jump to navigation

Tax Tip of the Week | Can S Corporations Save Taxes? Apparently, Some Politicians Think So. August 21, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, Deductions, Depreciation options, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

In an effort to save federal income taxes, many people and not just some politicians route their business income through S corporations.  Their profits which may be retained by the S corporation and/or distributed to the shareholder(s) are typically the result of keeping the shareholder’s reasonable wages at a level that assures a corporate profit.  Keeping these reasonable wages below the FICA ceiling ($132,900 for 2019) may save taxes of 15.3% from FICA and Medicare, combined.  If, these wages exceed the FICA ceiling then the potential tax savings drop to only the Medicare tax of 2.9% plus another .9% if individual’s wages are over $200,000 ($250,000 married filing jointly).

The point to be made here is that at the right income levels, significant tax savings may exist with the proper use of an S corporation.  However, these savings come along with the possibility of additional IRS scrutiny.  And, since you may be paying less social security taxes, your future social security benefits may be dinged ever so slightly; but these tax savings are now in your own pocket.

The below WSJ article authored by Richard Rubin covers a portion of this age-old tax saving strategy along with some interesting commentary.

               -Mark Bradstreet

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden used a tax loophole that the Obama administration tried and failed to close, substantially lowering his tax bill.

Mr. Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, routed their book and speech income through S corporations, according to tax returns the couple released this week. They paid income taxes on those profits, but the strategy let the couple avoid the 3.8% net investment income tax they would have paid had they been compensated directly instead of through the S corporations.

The tax savings were as much as $500,000, compared to what the Biden’s would have owed if paid directly or if the Obama proposal had become law.

“As demonstrated by their effective federal tax rate in 2017 and 2018—which exceeded 33%—the Biden’s are committed to ensuring that all Americans pay their fair share,” the Biden campaign said in a statement Wednesday.

The technique is known in tax circles as the Gingrich-Edwards loophole—for former presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and John Edwards, a Democrat—whose tax strategies were scrutinized and drew calls for policy changes years ago. Other prominent politicians, including former President Barack Obama and fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, as well as current contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, received their book or speech income differently and paid self-employment taxes.

Some tax experts have pointed to pieces of President Trump’s financial disclosures and leaked tax returns to suggest that he has used a similar tax-avoidance strategy.

Unlike his Democratic rivals and predecessors in both parties, Mr. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, and his administration is fighting House Democrats’ attempt to use their statutory authority to obtain them. Democratic presidential candidates have released their tax returns and welcomed criticism to draw a contrast with Mr. Trump.

“There’s no reason for these to be in an S corp—none, other than to save on self-employment tax,” said Tony Nitti, an accountant at RubinBrown LLP who reviewed the returns.

Mr. Biden, who was vice president from 2009 to 2017, has led the Democratic field in polls since entering the race. He is campaigning on making high-income Americans pay more in taxes and on closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy.

Mr. Biden has decried the proliferation of such loopholes since Ronald Reagan’s presidency and said the tax revenue could be used, in part, to help pay for initiatives to provide free community-college tuition or to fight climate change.

“We don’t have to punish anybody, including the rich. But everybody should start paying their fair share a little bit. When I’m president, we’re going to have a fairer tax code,” Mr. Biden said last month during a speech in Davenport, Iowa.

The U.S. imposes a 3.8% tax on high-income households—defined as individuals making above $200,000 and married couples making above $250,000. Wage earners have part of the tax taken out of their paychecks and pay part of it on their returns. Self-employed business owners have to pay it, too. People with investment earnings pay a 3.8% tax as well.

But people with profits from their active involvement in businesses can declare those earnings to be neither compensation nor investment income. The Obama administration proposed closing that gap by requiring all such income to be subject to a 3.8% tax, and it was the largest item on a list of “loophole closers” in a plan Mr. Obama released during his last year in office. The administration estimated that proposal, which didn’t advance in Congress, would have raised $272 billion from 2017 through 2026.

Under current law, S-corporation owners can legally avoid paying the 3.8% tax on their profits as long as they pay themselves “reasonable compensation” that is subject to regular payroll taxes. S corporations are a commonly used form for closely held businesses in which the profits flow through to the owners’ individual tax returns and are taxed there instead of at the business level.

The difficulty is in defining reasonable compensation, and the IRS has had mixed success in challenging business owners on the issue. The Bidens’ S corporations—CelticCapri Corp. and Giacoppa Corp.—reported more than $13 million in combined profits in 2017 and 2018 that weren’t subject to the self-employment tax, while those companies paid them less than $800,000 in salary.

If the entire amount were considered compensation, the Bidens could owe about $500,000. An IRS inquiry might reach a conclusion somewhat short of that.

“The salaries earned by the Bidens are reasonable and were determined in good faith, considering the nature of the entities and the services they performed,” the Biden campaign statement said.

For businesses that generate money from capital investments or from a large workforce, less of the profits stem from the owner’s work, and thus reasonable compensation can be lower. For businesses whose profits are largely attributable to the owner’s work, the case for reasonable compensation that is far below profits is harder to make.

To the extent that the Bidens’ profits came directly from the couple’s consulting and public speaking, “to treat those as other than compensation is pretty aggressive,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a research group run by a former Obama administration official.

Mr. Nitti said he uses a “call in sick” rule for his clients trying to navigate the reasonable-compensation question: If the owner called in sick, how much money could the company still make?

“The reasonable comp standard is a nebulous one,” Mr. Nitti said. “This is pretty cut and dried. If you’re speaking or writing a book, it’s all attributable to your efforts.”

The IRS puts more energy into cases where the business owners pay so little reasonable compensation that they owe the full Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes of 15.3%, Mr. Nitti said.

In a statement released Tuesday along with the candidate’s tax returns, the Biden campaign noted that the couple employs others through its S corporation and calls the companies a “common method for taxpayers who have outside sources of income to consolidate their earnings and expenses.”

Credit given to: Richard Rubin. This article was written July 10, 2019. You can write to Richard Rubin at richard.rubin@wsj.com—Ken Thomas contributed to this article.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This week’s author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Are You Considering Early Retirement? Maybe You Should Reconsider… July 10, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

Effects of Early Retirement

While many people look forward to retirement, after years of hard work and dedication, most people do not think about the potential physical, emotional and cognitive issues arising from the cessation of their life filled with the routine of working every day. Research suggests that early retirement may even kill you. You may think: How can that be? How can working longer be better for your health?

