum Compensation 275,000 270,000 265,000

SIMPLE Plans

SIMPLE Maximum Contributions 12,500 12,500 12,500
Catch-up Contributions 3,000 3,000 3,000

401(k), 403(b), Profit-Sharing Plans, etc.

Annual Compensation 275,000 270,000 265,000
Elective Deferrals 18,500 18,000 18,000
Catch-up Contributions 6,000 6,000 6,000
Defined Contribution Limits 55,000 54,000 53,000
ESOP Limits

1,105,000

220,000

1,080,000

215,000

1,070,000

210,000

Other

HCE Threshold 120,000 120,000 120,000
Defined Benefit Limits 220,000 215,000 210,000
Key Employee 175,000 175,000 170,000
457 Elective Deferrals 18,500 18,000 18,000
Control Employee (board member or officer) 110,000 105,000 105,000
Control Employee (compensation-based) 220,000 215,000 215,000
Taxable Wage Base 128,400 127,200 118,500

The holiday season often prompts people to give money or property to charity. If you plan to give and want to claim a tax deduction, there are a few tips you should know before you give. For instance, you must itemize your deductions. Here are six more tips that you should keep in mind:

  1. Give to qualified charities. You can only deduct gifts you give to a qualified charity. You can deduct gifts to churches, synagogues, temples and registered charities.
  2. Keep a record of all cash gifts.  Gifts of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. You must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity to deduct any gift of money on your tax return. This is true regardless of the amount of the gift. The statement must show the name of the charity, the date,  and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, or bank, credit union and credit card statements. If you give by payroll deductions, you should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document from your employer. It must show the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.
  3. Household goods must be in good condition.  Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. These items must be in at least good-used condition to claim on your taxes. A deduction claimed of over $500 for a single item does not have to meet this standard if you include a qualified appraisal of the item with your tax return.
  4. Additional records required.  You must get an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. Additional rules apply to the statement for gifts of that amount. This statement is in addition to the records required for deducting cash gifts. However, one statement with all of the required information may meet both requirements.
  5. Year-end gifts.  Deduct contributions in the year you make them. If you charge your gift to a credit card before the end of the year it will count for 2017. This is true even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2018. Also, a check will count for 2017 as long as you mail it in 2017.
  6. Special rules.  Special rules apply if you give a car, boat or airplane to charity. If you claim a deduction of more than $500 for a noncash contribution, you will need to file Form 8283 providing detail for each donation.

For individuals and businesses making year-end gifts to charity, please consider these tips. The professionals in our office can answer any questions you may have regarding year-end gifts to charity. Call on us today!

With Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans maintaining a majority in Congress, dramatic tax changes may be on the horizon. Most likely, many provisions will not go into effect until 2018 or later. However, it’s important to keep in mind that 2018 legislation can still impact 2017 tax planning.

During year-end planning for 2017, individuals will need to keep an eye on future legislative changes and be prepared to take prompt action, if necessary. Below you will find an overview of key tax provisions and tax minimizing strategies.

Alternative Minimum Tax

Alternative minimum tax (AMT) should be considered before you and/or your accountant begin to time income and deductions. AMT is a separate tax system that limits some deductions and disallows others, such as state and local income tax deductions, property tax deductions and other miscellaneous itemized deductions that are subject to the 2% of AGI. Deductions include investment advisory fees and non-reimbursable employee business expenses.

With proper planning, you may be able to avoid AMT, reduce its impact or even take advantage of its lower maximum rate. Speak with your tax professional on AMT projections for this year and next.

Timing Income and Expenses

Timing is everything when it comes to income and expenses. Smart timing will reduce your tax liability, while poor timing can unnecessarily increase it.

If you don’t expect to be subject to AMT in the current or following year, consider income deferment. Deferring income and increasing deductible expenses for the current year is typically a good idea because it will postpone tax. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket, or if tax rates are expected to increase, the opposite approach rings true.

Whatever the reason for timing your income and deductions, here are some income items you may be able to control:

Followed by potentially controllable expenses:

Charitable Donations

Good deeds in the form of cash or in-kind items can reap great tax benefits. Generally, you may deduct up to 50% of your adjusted gross income for qualified charitable contributions. Tax savings can also be achieved through noncash donations. By giving gently worn items to a local resale shop, you can deduct the fair market value of the donated items. Before making a large donation to the charity of your choosing, discuss options with your tax professional.

Healthcare Breaks

If medical expenses were not paid through tax-advantaged accounts or were reimbursable by insurance and exceed 10% of your AGI, you can deduct the excess amount. Eligible expenses may include:

You may be able to save tax by contributing to one of these accounts:

Sales Tax Deduction

Taking an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes can be valuable for taxpayers residing in states with no or low-income tax or who purchase a major item, such as a car or boat. Certain deductions are reduced by 3% of the AGI amount if your AGI surpasses the applicable threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions).