Early retirement offers many positive benefits. People have more time to pursue other passions and interests that they may have been longing to try. This gives them time to step away from stressful work and the high demand of work. 

Early retirees do not consider their potential unhealthy behaviors. These include being uninvolved with others, being too sedentary, over eating, and consuming too much alcohol. These factors arise because the retirees no longer have the purpose to fulfill work duties. Life as they have known it is suddenly gone.  This can lead to depression, lack of engagement, or even death. According to Richard W. Johnson, work and the work environment creates intellectual stimulation, while retirement can accelerate cognitive decline. He explains that it is important to keep the brain stimulated. 

Another risk to retirement is the possibility of becoming socially isolated. Many people do not realize the impact that a work environment can have on a person. Colleagues are there to engage and support each other, which adds significant social fulfillment to one’s life. Research suggests that avoiding social isolation by working even part time or volunteering may give retirees a longer life. Social isolation can reduce life satisfaction and affect your physical and mental health. Johnson discovered that only one-third of Americans age 55 and older will actually participate in community groups or unpaid activities. Being involved in activities or even having a part time job can provide stimulation and social interaction similar to that experienced by those who are engaged in full-employment.

Retiring early also has a significant financial impact. Some believe that this is the biggest danger to retirement. Being financially secure is something that people worry about each day while in paid employment. How much time do people think about it when they are in actual retirement? At age 62, you are eligible to receive Social Security, however, it will only cover about 40% of your paycheck. Johnson suggests that workers who remain in their careers can save some of their additional earnings for retirement and will accumulate more Social Security in the long run. 

When you turn 62…

At age 62 everyone thinks about the possibility of retiring. It is like a light bulb that goes off to indicate that you should consider taking the long break you have earned. A study by Maria Fitzpatrick at Cornell University and Timothy Moore at the University of Melbourne shows that there is a correlation between an increase in mortality rates and retirement. It states the risk factors include smoking and lack of physical activity, which are downfalls to early retirement. Many people believe they should retire by a certain age or they feel the pressure to retire early, which is a psychological effect. Johnson explains that as a society we should be encouraging older workers to stay on the job. This can boost long term health, longevity and the emotional and physical strength of the brain. Older workers are protected from age discrimination by Federal law. By allowing older workers to work longer the companies can not only benefit from the skilled workers but will enable the workers to live a longer healthier life. 

Credit given to:  Johnson, R. W. (2019, April 22). The Case Against Early Retirement. 

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This Week’s Author – Brianna Anello

–until next week.

Tax Law: An Art or a Science? May 29, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

Is preparing tax returns an art or a science? My answer may depend upon the day you ask me. But, more often than not, I would say that tax preparation is a blend of an art AND a science.

Too often when people are presented with a tax problem of sorts – what do they do? Well, of course, they pull out their smartphone and GOOGLE their question. In all honesty I am guilty of this quick fix as well. Naturally, we are all looking for the answer that we wish to hear. That being anything that will save us taxes. Most GOOGLE responses, especially the ones near the top of the search page are click bait. They have the answers you want to see. You are doing yourself a disservice if you stop with that “fast and loose” answer. You have to look for the “odd” stuff, the twists and turns that accompany the exceptions to every tax rule. Some of these may help you while others will cost you money. Even once you have found the exceptions then one must continue to look for how your question fits in with or conflicts with other sections of the Internal Revenue Code. And, what about that tax law change or court case that was handed down yesterday. What about that new tax law on the horizon? Did you notice that the website where you fell in love with the answer is six (6) years old?

The “art” part comes from trying to hit a moving target. A target that is not always visible but at the end of the day you have to take the shot. Or, at least spin it in a fashion so that you have not crossed the often-fuzzy line and stayed in the gray.

                                        –    Mark Bradstreet

An Internal Revenue Service official once introduced me to the rule of PUNG. When writing about taxes, he said, make frequent use of the words “probably, usually, normally and generally.”

That’s generally good advice—not only for tax columnists struggling to explain tricky tax laws but also for tens of millions of taxpayers racing to file their returns on time. “The law is chock-full of exceptions and counterintuitive twists that are easy to overlook and can often have an important impact on your tax bill”, says Claudia Hill, owner of TaxMam Inc., a tax services firm in Cupertino, Calif.

With the tax-filing deadline fast approaching for most of us, here are a few reminders from tax pros on how the fine print can sometimes be your friend.

Filing deadline: For most taxpayers, the filing deadline is April 15. But it’s April 17 for taxpayers who live in Maine or Massachusetts because of the Patriots’ Day holiday there on April 15 and the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia on April 16. It can be even later for other taxpayers, such as those in places designated as federal disaster areas.

If you need more time to file, as millions of people do each year, don’t panic: The IRS gives automatic six-month extensions until Oct. 15. But its website notes that an “extension of time to file your return doesn’t grant you any extension of time to pay your taxes.” The IRS estimates it will receive more than 14.6 million extension requests; a spokesman says.

Casualty losses: Fires, floods, mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes and many other natural disasters made 2018 a year many of us are eager to forget, and this year already is shaping up as another grim reminder of Mother Nature’s awesome power.

At first glance, the wide-ranging tax law enacted in late 2017 might seem like yet another disaster for the many people who suffered major casualty losses. That law generally eliminated personal casualty and theft-loss deductions for most taxpayers, starting last year. But there is an important exception, says Jackie Perlman, principal tax research analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. Victims still are eligible to deduct net personal casualty losses “to the extent they’re attributable to a federally declared disaster,” the IRS says.

Warning: There are important loss limitations and other tricky calculations to consider. For details, see IRS Publication 547.

Here is a holdover from the old law that may surprise some people because it sounds counterintuitive: Victims in federal disaster areas can choose to claim their losses for the year in which the disaster actually struck or for the prior year. For example, taxpayers with net personal casualty losses this year could claim their losses on their return for 2018—or they could wait until next year and claim it on their return for 2019, says Ms. Jackie Perlman of H&R Block. Taxpayers who suffered losses in 2018 could claim those losses on their return for that year—or on their return for 2017 (typically by filing an amended return).

14-day rule: As a general rule, the net rental income you get from renting out your home is subject to tax. But “there’s a special rule if you use a dwelling unit as a residence and rent it for fewer than 15 days,” the IRS says on its website. “In this case, don’t report any of the rental income and don’t deduct any expenses as rental expenses.”

Those 14 days don’t have to be consecutive, says Ms. Claudia Hill, who is also an enrolled agent (enrolled agents are tax specialists authorized to represent taxpayers at all levels of the IRS). But if you rent your home for 15 days or more, include all of that rental income in your income, says Ms. Jackie Perlman.

Refund claims: Don’t assume that you have forever to file your federal income-tax return as long as you are entitled to a refund. About 1.2 million taxpayers could lose almost $1.4 billion in unclaimed refunds because they still haven’t filed a 2015 Form 1040 return, the IRS warned in a recent press release.

“In cases where a federal income tax return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity to claim a tax refund,” the IRS says. If they miss that deadline, “the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. For 2015 tax returns, the window closes April 15, 2019, for most taxpayers.”

Here are other reasons to pay attention: The IRS reminded taxpayers seeking a 2015 tax refund “that their checks may be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2016 and 2017. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or a state tax agency and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans.”

Credit for excess Social Security tax: Most people probably assume it’s a waste of time to check and see how much their employers withheld from their paychecks for Social Security. But consider doing it anyway, especially if you’re a high-income taxpayer who worked for two or more employers last year. The maximum amount that should have been withheld for 2018 was $7,960.80 (6.2% of $128,400, which was the maximum amount of wages subject to the tax.) If more than that was withheld, claim a credit for the excess amount. However, if any single employer withheld too much, ask the employer to adjust the tax for you, the IRS says. “If the employer doesn’t adjust the overcollection you can file a claim for refund using Form 843.”

Interesting exception: Interest income you receive on U.S. Treasury bills, notes and bonds is taxable at the federal level. But don’t forget that such interest is tax-free at the state and local level. That can be especially important for taxpayers in New York City, California or other high-tax areas.

Additional standard deduction: Thanks to the 2017 law, tax professionals predict many more people will claim the standard deduction for 2018, rather than itemizing. That law included a sharp increase in the basic standard deduction and generally limited state and local tax deductions to $10,000 per household. The basic standard deduction for 2018 is $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, or $12,000 for most singles and those who are married but filing separately.

But there is an extra amount for older taxpayers, those who qualify as blind, or both. For example, if you’re married filing jointly and you and your spouse each are 65 or older, the total standard deduction for 2018 would be $26,600. See IRS Publication 17 for more details.

IRA deadline: It might seem logical to assume there is nothing you can do now to affect your return for 2018. But for some people, it isn’t too late: The IRS says contributions to a traditional IRA can be made for a year “at any time during the year or by the due date for filing your return for that year, not including extensions. For most people, this means that contributions for 2018 must be made by April 15, 2019 (April 17, 2019, if you live in Maine or Massachusetts).”

Educator Expenses: Teachers and other educators who pay for educational supplies and other expenses out of their own pockets should be aware that those costs may be deductible up to $250 a year. This special deduction applies to teachers from kindergarten through grade 12, instructors, counselors, principals or aides in school for at least 900 hours during a school year. Qualified expenses include “ordinary and necessary expenses paid in connection with books, supplies, equipment (including computer equipment, software, and services), and other materials used in the classroom,” the IRS says. But you can’t deduct expenses for home schooling or for “nonathletic supplies for courses in health or physical education.”

If you and your spouse file jointly and both are eligible, “the maximum deduction is $500,” the IRS says. “However, neither spouse can deduct more than $250 of his or her qualified expenses.” This deduction goes on Schedule 1 of Form 1040, line 23.

Credit given to: Tom Herman. This article was written for the WSJ on Monday, March 25, 2019. Mr. Herman is a writer in New York City. He was formerly The Wall Street Journal’s Tax Report columnist. Send comments and tax questions to taxquestions@wsj.com.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | New Tax Laws Benefit Retirees May 22, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

The tax year of 2018 was the first full year for some tax savings that may benefit retired taxpayers more than some other groups. Some of these possible benefits follow:

1.    Higher standard deduction – for those retirees that have paid off their home mortgage may now have difficulty in itemizing their deductions. But, no matter – the new higher standard deduction which has practically doubled from 2017 to 2018 is more likely worth more in tax savings than being able to itemize as before.  
2.    Taxpayers aged 70 ½ and older may transfer up to $100,000 to charities from their IRAs even if unable to itemize. These contributions may count toward their RMD – BUT, the withdrawal doesn’t count as taxable income. An added benefit is that making donations in this fashion holds down your adjusted gross income which can help save on taxes on Medicare premiums, investment income and social security benefits. 
3.    Higher gift tax exemptions are available. The annual gift exclusion for 2019 is $15,000. So, any annual gifts made less than $15,000 do not require a gift tax return. Above that amount, a gift tax return is required, but typically, no gift tax is paid, unless working with a high net worth individual that is making lifetime gifts exceeding $11.4 million. A sunset provision exists where in 2026 – gift and estate tax provisions revert back from the $11.4 million to the pre-2018 levels of $5.49 million per person.  

The article that follows, Tax Overhaul Gives Retirees Some Relief further discusses the above in greater depth and includes some additional benefits. It was authored by Anne Tergensen and published by the WSJ on April 12, 2019.  
                                        –    Mark Bradstreet

Taxpayers are now filing their first returns based on the tax law Congress enacted in 2017. For retirees, the largest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades has created new opportunities to cut taxes, along with some potential headaches.

Here are important changes retirees should be aware of and steps they can take to reduce their future tax bills.

1.    Higher standard deduction:

Many retirees, especially those who have paid off mortgages, take the standard deduction. For them, one positive change is the near-doubling of this deduction, or the amount taxpayers can subtract from their adjusted gross income if they don’t itemize deductible expenses including state taxes and charitable donations.