The thresholds for 2017 are $261,500 (single), $287,650 (head of household), $313,800 (married filing jointly) and $156,900 (married filing separately).

Self-Employment Taxes

As a self-employed taxpayer, you may benefit from other above-the-line deductions. You can deduct 100% of health insurance costs for yourself, your spouse and your dependents, up to your net self-employment income. You can also deduct retirement plan contributions and, if you’re eligible, an HSA.

Estimated Payments and Withholdings

You can become subject to penalties if you don’t pay enough tax through estimated tax payments and withholding. Here are some strategies to help avoid underpayment penalties:

If you have questions about these or other tax saving tips, please contact your accounting professional to schedule your year-end planning meeting.

Around this time of year, many organizations are re-evaluating their annual budgets to improve profit margins and consolidate spending. One aspect of this process often includes exploring new or revised tax credits that can help offset the amount of money owed to the federal and state governments. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to recognize every tax credit they are eligible to receive. This oversight can happen for several reasons, including:

Whether you are an individual taxpayer or a small business owner, understanding your tax credit eligibility is important. The good news is that there are resources and processes designed to help you monitor and navigate the complex tax credit landscape.  Utilizing such tools can help capture 2017 credits as well as retroactive 2016 tax credit opportunities.

Both the federal and state government administer tax credit programs, each having defined eligibility requirements and refund amounts. In some instances, county and city governments even offer localized tax credits to encourage specific activities. The most common business tax credits nationwide include:

Taking advantage of tax credits from 2016 and the upcoming year can help your organization reduce its tax liability, lower its tax rate and improve the bottom line. For businesses that operate in multiple states, it is essential to understand the variations between credits because businesses based in certain states may be eligible to retroactively claim specific tax credits. For instance, 2016 tax credits that focus on job creation and property investments are still available.

Is your organization taking advantage of both state and federal tax credits? Consult with one of our tax professionals to ensure you are receiving the maximum amount due to you.

Equifax, one of the United States’ three major consumer credit reporting agencies, recently reported a breach that compromised the personal information of approximately 143 million Americans. The nature of this breach is particularly alarming because many consumers may not even know they are customers of the company. Equifax receives information from multiple sources including banks, lenders, credit card companies and retailers. Names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s licenses were among the information stolen from Equifax’s databases.

Credit card numbers for about 209,000 people were exposed, as was “personal identifying information” on roughly 182,000 customers involved in credit report disputes.

How to determine if you were one of the 143 million Americans affected

  • Visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab. You will be asked to enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number.
  • Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring. You have until November 20, 2017 to enroll.
  • Keep in mind, if you sign up for Equifax’s offer of free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring, you may be limiting your rights to sue and be forced to take disputes to arbitration.

Additional steps you can take

  • Review your transactions regularly. Monitor your credit card statements and credit report for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize. You can order a free report from each of the three credit bureaus once a year.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze, making it difficult for someone to open a new account in your name.
  • File your taxes early, before a scammer can.
  • Respond right away to letters from the IRS. Remember the IRS will never call.

We are closely monitoring this issue and will keep you informed of any new developments.

Summertime is a time of year when people rent out their property. In addition to the standard clean up and maintenance, owners need to be aware of the tax implications of residential and vacation home rentals.

Receiving money for the use of a dwelling also used as a taxpayer’s personal residence generally requires reporting the rental income on a tax return. It also means certain expenses become deductible to reduce the total amount of rental income that’s subject to tax.

Here are some basic tax tips that you should be aware of if you rent out a vacation or residential home:

The professionals in our office can answer your questions about residential and vacation home rentals, call us today!

Even though the tax filing season has ended for most taxpayers, The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a warning that tax-related scams continue. People should remain on alert to new and emerging schemes involving the tax system that continue to claim victims. Below we have listed four recent scams to be aware of and the tell tale signs of a scam.

EFTPS Scam
A new scam which is linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) has been reported nationwide. Con artists will call to demand immediate tax payment. The caller claims to be from the IRS and says that two certified letters mailed to the taxpayer were returned as undeliverable. The scammer then threatens arrest if a payment is not made immediately by a specific prepaid debit card. Victims are told that the debit card is linked to the EFTPS when, in reality, it is controlled entirely by the scammer. Victims are warned not to talk to their tax preparer, attorney or the local IRS office until after the payment is made.