For individuals, the standard deduction is $12,000 for 2018 and $12,200 for 2019, up from $6,350 in 2017. For married couples, it is $24,000, rising to $24,400 for 2019, up from $12,700 in 2017. People 65 and older can also take an additional standard deduction of $1,600 (rising to $1,650 in 2019) or $2,600 for married couples. The expanded standard deduction expires at the end of 2025.

2.    A tax break for charitable contributions:

Retirees who take the standard deduction can still claim a tax benefit for donating to charity.

Taxpayers age 70½ or older can transfer up to $100,000 a year from their individual retirement accounts to charities. These donations can count toward the minimum required distributions the Internal Revenue Service requires those taxpayers to take from these accounts. But the donor doesn’t have to report the IRA withdrawal as taxable income. This can help the taxpayer keep his or her reported adjusted gross income below thresholds at which higher Medicare premiums and higher taxes on investment income and Social Security benefits kick in. People over 70½ who itemize their deductions can also benefit from such charitable transfers, said Ed Slott, an IRA specialist in Rockville Centre, N.Y.

3.    More options for 529 donors:

The new law allows taxpayers to withdraw up to $10,000 a year from a tax-advantaged 529 college savings account to pay a child’s private-school tuition bills from kindergarten to 12th grade.

For parents and grandparents who write tuition checks, saving in a 529 has advantages. The accounts, which are offered by states, allow savers to make after-tax contributions that qualify for state income tax breaks in many states and grow free of federal and state taxes. Withdrawals are also tax-free if used to pay eligible education expenses.

As in prior years, donors who want to give a child more than the $15,000 permitted under the gift-tax exemption can contribute up to five times that amount, or $75,000, to a 529. (They would then have to refrain from contributing for that child for the next four years.)

About a dozen states don’t allow tax-free withdrawals from 529s for private K-12 school tuition, so check with your plan first, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Savingforcollege.com.

4.    Higher gift-tax exemption:

The tax overhaul includes a sweet deal for ultrawealthy families. For the next seven years, the gift-tax exemption for individuals is an inflation-adjusted $11.4 million, up from $11.18 million in 2018 and $5.49 million in 2017. For couples, it is $22.8 million, up from $22.36 million in 2018 and $10.98 million in 2017.

Congress also raised the estate-tax exemption to $11.4 million per person today from $5.49 million in 2017. As a result, taxpayers can give away a total of $11.4 million tax-free, either while alive or at death, without paying a 40% gift or estate tax.

Because in 2026 gift- and estate-tax exemptions are set to revert to pre-2018 levels of $5.49 million per person adjusted for inflation, individuals with assets above about $6 million—and couples with more than $12 million—should consider making gifts, said Paul McCawley, an estate planning attorney at Greenberg Traurig LLP.

The sooner you give assets away, the more appreciation your heirs can pocket free of gift or estate tax, Mr. McCawley said.

The Treasury Department and the IRS recently issued proposed regulations that would grandfather gifts made at the higher exemption amount between 2018 and 2025 after the exemption reverts to pre-2018 levels.

5.    Less generous medical-expense deduction:

For 2018, taxpayers can deduct eligible medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income. That means for someone with a $100,000 income and $50,000 of medical or nursing-home bills, $7,500 is not deductible.

In 2019, the threshold for the medical deduction is slated to rise to 10% of adjusted gross income. That would leave the person above unable to deduct $10,000 of medical bills. One way to reduce the pain is to take advantage of the tax break available to people 70½ or older who make charitable transfers from IRAs, said Mr. Slott. Because the donor doesn’t have to report charitable IRA transfers as taxable income, a $5,000 gift would reduce a $100,000 income to $95,000. That, in turn, would mean $9,500 of medical expenses are ineligible for the deduction in 2019, rather than $10,000.

6.    Goodbye to Roth re-characterizations:

The legislation ended the ability of savers to “undo” Roth IRA conversions, which had been used to nullify certain IRA-related tax bills.

With a traditional IRA, savers typically get a tax deduction for contributions and owe ordinary income tax on withdrawals. With a Roth IRA, there is no upfront tax deduction, but withdrawals in retirement are usually tax-free. Tax-free withdrawals are attractive since they don’t push the saver into a higher tax bracket or trigger higher Medicare premiums.

Savers can convert all or part of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, but they owe income tax on the taxable amount they convert in the year they convert. Until the overhaul, savers could undo a Roth conversion—and cancel the tax bill—within a specific time frame. But under the new tax law, Roth conversions can no longer be undone.

That doesn’t mean converting is no longer worthwhile, Mr. Slott said. But people should be careful to convert only an amount they know they can afford to pay taxes on.

Credit Given to:  Anne Tergesen. You can write to Anne Tergesen at anne.tergesen@wsj.com.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Nanny Taxes May 1, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Deductions, General, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Tip, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

With the last day of school fast approaching, it is time to consider child care during the summer months.

Instead of sending children to day care or summer day camp, many parents consider hiring a nanny or frequent baby sitter to watch their children. As if balancing work and childrearing is not challenging enough, if parents get outside help to care for their children at home, they will also need to understand the tax implications. Unless they are tax experts, they probably have a few questions about how to do things correctly.

If parents have a nanny or frequent babysitter watching their children at home, that person is considered a household employee if she is in charge of what work is done and how it is done (which is usually the case). It does not matter whether the person works full time or part time, or that the person was hired through an agency or from a list provided by an agency or association. It also does not matter whether the person is paid for the job on an hourly, daily or weekly basis.

On the flipside, someone providing childcare services in his or her own home is not a household employee of the parents. Likewise if an agency provides the worker and the agency is in charge of what work is done and how it is done, the worker is not a household employee of the parents.

As a household employee, a nanny or frequent baby sitter is going to cost parents more than the rate they pay for watching their children. In addition to paying the employee’s wages, they may be required to pay household employment taxes, popularly referred to as the “nanny tax.”

The nanny tax involves two separate employment taxes. Whether the parents are responsible for either depends on the amount they pay.

First is FICA, which consists of Social Security and Medicare taxes. FICA is a 15.3 percent tax on cash wages that is generally split equally between the employer and employee. Parents and their household employee each pay 7.65 percent—which is 6.2 percent Social Security tax plus 1.45 percent Medicare tax.

In 2015, the IRS required anyone with a household employee to withhold and pay FICA for any employee with annual cash wages of $1,900 or more.