“Robo-call” Messages
It is important to remember that the IRS does not call and leave prerecorded, urgent messages asking for a call back. In this tactic, scammers tell victims that if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Those who do respond are told they must make immediate payment either by a specific prepaid debit card or by wire transfer.

Private Debt Collection Scams
The IRS recently began sending letters to a relatively small group of taxpayers whose overdue federal tax accounts are being assigned to one of four private-sector collection agencies. Taxpayers should be on the lookout for scammers posing as private collection firms. The IRS-authorized firms will only be calling about a tax debt the person has had – and has been aware of – for years. The IRS would have previously contacted taxpayers about their tax debt.

Scams Targeting People with Limited English Proficiency
Taxpayers with limited English proficiency have been recent targets of phone scams and email phishing schemes that continue to occur across the country. Con artists often approach victims in their native language, threaten them with deportation, police arrest and license revocation among other things. They tell their victims they owe the IRS money and must pay it promptly through a preloaded debit card, gift card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls” or via a phishing email.

Tell Tale Signs of a Scam:

The IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:

How to Know It’s Really the IRS Calling or Knocking

The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. However, there are special circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as:

For more information visit “How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door” on IRS.gov.

If you think you are the target of a scam follow up with your accountant for further guidance.

Did you know that members of the military may qualify for tax breaks and benefits? Special rules can lower the tax they owe or give them more time to file and pay taxes. In some circumstances, certain types of military pay are tax-free.

Below are 8 tips to find out who qualifies.

  1. Combat Pay Exclusion – Part or even all of someones combat pay is tax-free if they serve in a combat zone, or provide direct support. There are, however, limits for commissioned officers.
  2. Deadline Extensions –  Certain members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone most tax deadlines. Those who qualify can get automatic extensions of time to file and pay their taxes.
  3. Special Deductions include:
  1. Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC –  If those serving get nontaxable combat pay, they may choose to include it in their taxable income to increase the amount of EITC. That means they could owe less tax and get a larger refund. For tax year 2016, the maximum credit for taxpayers is $6,269. It is best to figure the credit both ways to find out which works best.
  2. Signing Joint Returns – Normally, both spouses must sign a joint income tax return. If military service prevents that, one spouse may be able to sign for the other or get a power of attorney.
  3. ROTC Allowances –  Some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to allowances for education and subsistence. Active duty ROTC pay is taxable. For instance, pay for summer advanced camp is taxable.
  4. Separation and Transition to Civilian Life – If service members leave the military and look for work, they may be able to deduct some job search expenses, including travel, resume and job placement fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.
  5. Tax Help – Keep in mind that most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season. Some also offer free tax help after the April deadline. Check with the installation’s tax office (if available) or legal office for more information.

The professionals in our office can help you determine if you qualify for one or more of these special rules, call us today.

The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry recently issued an urgent alert to all employers that the Form W-2 email phishing scam has evolved beyond the corporate world and is spreading to other sectors, including school districts, tribal organizations and nonprofits.

In a related development, the W-2 scammers are coupling their efforts to steal employee W-2 information with an older scheme on wire transfers that is victimizing some organizations twice. “This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time. It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme,’’ said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

When employers report W-2 thefts immediately to the IRS, the agency can take steps to help protect employees from tax-related identity theft. The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry, working together as the Security Summit, have enacted numerous safeguards in 2016 and 2017 to identify fraudulent returns filed through scams like this. As the Summit partners make progress, cybercriminals need more data to mimic real tax returns.

Here’s how the scam works:

Cybercriminals use various spoofing techniques to disguise an email to make it appear as if it is from an organization executive. The email is sent to an employee in the payroll or human resources departments, requesting a list of all employees and their Forms W-2.  This scam is sometimes referred to as business email compromise (BEC) or business email spoofing (BES).

The Security Summit partners urge all employers to be vigilant. The W-2 scam, which first appeared last year, is circulating earlier in the tax season and to a broader cross-section of organizations, including school districts, tribal casinos, chain restaurants, temporary staffing agencies, healthcare and shipping and freight. Those businesses that received the scam email last year also are reportedly receiving it again this year.

New Twist to W-2 Scam: Companies Also Being Asked to Wire Money

In the latest twist, the cybercriminal follows up with an “executive” email to the payroll or comptroller and asks that a wire transfer also be made to a certain account. Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email, and some companies have lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars due to wire transfers.

The IRS, states and tax industry urge all employers to share information with their payroll, finance and human resources employees about this W-2 and wire transfer scam. Employers should consider creating an internal policy, if one is lacking, on the distribution of employee W-2 information and conducting wire transfers.