Second is FUTA (federal unemployment tax). The FUTA tax is 6.0% of your employee’s FUTA wages. However, you may be able to take a credit of up to 5.4% against the FUTA tax, resulting in a net tax rate of 0.6%. Your credit for 2019 is limited unless you pay all the required contributions for 2019 to your state unemployment fund by April 15, 2020. The credit you can take for any contributions for 2019 that you pay after April 15, 2020, is limited to 90% of the credit that would have been allowable if the contributions were paid on or before that day.

Note:  Don’t withhold the FUTA tax from your employee’s wages. You must pay it from your own funds.

The rules and reporting of “nanny wages” and “nanny taxes” get pretty complicated real quick.

The important thing to remember is that if you pay someone more than $1,900 this summer, you need to give us a call.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

–until next week.

10 Tips for Tiger Woods (Professional Athletes) and the New Tax Law April 17, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, Depreciation options, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

The odds are good that this Tax Tip of the Week won’t reach more than a handful of professional athletes and maybe not even that many. Regardless, in the world of tax, many similarities exist between a professional athlete and an employee who travels around the country. Sadly, those similarities are the only things that I will ever have in common with the likes of Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Stephan Curry and Tom Brady. The commentary below was taken from an article dated April 23, 2018 by Travis Tandy who is a staff accountant with Ferguson, Timar & Co in Fullerton California. As you read through this article, please note that the tax laws are no different for you than for a professional athlete, especially if your job necessitates travelling between various taxing entities and you have been itemizing your deductions in the past.

                                                        – Mark Bradstreet

Whether you’ve provided tax and accounting services for professional athletes in the past or are just getting started, you’ll want to pay special attention to these 10 key issues that are unique to this type of client. Adding to the special circumstances these athletes have faced in the past year is the new tax law. Many business expenses that are common among professional athletes are no longer deductible or are limited. Tax planning opportunities abound for this type of client as we all sort through the ramifications of the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Here are some of the many things you’ll face.

1. Jock Tax: Under the terms of what is commonly called the “Jock Tax,” athletes must report their income in each state in which they play. An additional challenge from a tax planning standpoint is player trades during the year. We may set up a tax plan, only to have the player traded to a different state or team in which they will play in an entirely different set of states.

2. Residency: Establishing residency can be most challenging for rookie players. Rookies are often young and unestablished outside of their parents’ home state. Veteran players have the benefit of choosing a permanent residency based on their tax situation. The key is to establish residency in a favorable county near the home stadium. Establishing residency can be done simply by finding a living space, obtaining a driver’s license in that state and setting up utilities in the player’s name. Many players choose states like Florida, Texas, and Washington that have no state tax requirements.

3. Charitable Giving/Non-profit: Players can take advantage of their status to help others through charitable giving. This allows them to support a cause close to their heart. You can help by explaining the value of maximizing charitable donations.

4. Agent Fees & Unions Dues: As of the tax year 2018, union dues and agency fees directly related to the generation of W-2 income no longer qualify as an itemized deduction. Rookie players have minimum dues exceeding $17,000 per year and agent fees of around 3%. These once-deductible items will need to be removed from the player’s tax plans moving forward, or different tax structures need to be explored. However, we are working diligently to review the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement in conjunction with the new tax laws in hopes of changing the way this is handled.

5. Player Fines: Nobody wants to see a situation where a player does something to generate a fine against them. The fines are often donated in the name of the player, turning the fine into a tax deductible expense to the player. Fines not donated to a charity may be considered a necessary and ordinary business expense to the player, subject to new and limiting tax rules.

6. Athletic Equipment: Footballs, golf clubs, tennis rackets, racquetball rackets, basketballs, etc. are considered ordinary and necessary for the player to continue to play at a high level, and to maintain their employment with their team. Again, new tax rules cause us to reexamine the nature of this former itemized deduction. Look for professional athletes to start incorporating themselves to take advantage of more favorable tax provisions.

7. Royalties: Royalties can sometimes be a difficult issue with athletes. Most are unsure of the amount due to them through the year, making tax planning for royalty income a difficult task. Royalty deals also come and go based on player performance. A fluctuation in a multi-million dollar royalty deal can really change the outcome of the player’s tax situation.

8. Unknown increased salaries: It doesn’t happen all that often, but a veteran player may get sent to the injured list for the season. This means a lower paid backup player will be used to replace the player. Players moving from the bench to a starting position receive a significant increase in pay. This can cause a change in their current tax rate and plan.

9. Signing bonuses: The benefit of a signing bonus all comes down to the form in which the bonus is paid out. If the bonus is paid out properly by the league, it may not need to be included in state income.

10: Taxable Swag: Gifts or swag given to players is not truly a gift and it actually comes with a price tag. The items are almost always given in connection with an appearance or as a bonus for the player’s appearance. Unfortunately, the IRS will want a cut of that swag in the form of a tax payment. These fortunate events create additional taxable income for the players often overlooked in the excitement and lack of notice from the agency providing the swag.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This week’s author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Mortgage and Real Estate Scams April 10, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : tax changes, Tax Tip, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

Computer hackers/cyber-terrorists are drawn to money like moths to a flame. And, significant monies exist in the mortgage and real estate industries. These types of transactions often involve very large sums of money. Since most people purchase and finance real estate transactions only on a sporadic basis they tend to be very trusting not knowing anything differently. Also, many of these financial institutions have streamlined their process via the internet in an effort to reduce their own expenses. This streamlining opens the doors to the criminals who may even be working for another country. Clicking on this link and that link and not knowing what is really behind the curtain is dangerous. Don’t just assume the email addresses, accounts numbers, and phone numbers that were emailed or called to you are correct. This is true not only for those individuals that are not computer and internet savvy but for the general public as a whole. There is nothing ever wrong with sitting down across the table with your representatives from your financial institution and getting their assistance. Monies that have been incorrectly wired to another country are typically irretrievable. You cannot be too careful!

The accompanying article offers further valuable information. 

                                By Mark Bradstreet

The last thing consumers should have to worry about is being scammed when they buy or rent a home, or consider refinancing options. Unfortunately, criminals are getting more creative in how they target their victims, leading to major financial headaches for their unsuspecting victims.

In 2017 alone, 9,645 victims reported real estate fraud, resulting in losses of more than $56.2 million, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Many people are too embarrassed to file complaints, making it harder to catch the scammers who repeatedly victimize unwitting homeowners and homebuyers, says Melinda Opperman, executive vice president of community outreach and industry relations with Credit.org — a nonprofit credit counseling agency and member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or NFCC.

“It’s a huge problem,” Opperman says. “A lot of the time, people don’t realize that using public Wi-Fi connections where they conduct personal business through email or websites opens them up to [these scams] because the communications are not secure.”

Here are four common real estate and mortgage scams to keep on your radar — and tips to avoid becoming a scammer’s next victim.

1. Escrow wire fraud

What it looks like: You get an email, phone call or text from someone purporting to be from the title or escrow company with instructions on where to wire your escrow funds. Fraudsters set up fake websites that appear similar to the title or lending company you’re working with, making it seem like the real deal. Scammers use spoofing tactics to make phone numbers, websites and email addresses appear familiar, but one number or letter is off — an easy thing to miss at first glance, Opperman says.

So you follow the wire instructions and assume all is well when, in fact, you’ve just become the latest victim of escrow fraud. The scammers? They’ve withdrawn the funds from an offshore account somewhere and are sailing into the sunset with your hard-earned money. Meanwhile, you have few options for retrieving it.

How to protect yourself: Before you send money to a third party, go back to the original documents you received from your lender and call the phone numbers listed there to verify the wiring instructions you received. Never click on email or text links, or send money online, without verifying wire instructions with a live person on the phone from a number that you’ve called and verified, Opperman says.

Be wary of any email or text requesting a change to wiring instructions you already have, says Odeta Kushi, senior economist with First American Financial Corporation. Always confirm the escrow account number before wiring money, and call your settlement agent to verify the transfer of the funds immediately after you’re done, she advises.

2. Loan flipping

What it looks like: Loan flipping is when a predatory lender persuades a homeowner to refinance their mortgage repeatedly, often borrowing more money each time. The scammer charges high fees and points with each transaction, and homeowners get stuck with higher loan payments they can’t afford after being duped into borrowing most of their home’s equity, Opperman says.

Seniors with memory impairment are especially vulnerable to these scams because they have significant home equity and may not realize they’re being taken advantage of, Opperman says. Predatory lenders convince homeowners they can help them find a better loan product or use a cash-out refinance to pay for home renovations to make their homes more accessible as they age in place, Opperman says.

How to protect yourself: Elderly homeowners who have cognitive issues should involve a trusted relative or friend in any key financial discussion, especially about tapping home equity. If you’ve recently completed mortgage refinance, it’s usually not in your best interest to do another transaction right away, Opperman says.

If predatory lenders are actively seeking you out and you haven’t requested their help, that’s another warning sign that something is off. Work only with known banks or lenders, and question all fees and penalties presented to you, Opperman says. Lenders are required to provide loan estimates and closing disclosures that list all fees and third-party costs; review these documents carefully, or have a trusted advisor do this, if you are refinancing your mortgage.

3. Foreclosure relief

What it looks like: People who fall on hard times and get behind on their mortgage payments can become desperate to save their homes. That’s when scammers, who have access to public records of homes in pre-foreclosure, swoop in with offers of foreclosure relief to capitalize on homeowners’ vulnerability, Opperman says.

“Scammers will claim that they can help homeowners save their homes and reduce their mortgage payments for a large, up-front fee,” Opperman says, “but they often leave our clients in worse financial shape.”

Some fraudsters claim they’re affiliated with the government or government housing assistance programs, and can swindle homeowners out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees, according to the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC.

How to protect yourself: The best way to avoid foreclosure is to work directly with your loan servicer to modify your existing loan, request forbearance, or make some other arrangement. Homeowners can first enlist the help of a HUD-accredited housing counselor to see what options they have, then include their counselor on a three-way call to their lender to find solutions, Opperman says.

“A scammer will tell you not to talk to your lender, and that’s a huge red flag,” Opperman says. “It’s hard to speak to your lender when you’re in imminent default or become delinquent because you’re afraid it might speed up [losing your home]. But you have to open the lines of communication with your lender.”

4. Rental scams

What it looks like: Scammers post property rental ads on Craigslist or social media pages to lure in unsuspecting renters, sometimes using photos from other listings. The scammers, who have no connection to the property or its owner, will ask for an upfront payment to let you see the property or hold it as a deposit. In reality, they’re just looking to get quick cash through nefarious means.

Rental scams are alarmingly common. An estimated 5.2 million U.S. renters say they have lost money from rental fraud, according to a recent survey from ApartmentList. Younger renters are the likeliest victims, with 9.1 percent of 18- to 29-year-old renters having lost money on such a scam, compared with 6.4 percent of all renters, the survey revealed. And of those who did lose money to scammers, one in three lost more than $1,000, likely after paying a security deposit or rent on a fake rental property, ApartmentList found.

How to protect yourself: Be suspicious of anyone who asks for a cash deposit upfront to see a property, says Nicole Durosko of Warburg Realty in New York City. Ensure you’re dealing with the real property owner before negotiating rental terms or seeing a property in person. You can search the local property appraiser’s website to find out who the current property owner is and look for contact information online.

“Avoid doing transactions via email or on the phone,” Durosko says. “It’s best to be face-to-face to confirm the property ownership, sign any required documentation, and [make a] payment.”

Use a check (never cash) to make a payment so you have an automatic receipt of it, Durosko advises. Finally, always insist on speaking with the property owner before signing a contract or making a payment if someone says they’re representing the owner. If someone claims to be a real estate agent, ask to see their license and take a picture of it so you can confirm the information online through your state’s division of real estate licensing, Durosko says.

Next steps to take if you’re targeted

Trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right or seems too good to be true. Work with only professional lenders associated with local and/or national trade associations, and ask for referrals from family members and friends. If you’re an older homeowner (or a caregiver to someone who is), be on your guard when companies pressure you to tap your home equity.

If you suspect a scammer is trying to target you, don’t open any email links or respond to any messages. Instead, report the activity to your local police department. To report fraud, identity theft or financial scams, visit the FTC’s complaint website, click on the FTC Complaint Assistant icon, and answer the questions.