Steps Employers Can Take If They See the W-2 Scam

  • Organizations receiving a W-2 scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line. Organizations that receive the scams or fall victim to them should file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3,) operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • Employees whose Forms W-2 have been stolen should review the recommended actions by the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov or the IRS at www.irs.gov/identitytheft. Employees should file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return gets rejected because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

The W-2 scam is just one of several new variations that have appeared in the past year that focus on the large-scale thefts of sensitive tax information from tax preparers, businesses and payroll companies. Individual taxpayers also can be targets of phishing scams, but cybercriminals seem to have evolved their tactics to focus on mass data thefts.

Be Safe Online

In addition to avoiding email scams during the tax season, taxpayers and tax preparers should be leery of using search engines to find technical help with taxes or tax software. Selecting the wrong “tech support” link could lead to a loss of data or an infected computer. Also, software “tech support” will not call users randomly. This is a scam. Taxpayer or tax preparers looking for tech support for their software products should go directly to the provider’s web page.

The professionals in our office can answer any questions you may have regarding Phishing scams. Call us today.

The IRS recently proposed several significant changes to the existing regulations under Section 6015 of the Internal Revenue Code. The regulations in Section 6015 provide guidance to married individuals who filed joint returns and later sought relief from joint and several liability.

There are several proposed regulation changes:

The proposed rules are not applicable until they are published in the Federal Register. At that time, they will be considered final. If you would like more information about the proposed regulations, please contact one of our professionals today.

IRS Warns Taxpayers to Guard Against New Tricks by Scam Artists Losses Top $20 Million

WASHINGTON — Following the emergence of new variations of widespread tax scams, the Internal Revenue Service today issued another warning to taxpayers to remain on high alert and protect themselves against the ever-evolving array of deceitful tactics scammers use to trick people.

These schemes — which can occur over the phone, in e-mails or through letters with authentic looking letterhead — try to trick taxpayers into providing personal financial information or scare people into making a false tax payment that ends up with the criminal.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 600,000 contacts since October 2013. TIGTA is also aware of nearly 4,000 victims who have collectively reported over $20 million in financial losses as a result of tax scams.

“We continue to see these aggressive tax scams across the country,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Scam artists specialize in being deceptive and fooling people. The IRS urges taxpayers to be extra cautious and think twice before answering suspicious phone calls, emails or letters.”

Scammers posing as IRS agents first targeted those they viewed as most vulnerable, such as older Americans, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English. These criminals have expanded their net and are now targeting virtually anyone.

In a new variation, scammers alter what appears on your telephone caller ID to make it seem like they are with the IRS or another agency such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. They use fake names, titles and badge numbers. They use online resources to get your name, address and other details about your life to make the call sound official. They even go as far as copying official IRS letterhead for use in email or regular mail.

Brazen scammers will even provide their victims with directions to the nearest bank or business where the victim can obtain a means of payment such as a debit card. And in another new variation of these scams, con artists may then provide an actual IRS address where the victim can mail a receipt for the payment — all in an attempt to make the scheme look official.

The most common theme with these tricks seems to be fear. Scammers try to scare people into reacting immediately without taking a moment to think through what is actually happening.

These scam artists often angrily threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation or other similarly unpleasant things. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests, sometimes through “robo-calls,” via phone or email. The emails will often contain a fake IRS document with a telephone number or email address for your reply.

It is important to remember the official IRS website is IRS.gov. Taxpayers are urged not to be confused or misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. Taxpayers should never provide personal information, financial or otherwise, to suspicious websites or strangers calling out of the blue.

Below are five things scammers often do that the real IRS would never do.

The IRS will never:

Here’s what you should do if you think you’re the target of an IRS impersonation scam:

If you have a financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account exceeding certain thresholds, the Bank Secrecy Act may require you to report the account yearly to the IRS by filing a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).  Specifically,  Form 114 is required to be filed if during the year—

  1. You had a financial interest in or signature authority over at least one foreign financial account (which can be anything from a securities, brokerage, mutual fund, savings, demand, checking, deposit, or time deposit account to a commodity futures or options, and a whole life insurance or a cash value annuity policy) and;
  2. The aggregate value of all such foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2014.

The 2014 Form 114 must be filed by JUNE 30, 2015  and cannot be extended.  Furthermore, it must be filed electronically. The penalty for failing to file Form 114 is substantial—up to $10,000 per violation (or the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the balance in an account if the failure is willful).

To File the Form 114 Yourself, go to:

http://bsaefiling.fincen.treas.gov/main.html

* Click on “Become a BSA E-Filer”

* Click on “File an Individual FBAR (FinCEN Form 114)

* Complete the form and submit

If we have not already contacted you about filing this form for you, please give us a call. As always, please contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding this form.

Hamilton Tharp, LLP