Credit given to:  DEBORAH KEARNS@DEBBIE_KEARNS JANUARY 16, 2019 in MORTGAGES (BankRate)

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.

This Week’s Author – Mark C. Bradstreet, CPA

-until next week

Tax Tip of the Week | Trusts – The Very Basics April 3, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

While a trust may be considered an “entity”, it is actually a fiduciary relationship whereby a trustee holds legal title to property and has a duty to manage that property for the benefit of others (known as beneficiaries).

A trust is formed by a trust agreement. There are many types and purposes of trusts, so the trust agreement has to be written specifically to accommodate the goals of the one setting up the trust who is known as the grantor. Once the trust has been set up, the grantor, also referred to as the settlor, or trustor, can then transfer property to the trust to be managed by the trustee.

A trust can be revocable, or irrevocable. A revocable trust, sometimes referred to as a living trust, is generally set up by a grantor who is also the trustee and beneficiary, and who retains the power to revoke or amend the trust. These trusts are legal entities, but are disregarded for federal tax purposes. In fact, they usually use the social security number of the grantor, and all income is reported on the grantor’s tax return. As such, a revocable trust does not file its own return.

On the other hand, an irrevocable trust does usually need to file a tax return, and, depending on the trust agreement, any tax due will be paid by the trust, or by the beneficiaries, or in some cases, by both the trust and the beneficiaries. It is usually better tax-wise if the beneficiaries pay the tax due to the short tax brackets applicable to trusts (and estates). The highest tax rate for a trust is the same as an individual’s, 37% for 2018. However, the highest tax bracket for an individual for 2018 begins at a taxable income of $500,000, while the highest bracket for a trust begins at $12,500. Trusts can also be taxable at the state level. For Ohio, trust rules are governed by the Ohio Trust Code which was enacted January 1, 2007.

There are several reasons for setting up trusts. One is to avoid probate. Revocable living trusts are generally used for this purpose. A trust can help your estate retain privacy whereas the probate process creates a public record. In addition, probate fees can be significant.

Another reason for a trust is to help preserve estate exemptions. A-B trusts, also known as bypass or marital trusts, can be used for this purpose. Other types of trusts used for marital purposes include the QTIP Trust and the Power of Appointment Trust.

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT’s) are used to prevent the taxability of life insurance within an estate. Dynasty Trusts are used to preserve assets for children and grandchildren or other beneficiaries. Incentive trusts can be used to encourage the behavior of beneficiaries, such as getting a college degree, or to address specific problems such as drug abuse. Special needs trusts can be set up for a physically or mentally disabled child. Spendthrift trusts can provide protection from creditors. Spendthrift clauses can be used in other types of trusts as well. Some additional types of trusts include the charitable remainder, charitable lead, Medicaid trusts, grantor retained annuity trusts, and numerous others.

The taxability of these trusts rests with the trust agreement. Before the trust agreement can be drafted, various questions must be answered. Some of the more important ones are:

•    How much control do I want?
•    Who will be the trustee and can the trustee be trusted?
•    Can I fire the trustee and name a new one?
•    Do I want to be able to revoke, or amend the trust?
•    Can I change the beneficiaries?
•    Do I want the income to be distributed?

As you can see, trusts and their taxation are very complicated. If you are considering setting up a trust, please seek the help of an attorney and a tax professional.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.

This Week’s Author – Norman S Hicks, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | 5 Ways to Fail a Sales Tax Audit March 20, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

IRS audits are horrible! Sales tax audits are worse. In some areas, a sales tax auditor has more legal authority than an IRS agent. Yes, that is scary! Some businesses think that it is not a big deal failing to collect sales tax from a “favorite” customer since the customer would be liable anyway in an audit. It is not that easy – the sales tax agent collects this shortfall from whoever they are auditing. You might be paying the sales tax for your “favorite” customer. Good luck trying to get those dollars back from them.

The article below is advertising from an Avalara blog. I do not know anything about Avalara other than this tongue in cheek article which makes a lot of sense at least from my experience over the years.
                                                      By Mark Bradstreet

 FROM THE AVALARA BLOG JANUARY 23, 2019

 “All businesses relish a good sales tax audit. After all, what’s not to like? And did you know it’s possible to spend more time, money, and resources than absolutely necessary during an audit? It’s true. Simply follow the five tips below and you’ll dramatically increase your chances of having to pay those coveted audit penalties. 

[From the Avalara blog.]

1. Give the auditor a hard time

Spare no inconvenience. Send the auditor on coffee runs. Set the auditor up in your most cramped and unappealing space then make the auditor sort through the messiest records. First impressions matter when it comes to audits, so make yours a terrible one. The harder the experience for the auditor, the more likely that auditor will help you spend more money, resources, and time.

2. Assume you don’t need to collect tax

This is a high-risk move. If you have nexus in a state, you’re required to collect and remit sales tax; and while nexus used to refer primarily to some sort of physical presence, that’s no longer the case.

On June 21, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled physical presence is not a requisite for sales tax collection. Since the decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., more than 30 states have broadened their sales tax laws to include a business’s “economic and virtual contacts” with the state, or economic nexus. That trend is likely to continue until all states with a general sales tax impose a sales tax collection obligation on remote sellers.

If you want to ensure you run afoul of auditors, just keep on not collecting in states where you make significant sales: Tax authorities are looking for you; they’ll likely find you.

3. Put your exemption certificates in a box in the warehouse

This gives you two advantages. First, it forces the auditor to dig through a potentially rat-infested box for the records needed, thus wasting more time. Second, it increases your chances of losing certificates to flood, fire, or vermin.

If you don’t have a complete certificate that proves a customer is exempt, you’ll owe the state for the sales tax you didn’t charge — plus bonus penalties and interest.

4. Keep incorrect records

You want to fail a sales tax audit? Make sure your records don’t match your bank accounts. If you have more or less money in your account than shows up on your sales tax records, you’re begging for an audit penalty.

If incorrect records are too blatant for your taste, strive for incomplete records. Don’t stress about recording every cent of sales tax charged to your customers. Scribble sales tax records down on a sheet of paper so you’ll never know where to find them when you need them. The auditor will linger as long as there’s a clear discrepancy between how much you collect and how much you record.

5. Pay less than you owe

This one’s about your overall method. You can drastically increase your risk of penalties during an audit by manually managing sales tax. Paying less sales tax than what your business owes will substantiate incorrect record-keeping, shoddy certificate storage, and (purposeful) ignorance about nexus. Plus, think of all of the other opportunities for error that await when you manually manage the following:

•    State and local jurisdiction rate changes
•    Filing methods and schedules for each taxing jurisdiction
•    Changing product taxability rules

But seriously

We know you don’t actually want to waste time, money, and resources. So, hopefully these tips give you some ideas of what not to do.

The right technology can turn sales tax management from painful and risky to easy and more accurate. Avalara’s suite of solutions can reduce your risk by automating calculations, certificate management, timely filing, and easy-to-access reports.”

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.

This Week’s Author – Mark C. Bradstreet, CPA

-until next week

Tax Tip of the Week |Offshore Tax Cheats – The IRS is Still Coming for You March 6, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, tax changes, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

Having an offshore account is not illegal, provided the accounts are in compliance with U.S. tax laws which include appropriate disclosure. And, yes, you can get into serious trouble for failing to attach the appropriate forms to your income tax return. So, please be certain to advise your tax preparer of any foreign assets you may have. But, where things get really dicey, is the situation of using these “secret” accounts to hide your money and not paying any income tax (offshore tax evasions is a criminal act). More details from Laura Saunders follow.

  • Mark Bradstreet

“Hiding money from the U.S. government is a lot harder than it used to be.  

On Sept. 28, the Internal Revenue Service will end (now ended) its program allowing American tax cheats with secret offshore accounts to confess them and avoid prison. In a statement, the IRS said it’s closing the program because of declining demand.

But the agency vowed to keep pursuing the people hiding money offshore and said it will offer them another route to compliance.

What a difference a decade makes.

Before 2008, an American citizen could often walk into a Swiss bank, deposit millions of dollars, and walk out confident that the funds were safe and hidden from Uncle Sam, says Mark Matthews, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale who formerly helped the IRS’ criminal division.

Now he says, “Americans hiding money abroad have to go to small islands with sketchy advisers and less reliable financial systems.”

The reason:  a historic crackdown on the longstanding problem of U.S. taxpayers hiding money offshore, U.S. officials ramped it up after a whistleblower revealed that some Swiss banks saw U.S. tax evasions as a profit center and were sending bankers onto U.S. soil to hunt for clients.

The defining moment came in 2008, when Justice Department prosecutors took Swiss banking giant UBS AG to court and managed to pierce the veil of Swiss bank secrecy. In 2009, UBS agreed to pay $780 million and turn over information on hundreds of U.S. customers to avoid criminal prosecution.

The Justice Department repeated the UBS strategy, with variations, for scores of other banks and financial firms in Switzerland, Israel, Liechtenstein and the Caribbean. So far, institutions have paid about $6 billion and turned over once-sacrosanct customer information. More major settlements are still to come.

Prosecutors also successfully pursued more than 150 individuals hiding money abroad. Some defendants earned jail time, and many paid dearly – a total of more than $500 million so far. Dan Horsky, a retired business professor and a startup investor, appears to have handed over the largest amount: $125 million for hiding more than $220 million offshore.  

In many cases, a taxpayer can owe a penalty of half a foreign account’s value, if it’s greater than $10,000 and it’s not reported to the Treasury Department. Ty Warner, the billionaire creator of Beanie Babies plush toys, paid $53.6 million for hiding an account with more than $100 million.

The IRS capitalized on tax cheats’ fears of detection with its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the limited amnesty that’s ending. It hit confessors with large penalties in exchange for no prosecution. Since 2009, more than 56,000 U.S. taxpayers in the program have paid $11.1 billion to resolve their issues.

To be sure, the U.S. crackdown hasn’t reached everywhere – notably Asia.

Edward Robbins, a criminal tax lawyer in Los Angeles formerly with the IRS and Justice Department, attributes the enforcement gap to the widespread use of human beings, rather than structures like trusts, to shield account ownership in Asia.

“In the Far East, individuals often use other individuals who use other individuals to hold assets. Finding the true owner is a tough nut to crack, unlike in the West,” he says.

The crackdown also had drawbacks, making financial life difficult for many of the roughly 4 million U.S. citizens living abroad. Unlike most countries, the U.S. taxes citizens on income earned both at home and abroad. Often expatriates were stunned to find they could be considered tax cheats under the expansive U.S. Law and that compliance would be onerous.

In reaction, more than 25,000 expats have given up U.S. citizenship since 2008, with some paying a stiff exit tax. Others are working to get Congress to change the taxation of nonresidents.

For expats and others, the IRS now offers a compliance program with lesser penalties, or none, for offshore-account holders who didn’t willfully cheat. About 65,000 taxpayers have entered the program and the IRS says it will remain open for now.

Current and would-be tax cheats should take seriously the IRS’s vow to keep pursuing secret offshore accounts, says Bryan Skarlatos, a criminal tax lawyer with Kostelanetz & Fink who has handled more than 1,500 offshore disclosures to the IRS.

Although the IRS’s staffing is way down, he says, the agency and the Justice Department have far better tools for detecting and combating evasion than 10 years ago.

Among these agencies’ tools are the Fatca law, which requires foreign firms to report information on American account holders.This law is providing the IRS with streams of useful information it’s using in prosecutions.This week brought the first guilty plea for a violation of Fatca rules by a former executive of a bank in Hungary and the Caribbean.

The IRS is also mining data from foreign bank settlements and whistleblower information. The payment of $104 million to UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfield, apparently the largest ever, has inspired other informers.

To detect clusters of cheats, U.S. officials now can use a “John Doe summons” to force firms to release information on a class of customers suspected of evading taxes – even if their identities aren’t known, and even if the information isn’t in the U.S.

This strategy has been so successful that the IRS has broadened its use to identify possible tax cheats using cryptocurrencies.

“More than ever, there’s no place to hide,” say Mr. Skarlatos.”

Credit given to Tax Report, Laura Saunders, WSJ, September 15-16, 2018

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.

This Week’s Author – Mark C. Bradstreet, CPA

-until next week